There’s also rock’n’roll in the summer, for those of us who like it a little heavier when the sun is shining.
Oh So Summery (and Loud)
1. “Right on Time” – The Addies. You might turn down the volume before you hit play: this chunky slab of guitar-rock takes off at full blast before dropping into a groove of sorts.
2. “Brix-tone” – Mangoseed. Reggae + Rage against the Machine = whoa bro.
3. “Forgiveness” – Turn to Crime. The song name and band name seem incongruous, but whatevs. This is a refreshing bit of laid-back rock’n’roll that makes me think of Velvet Underground.
4. “Human Imitation” – Rayne. We’re going to look back in 20 years and realize that, while there were more popular bands, Muse was the most important band of the generation. Those soaring piano lines! High drama! Mmm. Anyway, Rayne knows how to write a high-drama ballad, which is what you get here.
5. “i am laid back no pressure” – pjaro. Some of that late ’80s/early ’90s post-hardcore churn, some of that mid-’90s indie-rock malaise, some punk hollering/singing–pjaro is a clever, interesting rock band.
When life throws that old right hook (as it is wont to do), I retreat to Mountain Goats albums (All Hail West Texas! Forever!) and reading fiction. You’ll note that “writing Independent Clauses posts” isn’t one of those two things. However, having recovered from a cross-country move, website issues, an illness, and various other adventures in the month of September, I am back on the reviewing horse.
Zulu Wave‘s Nyami Nyami EP is easy to love but difficult to parse, because it combines so many disparate genres into one cohesive sound. Their starting point is an ominous, Radiohead-esque, thoughtful rock vibe: check the guitar tone on the title track and the wicked mood on closer “Skataful Lies.” Built on top of that base are some seriously grooving bass lines, jazzy asides, and an easy confidence from the male vocalist. Oh, and you can sing along to the group vocals in “Skataful Lies”–that is, before the Rage Against the Machine-esque guitars and bass come hammering in.
The end result is a tightly-knit collection of sounds that does its best to defy genre analysis. If you like people with brains making music for people with brains and dancing shoes, you’ll find much to love in Zulu Wave’s Nyami Nyami EP. The title track and “Skataful Lies” are the best places to start. I expect much out of Zulu Wave in the future, as their songwriting aesthetic is highly developed and ready to produce some incredible work.
I believe the quintessential feature of rock’n’roll is rebellion, and the fundamental element of punk is indignation. My diminishing amount of rebellion has lead me to seek out less rock bands, but my growing indignation over the state of the world has caused me to seek out talented, angry punk bands.
They’re increasingly difficult to come by in this entertainment-seeking age. When you’re only trying to entertain yourself, it greatly decreases the amount of topics that you care enough about to become indignant over. Our culture is anti-punk.
Thankfully, The One Through Tens have indignation to spare. It oozes out of their funk-informed sound and into the title of their album: Fighting for a Golden Age. The One Through Tens are not taking this sitting down.
And by funk, I don’t mean Parliament/Funkadelic. I mean Rage Against The Machine-style, angry white boy funk. The band sets in with it on track two (“Dyin’ Blues,” naturally), and keeps it as a vital element of the sound for the entire album. There is some punk riffing here, in “Run From Your Master” and the Offspring-esque title track, but the punk is mostly upheld by the sneering, impassioned vocals and the swagger with which the whole thing is pulled off.
In fact, the songs are more often than not slow. Some are even slow and quiet. But they never let up the intensity, no matter what the music sounds like. Whether it’s stomping out some Queens of the Stone Age-style rock on “Crazy For You,” fuzzing out for a stoner rock trip in “Religious Fervor” or impersonating RATM on highlight “So Damn Sad,” this band is a punk band through and through.
Fighting for a Golden Age is a stellar punk release in an era that isn’t conducive to those. The understanding that the band members were swimming upstream to make this album reinforces the power and maturity of this release. Isn’t that what punk is supposed to be about?
Michael’s Uncle and the Ramones would have been good friends. Michael’s Uncle plays primitive, rebellious, shout-it-out punk rock that doesn’t take any prisoners or care what you think about it. The fact that the vocals on Return of Dark Psychedelia that aren’t yelling are difficult to stomach isn’t going to stop Michael’s Uncle from singing them. That’s what they wanted to do, sucker, and who’s gonna stop them? You?
The band is quite tight, which is a surprise. They make a good show of being sloppy and rambunctious (“We Say,” especially), but they tip their hand on “Hellboy,” which relies on several interlocking rhythmic parts. Once I realized what they were capable of, I went back and re-listened to everything, and it becomes obvious fairly quickly that under the disorganized chaos of their vocal performances lies a band that knows itself very well.
Sure, “Mas Na To” is basically a Ramones tune, but “Prej Byznys” calls up a Rage Against the Machine rhythm and mentality with surprising ease. “Z Kontejneru Smrad” is an entirely enjoyable and convincing so-cal surf-punk tune (not kidding). “Nezmenis Nic” is a Primus-esque battle rock tune. This band has chops to spare, and they show them off to all who are paying close enough attention. This is primarily a punk album, but not in a Green Day way at all.
The only real flub I found in eighteen tracks was the plodding “Moon,” which makes no sense in the context of the album and does nothing helpful to the progression of the album. Every other track has something redeemable about it, and most have lots of redeemable things.
The musicians are talented. The songwriting skills are spot-on. The command of other genres is excellent. This is a punk album worth picking up if you like true punk attitude and old-school punk rock bands. Return of Dark Psychedelia is a surprise-laden release that rewards people who tune in.
