Album Review: These People Here – A Bitter Seed

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Seattle quintet These People Here have just released their début A Bitter Seed, an album that escapes pigeon-holing. The first track suggests post-rock, but then upon hearing further songs I can’t decide. Indie? Rock? Regardless of how you classify it, the music is simultaneously unsettling and beautiful.

Four of the seven tracks feature vocals – stunningly haunting singing with more than a touch of melancholy. Keyboardist Aileen Paron uses her voice to create stunning harmonies that enhances the brooding moodiness of the music.

Rebecca Gutterman and Rian Turner bring duel guitars which layer atop each other. Their bio lists math rock/post-hardcore legends Rodan as a formative influence of the band, which becomes very clear when you listen to the built up swells and eccentric noodling away. Thomas Edwards provides some deft drumming that captures my attention as I listen. He’s no hard hitter, but makes up for it with speed, finesse and variety with his fills and flourishes.

A Bitter Seed is dramatic and depressingly, thematically speaking, but it’s not all doom and gloom. As I said, the band defy classification, and there are some great moments that make me smile at the originality. One of my highlights is the catchy bassy riffs in the opening section of “Fading Light” And I love the effects in final track “Catastrophism”, an instrumental number that sounds reversed, with eerie wailing punctuating the ebbs in the music.

One thing’s for sure, These People Here know how to set a mood. I hesitate to use the term gothic, but I can definitely picture Edgar Allen Poe enjoying this album whilst petting his pet raven and sipping some red wine. Check A Bitter Seed out if you like your music original sounding and slightly on the macabre side.

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Joseph James

 

Here for a moment… A Tribute To Maybeshewill

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Leicester post-rockers Maybeshewill just played their last ever show at KOKO in London, supported by worriedaboutsatan and You Slut! [who reformed especially for the show].

I couldn’t make it. Sadly that means I will never see them play live. It’s understandable, seeing as I live on the opposite side of the world. I honestly think that I will miss the band though.

Like I mentioned in my review of their final albumI discovered Maybeshewill through a sampler attached to Rock Sound magazine. The song had a risqué title, and being a teenage boy, I was terrified that my parents would stumble upon the song that I had ripped to the family computer. I wonder what would have been worse – my mum finding a file named “The Paris Hilton Sex Tape”, or the also rudely named “C.N.T.R.C.K.T” from the same album?

I think Maybeshewill were the band that I joined Bandcamp for, so that I could purchase their live album Live At The Y Theatre. It included a link to download the video of the show, but I never actually downloaded it because the file size was 2 gigabytes, and my bloody flatmates always used up the internet bandwidth allowance, meaning that the download was nigh on impossible on the capped speeds once we had exceeded our limits. I’ll upgrade to unlimited internet someday…

As well as loving the band for their music, I also admire them for their DIY ethic. They started their own record label/collective, Robot Needs Home, to launch their own debut EP. I don’t think they ever anticipated growing to the size they are now.

This blogpost from guitarist John Helps aligned so well with my ideals about authenticity, resourcefulness and community. In the liner notes of Not For Want Of Trying they write “this record was performed, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Maybeshewill at various locations throughout 2007. It cost us nothing. DIY FTW”. They proceed to thank friends and family who helped them with the process, stating that “we owe more to these people than we owe to the bank”, and “this record is as much yours as it is ours”. There seems to be more integrity in any artistic project when it is independently run, because the artist needn’t compromise their values to appease any external figures. I try to run my blog by those principles, and consider my work a success, despite never having spent any money on it.

The band’s final album, Fair Youth, was released just as I started this blog. I enthusiastically reviewed it, and although it was not my best piece of writing (being among my first), it taught me a lot about what it takes to write for a music blog (including don’t let your dad leave comments that people will laugh about on the internet!). I stand by what I wrote back then – it is a good album, and one the band can be proud to leave as a parting gift.

Maybeshewill will always be important to me. They were one of the bands that started me on a journey of discovering post-rock. They showed me that music can be exciting without vocals. They combined electronica, samples and brilliant musicianship. They made brilliant music using an indie model.

To quote one of their song titles : “Our History Will Be What We Make of It”. Maybeshewill made a legacy worth remembering

Joseph James

Album Review: Tancred – Out Of The Garden

Tancred Out Of The Garden
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Kooky, folky and poppy: Now, Now is a delightful listen, somehow being both calm and upbeat in one. Take the cute and quirky Kimya Dawson and add a shoegaze feel and you may land on something similar sounding. Odd drone bits and some deadpan singing create an indie feel that simultaneously offsets and complements the powerpop songs.

