The Indie Equation

The Unholy Marriage of Music and Math.


Equation #44: Times New Viking

Simulcast on Three Imaginary Girls

Times New Viking

Times New Viking
Rip it Off
Matador, 2008

“No, it’s not your stereo. It’s supposed to sound like that.”

Refreshing is a term that can mean a lot of things. As a child I remember being confused and slightly nauseated by beer commercials’ claim of “refreshment” from drinking a Rocky Mountain cold bottle of suds, and to a lesser extent the model’s choice of wearing a bikini beneath a snow parka while happily skiing the bunny slopes. When you’re nine years old a contest between a bright red, glistening GI Joe cup full of Kool Aid and a glass of foamy, foul smelling Hamm’s really is no contest at all. I’d gulp the sweet stuff any day and finish off with the obligatory breathless *gulp-aahhhhhhhh* as I wiped a pink stain onto the back of my wrist. Refreshing means different things to different people; a politician who seems to speak without prepared statements can be refreshing, a cool breeze up the leg of your gym shorts as you jog across hot pavement can be refreshing, and, yes, a tall pint of cold, foamy beer can be refreshing.

In the world of music “refreshing” can be just as subjective a modifier as “indie”, “prolific” and “relevant” when describing a band or sound. For instance, some eternally retro geeks out there consider the “DIY” or “Basement Tape” movement to be a breath of fresh air, as fresh as a breath from a musty old box of the past can be at any rate. They hail it as a return to form, a renaissance of the true independent nature of music; a simpler, purer era before ProTools and Autotune and horseless carriages. Ok, perhaps not that pure. Not that I’m in favor of every shaky-kneed upstart band being able to gloss their way into the mainstream with a few mouse clicks and knob turns, but it also seems presumptuous to make a stand against that rung skipping by refusing to record on anything more sophisticated than your uncle’s dusty old reel-to-reel unit. I mean, we get it: music was better on vinyl and it makes you seem so unique to have to special order the tubes for your amp because they stopped making them after Nixon left the White House.

Right, so what exactly has crawled up my ass to die? Well, Times New Viking’s new album Rip It Off to be specific, an album that’s name begs for a snarky comment but refuses to let me go there. After releasing two albums on the Slitbreeze label Times New Viking makes their big-boy debut on Matador and while a larger label might bring with it a larger production budget Columbus’ TNV has eschewed the payola and remained true to their ear-splittingly DIY roots. Rip It Off features track after track of crackle, hiss, fuzz and yelp layered like thick, thick frosting over a tasty cake of surprisingly solid pop songs. And that’s what may be the most infuriating thing about this album; that it’s not bad. That’s right, despite the vitriol I spewed above about bands making awfully recorded music just for the sake of hitting that “barely tolerable” bull’s-eye, TNV actually make great music. You just can’t tell through all the static. The tracks are short, about 2 minutes on average, and feel peppy and rambunctious, which is good, because if they were relying on the power of lyrics or nuance they definitely picked the wrong medium. No, the fuzz is the correct path and they use it masterfully, molding it into it’s own instrument, infecting your attention to the extent that during the last 30 seconds of “The End of All Things” when the fuzz abruptly stops leaving a muffled acoustic guitar and some sing-a-long vocals the sudden vacuum is as jarring as the start of the record. I can’t predict what a live Times New Viking show would sound and feel like, if they’re able to recreate the foot thick wall of static they put up on the album live I can imagine it would feel a bit like having the inside of your skull sand-blasted, but in an oddly good way.

While it certainly isn’t for everyone, or even a fraction of everyone, there’s still a select node of people out there that will pop in this album and either:
a. Turn it up to drive roaches, rodents, neighbors and low flying aircraft from their area.
b. Make claims about its mysteriously soothing properties as they sit in a bath chain smoking clove cigarettes.
c. Make tapes of it for everyone they know and gush to them about how “it’ll change the way you hear music, man”. or..
d. Have sex to it.

Those freaky freaks aside, there’s something to be said about just giving in to the power of the squelch. TNV have used whatever time they haven’t spent buying new speaker cones refining their songs and melodies. The result is a curiously infectious album of music that is both Guided-by-Voices catchy and as confusing and off beat as Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead. Each track is like a tiny meal of Pop Rocks and cola: it’s fizzy, crunchy, and sweet and in the back of your mind you wonder if you’re actually doing some kind of harm to yourself.


Equation #43: Statehood


I had the great privilege of seeing Washington D.C.’s legends of lunacy The Dismemberment Plan three short months before their untimely end in 2003, shoulder to shoulder with a few hundred overheated young hipster twenty-somethings bouncing and shaking at the tiny, sweaty, claustrophobic club Meow Meow in Portland. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that twitchy, often undanceably obscure group, but the looming mood of impending band dismemberment put my senses in sharp focus; I had to absorb every note, I strained to drink in each counter-rhythm and cheeky lyric, I reached The Buzz and The Buzz reached back. I count it as one of my all-time favorite shows and anyone there could probably offer a similar take.

