For the last couple years Joyful Noise has been a pretty reliable home for quality bands on the harder end of the indie rock spectrum. From Child Bite to Man at Arms and the Abner Trio, their catalog’s spazzy asides have been backed up by stellar musicianship, quality songwriting bases and, most importantly, innovation. Too bad no one let Lafcadio in on these prerequisites.
Kibosh, the group’s latest offering, doesn’t venture farther than bland retreadings of Blood Brothers hyper-aggro post-hardcore, Rye Coalition sub-metal riffery, grunge and nu-metal (both of which have become jokes unto themselves). Hell, even their ironic ’80s-movie-quoting song titles motif (“When Someone Asks You If You Are a God You Say Yes”) was tapped out by Minus the Bear and Cat on Form about half a decade ago. I’m sure there are some young metalcore kids out there whose minds this will blow, but for the rest of us this is not joyful noise, but thorough boredom.
Let’s face it, some music we like simply because it fills the need we have for a certain sound or a certain long dormant band’s archetype. To acknowledge this fact doesn’t automatically diminish what that stand-in band accomplishes, but it also doesn’t mean that the new purveyors of your favorite sounds will ultimately stack up with your original preferences. Such is the case with Fjord Rowboat; the band is a near perfect hybridization of math rock all-stars Minus the Bear and shoegaze/Americana Early Day Miners. The group brings languid echoes like the autumn rain of “Shootin’ the Breeze” and choppy riffery “Carried Away” in equal measure, grafting quiet/loud volume and tempo shifts while steering clear of alt rock cliche. The above-mentioned tracks along with “Paragon” and “Can’t See the Sun” are nearly perfect hook-filled indie rock compositions, more muscular than Death Cab or The Shins, but smoother than the Arcade Fire or Modest Mouse’s jitters. Unfortunately this great start doesn’t hold for the remainder of the album which suffers from a lack of variation in the band’s pulsing rhythm and melodic leads, and risks dragging the disc into redundancy. The shortcomings of Save the Compliments For Morning don’t leave the slightest of bad tastes in the mouth, it’s just simply better in small doses.
They blew me away with their stellar debut, I Saw the Devil Last Night and Now the Sun Shines Bright, then disappointed me a bit with their tame live show. Now, less than a year after their sore thumb release on the normally harder-edged Victory Records label, they have redeemed themselves in my ears with a fantastic follow-up. The equally long-titled Jealous Me Was Killed By Curiosity bears the same dance punk attitude, Zach Tipton’s strained/screamed vocals and jagged guitar riffs as its predecessor, but with added maturation of a young band that has spent the last year on its first whirlwind tour (after tour after tour).
Also present is the theological battle that quietly weaves its way through Tipton’s lyrics — an interesting element considering that other members of the band are steadfast Christians and may have issues with lyrics like “I am not too safe in the presence of a crucifix/ in such a holy house, how could you be serious?/ behind closed doors the priests are just as secretive/ as every last human being on this cold dark earth” (from “Choices”).
Moros Eros are not for everyone. Their inability to be categorized has put them on some versatile tours, and so placed them in front of audiences that often stood dumbfounded at their sounds that were either not poppy or emo enough (when they opened for The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus), not weird enough (playing with The Blood Brothers), or not indie rock enough (the Sparta tour). This is a band that could very well create a classic album years down the line, and become one of those bands that indie freaks love to reference ( Modest Mouse, Minus the Bear).
The key songs here, and there are only nine to dig through, are “Quit, You’re Being Thoughtless,” “On My Side” and “Pride and Joy.”
Driftless Pony Club in a sense live up to their name, most of Cholera is close to the border of not bad, but unmemorable dancey post-punk, kind of like a less technically skilled Minus the Bear, content to go along with the flow of burgeoning indie music. With each subsequent listen, though, this disc turns into a grower. The band’s uncharacteristic flourishes are spread out nicely, breaking through the elliptical riff/disco rhythm section on a number of occasions. “Let’s Do This Here” has a quietly moody thread to it, and the epic “da da” chorus on Mountains and Ruins” pushes the emotional swell of many contemporary folk collectives, while trumpet and glockenspiel enliven a number of other tracks on here. With the band’s background niche nearing a glut, any steps like these away from an over reliance on the six string can only work to their benefit next time around.
