December 1, 2009
2009 | Self-Released
I don’t think a single period of pop history was forgotten faster than the late nineties – no, I’m not talking about Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel, or Radiohead; they have all cemented themselves firmly into indie rock history. I’m talking about pop-rock, post-alternative; the Counting Crows, Third Eye Blinds, and Eagle Eyed Cherries that came, left infectiously innocuous songs ridden with overproduction, and reverted back to the musical hell from whence they came (well, at least most of them). Where did they come from? I mean, they must have heard punk-rock, right? Were the Replacements really enough to fuel an entire eight-year movement of shamelessly clever modern rock? And, as more and more musicians choose to dig deeper into the one-hit-wonder crates, pulling back toward disco, glam, and other once-hated genres, when will the 90s all-stars have a chance to shine? Who will be the Patrick Wolf to Stephan Jenkins’ David Bowie?
The answer, in my opinion, is dwelling somewhere under the surface of Ludlow Lions’ No Stories. The album, from opener “Keyboard Teeth” and onward, moves disjointedly through different genres. They touch on angular Pinback riffs, garage-fuzz, Replacements style hooks, R.E.M. delivery, and the occasional crunched distortion that could be stripped straight out of “Semi-Charmed Life.” And the lyrics move fluidly from intelligent and thought provoking (“Scopes Climbs a Tree,” which, from what I can gather, is actually inspired by the Scopes Monkey Trial) to the banal and innocuous (“I want a new Cold War/ I felt much safer before” is fine, but “If there’s a new Cold War/ I’d be so captivated” seems like the band may not actually understand what the Cold War was) to the completely meaningless (a soaring, layered chorus of “We’re so proud/ We’re so proud/ We’re so proud of…doom”).
More on Ludlow Lions | No Stories
September 18, 2009
2009 | Warp
The lower the framerate, the faster life moves. When you think back to Charlie Chaplin’s classic Depression-era commentary Modern Times, the limitations inherent in early celluloid forced people to move quicker. Modern Times’ assembly line workers move impossibly quickly to keep up with the rate of production. This is accomplished almost incidentally: the tiny, missing photographic fragments create this jerking, frantic motion that better gets at the sweaty, infinitely demanding pace of the 30s American worker than modern film ever could.
In Central Market, Tyondai Braxton (most known for his work as the dude with the alien vocals in Battles) has created an orchestral piece that manages to simultaneously soundtrack and stand as one of those films. In the first seconds of opener “Opening Bell,” the cinema begins: a lighthearted, cartoonish piano chirps away a few bars. For a few bars, this piano sits alone, a faint computer drone buzzing in the background. A friendly gang of whistling joins in, and the looped computer drone is joined by computerized whistles. They contradict each other: the computer harsh and industrial, the whistles happy, and so classically organic, the sounds of the workers in the factory. As the song proceeds, the two battle each other for the spotlight: long sections dedicated to fluttering strings, flutes, and whistles, only to be met by the robotic pounding of computers.
It’s this tension between the friendly, organic nature of Braxton’s orchestra against the spastic grinding of computers, that make Central Market an essential listen of 2009. If you’re familiar with Battles’ 2007 must-listen Mirrored, then you may have some idea of what to expect from Market. Braxton has a very specific style of composition that relies heavily on looping different sounds or melodies for many minutes at a time. The songs become so concentrated on these loops that when they abruptly end, or are replaced with a new section, the listener gets shocked or feels uneasy, torn away and told to focus on something else.
More on Tyondai Braxton | Central Market
September 15, 2009
A Million Years
2009 | Self-Released
As the first EP from Brooklyn quartet A Million Years concludes after a scant ten minutes, the listener wonders what exactly just happened. She may listen again, trying to pick up on a nuance or two, some quirk of melody or rhythm to distinguish the music on this album from anything else out there in the wide world of indie rock, but these quirks are elusive. 80s influences? Sure. A danceable beat? Sure. Could you pick it out in a police lineup? No way.
The first track, “Suspicious,” opens with a clean and simple chord progression, which seems at first promising, the sort of catchy tune the listener might end up humming later on. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too simple, the sing-songy melody chasing its tail in a dizzyingly tight circle under repetitive lyrics, somehow managing to make a three-minute song sound several times longer with its distinctly saccharine overtones. The vocalist tries to shout a few of the repeated lyrics to almost comical effect, as if trying to force a dark edge into an innocent cartoon, but it’s all for show here.