As any Plan Fan will tell you, the true magic of the band was not only in Travis Morrison’s tempered, frantic jabbering about girls and jobs and the end of the world, but the sheer immutable tightness that was Dismemberment Plan’s rhythm section; bassist Eric Axelson and drummer Joe Easley functioned almost as one mind, diving in and out of time signatures and synching up beats as though driven by Midi control. So when Statehood’s album graced my desk with a note reading “Dismemberment Plan Guys” I couldn’t get the disc out fast enough. While the initial motive was simply to hear what new sounds Axelson and Easley had conjured up there was an element of fear and hesitation. “What if it sucks? What if it really really sucks?” I thought, after all, post-brake-up bands could go either way (Read Audioslave).

I must say out of the gate I recognized the scampering sprint of Axelson’s bassline, as well as the plywood-tight snap of Easley’s well worn snare, but coming off Dismemberment Plan primers like “Girl O’clock” and “The Other Side” Statehood’s opening volley “A Story’s End” came off bracingly square, and not the un-hip kind of square, just, you know, 1-2-3-4 square. Not to say that the track lacked energy, in fact singer Clark Sabine’s throat burning howls and guitarist Leigh Thompson’s scaffolding arpeggios work so well with the rhythm section you’d assume Statehood had been playing the D.C. post-punk scene as long as anyone. So I decided to set aside my assumptions and, rightfully, look at this band as a bunch of guys I’d never heard of making an album of music that I’m supposed to form a thoughtful, intelligent and unbiased opinion of. Luckily by the second track, the mosh-worthy “Giants”, I was in the Statehood state of mind. As the album progresses the ferocity of Sabine’s pleading vocals rarely lets up, the way this album grows is in the increasing complexity of the music; each track adds another layer to Thompson’s calculated and surgically precise guitar additions. The way he effortlessly moves from a sputtering jangle )”End the Moderation”, “Transfixed”) to cascading shimmer (“Every Single Question”, “Sense of Home”) brings to mind the style of Bloc Party’s Russell Lissack, in fact Statehood as a whole could function as a fair American equivalent to that London band.

It really speaks to the talent and commitment of these four guys, each a component of a previous band, to come together and produce an album of this caliber just because they felt the material needed to be created. I suppose that’s a major motive for many bands, but it really seems like Statehood overcame some kind of obstacle by releasing Lies and Rhetoric. Adding something to a scene that has such established roots and well known founders, to keep it alive by pulling together some Frankenband and saying “There’s still relevance here!” shows remarkable drive and genuine skill.

Or they could be a bunch of dudes who just want to play in a rock band. Who knows?


Equation #42: Tunng

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Good Arrows
Full Time Hobby/Thrill Jockey

To the 18-35 set passive aggression is seen as a generally bad thing; no one likes to be told something nasty in a sweet way, no one likes little pseudo-cute notes left on their toilet seats, refrigerators or desks informing them that “…it’d be great if we could go ahead and do it this way from now on....”. However, when it comes to music, passive aggression is a different thing entirely. Take Tunng’s new album Good Arrows, it’s record filled with dreamy, sweet acoustic numbers and happy melodies, real feel good stuff, however a deeper glance reveals the dark and despairing nougat center. Being told “It’s ok, because one day we will be dead” has never come across so cheerful.

Formed in the foggy crucible of London, Tunng began in 2003 as a collaboration between singer/songwriter Sam Genders and electronic dabbler Mike Lindsay but the desire to play live gigs necessitated pulling together a larger group to translate their sound on stage. Ashley Bates, Phil Winter, Becky Jacobs, and Martin Smith joined up and brought Tunng to life and though they are officially a “band” Tunng maintains that they’re at root a collective of separate scenes; each member is involved in multiple side projects and other bands. Think London’s version of Broken Social Scene, with lyrics about death and sadness.

What’s found within Good Arrows is often acoustic, multi-tracked vocals a-la Elliott Smith with some light to medium electronica tossed in behind the scenes. Tracks like “Hands” and “Take” recall the aforementioned Indie pioneer with the subdued use of vocal doubling and present acoustic guitar and reflect the bittersweet melding of cheerful music with somber lyrics. Once the album gets going we’re presented with the computerized foundation of Tunng, songs like “King and “Arms” feature glitchy electronic backbeats that range from Postal Service subtle to TV on the Radio manic but never overpower the consistent folk feel. This is not a genre that gets much attention in the broad spectrum of current music, but there are a few bands out there that do it well, Tunng is on the mellower side, but bands like Elbow and The Notwist, and to a further extent Belle and Sebastian, bridge the expanse between the classic Nick Drake folk and the modern Hot Chip technopop.

