These guys said that pop music would eat itself, and they were right. But I’m not sure it’s the horrible thing they implied it would be. G-Eazy‘s “Runaround Sue” sees him rapping over Dion’s classic pop song – and it’s great.
The video, with near-perfect appropriations of ’50s dress, hair and make-up, is also worth mentioning as awesome.
Independent Clauses tends toward the quieter end of the spectrum these days, but SLTM (The Podcast) features great harder music, some courtesy of Phratry Records and Chuck Daley at Beartrap PR. I’ve covered a great deal of music from both sources, so I was excited to see someone else upping the good work. Hit up the podcast, which just released episode #116. Whoa.
My friend Jeff, who played with me on this album, was in a band called Best Left with one of the guys who is now half of the acoustic pop duo The Motha Folkin’ Soul. Jeff recommended/dragged me to their show at the local dive, and I went along almost entirely on the strength of the ridiculous name.
The band lives up to their eloquent name: the duo plays dirty ditties to make the members laugh, as wordplay, in-jokes (Kunek/Other Lives reference!) and goofy antics abounded in their short set. Their latest single is “Coffee Sex,” and if the song wasn’t so guile-free and catchy, I’d probably not listen to a song with that title. Instead, the songs are endearing and affecting in a “how is this so sweet?” sort of way. Awesome. Hit up their single here.
And that’s all I’ve got. Album reviews will return tomorrow, much to my own glee (and hopefully yours!).
The last post in Phratry Week covers the quietest material the Cincinnati label puts out: the contemporary classical/acoustic post-rock of The Terminal Orchestra. “Contemporary classical” is a foreign phrase to most indie rock listeners, but “acoustic post-rock” means pretty much the same thing, but with some context.
A telling fact: this sextet lists one person (Anna Eby) dedicated solely to “bells.” Other credited instruments include violins, bowed stand-up bass, and classical guitar. This is not your normal band, and the music they release is not your average sound.
The strings play a large part in making up the sound, being on par with the acoustic guitar in the melody duties. Composer Jesse DeCaire is credited with guitars, percussion and conducting/arranging, and while there are percussive elements (“Fall Song”), the first and the third are the primary items of importance.
The Seasons is eight songs long: a song for each season, with an introduction/interlude preceding each one. DeCaire chose to represent the seasons as an ode to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as it “is situated in just the right place, geographically, to allow for four distinct seasons.”
“Summer Song” is the first of the seasons, and it’s a portrait of a lazy summer instead of a hyperkinetic one. It’s a touch on the morose side for what I envision of the hottest season, but it’s a pretty song nonetheless. The waltzing middle part does evoke summer nights extremely well.
“Interlude No. 1” is a walk through crunchy leaves that leads into “Fall Song,” which is surprisingly martial. It has a bit of an ominous feel to it; I suppose that with a brutal winter coming on, fall in Michigan must feel a little bit foreboding (in Oklahoma, it’s the most anticipated season of the year). The guitar and strings interlock nicely here. There are no vocals in The Terminal Orchestra, but the acoustic guitar takes up the melody mantle.
A desolate, cold wind blowing starts off “Interlude No. 2,” which leads into “Winter Song,” the bleakest of the compositions. The violin takes a lead role here, shuttling the listener through the slow, pensive piece. This is the winter I know: the song goes on for eight minutes without very much variation in tone. The soloing violin keeps the interest level up, but it’s definitely a bleak winter.
And then, finally, it’s time for “Spring Song,” which is 15 minutes long (the whole album is only 40 minutes long). If I was going to visit the Upper Peninsula, I would certainly do so in the spring, because DeCaire’s musical transcription of it is the most beautiful of all his pieces. Adding a rumbling tom into the guitar/violin duology, the hopeful song sounds similar to some of Josh Caress’ earlier works. Caress used to live up there in Michigan, so it’s not surprising that the two have a kinship. The song still has a fair bit of sad to it before the optimistic conclusion, but perhaps that’s just life up in Michigan. Or maybe that’s just spring.
Fans of Balmorhea, first-album Bon Iver and orchestration will find much to love in Terminal Orchestra’s The Seasons.
Out of all the releases in Phratry Week, the most surprising one is Mad Anthony‘s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal, which is actually not speed metal. That would have been somewhat inside Phratry’s considerably varied oeuvre, but instead they throw listeners a loop and release an album by a four-on-the-floor garage rock outfit.
