I’ve been a fan of Josh Ramon’s work since 2006, when I discovered his bands Theanti and Lamps on the label Inderma Music; I liked them so much that it appears I reviewed their Dot With a Dot in a Dot Dot Dot split EP twice. (I liked it more the second time, apparently.)
Ramon is back with one old and one new collaborator as Keeps, and the band’s sophomore album No Bridges has been keeping me off-guard for the last few weeks. Ramon and co. are comfortable playing both improvised indie-rock and the traditional, song-based variety, and Keeps is the latter: The arrangements are comparatively tight and song lengths hover around four minutes. The big difference from then to now is the weight of the songs.
The band still has elements of their erratic, spontaneous self of old, but No Bridges incorporates those elements into thoughtful songwriting and deft atmosphere control. Excellent use of abrupt entries and exits makes opener “Cantland” and closer “Arkansas Blackbird” into the highlights they are: sections roil and churn in guitar sludge, only to snap into wiry riffs before blasting off to more sections of rock. The forlorn guitars/distant vocals/pounding drums outro of “Arkansas Blackbird” is one of the more haunting ends to an album I’ve heard this year, especially since it appears suddenly.
There are some songs of both sides of the spectrum: “Midwest Urn” is a raging rocker that makes me think of the thoughtful anger of late ’90s and early 2000s post-hardcore. But even that song has a slow section toward the end before picking up for the conclusion. “Someone Wanted More” is a pensive, acoustic-led post-rock-type piece, albeit with some distortion and dissonance thrown in to keep the vibe going.
No Bridges works better as a whole album, like the aforementioned late ’90s post-hardcore and similar-era math rock. I didn’t really listen to music in theose genres for particular songs: I listened for how the music felt and made me feel. (This is the argument Chuck Klosterman makes for ’80s metal, and, by extension, pretty much all music in Fargo Rock City.) Post-hardcore’s aesthetic of getting the emotion down instead of being technically perfect is big here as well; Ramon’s oft-desperate, impassioned voice is a great emotive vehicle. He ekes out some memorable melodies (“Arkansas Blackbird”), but the more important thing is that it all sounds slightly unhinged (the ironically titled “Stayble,” “Old Tangled”). Whether leading with an acoustic guitar melody, an erratic guitar line or churning distortion, No Bridges seems teetering over the edge of something.
Keeps’ No Bridges reminds of the early 2000s, when dark, heavy, thoughtful rock was trying to maintain artistic integrity by staving off those who would turn it into emotionally abrasive hardcore, simplify it into pop-punk, or become whatever Brand New is now. But the “everybody else” sides of the sound won, leaving pretty much only Thursday to carry the flag for thoughtful, aesthetically-refined rockers. Keeps does not sound like Thursday, nor does Keeps have a telegraphed political bent. However, the aesthetic ideals seem correlated, and it’s really encouraging to hear Keeps go to bat for loud, intricate, thoughtful rock without pretension, irony or coat-tailing in some other genre. Highly recommended.
I’m not going to lie; this review was a little hard to write. This is probably because I can’t place the music next to anything I’m familiar with, but that isn’t a bad thing. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what other bands Theanti sounds like, which is more than a lot of other bands have to say.
The strongest feature on this internet-only EP is the guitar work; technically it is very interesting, though it is loaded with a chorus effect. At times this might not do anything for their cause. Adversely, the use of this chorus on the guitar allows them to sound very progressive. Rhythmically, the music is strong; the drummer never misses a beat and the drums sound full. For me the lowest point of the EP was the vocals; throughout the whole EP they seem forced and at times frantic.
The first half of the EP is much stronger, which could be due to the fact that most of the songs sound very similar. The guitar work is centered on having a very technical sound, but begins to drag on a little towards the end despite the EP only being fifteen minutes long. The introduction track is instrumental and probably the most somber. It has the ability to grab the listener if it is their first listen and keeps them wondering what could come next. The next track, “We Are Ruins,” picks up the pace a little and has some jagged guitar work with a firm beat. After that, Theanti gets a little more ambient with the track “Reflections of Time Travel.” Another track, “The Cancer Generation,” is a little lost on me. I feel like the vocals and guitar work aren’t as strong as the rest of the EP’s, and this is where the record starts to lack. From this point on, I feel as if I’ve already heard the rest of these songs because I listened to the first few. However, Theanti define their style with repetitive sound.
Overall, the music is dissonant and jarring. This leaves it to sound very distancing, which some people tend to like. I wouldn’t put this release on to let it fall into background noise, because it would most certainly take charge of the atmosphere.
The Independent Clauses talks with Josh Ramon, the mysterious leader of a mysterious band on a mysterious label playing mysterious ambient-based music. The mystery was too much for us after we heard www.purevolume.com/theanti– we had to know more. So we got it. Here we go.
IC: Who is ‘in’ Theanti?
JR: Well, this project started out as sort of a “solo” thing I (Josh Ramon) had wanted to do, but now it’s sort of becoming something entirely new…and consists of different people at different times.
IC: What does Theanti mean, if it’s not “The Anti”?
JR: Theanti actually did start out as “the anti”, but for obvious reasons (if it’s not so obvious think cheesy) I chose to make it one word and pronounce it slightly different…think “thieves” and “anty” = theanti.
IC: What is the driving force behind Theanti?
JR: I play music as a result of the way I live my life… I couldn’t be who I am and not play music, or write, or do any of the other things that I do. Consequently it’s not always productive things…
IC: Do you play shows?
JR: Actually, this is a good question. To date we haven’t played a show… I am, however, piecing together a live band with hopes of promoting the full length album throughout next year.
IC: What would “making it big” look like to Theanti?
JR: Hmmm… It’d probably look a lot like it does now, only I’d have more material recorded. I’m not looking, nor expecting, to be any kind of commercial success. I just have a lot of musical ideas flowing through my head that need release…if only to help me sleep better at night…
IC: What is Inderma Records, and how did you get associated with it?
JR: Well, Inderma Records is just a label that I felt would be suited to my needs. I really think they have a lot of great ideas and the right incentive to do something no one else will… mostly because other labels are worried about selling records, rather than making really good ones.
IC: Do you plan on releasing any material anytime soon?
JR: As I briefly mentioned earlier I’ll be recording a full-length- hopefully we’ll start and finish it this winter. I’ve been writing material, as well as collaborating with some friends on a lot of new stuff…everything is really getting exciting right now.
IC: Is there a specific reason that there’s no site, hardly a Purevolume site, and barely any information on you guys at Inderma Records’ site?
JR: Well, it was definitely somewhat deliberate to not have much information about us available. It didn’t seem necessary at such an early stage in our “career” to have a lengthy bio and loads of facts when no one really gives a shit. I guess it also added to the mysticism that’s ever-so-present in the music itself, but, I wasn’t intentionally fueling that fire…
IC: What music influenced you when you were young?
JR:I suppose mostly the standard things you might think, depending on what age. When I was really little I listened to a lot of Zeppelin and the Beatles with my dad…But after about age 5 that stopped and I don’t think I listened to music again until I was 15.
IC: What music influences you now?
JR: On a “mainstream” level probably the Dissociatives, Radiohead and the Mars Volta, but I’m mostly into instrumental music, like Godspeed You Black Emperor! or anything classical..
IC: What was the last great CD you heard?
JR: The debut album from the Dissociatives… I’d say it’s the most underrated album of the past few years.
Interview conducted by Stephen Carradini in the month of May.
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.