REVIEW: Pretend – “Tapestry’d Life”

pretendtl

Pretend are making a lot of noise with this record. People overwhelmingly love it. I saw a lot of people were calling it the album of the year on the day it came out. I don’t know how to really approach it though. Pretend is a hell of a band. They’re technically proficient, they’re really down to experiment with sound, but maybe not the band for me. Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t know.

Tapestry’d Life is a good, if inaccessible, record. It’s full of mathy instrumentation and constantly shifting time signatures. There are points where it can get a little unnerving and almost uncomfortable to listen to. This is only made more noticeable by the fact that eight of the nine songs clock in at over seven minutes each. Four of which are pushing 10 minutes, plus or minus. It’s a bit like listening to Slint or US Maple, but the songs just keep on pushing. Which is fine, y’know. It’s good, but definitely not for everyone.

Pretend have heaps of talent, and they know how to keep listeners on their toes. Things can get a bit disjointed, but an underlying pop sensibility keeps it a bit reigned in. You hear it all over the place, but especially when the guitar gets delicate kind of twinkly. It’s a post-rock record that doesn’t lean so heavily on being “cinematic” or huge in scope. But songs like “Blessings” and “Physical Flight” still sound huge in their own way. The music ebbs and flows, the production is right on the money, and everything just sounds good.

Does it live up to the hype though? I don’t know. Probably not. Not for me anyway. There’s a gang of people who love this record, and I totally get it. It’s well made, it’s engaging, and Pretend are definitely on top of their game. I just don’t know what kind of replay value this is going to have for me. Maybe I’m just sleeping on it like a dummy. Who knows? It’s a interesting listen either way.

Pretend
Topshelf Records
Bandcamp
Buy It

 

REVIEW: Kind Of Like Spitting / Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers – “It’s Always Nice To See You” (split)

kolswfatffI do a blog named Team Reasonable. I feel like it’s pretty obvious how I feel about Kind Of Like Spitting. I live in Illinois and love to support local. I’m also a big fan of indie/emo music. It’s probably pretty obvious how I feel about Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers. Writing this review might be a little superfluous, so I’ll keep it as short as I can.

It’s Always Nice To See You is a split that is basically 100% my shit. It runs the gamut in sound, and everything on it is pretty goddamn strong. There are driving, garagey indie rock songs. There are a few acoustic numbers. There are really solid indie/emo songs. There is nothing on here I wouldn’t like.

Kind Of Like Spitting is the front side. This is the first release under that name since 2006. Ben Barnett continues to write really strong songs. This incarnation of Kind Of Like Spitting is Barnett (guitar/vocals), Brian Grant (bass), and Dante Johnson (drums). The trio fire on all cylinders for most of their half. Driving indie rock songs full of chunky riffs, strong bass lines, and really solid drumming. There are strong pop and garage influences throughout. Most songs feel more on the Blunt Mechanic side of the fence than the Kind Of Like Spitting side as a result. This is especially true on Bullied By A Bee and Audience Of Two. Those songs feel a bit looser and jammier than a “traditional” Kind Of Like Spitting song. It’s all good though, and not that unexpected. Both bands are/were Ben Barnett vehicles. Either way, it’s a fun bit of distortion and fuzz.

Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers continue to impress on their side. Watching Warren Franklin transition from a solo act to a full band has been really exciting. Every release improves on the last. The band has built a unique sound, and they have found a way to encompass everything they’ve done in the past without getting stuck in a rut. It’s hard to think of another band so adept at walking the lines between indie rock, power pop, and emo. One of the biggest things is how much Franklin’s vocals have improved. His voice is stronger than ever here. Just a great showing for a great band. Can’t wait to see a full length.

So, yeah. It’s a great split. Both bands excel at what they do. Check it out.

Kind Of Like Spitting
Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers
Topshelf Records
Bandcamp
Buy It

REVIEW: Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) – “You Will Eventually Be Forgotten”

eeiwaleywebfIt’s been five years since Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) put out a full length. Let’s be real though, it felt like a lot longer than that. And, oh, what a full length it was. What It Takes To Move Forward is a beautiful album from start to finish. It would be a fair question to ask if they could make a follow up that even meets the quality of that record. The answer is yes. Yes they fucking can, and have. You Will Eventually Be Forgotten has met and exceeded the expectations that led up to it. And of course it did. Keith and Cathy Latinen are amazing at what they do, and no one should be surprised.

It’s a little hard to write about Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) without touching on a few different subjects. The first being the sheer number of bands they exposed people to via split releases, tours, or releases on Count Your Lucky Stars. Like, it was through them that I found Dowsing, Joie De Vivre, and Football, Etc. The next obvious point is the sheer volume of releases they’ve put out. In the five years since the first the LP, they have released a boatload of 7 inches, either as splits or as EPs. Things have more or less been building to You Will Eventually Be Forgotten.