Honestly, the most outsidery thing on the album is the demonic picture on the cover, which is another reason I thought it might actually be Slayer-inspired. Nope. This is every rock band you like. Jim Morrison, Danzig, Toadies, Misfits, Fugazi, Electric Six, The Clash, The Police, new wave, lo-fi, and garage rock all get shout-outs in the press quotes. I have no idea what half of these people are hearing, but that’s the beauty of Mad Anthony (and of rock in general): people hear different parts.
I mostly hear the connections to early 2000s garage rock revivalism, as “Naugahyde” is pretty much a song by The Vines (man, what happened to them?). “Uphill Both Ways” has early Strokes connections, while “Soul” and “Strangest Dream” have a First Impressions of Earth-era sound going on. The roaring, low vocals are chock full of attitude, which only lends credibility to the sound.
These songs are fist-pounding, headbanging rock’n’roll. The melodies are great, the band is tight, and the overall cool is top-notch. Each of these songs stand on their own, but “Beautiful Daughter” and “The Solution to the Indian Problem” rank high in my book. Mad Anthony’s …I Spent All My Money on Speed Metal does have one thing in common with the rest of the Phratry releases: it’s written by guys who did their homework and are subsequently on top of their game.
Knife the Symphony is my favorite Phratry band (well, except maybe newcomers State Song, which you’ll hear about tomorrow). Their furious, frantic, atypical take on punk rock is pretty much what keeps me from feeling that punk is dead. Their choice of LKN as a split partner (on a split titled Split) makes perfect sense, as her angular take on music fits in with Knife the Symphony’s oeuvre.
LKN is Lauren Kathryn Newman, a Pacific Northwest DIY everything with an extensive discography. My first introduction to her comes via “Set Intro,” which establishes her as a jazzy, atmospherically-minded songwriter with a rock bent. It’s pretty cool. “Roll the Bones” ups the ante, as it’s a rattle-trap indie-rock tune with a barely-submerged punk energy and attitude.
After a mathy, pattern-heavy turn in “July 5, 2008” (this woman can do everything), she finally synthesizes all her parts into the brutal, fascinating “Sign My Cast.” Everything that LKN had kept controlled in the previous three tunes comes exploding out: her calm voice becomes a raging, atonal wail; and the dissonant punk guitar that had been simmering beneath the surface becomes malicious. It is the sound of a woman unhinged. We need more of this in the punk rock world.
“Cha Cha” is another rhythmic, patterned indie-rocker with rumbling punk undertones. And then, just because LKN wants to mess with you, “You Are My Best Friend” is an emotional piano and voice piece. Expectations = subverted. Did I mention that she played all the instruments on every track?
After that whirlwind of a side, it’s time for Knife the Symphony’s three contributions. Their thirteen minutes start off with fifty seconds of squalling distortion before dropping into one of the tightest sections of rock/punk they’ve ever set to tape. It’s songs like “Squatting Warrior” that make it clear why people of lesser aspirations invented pop-punk; the song is so tightly written that it sounds like some sort of pop song. KTS isn’t bashing for the sake of bashing: These guys are talented instrumentally and have developed an incredible chemistry. The guitar, bass and drums lock together perfectly to lay a frantic, perfect foundation for the male yelling.
KTS is tighter in general on this split, eschewing dissonant slabs for a direct, punchy sound. The bass and guitar on “On Your Knees” might as well be one instrument, as it’s impossible to tell them apart; the separated drumming seems engineered to point out the incredible guitar interactions. The band does let things space out on “Flat Time,” however, dedicating the bulk of the 7-minute run time to a section that drops to almost silence. It’s pretty much a ’80s emotional hardcore revival.
I’ll say it again: KTS is tight on this release. These are the most arresting pieces the band has yet produced, because the members have distilled their rage into meaningful, memorable bits while still pushing outward to new sounds. Ah, screw it: KTS is still my favorite Phratry band.
Although not the loudest of the Phratry bands, Swear Jar still packs quite a wallop. The basic idea from the band is yanked from that time in the early ’80s to the late ’90s when punk rock became a true art form: let’s play loud, fast and hard, but not necessarily the way everyone expects us to.
