One of the primary sources of indie-rock’s appeal, its stubbornly insular nature, is also what makes so much of it annoying.
When bands write in a cryptic code of non sequiturs, it can make you feel that they’re having a private, poetic conversation with you, a cerebral communion that the cluelessly literal-minded pop masses will never understand. And since the indie-rock community has always had a bit of an elitist bent (e.g., once the populace picks up on my favorite band, I don’t like ’em so much anymore), obscurity can be a badge of honor. On the other hand, those of us partial to the quaint concept of actual communication, of coming out and saying what you mean, might opt for the direct expression of something like Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.”
Bands don’t get much indier than the Brooklyn-based Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, who became a media story after moving 20,000 copies of their self-released, self-titled debut purely on the strength of word-of-mouth and internet buzz. If Clap Your Hands are indie in the classic DIY, anti-corporate sense, they are also indie in what has become the stylistic sense: rough-hewn production, careening vocals, and, above all, inscrutable lyrics. But if Clap Your Hands demonstrate the limits of hide-and-seek word games, they also show an ability to transcend them. Frontman Alec Ounsworth, much like Shins mastermind James Mercer, often mitigates the distancing effect of his lyrics with music that’s engaging and welcoming.
Of course, we all have different concepts of welcoming, and “Some Loud Thunder,” the title track to Clap Your Hands’ sophomore album, immediately tests listener loyalty with a purposely distorted track that sounds like an old cassette taped off AM radio, with the needle buried in the red. With a perverse sense of produced rawness, however, Ounsworth and his mates layer cowbells, handclaps, tambourine, and various other wall-of-sound effects onto an infectious pop tune.
On the band’s debut album, Ounsworth sounded like he was channeling “Don’t Worry About the Government”-era David Byrne, but he now sounds as much like a young Gordon Gano as Byrne. Stealing a slightly younger pop eccentric’s vocal mannerisms might not meet my definition of progress, but it does quality as some kind of change.
The all-out verse-chorus-verse euphoria of “Emily Jean Stock” (“you look so neat/every day is your birthday”) is hard to resist, and more ambient constructions, such as the instrumental waltz “Upon Encountering the Crippled Elephant” and the piano/accordion mood piece “Love Song No. 7,” suggest a possible future in movie soundtracks. But Ounsworth badly errs on the side of cutesiness with “Satan Said Dance,” a flimsy electro-funk number noticeably devoid of funkiness.
On its own insular terms, Some Loud Thunder makes a pretty big noise, but thunderous it’s definitely not.
— Gilbert Garcia
When I think of the Equalvision Records roster, screamo and heavy metal bands inevitably come to mind. The label is best known as the home of Coheed and Cambria, Circa Survive, and Armor for Sleep.
Dustin Kensrue’s solo debut marks him as a stylistic anomaly on the label. Sure, by day he does indeed sing, or rather, scream lead vocals for the post-hardcore outfit Thrice. But Please Come Home finds him moonlighting as a folk-rock singer-songwriter.
Kensrue has been working on this album since Thrice’s formation back in 1998, with some help coming from Thrice guitarist Teppei Teranishi, who co-produces and plays guitar on the album. This stubbornly old-school eight-song CD channels Johnny Cash in an uncanny way on “Blood & Wine,” and even evokes the Whiskeytown-era Ryan Adams.
With its acoustic trappings, this album is totally unexpected. This is the kind of stuff that can be played on KSYM’s Third Coast Music Network — something that could never be said for Thrice. It serves as a dynamic departure for Kensrue and shows the range of his talent. Whether attempting screamo or acoustic roots music, he’s equally amazing.
— Denise Blaz
The latest release by Australia’s band Youth Group is a record that practically invites you to space out. This stuff is perfect rainy day kind of music, a series of soundscapes that would provide a perfect complement to an indie film.
But, in fact, this group’s music has been featured most prominently on the small screen, not the big one, with the track “Forever Young” heard on The O.C. As a result, their music will likely sound familiar to you even if you’re convinced that you’ve never heard them before.
Some parts of the record, such as the beginning of “Sicily,” are dead-on Shins. The fact of the matter, however, is that the best track off this album is a cover song. It’s a glistening, improved adaptation of a song released by Alphaville in 1982. Everything else, although pleasant, just seems to glide by. No real spontaneity or surprises whatsoever.
But, Seth Cohen loves their tunes and the members of Death Cab for Cutie admire this band enough to take them out on tour. That should be worth about 20 good reviews in terms of name recognition.
— Denise Blaz