Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Posting our quarterly earnings

April 3, 2010

So, I took a week off from Independent Clauses. I was having a monster of a week, so I just mailed it in for a couple days. Compared to the eight-month hiatus that one time, this was nothin’.

But, it nicely coincided with the end of the quarter, so I thought I’d put a little list up of my top releases from the first three months (since I listened to more music in this quarter than I think I have at any other time in Independent Clauses’ existence). It’s been an awesome year for music so far, and I’m stoked that there are three more quarters yet.

1. Sever Your Roots – The Felix Culpa. This post-hardcore masterpiece has not yet ceased to amaze me. Every song reveals new gems with each listen, whether it be a buried guitar line, a line of lyrics I hadn’t yet caught, or something else. “Escape to the Mountain” is one of my favorite tracks of the year.

2. Hours From It – Holy Fiction. Jumped up my list in the last week or so, as “More than Ever,” “Song 10” and “Two Small Bodies” inserted themselves in my life and would not let go. Passionate, melodic, lush indie-rock that doesn’t brook any cliches, resulting in occasionally challenging listening. But it’s worth it to hear the vocalist holler out “I neeeeeed you moooore than everrrr…”

3. Mt. Chimaera – Brasstronaut. Any band that’s got the guts to eschew choruses for an entire album, send down trumpet solos like it’s nobody’s business, and write the equivalent of an indie-rock symphony deserves all the props they can get. The fact that clarinet-led klezmer also happens in there makes it jump my list.

4. Of the Blue Color of the Sky – OK GO. I heard that their new video has several million hits and their album has sold just over 25,000 copies. This is a freakin’ shame. It’s their best work yet, mature in ways that “Here it Goes Again”-era OK GO can’t understand, much less imitate. If you pardon the horrible autotune experiment, the whole thing is solid, with “Needing/Getting” being the fist-pumping, shout-it-out anthem.

5. We’ve Built Up to NOTHING – 500 Miles to Memphis. This is country-punk at its finest, displaying both its country and punk roots, while extending out into places I’d never thought they’d go (full orchestras? really?). Standout track “Everybody Needs an Enemy” is outlandishly good in its nearly-ten-minutes-long-ness.

Honorable mention: They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe in Them – Post Harbor. Fell off a bit on me, as the staying power isn’t as strong as I expected it would be. But it’s still an incredible post-rock album.

So, here’s to the second quarter! More music! More!

…soihadto…'s instrumental post-rock is heavy on the rock, light on the post

March 16, 2010

I was incredibly confused when I listened to …soIhadto…’s album Adventure Stories (Not Based on Fact?). I was looking forward to a pop punk band: unneccessary punctuation, weird capitalization, questions in the title, the word “adventure,” the whole nine yards. As kitschy as a band name/album name combo can get? Pretty close.

…soIhadto… is actually an instrumental post-rock band, heavy on the rock. Yeah, I know, right? Wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years. I guess that’s why reviewers listen to albums instead of look at them. Who knew?

Having already reviewed an incredibly good post-rock album this year in Post Harbor’s They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them, my critical ears immediately went into comparison mode. Where Post Harbor’s post-rock was heavy on the post (i.e. mood and melody), …soIhadto…’s is heavy on the rock (i.e. riffs and riffs and riffs). So I pretty much had to shut down the compare-o-meter as soon as I started it up.

As …soIhadto… is big into riffs and guitar heroics, I didn’t connect with their music as thoroughly as I did other bands. It’s not that they neglect mood; “Please Friends Warn Me If They Agree” sets up a very expectant mood for the first forty-five seconds of the songs. It’s that the mood is often a means to an end; in this case, it’s the megariff that hits at forty-six seconds. Is it an awesome riff? Yes. But when the band uses what I consider to be one of the main joys of the genre (extended mood sections) as a means to an end, it’s a bit slighting to me. It feels like …soIhadto… is a rock band that somehow lost its vocalist instead of a true post-rock instrumental band.

