The Bellfuries‘ Workingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.
By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.
On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.
McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.
It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.
Drift Wood Miracle impressed me from the word go, and every interaction I’ve had with them or their music since then has only grown that admiration. The Between Three & Four EP takes their disparate ideas (punk, artsy emo, acoustic singer/songwriter) and melds them into a cohesive experience that ranks with some of the best artistic rock music being made today.
“41 (Blue)” starts off with morose vocals over dreamy guitars (emo revival!) before seguing into a snappy acoustic singer/songwriter section; it shifts into an arty, woozy, vaguely psychedelic coda, then closes with traditional classical piano. If you’re scratching your head, no shame there. It’s only held together by force of Drift Wood Miracle’s collective will. The band then smashcuts into the raging punk/emo track “Typical,” complete with their quickly-becoming-signature sliding guitar riff style. The type of guitar work here makes me immediately think of verse/chorus/verse style of Brand New and Taking Back Sunday, but they subvert those markers of familiarity by not complying with that standard songwriting style. Instead, they throw riff after riff, never returning to any of them. You can make three or four songs out of the ideas in “Typical,” especially if you include the pensive guitar ballad at the end. If you’re not impressed at this point, this type of music probably isn’t for you.
In the rest of the all-too-short EP (12 minutes?!), we get a spoken-word French section, a squalling instrumental emo breakdown, group vocals over an acoustic guitar in a haunting melody, the drummer singing a song he wrote (!), more piano, complicated drum rhythms, and a towering post-hardcore wall of guitars. It’s a tour-de-force collage of sounds and ideas that all come together in a consistent mood. Drift Wood Miracle has come into its own here, asserting their innovative artistic vision with impressive maturity and clarity. Between Three & Four is a dizzying, astonishing performance that will make you want to play it over and over.
Midway Fair‘s 2011 offering The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak leaned heavily on traditional English folk rhythms and melodies, throwing in some Springsteen-esque chug to cap it off. On their latest EP Most Distant Star, the band has grown into its sound quite a bit: the influences are still there, but they’re much tighter wound around each other. The result is a sharp four-song outing that gives me a feel for what Midway Fair is trying to accomplish as a band.
The opener/title track starts off with a strong piano riff and brash male/female vocals. By the middle of the first verse, they’ve introduced galloping drums to speedily pace the tune. They build the song throughout to a great, pounding high-point at about two minutes in, showing off their instrumental chops (those drum fills!), songwriting ability, and style. It’s a great song, totally appropriate to be the title track. The quartet keeps that energy and passion going through the rest of the EP, not letting any track drag. “Gone to California” features folk-style storytelling lyrics on top of a jaunty backdrop. “Ones and Zeros” incorporates some ’50s pop influences, while “Be What You Like” loops in some light soul and funk elements. It’s fun to see a band that’s comfortable with itself start to push the boundaries of its sound.
Midway Fair’s Most Distant Star may have started out as a folk EP, but by the end it morphed into a quick sampler of American pop music. Their tight instrumental interplay results in a light mood throughout: none of these tunes sound forced or heavy. If you’re looking for a fun pick-me-up today, look to Most Distant Star.
Eoin Glackin also sounds like an amped up version of himself on his new EP Pretty Girl. While the title track is a smooth adult alternative cut in the vein of David Grey, the other three tracks are louder, faster, and fuller than Glackin has experimented with in the past. “Morning Take Us Easy” turns rumbling toms into a punk-inspired, push-tempo pattern in the chorus; the bass, guitar, and speedy vocal patterns follow suit, making this somewhat like a Frank Turner song or a Ryan Adams song on speed. There’s still harmonica and piano in there for sure, but this ain’t your usual laidback singer/songwriter fare.