Swear Jar’s punk rock never slips into musical pretension, which is to say it imagines ’98-now never happened. There are still good old punk rock sections (“Blinders”), but there are also sections of straight-up noise (“Sasquatch”), spoken-word post-hardcore (“Bad News”), and lots more.
It’s the atypical rhythms and the bass that make Cuss the fantastic trip it is. Just when you think you know where a Swear Jar song is going, it’s not going that direction anymore. The drums have changed on you, or the bassist has gone nuts in a new way.
The metallic edge and “turn that way up, man” volume of the bass guitar in the mix makes for an arresting sound that doesn’t appear often anymore. Since there’s only one guitar in this band, the bassist has a distortion pedal on hand to take the rhythm guitar bits when the guitar is “soloing” (“On the Prowl”). In “Lonely,” it sounds like the bass is leading the sound and the guitar just there for rhythm. The interplay between the three members of the band is fascinating: see hyperkinetic “Rastallica” for all you ever wanted to know about band chemistry.
Here’s a note to prove the quality of this album: all of these examples come from the first half of the disc. Yeah. This band knows what’s up. If you’re a fan of serious punk rock (i.e. people who disagree that Green Day ever existed), Cuss should be a smorgasbord of delights.
I’m going from loudest to softest during Phratry Week, so Mala In Se‘s self-titled release is the clear and easy choice for starting point.
The phrase means “wrongs in themselves,” “acts morally wrong,” and/or “offenses against conscience.” I immediately thought that the brutal thrash/noise/post-hardcore songs were the offenses, but it instead refers to animal cruelty and governmental excesses. I picked that up from the press release and song titles (“Time Lapse Photography of Decomposing Animals,” “Disease Auction,” “Lie On,” “Devil’s Dung”), because I’ve never been adept at picking up screamed/shrieked lyrics.
Lyrics aside, the songwriting is incredible. In the 3:46 of opener “Time Lapse Photography,” the band rips through thrash, hardcore, punk, post-hardcore and doom, never landing in one place for longer than thirty second. I’m a big fan of the punk section at 2:45-2:59.
“Devil’s Dung” has a supremely mathy opening section that drops into an eerie single-note guitar section (indie rock? what?), proving that this band can do more than just hammer out various loud genres. Then they throw in some Asian themes around 4:30, in a surprising and fascinating move. The band deconstructs the idea of genre to achieve the desired effect of totally blowing the minds of those who usually listen to heavy music. These guys are composers.
Mala In Se is an achievement that should not be overlooked by fans of heavy music.
Cincinatti’s Phratry Records (fray-tree reck-ords, or -erds, depending on where y’all live) is an old-school label. It has a roster, promotes tour dates, handles distribution, and sends me packages of releases. I do most of my work through online downloads — simply because it’s easier and costs artists/labels less — but Phratry still sends me the real releases. That’s awesome.
They also don’t follow trends. They release what they like, whether grinding noise or contemporary classical. This is why a week of Phratry releases isn’t going to be boring; instead, it will be more diverse than a usual week at IC, which is already a somewhat unusual mix. Phratry’s spring releases, which appeared on my desk only recently (mail/roommates/generic other junk) are worth a hear, so for the next 7 days you’ll hear more about this fascinating record label’s stuff.
The final day of our three-day Phratry Record Vinyl Extravaganza isn’t a split 7″, but a two-song release from The Read (past tense, not present tense). Of the three releases, this is the most unique, as The Read is an unusual sort of dance-punk band.
The dance comes before the punk part in the Read’s mind, as every second of this release has a groove that causes me to head-bob and (under louder circumstances) to dance. The bass and drum grooves are heavy, and the guitar contributes jarring, jagged melodies and chords to propel the songs. The band is extremely tight, which is how they’re able to make solid dance-rock without any mention of synthesizer. Both “Party Lines” and “Yr Garbage” deliver a significant danceable edge without compromising any of the DIY grittiness that Phratry Records espouses.
A big element of that DIY grit is The Read’s lyrics, which are socially (“Yr Garbage,” which is literally about reusing garbage) and politically (“Party Lines”) motivated. Another element is the vocals, which are not standard. They’re low, gruff, and occasionally amelodic, but not in a spoken way. It’s something you have to hear. It sounds great in the context of the Read’s music.