While not a huge departure from the earlier releases, You Will Eventually Be Forgotten is notable for how the songwriting has changed. Their older songs lived and breathed on more abstract, esoteric lyrics. The lyric here are entirely literal. The metaphors have given way to straight forward speech. These are lyrics that you can connect to outright, at face value. “Things Not Worth Fixing” is very much a story of getting out of college, having to move back home, and work a shit job that you feel you are above. “It’s So Much Darker When a Light Goes Out Than When It Would Have Been If It Had Never Shone” is a song about remembering an event celebrating grandparents’ anniversary, and how both grandparents became so intertwined in life that one shortly followed the other in after death. Album opener, “Ribbon” proposes that “there is always enough to get things done.” It bookends with “The Promise That Life Can Go On No Matter How Bad Our Losses” asking “is this still worth putting our lives on hold for?”

This is very much a record that tells 10 distinct little stories. The lyrics read like a biography of sorts. It covers childhood memories. There are stories of the unsure, exciting parts of an early relationship. It covers finding love and getting married. It is triumphant in parts, somber in other. It’s the mixture of exuberance and ennui that really makes the whole thing work.

The real crux of the release is the music. As it stands, it is not really anything unexpected for them. But, much like the songwriting itself, the music has been reigned in a bit. It has definitely built upon the songs from earlier in their discography, but has done so without retreading the sound they, and many other bands, have tread. It is going to be right up the alley of the genre purists who care more about style than substance, but it is also a record that bleeds authenticity. There is a certain level of brevity to these songs, and the album as a whole. You Will Eventually Be Forgotten is a tidy 38 minutes. It is much more focused than the double LP that preceded it. What It Takes To Move Forward clocked in at just about an hour. The difference in length is notable because both albums have the same number of songs.

“We Are People Here. We Are Not Numbers” is a great example of them recognizing the strengths of the older releases, but still evolving. It is a song that pushes the quiet/loud dynamic. Not in a Pixies or college rock way, but there is definitely a noticeable contrast. The song that immediately follows it, “You Have to Be So Much Better than You Ever Thought” is another song that has some bite to it. It feel more like a deep cut from their earlier releases. It kind of sits in the same territory that “So How Many Points Do You Have ‘Till You Gain, You Know, the Ultimate Power?” did. Otherwise, there are plenty of songs that will fit nicely in the “sad jams” tag they use on their BandCamp page.

So, to wrap this overly long review up, just go order this. Get it on vinyl, get it on cd, or get it digitally. Whatever works best for you. It is one of the best releases you’ll hear this year. That is a fact.

Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate)
Count Your Lucky Stars (Buy It)
Topshelf Records (Buy It)
BandCamp

REVIEW: Field Mouse – “Hold Still Life”

fieldmouseI was briefly in Brooklyn last December. I was hoping that, in the week I was out, I’d be able to find out why there are so many great bands from there. My research was inconclusive. Let’s credit it to bridges or something. But, instead of a terrible conclusion based on terrible research skills, let’s talk about Field Mouse. Coming from the very fertile music scene in Brooklyn, they have made a record that will stand out from the pack. While the music they’re making fall into some very well tread tropes, they have managed to make the music their own.

Hold Still Life is a record that eschewed genre rules. You can call it a regular, adjective free indie rock record. You can call it an indie pop record. You can call it shoegaze, dream pop, or a million other genre tags that only nerds like me give a fuck about. All that shit aside, it is a good record. Hell, it’s a great record.

It’s the mixture of things that make it work. It’s an almost seamless mixture of straight ahead indie rock and dream pop/shoegaze. Songs can go from being driving to more dreamy and reverb heavy at the drop of a hat. You can have a song that is carried by guitars and drums lead into a song that is more reliant on synthesizers without missing a beat. The disparate styles are held together perfectly by the fantastic vocals of Rachel Browne. It’s driving and catchy, but then also a bit fuzzy and drawn out. Field Mouse is a band that exists in this weird open space where things that shouldn’t work somehow work.

The first three songs are a great example of the record as a whole. “A Place You Return To In A Dream” is a very straightforward rock song. “Water In The Valley” starts of with a great bass line, and has a more 90’s alternative (think The Breeders) sound to it. “Two Ships” is more driven by effects. It is a bit more spacey. And, really, the record carries on in this way for the remaining nine songs. “Netsuke,” which is right in the middle of the record, is all those things at once. Hold Still Life features a little from column A, and a little from column B. Then they throw in shit from column C through Z. Field Mouse are able to make it all work, and make it all make sense.

But, hell. It’s obvious that I really like this record. Field Mouse made a record that has so many things I love in one package. I mean, honestly. Hold Still Life is a record that you really should be listening to. Like, right now.

Field Mouse
Topshelf Record
BandCamp
Buy It

REVIEW: Braid – “No Coast”

braidnocoastIt’s hard to talk about reunion records, especially reunion records from bands you really love. Nothing will ever be as good as it used to be. Nostalgia is like that. I was pretty stoked about Braid getting back together. I was slightly less stoked when I heard Closer To Closed. This isn’t to say that it was a bad EP or anything. In fact, it was pretty damn good. It just didn’t line up with what I wanted it to be. That’s why No Coast, Braid’s first full length in 16 years, is such a daunting listen.

