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.
Like any other genre, post-rock encompasses a vast array of spin offs and variations. From the math centric to the ambient, the challenge for those of us with a need to categorize falls in the realm of discovering the correct word to depict both what we hear and how it makes us feel. I’ve never necessarily been a fan of sticking genres labels to bands since the process seems to be fairly relative from person to person. One listener’s post-rock is another person’s indie. However, without descriptors an album review renders itself pointless. Fortunately for me, Seattle’s Compass & Knife is incredibly proficient at getting right to the point.
Compass & Knife’s newest release, The Setting of the Old Sun, is skillfully written, masterfully performed, and down right good. The quartet of polished musicians take little time to introduce themselves musically and for those looking for a straight forward, what you hear is what you get record, The Setting of the Old Sun is perfect. From short ambient intros and bridges to uptempo, in your face choruses, the guys of Compass & Knife deliver a fantastic array of musicianship that is easily digested yet intriguing enough for more than one listen.
The eight song, almost entirely instrumental album was released on November 17th, 2015, and in a short amount of time was able to garner enough respect to receive some album of the year recognition. These accolades are absolutely deserved and appropriately administered as it’s blatantly obvious real thought and care went into the production of this record. What makes this even more impressive is the fact they self-produced and self-recorded this album.
Some listeners might not take the time to explore the production notes of this album, but as someone who produces and records his own band, I can attest to the challenges and frustrations this process presents and am always curious to see who was behind the board. When self-producing and self-recording, not only will your band be on trial for it’s writing aptness, but your ability to capture your band’s sound and present it as a finished product will also face relentless scrutiny. While this approach is extremely fulfilling it can also be painstaking. I don’t know how many times I’ve mixed my own music until my ears could no longer discern one guitar from the next. When revisiting the final product months later, I’ve found myself wishing the snare was a decibel louder or that I’d cleaned up some mids in the guitars. Thankfully, bassist Austin Patterson and guitarist Jordan Brokaw did a fantastic job producing and recording The Setting of the Old Sun and should be sleeping very well at night.
While each song is worthy of attention, the album’s finale, “Drowned in Desire”, clearly surpasses it’s predecessors. Compass & Knife saved the best for last and exceeded my expectations by putting together an incredibly well thought out, well executed music video to showcase both their musical prowess and their conceptual capacity. As we enter into an era where anyone can shoot a music video on their iPhone, it’s absolutely motivating to see a band put together an impressive visual to accompany their music.
Instrumentally based music is inherently open ended and it’s usually up to the listener to piece together their own storyline since no lyrical content exists to steer the narrative. While “Drowned in Desire” can still be interpreted as the listener chooses, the music video adds a deeper dimension to the song that made me appreciate and enjoy the song even more. And, once again, the fact that they filmed and edited the video themselves will forever keep Compass & Knife at the forefront of my list of remarkable, noteworthy DIY bands.
For anyone looking for a great album to put on the stereo while working, or for a soundtrack to accompany a road trip, I highly recommend Compass & Knife’s The Setting of the Old Sun.
Neumos, Seattle, WA, USA Saturday November 14th, 2015
It had been a very long time since my last live show experience. I’ve been to plenty of local shows over the past few years but I’m not even sure I can recall the last time I attended a live show where the sound check happened before the doors opened, people were actually at the venue on time, and the first band actually took the stage precisely at the time stated on the flier. I’m sure very few paid attention to these details. But for me, being reminded how professional bands operate at professionally run venues, like Neumos, was a breath of fresh air. Obviously, I need to get out more.
Typically, the reason you attend a show and subsequently write a live review is to highlight the headliner, or in this case, the headliners. And while The Menzingers and mewithoutYou put on a great show, I didn’t necessarily find anything too remarkable about their sets. Honestly, this was my first experience with The Menzingers so, to be fair, I can’t really say much about them as I know very little about them (shame on me, I know). As I like to say, “they were fine”, meaning they did their thing and people enjoyed it and I appreciated what they did. Enough said.
mewithoutYou on Audiotree Live
mewithoutYou has always been one of my favorite bands. They are fantastic at writing catchy music that is capable of hitting the heart strings of whatever emotion you’re in the mood to meddle with. Ever since [A->B] Life came out in 2002 I’ve been quite comfortable keeping their music in my arsenal. Frontman Aaron Weiss has a unique lyrical style that absolutely works for me. While others may struggle digesting his lyrics, I am continually impressed with anyone that can work “pumpernickel bread” into their writing.
Restorations opened the night and did a great job setting the vibe for the evening. I hadn’t really heard much from these guys prior to the show but they are definitely headed in the right direction. Their stage presence was enjoyable to watch and kept a newbie, like me, entranced for their full set. Like Restorations, mewithoutYou and The Menzingers held the attention of the venue for the entirety of their sets and I would definitely see them again.
This brings me to Pianos Become The Teeth. While I had every intention of writing this review on mewithoutYou, it was Pianos Become The Teeth that absolutely stole the show for me. And it was absolutely for reasons I did not expect.
Pianos Become The Teeth live @ The Underworld, London
Like most bands I come to discover, Pianos Become The Teeth have been around for a while. They formed in 2006 and have honed their sound over the past nine years moving from an aggressive, post-hardcore band to masters of gloomy, emotionally packed, post-rock. For those of you who have yet to indulge in their newest record, Keep You, I highly recommend you do so. If you need an enticing comparison, this album is very reminiscent of Oceana’s Clean Head from 2010.
While the other three bands put on visually stimulating performances, Pianos Become The Teeth struck me in a different way. I was lucky enough to get to the venue early enough to grab one of the few spots on the balcony that gave me a great view of both the band and the crowd. Pianos Become The Teeth were steady, energetic at times, but the way they moved the crowd was absolutely stunning. The movement I witnessed was not physical by any means. In fact, the crowd was absolutely motionless, aside from a bit of head-banging here and there. Being fairly in tune with my mushy side, the emotional grip that pushed and pulled throughout the crowd was mesmerizing.
I think I spent most of my time watching one specific kid in the crowd. By appearance alone, he was completely out of place. If I would have seen him walking on the street prior to the show there was no way I would have thought he and I were headed to the same destination. But this kid knew absolutely every word to absolutely every song Pianos Become The Teeth played.
Pianos Become The Teeth from the balcony @ Neumos
For those who are familiar with frontman Kyle Durfey’s lyrics, you know they are very sad and tend to center around the loss of his father in 2010. Like many lyricists, Durfey’s lyrics are dark and contemplative. But unlike some, Durfey is surrounded by an exceptional band that is able to add deep dimension to his words. The coupling of his lyrics with the desolate tones of his band’s music is nearly heartbreaking. To me, it’s the cohesion of these two elements that make my eyes well up with tears and send chills down my arms. I’m sure we all experience these phenomenons in our own way, but experiencing Pianos Become The Teeth live was the pinnacle of emotional overflow for me.
The kid three rows back, belting Durfey’s lyrics will forever be seared into my musical memories. It was a profoundly powerful moment for me. It left me wondering how this out of place kid related to Durfey’s lyrics. What was it that moved him by this band. Being witness to the connection between the writer and the listener added a totally new experience for me. Usually you only get to see the back of everyone’s head at a show, but my balcony vantage point let me see things in a new light. It was truly an honor for me to be in the same place at the same time with five guys in a band, the kid in the third row, a few friends, and a room full of strangers.