“Ride It Out” expands the sound even wider, pulling in some widescreen soundscapes reminiscent of U2. Glackin gets a tenor howl going on against a reverbed guitar riff–I can totally see him throwing his head back and going full Bono on it. He fills out the EP with a punchy alternate version of “Rain Finally Came” from his previous album, using the drums and bass to once again help create the energetic vibe of the tune.
Sometimes an artist loses all their charm when they “go electric,” but Glackin is able to transfer his appealing aspects to the new situation and incorporate new tricks. His vocals are perhaps even more suited to the electric style than the troubadour folk he was previously doing. Pretty Girl is a fun, exciting EP that shows a new direction for Glackin that could pay off in spades.
I came of age in the early 2000s, when Brand New, Thursday, and Taking Back Sunday were all making hay. I was drawn to Brand New the most, as they tempered their blazing vitriol with (somewhat) nuanced emotionalism. Gosh, those songs still give me shivers.
Anyway, I’ve got a decade-plus crush on emo bands that try to tie artistic ideals to the frantic passion of youth. Haverford’s Spirit Bear helped me get a fix recently. One need look no further than opener “Anxious,” which turns a quiet, American Football-esque emo-scape into a churning riffer by the end of three minutes. The rest of the album tracks the highs and lows of that sound, full of melodic textures throughout. Fans of emo revivalists Football, Etc. (what is it with football names?) will find much to love here. It’s a beautiful record that doesn’t try to make everything sound exactly perfect, which charms me all the more. You know who you are–go get this.
What do Twilight and a band called The National Rifle have in common? Would you be even more confused if you found out the answer is 100 Monkeys? Before you start getting frightened with the image of vampires, rifles, and a hoard of wild monkeys,you should know that100 Monkeys is the band of Twilight star Jackson Rathbone. The National Rifle is the up-and-coming band who opened up for them on their Twilight Lexicon Tour. Undoubtedly, The National Rifle is grateful for the exposure to hundreds of vampire-obsessed tweens. Fortunately for the band, their unique sound could probably stand alone even without the association of this pop culture phenomenon.
The inventive sounds of both The National Rifle and 100 Monkeys make it clear why the two bands would complement each other well for a tour. It seems likely that the artsy, sometimes “emo” kids that dig vampires would enjoy the unusual conglomeration of instruments and melodies that make up The National Rifle’s signature sound. Similar to bands like RX Bandits, this Philadelphia-based band combines punk rock with clever jazz and indie influences.
Man Full of Trouble is the National Rifle’s third release since 2006. This 5-track EP, released in fall 2009, showcases an incredibly distinctive sound that grows stronger with each track. The rough yet rhythmic vocals accentuated by the poppy female back-up tracks create a colorful experience for your senses.
The first track, “It’s Just Whiskey Momma,” seems to be the weakest on the EP. It is by no means a bad song, but it does not fully represent the more mature sound in the songs that follow. In many ways the first track gives a misleading garage punk feel, despite the fact that the other songs include more indie or jazz-influenced rock appeal. The influence of so many genres on one EP is what separates this band from the hundred of others in the indie/punk world.
One of the most enjoyable aspects on Man Full of Trouble is the inclusion of both the sax and flute. Perhaps the best songs are “I Think I Have a Tumor” and “Bad News from the District.” There is a pleasant retro throwback feel to these tunes that would suit a big city club scene well. “I Think I Have a Tumor” has a fantastic break down and sax solo that you would not normally expect from a “punk rock band.”
The lyrics are nothing short of blunt and seem to reflect the stereotype of life through a punk rock lens. In the song “Big Units,” the lyrics state, “Everybody fights, then drinks at night/Gotta fall in love, to just get by/Give up again stay home in bed/ We’ll just get old, and that’s the end.” This seems pretty fitting for the struggling life of many Americans today.
For an up-and-coming band that’s still not signed, it seems that The National Rifle is gaining the success and recognition that will lead to a successful future. Word on the street is that they would love to be included on the soundtrack for third film in the Twilight Saga, Eclipse. But then again, who wouldn’t ?
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.