This is a really tight, enjoyable release. I’d love to see the Read live, as I’m sure that show would be a heck of a lot of fun. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard dance-rock on vinyl, but there’s a first time for everything, right?
Day two of our three-day Phratry Records Vinyl Extravaganza sees Ampline and Atomic Garden splitting the bill. It’s an incredibly effective split, because the bands sound incredibly similar. I actually checked my record player to make sure I’d flipped the vinyl when Atomic Garden’s b-side “Step 3: Sonar System Overload” kicked in, because it sounded remarkably like A-side “Our Carbon Dreams.”
The songs quickly distinguish themselves, but both feature the same ideas: grainy guitar distortion, low vocals placed under the instruments in the mix, a straight-forward rock style, and a disparaging cloud hanging over the entirety of both songs. Ampline’s “Our Carbon Dreams” is a no-frills rock song, going so far as to cut out vocals at points and let the song ride on its own merits. Ampline touts itself as a mostly instrumental band, and the tight, melodic chemistry that the band members show in the vocal-less sections prove the truth of that statement. The melodic guitar work and perfectly pitched mood are excellent.
Atomic Garden’s “Step 3: Sonar System Overloaded” seems to feature the exact same vocalist, but has a much more propulsive energy than Ampline’s work. The consistent drums and strumming patterns push the song forward, although it would still be a stretch to call the speed anything more than mid-tempo. The vocals take a much bigger role here than in the A side, and it’s not my favorite part of the song. The song is good, but definitely not as entertaining as “Our Carbon Dreams.”
This Ampline/Atomic Garden is good, but not the best one of the three. If you like straight-up distortion-heavy rock with some artsy leanings, this would be a good release to pick up.
Phratry Records‘ release of split 7″ albums is a show of faith in the importance of rock and roll. Seven-inchers are pretty much most inefficient mode of releasing music there is: two songs on two sides of vinyl. The rare band and label that still puts money into pressing 7″ believes not only in the particular band being pressed, but in the importance that a single song can have. Is releasing one song by two bands each important? Most say no. Phratry Records says, “Eff yeah!”
So, for the next three days, we’ll be featuring the three latest Phratry records releases, which are all 7″ vinyl. This first one is a Caterpillar Tracks/Arms Exploding split, with the A side being CT’s “It’s a W.I.N. for the Home Team” and the B side being Arms Exploding’s “Of Luxury & Branding.”
Caterpillar Tracks’ post-punk offering here is cemented by a pounding, staccato rhythm that becomes a head-bobbing groove after the ears get accustomed to it (and there’s plenty of time to normalize it, as the rhythm forms the basis for the entire song). The guitars squiggle, squirm and leap over it, making dissonant melodies and odd rhythms over the insistent thrum from the rhythm section. The vocals are a clear, undistorted yell; there’s no rasp, nor is there any hysteria in the screaming. The vocalist is passionate, but he doesn’t portray it by getting crazy. This song is relatively short, unfortunately, but it makes a big impression. I loved “It’s a W.I.N. for the Home Team,” as it reminded me of what Deep Elm Records’ Red Animal War and what Brand New could have been like if they had they taken a slightly harder route out of Deja Entendu.
Arms Exploding’s track is much less contained than Caterpillar Tracks’ tune. The thrashing punk of “Of Luxury & Branding” features cymbal-heavy drum work, shrieking guitars, wild yelling, full-out screaming, slashing rhythms, and lots of distortion. Where Caterpillar Tracks’ sound was contained and insistent, Arms Exploding is wild, frenetic and barely controlled. Arms Exploding seems the type of band that would end their sets with blood on the floor and equipment broken.
There is some restraint leveled in “Of Luxury & Branding,” as a stripped-back groove section gives a momentary respite from chaos. The song also ends on a loop of a off-kilter piano line, which was an unexpected move from such a wild and frantic piece. But the majority of this track is old-school punk rock: abrasive, unusual, unexpected, and challenging to the status quo.
Both of these tracks were worth the vinyl. My personal aesthetic draws me to Caterpillar Tracks over Arms Exploding, but the quality of both tracks ensures that there kids out there saying the same thing about Arms Exploding. Whether you get the seven-inch or download it digitally (lame), you should invest some cash in this release. It’s not just two great songs; it’s show of solidarity with Phratry Records’ statement that red vinyl is worth it.
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.