Jess Abbott is one third of Now, Now, sharing duties as guitarist and singer. This review is about her side project, Tancred. Out Of The Garden is the follow up to 2011’s Capes and 2013’s self-titled album.

Despite being the third full studio Tancred album, this is the first that feels fully formed and cohesive. It was written over a two year period outside of Now, Now’s touring schedule, when Abbott found alternative work at a liquor shop in a rough part of town. Abbott used the writing process to make sense of her feelings, at first feeling vulnerable, and then defiant as she walked home alone at night in less desirable areas.

Abbott hired two producers for this album, the first being That Dog vocalist/guitarist Anna Waronker – whose influence is unmistakable. The second producer is OFF! bassist Steven McDonald. I saw OFF! open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers several years ago, and I’d wager that they are as close to a modern day Black Flag as you’re going to find. For her band, Abbott recruited Walking Oceans sticksman Terrence Vitali to lay down beats, and Terrence Vitali to round out the trio on bass. Between them, these five capable musicians have enough attitude, skills and experience to make one very exciting record. (They all have vocal parts on the album as well).

The crunchy guitar riff hook that starts off album opener “Bed Case” foreshadows a fun listen ahead. The distorted guitar – coupled with the catchy hand clap styled chorus – makes for a perfect pop number.

 

I must say that the album seems a bit formulaic. And although somewhat predictable, don’t confuse formulaic for bad. The structure seems to involve lots of palm-muted strumming to build tension, before launching into a chorus that reminds you why Tancred is so worth listening to. Next we hear plenty a guitar solo in the bridge that dies down just before a triumphant end chorus.

This is not to say it all sounds the same. Trashy drum tones and aggressive grungy distortion give attack and attitude to an otherwise quite sweet sound. “Hang Me” stands out from the rest of the album, with a stripped back melancholy feel, with “Sell My Head” bringing the mood back up at ripping pace with a cutesy disjointed guitar solo. I also love how “Pretty Girls” channels the same sound as the rest of the album, but seems stripped back, with acoustic sounding bass, and drumsticks tapping on drum rims in a linear pattern.

 

Tancred by-Chloe-AftelLyrically, Abbott sounds unsure of herself and where she fits in, with lines like “I’ll just never be cool/ I’ll never be one of you”, and “I would kill to be one of the boys”. However she certainly sounds bolder, with more exciting playing, and stronger vocals than I’ve heard from her previously, verging on showing off with plenty of gorgeous “ooh’s” and “ahh’s”. It’s a bit of a dichotomy, with self-assured music disguising underlying insecurities. It is as Abbott says, “sugary, but when listening closely, unsettling.”

Out Of The Garden is a tale of finding confidence, or at the very least, projecting it. Abbott selected some great collaborators to help her create this record, and this is her best work to date. Go ahead and listen to Tancred, and you’ll be rewarded with half an hour of deliciously fun indie powerpop.

Album Review: Into It. Over It. – Standards

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How does one describe Into It. Over It? Sometimes a solo folksy singer-songwriter, sometimes rocking pop-punk band. Always kooky. And the “E” word gets thrown around a lot. Does “really good” suffice for an accurate description?

Into It. Over It. is Evan Weiss, in the same sense that Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. Weiss is extremely prolific, having released countless compilations and splits around his IIOI studio albums, as well as playing in a number of other projects (Stay Ahead of The Weather, Their/They’re/There, Pet Symmetry). He usually rocks the stereotypical folksy/hipster combo of a beard, thick glasses, and checked shirt, and most of his lyrics are introspective and poetic. And did I mention that his music is great?

I first heard IIOI featured in split EPs alongside the likes of Such Gold and Koji, and on a Fake Problems tour sampler. Later I fell in love with the adorable Daytrotter sessions. Discovering Weiss was so rewarding, because there were so many avenues to explore. One project, 52 Weeks contained a whopping 52 songs, written at the rate of one per week for an entire year. And all of the music is so diverse, yet irresistible.

Despite being so incredibly prolific, Standards is only the third full studio IIOI album. The first, Proper (2011), was lovably addictive upbeat pop-punk. Follow up album Intersections (2013) was less accessible, partly because Weiss chose not to include choruses when he wrote the album. And Standards? Read on to find out.

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Look back through Weiss’ previous work, and you’ll notice that he is a man obsessed with location and environment. Many of his songs are named after places and towns. It is interesting then, that for this album he choose to go to the middle of nowhere in Vermont. Isolated in a cabin in the woods with drummer and collaborator Josh Sparks, surrounded by snow and little else, they had no choice but to write.

We are introduced through “Open Casket”, with lightly picked guitar and xylophone, but become antiquated with the energetic IIOI sound in second track “Closing Argument”, which brings in the attitude in the second verse.

