The Memories are a sun-soaked, dreamy power pop band based out of Portland, Oregon, sharing members with the punk outfit White Fang. Their most recent release (on Burger Records, a label with an impressive repertoire, to say the least) Love is the Law features seventeen songs to the tune of short and sweet. Simplicity, then, is the key stylistic element. The bare-bones guitar riffs supplement lyrics that stick to talking about girls and weed. Sound easy to get into? Transparent, almost? That’s absolutely right.
Simplicity should never be interpreted as a flaw. Some of the most beautiful songs ever written have been created on the foundation of just four chords (and sometimes even less). What The Memories have going on Love is the Law is a prime example of what critics and music dorks alike refer affectionately to as “slacker pop.” Not to be confused with actually lazy songwriting (and make no mistake, the lines can often blur), the songs are crafted in such a way that would inspire visions of the band members sitting together in a cramped apartment or practice space thick with pot smoke, banging out these songs in rapid succession. The lyrical content seems to be hastily concocted, scribbled on crumpled scraps of paper salvaged from old notebooks and the backs of fast food receipts. With this comes a certain charm that many bands try to emulate, but few are successful in.
Standout tracks on the album include “En Espanol,” “You Need a Big Man,” and “Go Down On You.” With the song titles as straightforward as they are, the feeling of the album is easy to pin down. “You Need A Big Man” is entirely absurd, which makes it a great (albeit questionable) addition to the album. The lyrics are lewd, childish, and terribly tongue in cheek, with a hummed vocal part in lieu of a guitar solo. In a strange way, it sort of embodies Love is the Law. It’s respectable pop without taking things too seriously. This is a fun listen above all else, and easy to immerse oneself in. The attention to sound and atmosphere, appearing in short bursts yet leaving an impression on the album as a whole, make the record that much more substantial.
The overall impression to be drawn from Love is the Law is face-value: what you see is what you get. It seems like common sense, or even lackluster to a certain degree. There is no package here, nothing to be sought after or understood. No big picture, no pretense, just a collection of summery, jangling pop songs. And sometimes that’s all you need.
According to Hebrew lore as stated in the Tanakh, a Leviathan is a massive sea creature that has dwelled at the depths of the ocean since the beginning of time. In modern Hebrew, the word roughly translates to “whale,” thereby establishing a clear connection to the story of Job. The Leviathan has a rich history in the Abrahamic religions and more contemporary literature (even serving as the namesake for a work by Thomas Hobbes). Mere mention of its name elicits vivid pictures of a timeless, massive entity spanning the collective unconscious of entire cultures from East to West.
A young California band (read: a very, very young California band), have taken this in stride and used it as their namesake. I the Leviathan, as professed by their debut Trespassing EP, produce a brand of post-hardcore music that has been moving up from the underground into the mainstream quite seamlessly by them and their contemporaries. More At the Drive-In than A Day to Remember, the 5-track EP is defined by a caustic, accusatory tone with on-point and well-syncopated instrumentation.
The youth and complete lack of longevity of the band (a photo on their Facebook page pegs them at no older than twenty) indicates that a healthy dose of teenage angst fuels this record, which is good and healthy. The lyrics tend to point one (or several) fingers at nameless oppressive entities and wrongdoers in intimate relationship. Hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned, as the saying goes. The overall feeling of the Trespassing EP is undoubtedly punk in essence, with a metal influence lingering throughout the guitar riffs and leads. While the EP remains slightly unremarkable even after repeated listens (and some air-drumming by one reviewer in particular on a drive to visit friends), I the Leviathan show promise. It is hard to doubt that the debut release will not garner due press, but something about the release seemed so status quo that it seemed hard not to brush it away into the vast abyss that is “the Internet.”
I the Leviathan’s debut Trespassing EP is fun to listen to. The group seems earnest and well-intentioned, but personal preference (and to be frank, a mild case of punk rock elitism) leaves it sounding a touch too bland. If anything, the Trespassing EP should be interpreted as a step in a promising direction: not flawed, but with plenty of room for improvement. For fans of the genre, I the Leviathan would certainly be a band to keep on the radar.
The Resolution EP offers listeners a fresh taste of what is to come from Australian singer-songwriter Matt Corby. It is a clear continuation of his previous work and simultaneously marks a new chapter in his career. The single (for which the EP is named) was released just before a sold-out national tour, giving a preview for a full-length record to be released. In the midst of Corby’s ascent to fame, the Resolution EP deserves to be digested.
