Invalids | Eunoia

Released on: 31 January 2012
They’re from: Oregon & Pennsylvania
Sounds like: Maps & Atlases on fast forward with American Football vocals.
Hear it: http://invalids.bandcamp.com/album/eunoia-2

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I am featuring Invalids over at Decoy.

"Quite possibly the best new math rock act on the planet: Invalids. The Oregonian/Pennsylvanian duo play a blazing brand of finger-incinerating math rock that is completely accessible and downright fun to listen to for even the most casual of listeners. Their debut full-length Eunoia is not unlike Maps & Atlases on fast forward. If you like your music intelligent, angular, and intricate, Invalids are finger-tappin’ good.”

Let me rephrase that. Fucking go listen right fucking now!

Stations in the Valley | Starts at Dot

Released on: 5 May 2011
They’re from
: Bridport, England
Sounds like
: a rolling fire in a log cabin, under the placid dark of a winter night.
Hear it
: http://bit.ly/stationsdot
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In an effort to finalize my top ten list for Decoy, I’ve been re-listening to a ton of albums in the order in which I received them. And when I hit July, I found Starts at Dot again. And shit, I’ll admit it: I let this EP slip through the cracks. I even vaguely remember liking it, but it only ever got one listen. Returning to it, though, I am floored.

The run-down on Stations in the Valley's sound? At their heart, they're an indie rock band infected with math-rock and old school emo sensibilities. I keep reiterating that math rock is my catnip, and “Finders Keepers” kicks the EP off with a folky take on math rock, complete with piano and a thick acoustic plucking— either on a banjo or a dreadnought. Either way, the result is warm and luscious indie rock the likes of which I have not heard done better all year. While the entire short effort isn't tinged with math rock, “My Favourite View” flirts with it, carried along by a nimble drum beat.

Despite my mathy bias, however, the showstopper is “Everyone Moves to London.” A slower song with deep bass and piano, a brooding cello absolutely steals the show during the big chorus and the short, deconstructed solo. The song feels elegiac and groovy at the same time.

The final, titular track is built over a creeping piano line as male and female vocals harmonize and violins lilt. It’s a quiet opal among a few shining gems.

I am absolutely in love with Starts at Dot. I couldn’t recommend it any more highly, and it’s free! And to think I almost forgot about it entirely! I seriously listen to way too much music.

Seriously, try it next time you’re mad.

Seriously, try it next time you’re mad.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes | Sing in Japanese

Released on: 13 September 2011
They’re from: Californ-i-a
Sounds like: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes singing in Japanese.
Hear it: I don’t have a stream for you, see the song I posted the other day.

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For the uninitiated, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are punk rock super-group of sorts who for the past decade and a half have only played punk-infected covers. Can you guess the shtick of their new EP Sing in Japanese? For the record, no, I’m not proud of you for guessing that they’re doing covers of classic Japanese bands. This isn’t Blue’s Clues.

To cut to the chase, for the Gimme Gimmes fan, this is a day one purchase. It’s just under 16 minutes of the same unadulterated fun you’ve come to expect. But maybe you’re like me, a casual listener, maybe you recognize the iconic name but have never listened. You’re wondering, does Sing in Japanese have legs beyond the gimmick? Is it worth the eight dollar price tag ($10 at Amazon) for six tracks? My answer: no, not really. It’s suitable for a listen or two on a lark, or to show off to your friends, but a small fraction of the tracks really retain any sort of replay value.

To chase away any xenophobes now, yes, Spike is singing almost entirely in Japanese, save for a few token English phrases extant in the original songs. If you are the kind of person who needs lyrics to attach to, break out your Japanese-English dictionaries now. But honestly, if you’ve made a habit of listening to Envy, Daitro, or heck, Nena's “99 Luftballons,” the foreign language is a welcome change of pace, rather than a distraction.

