Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Colorfeels' lush indie-rock wears many masks

July 8, 2011

ColorfeelsSyzygy is pretty much a primer of indie rock circa 2011: Grizzly Bear’s rustic qualities (“Pretty Walk,” “Be There”), Fleet Foxes’ harmonies (“Mirrored Walls”), Vampire Weekend’s triumphant afro-beat rhythms and textures (“Unplanned Holiday”), alt-country (“Fun Machine”), Bishop Allen’s quirky enthusiasm (the clarinet in “Fun Machine”), Generationals’ perky bass contributions (everywhere) and The Dirty Projectors’ free-flowing song styles (everywhere again). Thankfully, the band eschewed the currently en vogue garage rock recording style for an immaculately clear one.

It’s this pristine engineering that saves this from being a pastiche; even if you’ve heard all of these sounds before, they sound incredibly gorgeous coming from Colorfeels. The clarinet and piano on “Be There” may call up notions of everyone from Wilco to the Beatles, but the sound is so striking that you may not care (or even really notice). This is true of almost every tune — with the exception of “Zenzizenzizenzic,” whose shameless Muse appropriation feels totally out of place. I really enjoyed Syzygy on my first listen, but several minutes later I couldn’t remember anything about it except that I wanted to hear those pretty songs again. And they are very pretty.

After a half-dozen listens with the same ending thoughts (which is saying something — this debut is an hour long), I realized that Colorfeels has no signature. This album is gorgeous and almost infinitely malleable, but there’s not a single thing that screams COLORFEELS WAS HERE!

It should be noted that there aren’t any gimmicks to make it look like the band has a stamp (see aforementioned garage rock). For this they should be lauded; they are not hiding anything. They are what they are, and they let you hear that. That is admirable.

Syzygy is a mesmerizing indie-rock album that wears a lot of masks. Whether or not this was the intent is something only the members of Colorfeels can say. But I would love to see a group of instrumentalists and songwriters this talented explore one area of songwriting more thoroughly and place their stamp on music. It’s comforting and familiar, but there’s more to music than that.

Wallscenery Demos' new incarnation is a bit of a baffler

June 13, 2011

There’s a difference between lo-fi fuzz and garage rock reverb. The former uses tape hiss to evoke unassuming intimacy, either through necessity or appropriation.  The latter is intentionally designed to obscure distinct parts, creating space between the listener and the art.  This is the difference between Wallscenery Demosprevious album Check This! and new album Half Asleep. Half Awake.

Check This! is a pastiche of lo-fi ruminations and found sounds. There was tape hiss in and through it, but it was first and foremost and intensely personal experience. I could tell what was happening the entire time.

Half Asleep. Half Awake. is much less of a collage, as only the highlight “Money Lebowski” includes found sound. Instead, the album sees WD mastermind James Hicken trying to transition to more solid songwriting.  The songs are longer than his previous work, and they are more fleshed out. He spells it out in the short but insightful liner notes, stating “The album is a departure … ”

The 2:34 “Wrote,” one of the shorter tunes here, pushes the upward bounds of what Hicken felt comfortable committing to tape before. It is a calm, acoustic-led indie-pop tune, still vaguely reminiscent of Pedro the Lion. The vocals have some light reverb on them, and it’s fine, because the rest of the song (keys, drums, background vocals) is audible.

The mumbly acoustic ditty “And Falling” is reminiscent of the charms from Check This!. The beautiful “Money Lebowski” calls up comparisons to folktronic producers and the Album Leaf, as it pairs a droning background synth and heavily modified snares with a gentle acoustic melody and found movie clips. A whole album of this would be a glorious experience.

But Hicken is still not completely confident in his songwriting ability, as he covers several of his works in the aforementioned oppressive reverb.  Almost without exception, the longer a song gets, the more of it is caked in great washes of ghostly sound. The 4:28 of “Gotta Watch Out For a Year” would be a great song if it weren’t so hard to find inside itself (except for a surprisingly clear bass line).

This reaches its zenith in the instrumental six-minute closer “The Club Is Open,” which reverbs literally every part of the song (drums, guitars, beats, heck, even the synths sound doubled). As a song, “The Club Is Open” is not bad; as the conclusion of this album, it keeps the idioms but not the songwriting structures, resulting in listener confusion.

Half Asleep. Half Awake. sounds like a transitional document, which is fitting: Hicken describes its main topic as “relocation.” It feels less solid than Check This!, due in part to the recording style and the songs contained therein. There are flashes of brilliance and markers that hopefully point in a good direction:  “Money Lebowski” next to “The Club Is Open” is a surprisingly effective pairing, and that’s almost a third of the album’s 33-minute running time.

James Hicken’s got skills, but this incarnation isn’t the best use of them. He can write good songs; he doesn’t have to hide or obscure his work in cavernous reverb.

Bravo for Victor!

October 14, 2009

Victor Bravo upholds the myth that all you need to make rock is a couple guys, some instruments, and a garage.  Forget all of the computerized and technological enhancements of today’s commercially successful music.  With obvious influence from bands such as Nirvana and Hüsker Dü, Victor Bravo’s latest album, Hammer Meets Fire, doesn’t disappoint.

Since 2006, the Brooklyn-based band has been pleasing the ears of punk and garage rock fans alike.  The addictive, angst-filled tunes of Hammer Meets Fire fulfill everything that the New York club scene has become infamous for.  This album embodies the anthem of punk, obvious from various track title such as: “Scary Mary,” “God Bless the USA,” and “Motherfucker.”  The vintage vocals combined with quality musicianship make the band worthy of getting out of the garage and into your ears.  Favorite tunes include “Into Debt,” and the first single off the record, “Jagged Cross.”

The listener won’t be able to help but imagine a room full of sweaty bodies hurling themselves around in rhythm to the songs.  The simple yet hilariously angry lyrics will make you crack up or reversely, give you the urge to punch a hole in the wall. Either way, the record is a fun listen.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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