Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ICYMI: MD Woods / Gregory Pepper / Tyto Alba

November 17, 2015

mdwoods

MD Woods‘ Young and Vain, Vol. 2 may describe the lifestyles of characters with the titular qualities, but it approaches the studies from a world-weary perspective instead of an impetuous one. The alt-country band, led by the whiskey-soaked voice of Nicholas Moore, comes off desperate and ragged in its moods, like Damien Rice on the alt-country frontier. It should be noted that these are strictly compliments: tunes like “Vomit” make being emotionally wracked seem like a noble idea, if not a desirable one. The melodies are compelling, the lyrics are tight, and the song styles are varied–there’s definitely a lot going on despite the general timbre of the lyrics.

The arrangements compliment the emotional damage by being surprisingly tight: from background vocals to swooping strings to rock-steady drums, the band provides a framework for Moore to get unhinged in. The bright, clear recording and engineering make the final product more accessible, providing a clean window to see the band through. The results are compelling mix of major key and minor key tunes that you can sing along to and enjoy in a Frightened Rabbit sort of way.

choruschoruschorus

It’s easy to put Gregory Pepper‘s Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! in the ICYMI category, because if you blink you’ll miss it: Pepper blitzes through 10 songs in under 14 minutes. This uncommonly aggressive approach to the “hit it and quit it” songwriting mentality creates an album of perfect melodies that appear once or twice, lodge in your brain forever, and then disappear into the next tune. The post-Weezer pop-rock that blazes its way through your eardrums is undeniably, irresistibly pristine: “Crush On You” and “Smart Phones for Stupid People” are fuzzed-out midtempo glory; “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All​?​)” is a pseudo-metal pop-rock stomper; “Come By It Honestly” is an “Only in Dreams”-esque slow jam and the longest tune on the record, tipping the scales at 1:40.

But it’s not all Weezer-esque crunchy guitars. Pepper has an idiosyncratic vocal and melodic sensibility that delivers highly sarcastic and ironic lyrics in an earnest pop-rock style reminiscent of It’s a King Thing, only without the breathy sweetness. Pepper is singing straightforward melodies that still manage to bend my mind, as the endlessly fascinating, gymnastic opener “Welcome to the Dullhouse” shows. But it’s not enough to just create wild melodies, clever tunes and ironic lyrics: occasionally all the sarcasm drops and reveals pretty raw honesty as an extra layer to the tune (“I Wonder Whose Dick You Had to Suck?,” “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All​?​)”). It’s a lot to ride on songs that barely (or don’t) break 60 seconds, but Pepper masterfully handles the incredible amount of things going on. It’s not easy to edit yourself down to the bare bones and still deliver a multi-layered experience that’s both fun and deep, but Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! is that rarest of albums that pulls it off. If you’re into indie-pop-rock, you need this one in your life.

tytoalba

I try to keep up with what’s cool in indie rock so that I’m not constantly namechecking the Hives and Death Cab for Cutie, but keeping up with what’s going on in alt-rock is way harder for me. As I was casually reading through Spin’s (biased, subjective, etc.) list of 50 best rock bands right now, I was pleasantly surprised to see Paramore up at number 9. I thought they had been lumped in with Flyleaf as lame, but I was wrong! (Is Flyleaf cool?) Which is great, because I feel totally guiltless comparing Tyto Alba’s Oh Tame One EP to a more mood-heavy Paramore. Melanie Steinway’s vocals soar and roar in front of an alt-rock backdrop that isn’t as gritty as everyone’s favorite indie grunge band Silversun Pickups (check the arpeggiated guitar on “Passenger”) but isn’t as post-rock-flavored as bands like Athletics.