At first glance, the EP seems a bit lacking in material, with four tracks clocking in at around the twenty minute mark. However, Resolution is filled with enough substance to make the collective mouth of Corby’s fans water in anticipation for the imminent full-length.
The Resolution EP begins with the title track and single, drawing in old fans and prospective ones with apparent ease. Corby’s guitar arpeggios fade in as his signature croon begins, singing of his “resolution,” a glimmer of hope in a bleak existential crossroads. Understated percussion accentuates the track, reverberating though the listener and lifting them up as Corby seems to have been lifted up.
Each subsequent track is a gem in its own rite, displaying a great variety in tone and mood throughout Corby’s creative process. Subtle touches of violin (Lay You Down) and piano (Evangelist) add to the guitar and vocal-focused tracks. Evangelist, an 8-minute near-epic, builds up from sparse instrumentation and soft cooing to a soaring refrain, then breaking down to a loose, primitive jam. Evangelist is impressive, but still exists in the shadow of the single. However, it leaves something for listeners to hold on to, giving depth to the EP and raising expectation for any material to follow. Resolution closes with an alternate take of the single, decidedly more somber and subdued. Both versions represent enormously redeeming qualities in Corby’s music: his ability to encapsulate the listener in both a driving, larger than life tune or a soft-spoken introspection.
Testifying also to Corby’s range as a musician is the difference in vocal styling on each track. For a split second, one may gather the impression that a different vocalist is featured on every track. While displaying Corby’s range (a quality to be taken into consideration) it does leave the Resolution EP feeling a bit choppy. However, for the purpose of previewing the forthcoming Matt Corby release, Resolution does just fine.
Matt Corby is well on his way to making a name for himself outside his native Australia, Resolution standing in as a milestone on his journey. Corby can truly claim ownership to a masterful execution of songwriting, and as such, is well on his way to a bright future.
ID is the most recent effort from Pittsburgh’s Chris Laufman, perhaps more widely acknowledged as the recording artist Wise Blood. Laufman is, for all intents and purposes, a beatmaker, sampling what seems to be thousands of sound clips from an eclectic range of artists. He manipulates them until they are miles removed from the original: essentially a musical Frankenstein’s Monster, sewn together in ways that make one wonder whether or not it’s playing God or just artistic ingenuity. There are arguments for both, of course.
Wise Blood’s end result is a varied, layered and entirely controlled pop record that serves as a snapshot of Laufman, existing in a swirl of modern luxury and discontent, his own vices and his own perception of himself. ID offers a foray into Laufman’s mind: shamelessly quirky and often tongue-in-cheek, yet entirely self-aware and overall sincere. Not only does the listener get a glimpse into the inner workings of the artist, but they are even further included in the joke, more than likely totally identifying with the subject matter. Regrets about the last few nights at the bar, a love song to the Target franchise and a list of things he wishes his friends could be make ID an almost classic testament to the love-hate relationship that young people have with youth culture.
Completely embracing that love-hate relationship, Wise Blood creates an entirely fresh sounding alternative to the blanket “indie pop” term that tends to be thrown around so haphazardly. ID is a pop record for people that don’t like pop music. Samples from everywhere under the sun are thrown into the mix and flawlessly strung together, driving forward Laufman’s vocal work and lyricism. His slightly self-deprecating, yet confident tendencies channel a Yoni Wolf-like persona; dripping with what prove to be complex array of emotions mixed with external factors and some element of existential woe. Laufman takes care to throw some humor into the mix as well, as if to make listening less like a visit to the shrink and more like exchanging grievances with a friend over coffee. The instrumental “8 P.M. – 10 P.M.” and “11 P.M. – 1 A.M.” act as wordless vehicles to the same end, in that one can almost imagine Laufman sitting at his computer in sweatpants for the hours indicated tweaking his tracks.
ID comes forth at face-value without compromising even a single bit. It has the ability to assert itself as having this sort of self-evident clout. The record itself has an attitude, an air about it the demands attention. Chris Laufman has been quoted as saying “I want to sign a big contract and take over pop music.” If ID is any indication, he probably can.
Mavericks by Work Drugs is the most recent full-length release by the sun-soaked Philadelphia synth-pop outfit. They bring to the proverbial table a largely accessible testament to the genre with some underlying substance and subject matter driving their music.
At first glance, there seems to be a slight disconnect between the band’s aesthetic and their city of origin. Philadelphia is widely considered to be a part of the geographical (and perhaps even more so, cultural) United States East Coast. However, Work Drugs employs a distinctly West Coast image evident in their album artwork and even some of their material, namely in Mavericks’ “West Coast Slide.”
