Picture early Yellowcard: “Ocean Avenue” and “Way Away.” My fellow ‘90s kids know the picture well–the pop-punk sound infused with a violin, which they used as if it was another electric guitar. Exohxo’s latest EP The Ghost is Clear is along a similar violin-heavy pop-punk vein, yet contains a higher level of maturity. The EP’s sound is like Yellowcard all grown up (similar to when Rugrats became “All Grown Up,” but with fewer disappointments).
Seattle-based chamber rock band Exohxo’s The Ghost is Clear collects six diverse tracks that provide different combinations of chamber pop and pop-punk, with a little bit of jazz and bluegrass flavor thrown in. The Ghost is Clear will feel nostalgic at times and in the very same track feel completely new and unique.
Throughout the album, Exohxo uses the violin to accomplish an array of sounds. The combination of the violin, driving and jazzy organ makes opener “Past Lives” a feel-good summer song. Here, Exohxo uses the violin much like early Yellowcard did, in a fairly punk rock kind of way, driving the song. In “Parting Shots,” the violin adds theatrics to the track; in “Same As Always,” the violin becomes a fiddle and surprisingly takes on some bluegrass flavor. And in “You Can’t Know,” the introduction of the violin throws off the rock vibe and halfway through takes over the song by adding much more of a chamber orchestra feel to the track.
The vocals found in The Ghost is Clear also combine two worlds: the pop-punk and the theatrical. In tracks like “Trains That Look Like Towns,” the vocal aspect of the song sounds like it could come right out of a musical–picture the voice of fun.’s lead singer Nate Ruess. Yet in other songs, the vocals sound more like they came off of a pop-punk album–slightly emotional and crisp, so you can hear every sardonically hopeful lyric (“Past Lives,” “Parting Shots”). In the second verse of “Parting Shots,” the introduction of a second vocalist adds harmonization that sounds distinctly pop-punk.
Exohxo’s The Ghost is Clear is a mashup of musical worlds. The unique combination of typical rock instruments with the violin and organ spice up each track in a different way. By combining instrumental diversity with theatrical pop-punk vocals and introspective yet hopeful lyrics, The Ghost is Clear is a remarkable adventure you won’t want to miss. —Krisann Janowitz
I’ve been posting singles and videos from Colony House since January, because their alt-rock had that anthemic edge which usually portends great things. And while “Keep On Keepin’ On,” “Silhouettes,” and “Waiting for My Time to Come” are great by themselves, they’re amazing when crammed together and packaged with 11 other great tunes on When I Was Younger.
“Moving Forward” is the sort of deep cut that bands realize is amazing late in the album’s cycle, haphazardly throw to radio, and manage to get a career-defining hit from (see “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers). It has a jubilant riff that turns into a revelatory, shiver-inducing “whoa-oh” coda; that arching melody is the sort that Coldplay at its Viva La Vida finest was putting out. It’s the type I wear out the repeat button over.
“Waiting For My Time To Come” is still great in album version–more whoa-ohs, horns, and general good vibes. In other places Colony House echoes an amped-up Black Keys (“2:20”), the Killers, U2, Imagine Dragons, ’80s new-wave (“Roll With the Punches”), and more. Those influences might read like a derivative mess, but they sound like a eye-opening wonder. I haven’t heard anything this immediately engaging and potentially career-launching since I heard .fun’s Some Nights. And we all know how that turned out. If you like fun, cheery alt-rock-pop music, you’ll love Colony House.
Americo‘s style of rock would fit neatly in with Spoon: the rhythms, melodies, and instrumental performances fit together in a very tight, almost clockwork-like way. As a result, their recent release I is a tight, polished EP instead of a frantic, shoot-from-the-hip garage-rock set of tunes. “Stylized” doesn’t mean a lot in its dictionary definition, but the music-world connotations of restless aesthetes crafting and honing sounds seems to (mostly) fit here.
I say “mostly” because the duo also has laidback vibes as one of the core tenets of the sound. Opener “Blastin’ Off” has a stuttering strum and a liberal use of space as its calling cards, not giant guitar antics. (You have to wait for second track “Sled” for those.) “Slingshot” has a ’90s slackerish vibe in the way the chords lazily morph into each other; “Perfect World” relies on rim-clicks and jazzy vibes. This is a band that has both chops and restraint–most bands don’t even have one of those things. (Some of my favorite bands are just fine without either one.) They can even get a little weird and experimental if you’d like (“Prizes”).