Instead, they prefer to mix artsy rhythms and nuanced guitarscapes with rock song structures: “Deer” mixes a carefully patterned rhythm guitar line with a moseying lead guitar line that echoes back to The Photo Album-era Death Cab before exploding into guitar theatrics for the chorus (of sorts). The careful picking of the lead guitar line in “Divide” juxtaposes with groove-heavy bass and drums (but not as dance-tastic as in standout “New Apathy,” which is simply impressive) before building into the most memorable chorus on the EP, driven by multiple vocal melodies interacting. It’s the sort of work Tyto Alba excels at: twisting your expectations of what a rock song should do without totally overhauling the model. If you’re into thoughtfully distorted guitars with some groove-heavy elements, Oh Tame One will fit nicely in your collection.

Here's your video hookup

July 25, 2011

Independent Clauses is pretty much your Hoodie Allen clearing house. Thankfully, this new Hoodie video is much less confusing than that other one that one time. This time he just looks supremely uncomfortable at a raging house party cause he can’t get to the prettiest girl in the room. I think we have all felt this pain before. But then… well, just watch the vid. It’s cool, and the song is smooth as well. His mixtape Leap Year drops tomorrow. And yes, there will be a review.

This is also pretty much your Josh Caress fanblog, so this gorgeous live session rendering of “Follow the Firelight” is a must.

The world gets bigger and smaller when you’re deep into a subject: Even though Football, etc.‘s tour video doesn’t have the band It’s a King Thing in it (as far as I can tell), the phrase appears twice on a wall (big!). Also, they go through Oklahoma City, which until recently was my stomping grounds (small!).

It's a King Thing's excellent indie tunes resonate with heartfelt nostalgia

May 25, 2010

Weezer’s Blue Album came out on May 10, 1994. On May 10, 1994, the Twin Towers were still standing, the Internet was in its infancy, the most common meaning of the word “pitchfork” was “garden tool,” and Bill Clinton was president. That was sixteen years ago. Kids who are old enough to be relating to the Blue Album were just barely born when it came out. It’s almost oldies to them. This is somewhat terrifying. Hopefully it will always remain a youthful diatribe, rediscovered by each new generation.

And if it isn’t, well, It’s a King Thing is on the case with their ridiculously titled Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. I shouldn’t be surprised; IAKT contains ex-members of the also ridiculously titled Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start. As I once referred to them as Up Up Down Down, I will refer to the album in question as Buffalo.

Even though the title of Buffalo is incredibly wordy, the particular and extensive title is part of the appeal that continues from the Up Up Down Down days and made me put a lengthy Weezer intro at the front of this review. It’s a King Thing has essentially remade the Blue Album for the indie-rock generation. And that, my friends, is as high praise as this reviewer can dole out.

The Blue Album was obsessed with three things: geeky high school life, monster riffs and snarky lyrics. If you replace monster riffs with mid-fi indie-rock sensibilities, you’ve described Buffalo to a T. There are tons of acoustic guitars, boatloads of dreamy production values, wistful melodies, and an overriding sense of awe that envelops the proceedings. These songs are so tightly crafted that not a one breaks four minutes, with only two breaking 3:30. But the twelve songs in thirty minutes thing sounds great, and it’s been done before; if “Only in Dreams” hadn’t been eight minutes long, The Blue Album would have been right over a half hour too.

These songs don’t just capture an essence of youth, indie production and wistful laziness. These tunes rule. The riff in “Baby Tantrum” chugs along in an entirely appealing way while proclaiming that the narrator isn’t acting like a baby; “Kira” makes me think of the first girlfriend I ever had while treating me to a banjo pluck and a sighing melody.  “Wine and Ponies” has a perky horn section to help it along, while the melodies and harmonies of “Triple Jump” are incredibly poignant and memorable. “Hangin Out” talks about hanging out in the middle of the night with more harmonies. “Old Hobbies” addresses relational dysfunction in an entirely humorous and realistic way.

I don’t often say this in reviews, because there’s often not an empirical reason to do so, but I love this album. The pitch-perfect nostalgia,  incredibly well-written songs and perfect production job have produced an absolutely stunning album. It transported me back to a place in my life that IAKT has never been; that’s the mark of superior songwriting. But on some level, we’ve all been in the place that IAKT is writing about; I mean, that’s why we still listen to the Blue Album. And that’s why you should be listening to (deep breath) Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Download the whole thing for free here.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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