Though the principal East Coast/West Coast feud may belong to 1990s hip-hop, the two coasts tend to produce a different cultural context, not only based in location but a general paradigm. Perhaps such an observation could be taken as a look too far into such a trivial aspect of Work Drugs’ style, but it exists nonetheless. They seem to be fairly genuine in their doing so, indicating that it may have been an intentional creative choice.
The decidedly West Coast aesthetic can also serve as the first step in describing Work Drugs’ sound, creating a point of reference even beyond the vast “synth-pop” tag. Mavericks features lush instrumentation not entirely electronic in origin. The use of reverb-treated guitar and the featured saxophone on “Sunset on High Street” stand out as brilliant additions to an already well-orchestrated record. Another feature that makes Mavericks an enticing listen is its production. The plague of over-production tends to afflict electronic music, but Mavericks subverts it spectacularly. The result is a smoothed-out pop record with a more organic feeling than a vast majority of electronic releases can claim. The record shows a certain lyrical depth as well, with songs of love and loss like “For James” and “Trifecta,” commentary on the aligning co-culture in “A Measure of Life” and “Payola (A Numbers Game),” even ranging to a larger social commentary about the divide between homelessness and youthful privilege in “Sunset on High Street.” The lyrics float above the persistent punch of the instrumentation in a smooth, relaxed and melodic falsetto, entirely deserving of the self-described “smooth-fi” moniker. Mavericks thrusts all of these qualities forward in a neatly-organized exposé of Work Drugs’ material, from up-tempo, club-ready tracks like “Young Lungs,” practically begging for shamelessly wacky Friday night dance moves, to the relaxed melodies of “Trifecta.” The record is balanced to the point of pop perfection.
Work Drugs’ Mavericks could not have come out at a more seasonally appropriate time. It practically screams “summer” at the listener, with great potential to serve as a soundtrack for a night drive with the windows down or a raucous party with close friends and perfect strangers. Mavericks seems to have created the musical equivalent to the summer for the young-adult socialites of the world, in the best way possible.
The Silent Comedy are a rock group based out of San Diego, California. They have been garnering a great deal of attention recently, attracting a sizeable fanbase with their brand of folk and Americana-tinged music. In doing so, they are growing rapidly out of the bar scene that they once called home. In that way, their music tends to reflect their roots and upbringing.
To that end, I’m not sure I’ve been exposed to a more accurate sonic representation of bar culture. And I’m almost positive that’s not a great thing. In the romping blues-pop tune “God Neon,” the single from their latest Friends Divide EP, one can almost hear the beer bottles being cracked open and the crowds of intoxicated twenty to thirty-somethings talking over their set. The Music News Nashville blog claims that the way to best experience their sound is to see them play live, and I’m convinced that such a thing would only further prove my point.
They are far from “bad.” It’s clear that they have some chemistry and talent as a group, and the six-track Friends Divide has a solid range of songs (from the raucous “God Neon” to a slower, folksy “Simple Thing”), all executed very well in terms of musicianship. But I think The Silent Comedy’s least desirable quality is, unfortunately, the whole package. I can’t shake the “bar band” image that they’ve built themselves up on. The members of the band, neatly bearded and seemingly clad for a night out are subject to and simultaneously a product of the image-conscious microcosm of bar life. Their music is upbeat enough to hold a tipsy audience’s attention, but lacks any further depth that could impact a listener at home. Their music seems to rely on swaggering bluesy guitar riffs and choruses that take up most of the EP. Perhaps their live show is, then, something to be experienced for those interested in such a group.
The Friends Divide EP is a classic example of plain music veiled by hype and loosely applied genre tags in an effort to give any kind of credibility. While The Silent Comedy reached a level of success with their last full-length record, Common Faults, it seems that the follow-up Friends Divide would serve as their real breakthrough effort. The Silent Comedy is not undeserving of attention, but I feel as though it should be taken with a grain of salt. The content on their most recent EP is fine (if not predictable), but lacking in any real substance. The “God Neon” single appears first on the record, leaving something to be desired for the duration of Friends Divide as soon as the dust settles. The remainder of the EP goes through the motions of a vaguely Americana-inspired rock record, ranging from slower and somber to harmonious and slightly uplifting (namely the final track, “Ghosts”). The Friends Divide EP may compliment a Friday night out, but is slightly underwhelming in any other situation.