The second track, “By Yourself,” follows the repetitive formula of the first, reversing its three staple chords from high to low to throw off the unwary listener, with even more insipid lyrics (rhyming “head” and “dead?” Seriously?). Like the first song, it feels overdone, even though it is barely hitting the three-minute mark. The slightly mellow interlude completes the collage of riffs torn straight from overplayed 90s rock radio one-hit wonders—anyone remember the New Radicals? I didn’t either, until I heard this song.
“Incandescent,” the final and title track, buries the by-now-irritatingly simple beat in a few layers of guitar effects but mercilessly continues pouring on the repetition, slightly tweaking the standard melodic formation again but keeping with the sugary nonchalance of Incandescent. A Million Years have got the formula for unobjectionable, benign indie rock figured out perfectly. No one is going to react violently against this music, unless it’s listened to on repeat in a maddening effort to find some individualistic tendency—so to this band I offer my congratulations: you’ve invented indie elevator music.
You can stream Incandescent from A Million Years’ MySpace.
by Helen Buyniski
September 14, 2009
Oodles of Charm
2009 | Chocolate Brontosaurus
Do Brooklyn-based trio Schocholautte a favor: don’t judge their debut EP, Oodles of Charm (released this past March) by its first track, “Mercedes Benz.” Sure, the opening guitar line is catchy but “grating” would be a generous way to describe the vocals. Lead singer Michael P!’s unfortunate habit of stretching out his vowels and stumbling through rhyme schemes is as awkward as it is earnest.
Thankfully though, Michael P! (the band goes by stage names, like “Captain K” and, uh, “Artie”) tones it down as the record progresses. His singing goes from being off-putting and irritating to appropriate and endearing. He yelps “LOL!” (no, seriously) to transition from chorus to verse in the opening track, but by centerpiece “Haley, Please” Michael P! charms, even with a line as simple and sappy as “Haley Jane/ That New York moon is full/ I know you wished everything could be made so beautiful.”
Schocholautte may not necessarily have anything new to say – Oodles’ primary themes are romance and relationships – but at least the band has fun saying it. The slinky bass line on “Spin the Bottle” complements the speak-singing about American Apparel spandex. Even though “Gone” and “Swimming Out” both have pretty much the same chorus (“La, la, la” on the former, “Ba, ba, ba” on the latter) the bouncy guitar on “Gone” makes sure the cliché is too enjoyable to feel like filler, while Michael P!’s effective inflections on “Swimming Out” keep that song shuffling forward. These tunes may not be innovative, but they’re definitely energetic.
Oodles of Charm builds to a climactic finish with its closing track, “Water on the Coast.” Simple strumming, steady drumming, and soft singing are slowly washed over by tense strings, dizzying distortion, and skillful screaming. It’s an unexpected cohesion, especially from a band that five songs earlier relied on AIM-speak to act as a bridge.
by Kyle McGovern
September 8, 2009
Everything Goes Wrong
2009 | In the Red
You know that Christopher Walken sketch? from SNL? The one that spawned a thousand t-shirts and drunken frat-boy recitations, where he proclaims loudly, with his trademark accentuation, that he has a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell? Hilarious.
The reason I mention this is that I have a feeling Christopher-Walken-as-Bruce-Dickinson produced Everything Goes Wrong. Only he wasn’t asking for more cowbell. He was asking for more fuzz. “I gotta have more distortion!”
I mean, he’s a man who puts his pants on one leg at a time. Only he also makes gold records, so we should trust him, right?
The Vivian Girls: Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy, and Ali Koehler, have been receiving a lot of hype lately. The Brooklyn trio are getting exponential amounts of press, and have been touring all over to promote Everything Goes Wrong, their sophomore effort, following their 2008 self-titled debut. They’re indie darlings who will probably be the Next Big Thing. But is it entirely warranted?
To return to an earlier theme, although Walken/Dickinson loved it, the cowbell was distracting. If you take SNL sketches as gospel truth like I do, it almost broke up Blue Oyster Cult. But this distortion? It’s just boring.
If you’ve heard one Vivian Girls song, you’ve pretty much heard them all.
More on Vivian Girls | Everything Goes Wrong