Braid always seemed to get more accessible as time went on. The difference between Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five and Frame And Canvas was not negligible. They developed a bit more of a pop sensibility in lieu of a post-hardcore, Fugazi aping. No Coast is a further step in that direction. It’s a further reigned in version of Braid. It’s clear that the years spent in other bands have changed their approach to things. The songs are what matter though, and the songs here are great.

Songs like “No Coast” and “Many Enemies” are catchy from front to back. They are built around some great hooks and melodies. “Pre Evergreen” brings the band back to their classic mid-tempo sound. They’ve heavily worked in that style on past releases, and it’s still working here. It’s the combination of different styles that make No Coast work so well. You can go from a mid-tempo song to a fast, more punk number without the record getting disjointed. “Pre Evergreen” going into “Put Some Wings On That Kid” is a perfect example of this. It does help that the songs remain true to the overall Braid sound.

There isn’t much that needs to be said about Braid though. They’re a band with a legacy. There is going to be a big to-do in the music press about Braid coming back and reclaiming something from all these current emo bands. That’s all bullshit hype. While No Coast is very much a genre record, it doesn’t play like a record trying to reclaim past glory. It plays like a record made by a band that really cares about what they’re doing now.

What matters is that No Coast is absolutely the kind of record Braid should have made. It’s a record that stands on its own, but it still has a lineage. It’s a record that will appeal to longtime followers, and it’s accessible enough to showcase the band to younger listeners who aren’t too familiar with them.

Those people exist, right?

Braid
Topshelf Records
BandCamp
Buy It

REVIEW: The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – "Whenever, If Ever"

The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die finally released their first LP. Well, released it digitally in order to combat it leaking a month early. Or whatever. Either way, it’s here. There was a lot of hype leading up to this. The reaction you see is very much dependent on which parts of the internet you frequent. Some people are already claiming it to be album of the year, some people are comparing it to watching paint dry.

No offense to the dude over at Dying Scene, but this record is actually pretty perfect. Anyone familiar with this band should already know what to expect. I feel like calling this exclusively an emo record does it a disservice. There is a lot going on here. While the record heavily features hallmarks of emo, it also touches on general indie rock and even on some post-rock atmospherics. What’s really nice is how it bring back some diverse instrumentation to the genre. First off, it adds great texture to the record. Plus, I always love when there are trumpet flourishes, violins, and piano/synth work on emo records.

Everything flows together well. Whenever, If Ever is an album, not just a random collection of songs. While each song stands on it’s own, everything works better as an entire piece. Every song could be a standout song. Every song could be the a side to a 7″ single. That’s not to say I don’t have some favorites.

I absolutely love the way some of these songs are connected and work together, almost like one long song. Songs four through six function like this. “Picture Of A Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay” flows perfectly into “You Will Never Go To Space,” which leads perfectly into “The Layers Of Skin We Drag Around.” These songs share a similar theme, and each song has a line that connects it back to the song before it. Be it talk of cars parked on lawns, or just the general fear of/desire to change. While it shouldn’t be, I feel like that is something special. A lot of albums always feel a bit disjointed. The band clearly went into this with the mind to produce a full, coherent album.

I can’t say enough good things about this record. The production is spot on. It is adventurous musically and lyrically. The band has stepped up their lyric game beautifully. Like I said earlier, it is basically perfect. Is it album of the year? Maybe. It’s only May though. Who can really tell just yet. It’ll be pretty fucking hard to beat though.

The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die
Topshelf Records
Broken World Media
Bandcamp
Buy It

REVIEW: You, Me, And Everyone We Know – "Things Are Really Weird Right Now"

Well, we can throw this band on the list of bands that broke up this year. This EP is a pretty good way to go out. Prior to starting this review, I should note that I am reviewing the 7″ version. Seems that it is not the same track order as on the other formats. So, you know, that is kind of goofy. But, anyway.

You, Me, And Everyone We Know played some pretty solid pop music. As such, there is a bit of dissonance between lyrical content and musical style. We have three songs of rather sunny sounding music, but some rather bummer lyrics. Really, that is a perfect way for a record called Things Are Really Weird Right Now to be.
The titular song is the great, stand out cut on this record. The vocals are great, the keyboard line is fantastic, and the guitars are nice and sunny in a pretty awesome, British invasion type way. The song has the type of lyrics that would be great to sing along with when you’re having a shitty day.
“Now you might wonder where that leaves me
I’m not complaining, just beginning to see
I never really learned just how to aspire
mostly self deprecate, detach, and retire”

The other two songs follow a similar style. “Sad Bastard Music” being a songs that more than lives up to it’s title. “There Was A Thump, Then Another” is a great closer. There is one beef I have with the latter song. In the chorus, some words get emphasized in a weird kind of way. But, minor quibble aside, both songs are just as strong as the titular track.
Overall, this is a great EP. A good swan song. Musically, this is a solid guitar pop record. It follows the lineage of great British invasion pop records. It has a throwback kind of sound in the same kind of way as Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. Really, you can’t go wrong with that.