Musically, Sing in Japanese is virtually indistinguishable from all of punk’s various American flavors. “Kekkon Shiyoyo” even features some riffage that distinctly drips with Americana. In some respects, the Gimme Gimmes’ ability to synthesize classic Japanese tracks into punk easily-consumable by American audiences is to be applauded, but a part of me wishes there was a more distinctly Eastern “flavor” to the six tracks. And in the case of closer “Linda Linda,” the Gimme Gimmes neuter the original by injecting the track with a slowed-down, ska sort of swagger.

If you’re in need of a quick litmus test, give “Kokoro no Tabi” and “Hero” a listen. They are probably the two best tracks off the short EP. If you dig them, you might have the chops to enjoy the remainder of Sing in Japanese. If you don’t, pat yourself on the back for being multicultural today, and move along. At this point, the Gimme Gimmes know who their core audience is. Bottom line, Sing in Japanese is a gimmick release from a niche band. I can’t recommend it unless you’ve got the money to blow or a Japanese girl named Linda to impress.

The Speed of Sound in Seawater | Underwater Tell Each Other Secrets

album cover

Released on: 27 April 2011
They’re from: Sacramento, California
Sounds like: an indie band from the Double-Rainbow Dimension where everyone has a third arm.
Hear it: http://bit.ly/seawater

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it makes my blogs look like they have more content when I take up space like this: math-rock is my catnip. It makes me hulk out except my muscles turn to rainbows and my pants definitely do not stay on. If I just told you that they sound like Tera Melos, American Football, and This Town Needs Guns, would you sprint to their Bandcamp page and just listen? Do I really need to write more words than that? Because I will. You know I will.

I swear, finding Sinatra has changed my life, not only because they’re awesome in and of themselves, but because I keep learning about other great music through them, the latest being The Speed of Sound in Seawater. These strapping chaps have three EPs out: Blue Version, Red Version, and Underwater Tell Each Other Secrets, all of which are awesome. Catch ‘em all.

The run-down on their sound? Sedate math-rock, but groovy and nimble, so more like math-indie. Every song is one part stress-relieving relaxation tape, one part churning rapids of epileptic guitars. The resulting sound instills this odd feeling in me to seek out and lay in a hammock, and then dance— which is a great way to fall out of a hammock.

So if you’re a fan of math-rock, of hammocks, or maybe just talented dudes playing some chilled-out music and showing their guitars who’s boss, check out The Speed of Sound in Seawater.

9 Days of The Dear Hunter: White

And so we’ve reached the precipice. White is a different animal than the other color EPs. Black was resolutely dark and electronic. Red was grungy. Orange had organs and indulgent solos. Yellow was summery pop. Green was folky. Blue was stripped down and melancholy. Indigo was moody electronics. Purple was basically b-sides to Act III. White? White is transcendent, epic indie rock, plain and simple. Four tracks, clean, unburdened, free of any sort of gimmicky influence. If there was any EP that needed to be a full-length, it’s White.

Thematically, its an ending. It’s a resolution, which The Color Spectrum has been so sorely lacking. Songs of forgiveness, togetherness, acceptance. As I said all the way back in Black, we typically associate black with endings. Films fade to black. You see only black when you close your eyes. Yet, White is Crescenzo’s definitive color for an ending, and that’s because here, white represents that ever-present undercurrent of hope that pervades The Color Spectrum. White is an ending, but also the beginning of something entirely new, and entirely mysterious. It’s not a fade-to-black, finite end; just another transition. But I’m spoiling the coming songs.