Let me reiterate: “Please Friends…” is freakin’ awesome. I wish I had written the riff that they crank out at the end of the song. But it just feels oddly misplaced without vocals. Then again, for those who are upset with post-rock’s inability to stop feeling and just kick out the jams, …soIhadto… might be just the thing. I mean, there’s not too many places you’re going to get the all-out modern rock rush of “The Plumber and the Peacock.”

The songs aren’t all as egregious offenders as “Please Friends…” Tunes like “Come and Get Me in My Sleep” stretch out for eight minutes, and several of them are spent on the type of musical experimentation and wankery that I’ve come to expect from the genre.

Adventure Stories (Not Based on Fact?) is a solid instrumental post-rock release. The members are all talented musicians and their collective vision is fully realized, resulting in some powerful songs and mighty riffs. I just don’t connect with that vision very well.

Post Harbor brings all the post-rock parts together successfully

January 6, 2010

I love chronology. Keeping track of dates and reconstructing timelines is one of my favorite hobbies/mental gymnastics. That’s why I know exactly when I was introduced to post-rock. I was brought up on Christian punk rock (of all the odd places to start from), and so on August 27, 2004, I went to go see Last Tuesday, Philmore, Sleeping at Last and a bunch more at Hear No Evil fest. Stuck in the middle of the punk and emo was this post-rock band named Ember Days. I was so awed by their sound that I bought their EP and an XL t-shirt, because that’s all they had left.

Ever since then, I’ve loved post-rock. And that’s why Post Harbor‘s “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them” is near and dear to my ears right now. Post Harbor takes elements from all over the post-rock spectrum and combines them into one incredibly impressive album of sweeping, varied music.

They kick the doors in with “Ponaturi,” unleashing a riff-heavy guitar attack that sounds more like Tool than Sigur Ros. They slam through the riff several times, then pull back into an intricate calm section that features atmospheric synths (in the Appleseed Cast, “I’m about to fight you” atmosphere) and weaving guitar lines. They spend the rest of the album drifting back and forth between heavy and loud, making the most of both of their skills.

They waste no time, closing down “Ponturi” quickly in favor of their statement song “Cities of the Interior.” “Cities” is eight and a half minutes long, almost a minute of which is fade-in and fade-out. In between are heavy guitars, anthemic riffs, a nearly two-minute long section of nothing but vibraphone (or similar percussion) chords, electronic noodling, synthesizers, strings (violin and cello), and sparingly (but pleasantly!) used vocals. In short, Post Harbor throws everything into “Cities of the Interior,” and the return on investment is immense. The track is easily the best thing that Post Harbor has to offer, and it never feels like it takes as long as it does to run its course. The track is simply breathtaking, and there’s no other way I know of to explain it.

Even though the most complex and satisfying track is set at spot number two, that’s not to diminish the quality of the rest of the album. The ebb and flow of the album is perfectly done, with quick tracks flowing seamlessly into quieter ones with no jarring changes. “Alia’s Fane” starts out with the sounds of rain, humming synths and strings; it’s peaceful and wonderful. The rest of the song slowly fades in, and it’s just glorious how the whole thing unfolds. Three songs later, “For Example, This is a Corpse” takes a midtempo approach to math-rock with some serious guitar noodling and rhythmic complexity. That leads in to the final track, “Intro,” which is a delicate, percussion-less piece that floats along on a creaky piano line and background noises.

This album has all of the post-rock idioms rolled into one: guitar noodling, buildups, atmospheric pieces, overarching melodies, heavy parts, quiet parts, heavy/quiet/heavy parts, all of it. The members of Post Harbor studied post-rock, took it apart and put it back together expertly on “They Can’t Hurt You If You Don’t Believe In Them.” Post Harbor has set the bar for best album of 2010. Let all comers come. It doesn’t come out till February, but you can hear clips on their website.

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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