REVIEW: Accents – “Tall Tales”

accentstalltalesFuck a sophomore slump, folks. This new Accents full length is better than the last. Accents have gone from a duo to a quintet. The addition of members really expanded what they are capable of doing. Having three additional full members has added more depth and color to what the band is doing. It’s a remarkable growth in a short span of time. Tall Tales is really a stronger record for it.

While the three new members did appear on the previous full length in one capacity or another, it’s a whole different thing here. Mainly because they are expanding the overall feeling of the whole record, versus a few songs. The addition on Lauren Alexander is the most noticeable change to me. She and TJ Foster work well with each others voices, and having more of her is not a bad thing.

Beyond the new additions, there is a lot to like. The band still writes great hooks and big choruses. They have maintained their indie rock / indie folk sound that worked so well on the previous full length. This record has taken the things they did well, and just refined it. The production is spot on again. The record is sequenced almost perfectly this time. All the rises and falls hit right where they should. Each part of the record is strong, versus being front heavy.

There is a lot more diversity to the record as well. “Los Angeles” is the closest to a straight up folk song the band has made yet. “I Wasn’t Looking For You” is a driving, uptempo rock song. “Sore Eyes,” the closer, builds to a great conclusion for the record. There are great mellow, folk influenced songs. There are high energy indie rock songs. Most noticeably, there are great vocal harmonies throughout.

Long story short, Tall Tales is a document of how great a band can get in a relatively short span of time. This record is a keeper.

Deep Elm
BandCamp / Buy It

Digging Through the Compilation Shelf.

compgridCompilations were a fucking way of life. They were the best route to find new bands. They were around long before the internet was THE INTERNET. They were around long before Spotify, BandCamp, SoundCloud, and other services made it easy to “try before you buy.” They’re things that don’t really happen anymore. One part is because of the internet. Another is the overall decline of brick and mortar record stores. They’re not financially viable to manufacture and distribute anymore, and it’s kind of bummer.

Without pulling the shitty “back in my day” card, the decline of record stores and readily available physical products has been the biggest change in music that I’ve seen. I’m old enough to remember a time before file sharing, iTunes, and web commerce as a viable option for music existed. Small record labels, if they had websites at all, still lived on mailorder. You printed out a form, mailed them a money order or some shit, and waited. Oh, how you waited. It wasn’t the most conducive way to discover music. You could read liner notes, but if bands didn’t thank any other bands it was a no-go. So you turned to local record store, and their “compilation” section.

I’ve always been broke. That definitely made it hard for me to discover new bands in my teenage years. I couldn’t afford to buy albums all the time, and it had to be worth it if I was going to drop the $16 at Tower Records. So I always dug through the compilations. At around $2 a pop, they were the best things in the world. If i was curious about some new band on Lookout! Records or something, just go grab their most recent one. Same with Asian Man, Epitaph, Fat Wreck, Go Kart, Matador, Hopeless, BYO, Vagrant, Deep Elm, and so on et cetera. You’d get to hear that new band you were wondering about, and probably some unreleased song from a band you liked already. How could you go wrong?

The first compilation cd I ever bought was probably Mailorder Is Still Fun. As I touched on in another thing, Asian Man Records was my jam. I was mail ordering a bunch of records, and decided to get this compilation. As a teenage ska fan, it was the best I could have hoped for. Slow Gherkin, Less Than Jake, The Chinkees, and MU330 were all on it. Through that compilation I got introduced to Korea Girl, who I still believe to be one of the most criminally underrated indie rock bands in the world. I heard Alkaline Trio and The Broadways for the first time. 16 year old me was stoked. And that compilation was already 2 years old by the time I bought it.

It all spiraled from there. The first time I heard Camber, Planes Mistaken For Stars, and Brandtson was on Deep Elm Sampler #3 (Sound Spirit Fury Fire). The first time I heard The Mr. T Experience, Bratmobile, and Common Rider was on Lookout! Freakout Episode 2. And Hopelessly Devoted To You Vol. 3 was where I first heard Dillinger Four, The Queers, and The Weakerthans (it also sparked me into buying one of my all time favorite records, Left And Leaving). Marc’s A Dick And Gar’s A Drunk: The Johann’s Face Story is where I first heard the Traitors and No Empathy. What I’m saying is that compilations were always important to me. In that spirit, I wanted to make a quick list of my favorite compilations. I’ve linked them to their respective page on Discogs. In no particular order.

Honorable mentions go to Short Music For Short People and Fat Music Volume 5: Live Fat, Die Young (both Fat Wreck Chords). The former for absolutely fucking nailing the gimmick. The latter for having one of my favorite Propagandhi songs.

If this kind of stuff had a resurgence, I’d be right there ready to go.

REVIEW: U137 – "Dreamer On The Run"

Post-rock is an interesting thing to tackle. The bands have to keep the rules of standard rock music in mind, while also trying to avoid sticking to them. It’s in that eschewing normal genre rules that allows for cinematic qualities, it helps create songs that can be sweeping in scope. U137 is a duo made up of Adam Tornblad and Oscar Gulbrandsen. These two are no strangers to this type of music, having three releases with Moonlit Sailor under their belts. To see them adding to the stable of wonderful post-rock that Deep Elm currently has makes perfect sense.

It’s hard to review this stuff as a collection of songs. The genre doesn’t lend itself well to picking out favorite songs, or fragmenting things down to “well, this part is cool.” In that regard, Dreamer On The Run is no different. The band made cohesive, engulfing record from front to back. U137 is made that work, plus they fit some great traditional indie rock flourishes in as well. The album works well as an entire piece.