"Home" begins very subdued. The instrumentation is spare, but rich: bass, piano and guitar wash in and out as waves over a steady, slow, pronounced drumbeat. The first chorus is equally as subdued, but each repetition of it expands and gathers force, adding layers of vocal harmonies, bellowing instruments, and Crescenzo doing what he does best, until the bridge and final chorus climax in grand fashion, desperately loud and emotionally taxing. The song finds its subject near death, "As your eyes begin to fade, your mind will wander: this life is just a game we play, that we can never win," but is reassuring, repeating, "But don’t give up, no, don’t give up." As the instrumentation peaks, Crescenzo sings at the top of his lungs, "Now in the end it’s coming clear, you’re not alone. ‘Cause everyone you’ve ever loved is waiting here for you. So don’t give up, no don’t give up." It’s clear that the "Home" spoken of must be heaven, and the message is just as clear: even in the end, never stop hoping, don’t succumb to cynicism, "help is on the way."

"Fall and Flee" addresses death more directly, with its opening lines, "We all become memories after having gone, dancing in the light flickering behind their eyes." We all leave legacies when we die, differing in size and impact, but each and every one of us makes our own unique impact upon this world, and most importantly, those around us. Crescenzo sings of his own impact: "I’m hoping it’s showing, my heart never stopped growing. I’ll take comfort in knowing this melody has never been sung with these words." Another song with very spare instrumentation and massive, full choruses, Crescenzo gets another chance to show off his monstrous vocal chords, but also his range and control.

"No God" is a very quiet, personal track at the outset. With just a few piano chords as accompaniment, Crescenzo sings, "No god could teach me what my father did. No promise of heaven kept me warm when my mother tucked me in. No hope for salvation kept me from sin." The instrumentation swells to an early climax as he continues, "And what comes next is a mystery to me. I guess I’ll have to wait and see, ‘cause everything I ever knew could just fall apart." And just as quickly as the build-up constructed its towering presence, it crumbles away to almost nothingness as Crescenzo explains just what he knows: "I only know what I’ve been told, and I was told what others know, and others know what they were told, and they were told what others know," before resolutely adding, "And I’ll wait to tell what’s wrong or right." After a moment of silence, the song explodes and repeats its important message once more. However, "No God" isn’t about rejecting God, religion, or those who practice it. It’s about having a strong sense of self-reliance and personal ethics. It’s about believing in yourself, living the way you feel is right. But ultimately, it’s about living for yourself, so "no fear of dying" keeps you alive. It’s an empowering, powerful song. If "Home" and "Fall and Flee" involve coming to terms with and accepting death, "No God" is a resolute statement of belief, standing strong and never compromising in the face of death.

In direct contrast to the concreteness of “No God,” the closing track “Lost But Not All Gone” has some of the most surreal lyrics across the entirety of The Color Spectrum. Inscrutable lines like, “Come here mister, take in no love, even if it canvases so,” or, “Can I not torment this with a canon of assisted duress?” litter the verses. Instrumentally, the song opens at a crawl, but begins to gallop with a sense of urgency and desire, crescendoing with one last bright, melodious, massive chorus. However, the lines that do make perfect sense stick out that much more as a result: “Waiting for my soul to stir, and wake, rejoice, and come alive again.” Like so many songs on The Color Spectrum, the subject of this song is once again waiting for a change, waiting for something in their soul to stir. In the context of death, so pervasive on White, this could be a very literal line— the speaker is patiently awaiting his moment of ascension. I prefer to think it’s just one more jaded individual searching, hoping for a spark to set their life back into motion, begging: “Give me anything but apathy, or love and curse.”

And as the final track gives way to silence, The Color Spectrum comes to an end. If Black had ended the collection of EPs, it would end on a depressing, pessimistic note. “Filth and Squalor” laments corruption, while “This Body” is a song of torment and desperation for release, for death, really. White ends on a blank slate, on possibility, on a craving to live life— hope for the future. It’s really the most fitting way to end a project such as this.

Thanks for reading along with me. It’s been illuminating, discovering so much about these 36 songs. And I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. I’d also like to thank Mr. Crescenzo, his band mates, and everyone who helped him finish The Color Spectrum along the way. I hope, if he reads any of this, that I’ve done his work some justice.

I’ve got another blog project in store, so stay tuned!