Americo’s I shows off a well-developed songwriting sensibility that will appeal to fans of thoughtful rockers. The duo has made it clear that they can rock out and a lot of other things. That versatility could blossom into a particular style down the road, or they could stick with the Swiss Army Knife approach. Either way, I is commendable.
Depending on your interest in the genre, Brother O’ Brother is either carrying on the tradition of or thoroughly indebted to The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The guitar and drums duo rips through heavy blues rock stompers with screaming guitars, howling vocals, and basic drumming. The band’s self-titled record doesn’t let up for the 30+ minute runtime; there are no pop-friendly arena rock tunes or quirky acoustic ditties to break the mood. From the outraged opener “Without Love” to the last high-hat snap of “Mice & Men,” Chris Banta barrels, blasts, struts, strains, and powers his way through through riff-heavy tunes galore.
“Means to Be a Woman” is a highlight of the set. After its bluesy guitar intro reminiscent of the White Stripes, Banta lets his voice take most of the drama. He alternates between snarling speak-singing in the verses and outright howling in the chorus. If you’re into heavy guitars and moral indignation at how the media portrays women, you’ll be all over this tune. Throughout the album, Banta is interested in spiritual and moral themes; it gives another edge to the screaming guitars. Everyone needs some good righteous indignation over the injustices of the world now and then. If that sounds like a good time, Brother O’ Brother can hook you up.
You don’t have to listen too hard or too long to fun.‘s Some Nights before two things are very clear:
1. Nate Ruess is documenting an existential crisis in his lyrics.
2. This is an (almost absurdly) enthusiastic musical foil for it.
I don’t often mention lyrics at Independent Clauses unless their significance is tremendously foregrounded, as is the case here. Ruess is not obscuring anything in poetics: he attacks religion in “One Foot,” appropriates the now-iconic line “It Gets Better” in the song of the same name, references his parents a lot, and gets a children’s choir to sing “I’ve got nothing left inside of my chest, but it’s all alright” with him (“All Alright”).
Does that sound like an album that would extensively use vocoder, hang a whole tune on a hip-hop style big brass sample (“One Foot,” again), record the majority of the catchiest song with drums and multi-tracked vocals as the focus, or get a #1 chart slot with a hooky radio single? No. But it’s both things, and that’s why this album is so beguiling.
The easy-to-spot high point of the album is the title track, where the multi-tracked vocals, rumbling toms and clapping produce an exuberance that is unrivaled on the album or in any other song I’ve heard this year. I can barely suppress dancing when I hear it (and most times I don’t try to). There are woah-ohs throughout. There’s a an autotune/vocoder breakdown. There’s a guitar solo ending the song. There’s so much singing along. It’s just absolutely wonderful. The accompanying lyrics are some of the most hopeful on the album, as Ruess sings, “Man you wouldn’t believe/the most amazing things/they can come from some terrible nights.” It’s an early contender for song of the year.
“We Are Young,” their hit, is next, and it’s great. You’ve probably heard it. I like it. You like it. Next!
After that is where things start to get more difficult for me to grasp. The acoustic instrumentation of “Carry On” is strongly reminiscent of Ruess’ former outfit, The Format—except for the weird ’80s percussion. “It Gets Better” starts off with a grating rhythmic break, but segues into an intriguing electro-punk tune. “Why Am I the One” has an excellent vocal contribution from Ruess and beautiful arrangement, but has frustratingly contradictory lyrics in the chorus (“For once, for once, for once, I got the feeling that I’m right where I belong / so why am I the one always packing up my stuff?”).
The whole album goes like that, with elements of the songs pulling at each other. It neatly mirrors the conflict that Ruess is singing about, but it doesn’t make for easy listening. It’s really weird to hum “And I feel so all alone!” triumphantly, but listening to this album will cause that to happen.
I can unreservedly recommend both the music and lyrics of “Some Nights,” as I’ve been looping it consistently for several weeks now. The rest of the album is a challenging but interesting listen, as Ruess and co. are talented songwriters and arrangers. I suspect this will resonate deeply with some who prize emotional rawness in lyrics and fall completely flat with others who go in expecting 9 variations on the lyrical theme of “We Are Young.” If you’re in it for music you can’t hear anywhere else, then you’re certainly in for a treat.