It’s hard to believe that bands are still being affected by the post-electro movement in rock that Radiohead wrought with Kid A. It’s been seven years, but the reinventions with subtle (and not so subtle) nods to technology just keep coming. Such is the case with 31 Knots’ The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere. Prior to this release, 31 Knots were an untested quantity for me, though I’d heard they were fine math rock act. The roots of those compliments can be heard throughout this album, there are just too many questionable forays into unnecessary sounds. Check the breakbeat that ushers in “Beauty” or the squelching burbles and jagged cut-and-paste flow of “Hit List Shakes,” both of which feel like awkward, electronically bent garnish that are woven into the band’s template of off-kilter arrangements. There’s a fine line between mashed up and messed up. More often than not, the group’s experiments fall closer to the latter. Look no further than the ska horns and whistle punctuation on “Savage Boutique” for the worst offender. That said there are some outright winners here and there. “Sanctify,” with its looped boiler room percussion and helium-high chorus treads close to Animal Collective’s carnival grounds and is by far the leader of the pack. The song’s success is a result of the band focusing on writing in one kind of genre instead of spanning the spectrum. If the sonic explorations continue on their next album, let’s hope they head in this direction rather than aiming to become math rock’s Beck.
Colorado’s Signal To Noise can hide amongst the emo-core acts, while touring with respectable indie experimental rockers like Minus The Bear or Cursive, but at the root of it all they’re really a band that sounds like they grew up on a healthy diet of Alkaline Trio, Hot Water Music and Nirvana.
Their debut full length Kodiak is a tighter release than any of the current “Alternative Press” cover boys; let’s just hope that the masses will open their ears and give it a listen. If 30 Seconds to Mars can find a mainstream audience, there’s no reason Signal To Noise should fall by the wayside — they’re cut from the same cloth, only STN has a harder edge and a frontman who isn’t quite as pretty.
When they shred, they shred with the best of them (“The Wolves”). When they want to write some catchy hooks, they do so proudly (“Radiation”), and when they get all slow and sensitive on us it’s not with whimpering whine, it’s with soulful, heartfelt expression (“Song of the Future from the Past,” “Firework Sky”).
Before I delve into the mass popularity that is Minus The Bear, I must take a moment to appreciate the venue that is The Club@ Firestone. Only recently has the predominantly dance-oriented club again started booking rock acts. The venue serves as an in-between for bands who oversell The Social (fits about 400-ish), but can’t quite move the 2,500 tickets needed to sell out the House of Blues. Its two-level space can not only house about 1,200, but its decor straddles the line between trendy and hipster chic. With multiple rooms, an upstairs white bar with balconies that overlook the stage, and an outdoor patio complete with a fountain and a bamboo fence, it is by far the coolest and most comfortable concert venue in Orlando. Thank the promoters they’re doing concerts again!
For a pre-Halloween show, it was an eclectic bill- topped by Minus The Bear- that included an instrumental band from Chicago (The Russian Circles), a hard-hitting Indie trio (The Velvet Teen) and an independent rapper (P.O.S.). By the time I found a parking space and got inside, The Velvet Teen was almost finishing up. The California band got the crowd’s heartrate pulsing, but it was quickly slowed down (at least mine was) by P.O.S.
I don’t listen to rap and I don’t get the appeal of djs. I want guitars, I want drums, I want singing (or screaming if appropriate), not just fast talking. With that said, I can still appreciate P.O.S.’s attitude when he told the bored looking folks down front to move out of the way if they weren’t gonna try to have a good time. “I know you weren’t expecting a rapper ” he said with a smile. Appreciated it, but did not quite enjoy his bass heavy set. No offense to the man, it’s just not my brand of booze.
When Seattle’s headliners set up onstage there’s a tight squeeze in the crowd as everyone tries to get closer. The band- which includes members of Botch, Kill Sadie and Sharks Keep Moving- has developed quite a following since its inception 5 years ago. Before this night’s gig they did a meet & greet (and judged a pumpkin carving contest!) at the ever popular Park Ave. Cds, and it was quite crowded I was told.
