erasing clouds

4 Music Reviews

by brad amorosino

Channing Cope, Sugar in Our Blood (54/40 or Fight!)

Intricate instrumentation is a delicacy. Many bands over do it in a grandiose way, the obvious work of bored music nerds. Music that is very calculated feels forced, there's nothing organic about it. It is likely that the only people that will be interested in that music are other musicians. Few bands are successful with complex arrangements. They can simultaneously make the listener feel lost and claustrophobic.

Channing Cope pulls off a solid record with very involved instrumentation. The intricacy of the songs is delicate and tasteful, placed somewhere between No Knife and Karate. The songs jam like Karate but with a No Knife flavor in the guitar and bass work. The sound overall is relatively stripped, it certainly sounds like a three-piece, though in a clear refreshing way. There are no extraneous layers of instrumentation or noise. The music is interesting enough on its own. This is a great thing, especially since it most likely means that Channing Cope sounds like their record when they play live. No tricks, just solid craftsmanship.

At first listen I was thinking I would honestly not care if the vocals weren't present at all. They are a bit scarce to begin with, and when they surface they are kind of soft talking whisper. But the more I listened, the more apparent it was how the vocals break up the songs and keep them flowing. They are not particularly interesting in and of themselves, but they work with the music as a whole.

Despite the intricate musicianship, the mood of the record is far from hectic. It mostly has a drifting quality to it. The band is careful about where they place their more elaborate parts. If the guitar is spazzing a bit with consecutive hammer-ons, the bass and drums are locking down the rhythm. If the bassline is complex, the guitar sticks to complementary chords, while the drums are a consistent creative backbone. Everything meshes. One overall mood is created: dark and contemplative, all together interesting but somber enough to let the listener drift.

Robert Deeble, Thirteen Stories (Fractured Discs)

Robert Deeble is just as much a poet as he is a musician. One would think that this combination would surface more often. Lyrics are essentially poetry. Of course, lyrics are never the stark naked words that make up a poem, they are backed by music and melody. But I appreciate thoughtful lyrics. I think every aspect of an album should be rich and full of meaning. Robert Deeble's lyrics are carefully composed and spark a contemplative mood in the listener. The music adds to this smooth feeling, being very minimal, sometimes sparse, and mostly sitting beneath the lyrics. The instrumentation rarely takes center stage, not to say that it isn't interesting, but it mostly feels very relaxed. When the instrumentation does step up a bit, like in "Eclipse," the songs boost out of their daydream to give the record a good amount of variety. "Eclipse" opens with a choppy, almost abrasive picking pattern that quickly drifts into something more lazy and laid back. The song is full of those kinds of effective juxtapositions, and is grounded by a slow sad chorus with soft distant drums. Most of the songs can fit into the sad and slow category, yet there is still a unique feel to each track. The overall somber quality comes mostly from the vocals, which are dreary and scratchy in a slow soothing way. Even on the more upbeat tracks, Deeble's vocals keep the melancholy mood consistent throughout the album. His range rarely travels above a scratchy half-whisper, which gives the record a very intimate, comforting feel. The vocal styling also begs the listener to keep an attentive ear to the lyrics. It feels like Deeble is telling secrets. On the occasions where the vocals explore a higher range, those moments seem especially punctuated because of their rarity.

The artwork for Thirteen Stories also has an intimate feel to it. The digi-pak is without the over-used glossy finish and pictures an awkward drawing of the side of an apartment building. Scrawled against the side of the building is an equally awkward looking fire escape that has the childish character of a Vonnegut drawing. The artwork adds to the intimate feel of the record by way of its sad clumsiness. The record as a whole, with its minimal instrumentation, intimate vocals, and contemplative words, is relaxing and comforting, a perfect companion for introspective days.

Metropolitan, The Lines They Get Broken (Crank Automotive)

Metropolitan is a raw pop trio from Washington D.C., sporting jangly guitars and vocals with exaggerated attitude. Though their sound is very indie-pop, the guitars are so dirty sounding that the band maintains a very raw feel. The bass is raspy and driving, often creating the melody more so than the guitar. The guitar will often hold to a steady chord progression, while the bass will often ramble along, fiddling about the fretboard in a way that puts most pop band bassists to shame. The basslines are never gaudy though, they are always executed with style and taste, even while bursting into a thick overdrive that amplifies Metropolitan's energetic flavor.

Overall, I think the best tracks off The Lines They Get Broken are the ones that have an extra poppy bounce to them. "Letterbox" is a punchy song where the vocals have a catchy rhythmic pattern to them. The song switches between simple driving verses and instrumental interludes where the bass bounces around and the guitar switches to a delay drenched solo. There are also some synth backed moments where the song thickens up a bit, and the electronics take over the melody. The electronics do not have the annoying excessive feel typical of so many indie-pop bands. The synth work is minimal, and blends nicely with the jangle of the guitars.

Sporting two singers, (the guitarist and bassist) Metropolitan's vocals have a broad range that complements the music nicely. In the more abrasive songs the vocals are a bit snotty, with an intentional attitude laid on nice and thick. On other tracks though, like "Is it too loud?" the vocals relax a bit. They are less charged but still engaging in their melody. They lyrics are not printed in the insert, but for some reason I don't find myself listening to the lyrics anyway. Maybe because nothing stands out too much.

All in all, Metropolitan is a nice musical mix, in terms of both the vocals and the instrumentation. Between upbeat indie-pop parts and contemplative instrumental interludes, the sound always stays raw and the feel is consistently smooth.

Signal Hill Transmission, Tomorrow, the Stars (P.A. Juice Records)

The most successful bands in both underground and mainstream music find a way to present organic digestible music in a way that feels new and refreshing. Signal Hill Transmission takes a healthy stab at such a mix with Tomorrow, the Stars. The album has a wholesome catchiness to it that never feels forced or trite. All the tracks have a definite Signal Hill flavor to them. The overall feel is definitely indie-pop, but indie-pop with texture and sturdy craftsmanship. Even the simplest songs on the album have an interesting feel to them, by way of the chord choices and a certain candor in the vocals. There is nothing particularly striking about the lyrics, but there is a temperament inherent in the vocals that simply feels sincere.

The album also contains a good amount of variety, which keeps it running smoothly. There are the super poppy tracks, like "Master Plan" which features a bouncy, Strokes-like drum beat (that sleazy pop beat from the Strokes first single, "Last Nite", you know the song) and a punchy bassline that makes for some enthused foot tapping at the very least. Then there are the sadder, more reflective tracks, like "Frail," which features some wavering tremolo guitar over a simple chord progression and some sad, almost desperate vocals that eventually, quietly give up: "it's not worth sayin' matter of fact / so I'll take my words right back." There are also a few tracks somewhere in between the poppy and the bereaved. The first track in particular, is such a good example of a digestible track that has some guts to it. "Into the Great Unknown" is super catchy and synth driven with a helplessly sing-along chorus. Like the album itself, this song is catchy without feeling shallow. It has a solid mood to it, and is certainly carried by the vocal melody and the simplicity of the chorus. The catchiest songs in the world are often the blandest songs in the world, so it is refreshing to hear something with a hook that also has some bite. Tomorrow, the Stars is a well-crafted pop-rock album that delivers from multiple directions.

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