Those indie rock moments are what makes this such an accessible record. You can be a total novice about this type of music and still get it. It never gets into the weirdness that some bands can. It remains very grounded, while still managing to shine. As an instrumental band, everything seems to serve double duty. Each instrument can provide the background colors, but can also carry the song in a traditional way. That said, this isn’t riffing indie rock.

I don’t want to sound like one of those nerd who talks about swirling music and sonic landscapes, but I kind of have to. “Dreamer On The Run” has a whole lot to like. It’s calm and ambient in places, it’s driving in others. Everything works, everything shines. Check it out.

Deep Elm
Buy It

REVIEW: The Dandelion War – "We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes"

It seems like the longer I do this blog, the farther I get away from what people would consider “punk.” I deal with a whole bunch of post-(insert genre) bands and records. I find most of these releases to be more interesting than a lot of other things. The Dandelion War is one such band.

We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes is a fine example of, I guess, post-rock. It is full of lush instrumentation. It is a record of space. Instead of coming at the listener, it invites the listener to get lost in the atmosphere. This is the strongest part of it. The Dandelion War provide an escape. Everyday life is full of distractions and a million things happening at once, so there is a lot to be said for getting lost in the music.

While it would be easy to pigeon hole this band as one of many genres, it doesn’t quite seem fair. There is a pop sensibility, but dream pop doesn’t quite work. There are plenty of effects, but it doesn’t get as dense as shoegaze. In the same way that Sigur Rós can mix and match, so too does this band. If you pull out your ambient rock bingo card, there is a little bit of everything involved.

All genre buzzwords aside, this album is great. Emphasis on album. While most bands are content to throw 13 potential singles together and call it a full length, The Dandelion War have clearly worked to make this a cohesive album. This might make it hard to single out a few songs as standouts, but it makes the end product so much better. Even coming in just this side of an hour, We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes never overstays it’s welcome. It is ambient, inviting, and moving.

The Dandelion War
Deep Elm
Stream/Buy It (Bandcamp)
Buy It (Physical)

REVIEW: Cari Clara – "Midnight March"

“Singer/Songwriter” is usually used to denote a very specific type of music. Generally speaking, the term was used to describe troubadour folk or acoustic type stuff. Toward the late 70s to early 80s, it also became a term describing soft rock cheese. This tends to be a double edged sword. Eric Diedrichs (the brains behind Cari Clara) very much fits in with the description of singer/songwriter, but the music doesn’t really fall under either designation. Cari Clara is one of those bands that is basically just that one guy. With this exception of some guest musicians on three tracks, this is all Eric Diedrichs.

Midnight March is an enjoyable indie rock record. Borrowing from various sources, it is also remarkably cohesive as a whole. There are a few straight forward indie rock songs, but there is certainly some post-punk and alternative in there. These different styles are melded and held together by Diedrichs’ voice. He has a great voice for this type of thing; sometimes sounding a bit like David Bazan, sometimes sounding a bit like Conor Oberst or James Mercer (sort of). That is pretty sweet, right?

There is something to be said for Eric Diedrichs’ vision. Not only was this his thing as far as vocally and instrumentally, he also produced and engineered the damn thing. That much freedom can come with a few downsides. The biggest being the lack of other voices. For example, “Greater History” jumps back and forth between straight ahead indie rock song and some creepy piano/organ thing. There is a transition between the bits, but it sounds a bit disjointed. If there had been other band members, that might have been different. Had is stayed as the former, it would be great instead of just good. I’m also a little bummed on the sequencing. There doesn’t seem to be a natural rise and fall to this record. You get stoked for a killer, full band song only to have the next song be an acoustic number. It just kind of kills the momentum of the record. This jump to extremes is especially noticeable with “Story In The Stars” and “Homage To Excess.”

But, minor quibbles aside, this is a solid record that is totally worth a listen. This is the fourth Cari Clara release on the mighty Deep Elm, each one has been better than the last. If he can continue this arc, Diedrichs could be on top.

Cari Clara
Deep Elm
Buy It / Stream It

REVIEW: Accents – "Growth And Squalor"

There is something familiar about Accents. I don’t mean that in a shitty way. Actually quite the opposite. Growth And Squalor is a very inviting record in that sense. For a debut release to be that inviting is actually pretty rare. The general downside to that is, of course, it is hard to be super descriptive about something that doesn’t really make a huge impression. That is the catch 22 in this scenario.

Accents play a pretty solid indie rock/folk style. There instrumentation is great, especially considering they are a duo rather than a full band. They have a pretty solid, laid back kind of sound. However, let is not be said that there aren’t some rockers on here. The opening song, “Divide”, kicks the album off in a great fashion. It has some great vocal harmonies and a catchy guitar line. The following two songs “Way Out” and “The Fog” are great follow ups. The first three songs set a great tone. Unfortunately, those are three of the strongest songs. Of the remaining seven songs (or eight if you include the bonus track), there are only three that really stand out to be. “Alright With Me” and “Routine Movements” break it up a little bit. The album closer “Sorrow” starts off as a kind of middling track, but totally builds towards the end. It is a great way to end.

Now, that is not to say the remaining songs are bad. They aren’t bad at all, really. They just fall in the trap that often springs up with this type of music. There just isn’t enough diversity to really keep my attention. They are enjoyable songs, but get lost in the mix a little for me. I don’t know.

There is a lot to like here. As I said earlier, there is a familiarity with these song. If I had to make a comparison, I would say there is a little Kind Of Like Spitting, Sleeping At Last, Kevin Devine, and Death Cab For Cutie floating around in here. Certainly a bit of 90’s alternative in spots as well. While the record doesn’t reinvent any wheels, it never gets derivative either. All in all, it is a solid release for the indie rock set.

Deep Elm
Buy It / Stream It (Deep Elm BandCamp)