Minus The Bear
Their performance had me perplexed. Though the audience seemed to love every second of it- singing along, screaming song requests etc- I found vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider’s lack of momentum distracting from the otherwise wonderfully complex yet accessible sounds the band was making onstage. Barely parting his lips and hiding behind a shaggy mass of hair, the frontman’s discomfort in the spotlight was obvious and proposed the question- If you don’t want to entertain an audience than why are you the singer? Isn’t it, as Jason Lee’s character Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous says, a singer’s job “to get people off!.. To connect!”
Egon is a hard band to classify. They’ve been together for nine years, have one EP, two split 7″s and four full-length albums, including their latest, All Theory and No Action. Their guitar-driven rock is simple yet complex, catchy yet highly annoying.
Take “Blameful Ones,” where the tempo changes four different times: from the thoughtful opening guitar notes, to the more straight-ahead push of the chorus, back to the opening chords and then it retreats to the chorus, which churns right to the end of the song. These changes force the listener to pay attention to the shifts, and it makes the casual listener think more than they would if they were, say, listening to the radio. The only problem is the horrendously out-of-tune vocals of Victor Talamantes. It doesn’t even sound like he’s trying to sing in tune. He just happens to hit the notes occasionally.
Listening to All Theory and No Action, it is obvious that each member is talented. Each note, chord and beat is played with such subtle precision that it is impossible to listen without trying to figure out how they are not playing in arenas around the country. And then the vocals come in. Throughout the album, they range from tolerable to downright nauseating. The plus side is that the focus is more on the music and not so much the lyrics. The liner notes only have the lyrics to half the songs, and there are several instrumental breaks within each song that make the album much more pleasant to listen to.
Egon is a band that, despite its talent, doesn’t know when to quit. With only two songs under four minutes and four tracks topping six minutes (including “Self-Proclaimers,” an almost 10 minute marathon), All Theory and No Action is a lengthy addition to Egon’s increasing repertoire. If they can cut it down just a little bit, and stay in tune, Egon could become the arena-filling band of which they are capable.
I’ve never been to Europe, but every Minus the Bear album is full of the most romantic, wine-fuelled tales of the continent I’ve heard. It sounds like a place of breezy summer exploration, beach relaxation and the giddiness of foreign romance set to the strains of intricate indie rock. Menos el Oso does little to distinguish itself lyrically from its predecessors, but why change a working formula? The group is showing some strides toward maturing, however. Gone are absurdist song titles about Crisco, ninjas and aliens that other, lesser bands have co-opted. In their stead, names at least somewhat pertaining to the song’s content belie the band’s sincerity. It’s a welcome change of pace from the genre’s overwhelming ironic diffusion.
As with the stop-gap EP They Make Beer Commercials Like This, this disc doesn’t contain the heightened sense of mania Highly Refined Pirates had coursing through its veins. In fact, Menos feels more conceived through studio effects than with a live band. Many of the guitar lines sound less organic than on past releases, there’s more reliance on tape manipulation to pull off jittery guitar riffs than old-fashioned instrument proficiency. I don’t mean to say that this direction is a bad decision, it’s perfectly fitting that these guys are feeling the need to steer their sound down new alleyways, and as long as they end up evoking what, in my mind, it feels to run hand-in-hand with a beautiful girl on edge of the Mediterranean, I’ll keep coming back for more.
Sigh. I know there was no way this album could live up to the promise of its title, but I’d hoped it would’ve gotten slightly closer than the tepid offering I’ve listened to three times today. The disc starts off with promise; the thinly pulsing drone of the one-two shot that makes up “Apogee” is decent enough, and I have to admit that The Stella Link are adept at turning in a good math rock melody on nearly every song. But when the same can be said about so many other post-hardcore bands, praise such as this quickly loses its meaning.
Beyond the refreshing initial moments of fury the band conjures up, most of the aggro rock here is stadium-sized, primed for an opening spot on the next Foo Fighters tour. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when the breadth of a band’s songwriting can be widened exponentially by the inclusion of a xylophone on one track, things are potentially problematic. My taste for this album ended well before the disc stopped spinning, and my attention shifted to wondering what the new Minus the Bear sounds like and theoretically how much better it stands to be than this.