I’m gonna be straight-up honest: this album has haunted me for the better part of two years. I’ve had people run off with copies of this album. I’ve lost this album in a move. I found this album six months after the move. Then Inner Surge broke up. Then I felt guilty that I hadn’t reviewed it before they broke up and put it on a shelf. Then I found other music from before the move and I reviewed that, making me feel guilty about not reviewing Inner Surge’s An Offering. So I pulled it out, even though it came out in 2008. Once I get this CD reviewed, there will be no more skeletons in Independent Clauses’ closet. And that’s a good feeling.
Another thing that pretty much sucks about me failing so hard at reviewing this is the fact that it’s absolutely great. I know that one review doesn’t make or break a band, but every little bit helps when you’re up against the forces of evil/the music industry. Okay, enough with the angst. On to the music.
Inner Surge’s An Offeringis a highly intelligent metal album. This isn’t banging and thrashing for the sake of banging and thrashing; this is a political album through and through, and everything serves that purpose. From the titles (“Halliburton Piggies,” “The Monroe Doctrine,” “Stimulus Response,” “The Empire”) to the lyrics to the overall mood of outrage, this is an incredibly well-concerted effort. This is what Rage Against the Machine would sound like if it ate a metal band.
An Offering is the sort of metal I like: it’s heavy, but it’s very melodic and rhythmic. It’s recorded incredibly tightly, with guitar effects, distinguishable vocals, singing, and yet plenty of double pedal and head-banging crunch. “Interahamwe” is the best track to display all of this, as the songwriting swings from reverbed sections accompanied by non-kitschy spoken word to screamed sections underpinned by double pedal and crushing guitars. Then it segues into a quiet section complete with found sound of a crowd screaming (or a guitar effect simulating such) and whispering. And it all flows perfectly. It’s friggin’ great. It’s right along the lines of System of a Down, and that’s a high compliment.
Inner Surge is less herky-jerky than SOAD, but they replace that innovative move with endless variations on their vocal style. “Light a Fire” features vocals that sound as if spoken through a megaphone, dramatic singing, ferocious yelling, low singing, and all-out screaming. Their total control of vocal performance elevates this album above many other metal albums.
I’m sorry Inner Surge had to go, but at least they went out on the highest note of their career. From the fantastic riff of “Halliburton Piggies” to the brutal machine-gun rhythms of “Stimulus Response” to the marching, staccato riffing and rhythms of opener “The Monroe Doctrine,” this is simply an amazing metal album. I’m not saying that just because I’m notoriously and egregiously behind on reviewing this. I’m saying it because it’s absolutely true. This album is a statement, and it’s a completely solid one.
If you like political metal in the vein of System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine, or the like, you can still purchase Inner Surge’s An Offering here. Band leader Steve Moore said in Inner Surge’s farewell address that this is “an album I am proud of to this day.” He is right to be proud. It is definitely one of the best I’ve heard. You can (and should!) check out his new band The Unravelling here.
I’m a really emotional person. As a result, I connect best with really emotional people, art and situations. I get really into music when I can tell an artist put full emotional weight into the work. But there are more types of music than just emotional purges (thank goodness), and I like a lot of those too. But it’s always the emotional ones that I come back to.
My bias toward emotional music (there, I admitted it) is why I’ve listened to the Oregon Donor‘s A Pageant’s End on and off for six months without ever reviewing it. While there is emotion in A Pageant’s End, there’s a strong rhythmic and technical aspect to the songs that puts me off. I recognize it as talented and enjoyed it aesthetically, but it doesn’t stick. Even now, I can remember a specific riff that was solid, but I have no idea which track it’s in.
But Oregon Donor is in good company in this problem. I prefer Muse to Radiohead, because once Kid A happened, Radiohead just seemed emotionally sterile to me (I still love The Bends and OK Computer). I prefer Rage Against the Machine to Primus, even though Primus is way more talented. This is not a problem with Oregon Donor. This is a personal issue.
I stated those previous bands to give you somewhat of a framework to contextualize Oregon Donor. A Pageant’s End isn’t post-hardcore, post-rock, emo, punk, or rock. It’s an album of music that pulls from all of those genres. It’s very technical music, as the bass and drums have incredibly complex parts, and the guitar lines occasionally exist more for their rhythmic power than their melodic power. If someone put a gun to my head and told me to categorize Oregon Donor, I’d gladly say “serious rock’n’roll.” They don’t write music to make people dance; if anything, they write music to make people think.
“What Good Hate Did” sticks out to me because it has the strongest melodies of the bunch and the most emotional content (“had you any pity, dear, you could have put a bullet in my head/you could have spared me this grief”). It’s also over seven minutes long, which always gets my attention. It’s an excellent tune, and one worthy of much praise. “Older” takes songwriting conventions and turns them on their head, pairing odd rhythms and moods with peculiar guitar riffs and ideas. “Morse Code” is nigh on a math-rock song (does anyone still play math-rock?), with its complicated, interlocking riffs and rhythms.
I should clarify that this isn’t a cold-hearted slab of notes and rhythms. There’s plenty of heart that comes through in the tunes. It’s just that Oregon Donor isn’t primarily looking to pull heartstrings or incite fury in traditional, simple ways. All of the emotions of a regular human being are channeled through A Pageant’s End; it just takes more thought, focus and concentrated listening than usual to discern and understand them. There’s no huge major chord crashing in, nor very many telegraphed emotive parts. Oregon Donor’s complex music makes for rewarding listening if one really pays attention and digs in. I haven’t been able to do that on a large scale, but I have become acquainted with “What Good Hate Did.”
So, there you have it. Should you pick up A Pageant’s End by Oregon Donor? If you like thoughtful, artistic rock, most definitely. But be warned. It’s not easy listening, and Oregon Donor didn’t intend it to be that way. Those who expend the effort will be rewarded, though. I can guarantee you that.
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.