Lead single “No EQ” centres around a mantra that reminds me of a doorbell my parents had when I was a child. The drumming is frantic and busy, while Weiss sings calmly in the verses, with more urgency in the chorus. Sparks’ style of urgent, hurried drumming is noticeable in a number of songs on the album “Vis Major” sounds straight up punk, with added flourishes of complexity, and “Adult Contempt” follows suit with highlights on cymbal bells and plenty of wash. “Bible Black” also standouts as a drumming track due to the odd trashy percussion that punctuates the song with attention grabbing tones.

Tracks four and five signal a slump in the album . The slow burning “Your Lasting Image” seems to drag for almost 5minutes, full of swirling swells and echoing accents. Weiss sadly sings “I can’t remember your touch”. The dreamy hazy music runs seamlessly into “Old Lace and Ivory”, which keeps the mood low, but sounds more hopeful than forlorn. There’s a lovely extended bridge of guitar picking over simple drumming, slowly building up and gaining fuzz to lead us back into the more energetic songs on the album.

“Who You Are ≠ Where You Are” has a delightful bouncing riff that stops abruptly while a hi-hat beat dances merrily in the background. For a man touted as the figurehead of the new wave of emo, this album sure sounds upbeat. He does show versatility though. Weiss rates “Anesthetic” as one of his proudest moments. It’s another soothing slow-burner, rich in atmosphere and layered with distant vocal tracks.

This is truly an album, not just a handpicked selection of songs. You can tell by how the transitions between tracks sound so flawless. Weiss commented on a recent Reddit AMA that he had been inspired by “mostly instrumental ambient stuff when it came to most of the textures. brian eno. harold budd. yes. michael hedges. 60’s prestige and blue note stuff.” You hear the fuzzy tones, odd percussion, quirky doorbell riffs. You hear distorted acoustic guitar, moog synthesisers, and a range of effect pedals – weird sounds, textures and tones that all add to the appeal and make the album cohesive. There’s also a lively feel that could be attributed to the less-than-perfect analogue method of recording the album, at the insistence of  producer John Vanderslice.

With Standards, Into It. Over It. still defy clear genre definition, with the tender songs full of folksy finger picking somehow fitting seamlessly next to punk belters.

Urgent. Intimate. Upbeat. Quirky. Perfect. Evan Weiss, the emo revival figurehead, went reclusive with his drummer and together they churned out some of their best work to date.

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Aviation and the War – Haste

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Aviation and the War is an alternative indie duo from the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. The two members are singer-songwriter Matt Buenger and drummer/percussionist Joe Christopoulos, two old school friends who share a love of hockey and music.

Although AATW only has two members, the album sounds like it has been recorded by a full band. The expected instruments of a rock band are present, such as drums, guitar, and vocals. Harmonica and piano also feature at times. The two friends are clearly very capable musos. They tell me that in live settings they will alter their set up to suit the venue. A smaller club will call for an acoustic guitar and piano, and at some larger places they bring in friends to fill in on bass and lead guitar.

The music is melancholic, but not depressing. Buenger tells me that songwriting is one of his processes when he’s in those kinds of moods.

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One reason that I love this album so much is because it reminds me of Thrice’s Major/Minor. The same feelings are there – the melancholic grunginess juxtaposed with subtle moments of delicacy. And it is uncanny how much Buenger’s voice reminds me of Thrice singer Dustin Kensrue.

Other influences the band has mentioned are Manchester Orchestra and City & Colour, both of whom seem obvious when pointed out. There is a measured balance of a singer/songwriter pouring his heart out,  while at the same time letting loose.

Take the song “Child’s Play”. It commences with basic acoustic strumming, before some lead picking adds another layer. Christopoulous’ drumming is very deliberate. He only plays in the sections he needs to, to add to the song. He taps on the drum hoops methodically at times, and wildly washes up the cymbals at others. The song builds and pauses and drops out dynamically. It’s all calculated, but not sterile.

Buenger and Christopoulos have spent two years making Haste. It is entirely self-written, self-managed, self-recorded and self-produced. They’ve taken their time honing their craft, perfecting their songs. Only the mastering is professionally done, courtesy of Alan Douches (a master master-er, from the looks of his résumé). And despite being homemade, there is nothing to give away that Aviation and the War is an indie project. The recording and musicianship are great, not something that I would usually associate with home studios and two-pieces. It certainly doesn’t sound cheap.

Haste has nine tracks that sound earnest and warm, with a touch of aching. The songs are written, recorded and played well. The singer/songwriter style makes for relaxed listening, but with enough rockiness and variety to keep it interesting.

You can find Aviation and the War on FacebookBandcamp and their Website.

Joseph James