So while we sarcastic, jaded hipster elitists will sneer at any Baby Boomer’s attempt at “constructive” criticism, at least we’ll allow our music to give us life’s bad news. Or at the very least just depress the hell out of us.


Equation #41: VHS or Beta

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VHS or Beta

VHS or Beta
Bring on the Comets

Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t the flamboyant, post-disco punkish culture of the 80’s coming back is style? Isn’t that what all the kids are doing these days? Is that not why bands like Ima Robot, The Killers, 1990’s (ironically), The Sounds, The Bravery, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Of Montreal and countless others exist? Well apparently there’s some kind of fine balance that critics at large hold in respect to how “80’s” a band can be; if it’s only marginally “80’s” they claim it’s a flaccid attempt at the reclamation of the spirit of a Regan era counter culture, if it’s too “80’s” they say… well, they say it’s a flaccid attempt at the reclamation of the spirit of a Regan era counter culture. But certain bands, like The Killers specifically (I feel like picking on them today), try really, really hard to revive 80’s pop under the guise of the “dance-punk” craze and are ultimately rewarded for it, whether in critical praise or, seemingly the opposite, public praise. These bands seem to have hit that median vertex of “just 80’s enough” to be relevant without being hackneyed or insincere. The question I pose then is this, why can The Killers get away with siphoning disco and 80’s Top 40 and VHS or Beta get called a New Wave knock-off (in a bad way)?

I made the mistake of really digging VHS or Beta’s new album Bring on the Comets for about a week, then reading it’s reviews after I was foolish enough to form my own opinion, only to be told by a majority of critics that I was, in fact, mistaken in liking the album. I suppose I fared better than I would’ve had I read the reviews before hearing the record, as the critical assessment hovered somewhere between “Meh” and “Ugh” with brief peaks reaching the level of “Huh, ok?”; I may not have bothered and missed out on a really enjoyable listen.

Bring on the Comets begins with the muffled disco-esque instrumental “Euglama” that gently rises into sonic focus then back out to a distant bass thump. The drums plus jittery synth and guitar bring to mind too many intros to Technicolor film strips about Ore Mining or Human Digestion from my elementary school days, but it’s a fitting sensation coming from a band that gets their name from two antiquated pieces of 80’s technology. What lies after that is, if I may be honest here, not nearly as overtly “Oingo Boingo” as people might assume, what it is in actuality is fairly standard 4/4 post-new wave rock; strobing synths, chittering hi-hats and buzzsaw guitars underpinning singer Craig Pfunder’s innocuously familiar lyrical salvo. Pfunder’s voice is a hybrid of The Cure’s Robert Smith and The Bravery’s Sam Endicott (who’s voice is a hybrid of The Cure’s Robert Smith and Billy Idol) and fits the music like a sequined black glove. Tracks like “Burn It All Down”, a goose-stepping anthem glorifying, well, arson I think, and “She Says”, a near perfect Bravery/Killers clone, seem to follow the current standard for this genre of music, as do most of the others on the album, namely a heavily danceable back beat and synthesizers. But where VHS or Beta really shine is when they unashamedly ape bands like Simple Minds, Tears for Fears and Duran Duran. The title track is about the last moments of life on Earth as comets crash to the ground, but filtered through the teenage motivation of getting laid one last time before we all die in apocalyptic chaos. A great example of when a band embraces their inner Bono and write a song that seems to be created from the stage lighting up; the song begs for a blinding burst of white light as the crash of air-raid guitar and splashing cymbals clear the way for Pfunder’s echoing pleas over a quiet piano and heartbeat bass kick. By the bridge the song is soaring upwards to an expected but welcome climax where he begs “…fall into these arms tonight / and share this one last breath. / Bring on the comets!” It’s cheesy, sure, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get one or two goosebumps. I mean, I still get chills when I listen to U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and I’ve heard it a hundred times if I’ve heard once. The biggest departure from their form falls far at the end of the record on “Stars Where We Came From”, a gentle piano progression and that same steady thumping beat give way to long stretches of weightless pedal steel and builds into a crescendo that would make Sigur Ros or Built to Spill proud.

Critics tend to behave about the 80’s like they’re teenagers at Chuck E. Cheese. They’ll act really cool and aloof about it all, saying they’re just there for a slice of pizza and some video games, but in their head they’re yearning to dive into the ball pit (even though it always smells like feet) and a get a hug from a guy in a giant rat costume (even though he always smells like feet). Similarly rock critics will speak of the 80’s as though there’s this golden nugget of important music that made it into the 21st century and everything else was horrid and embarrassing, when 20 years ago those same critics were dancing to Taco and Stan Bush in their living rooms in socks and terry-cloth headbands. So my advice to them is this: next time you write off a band who calls up the 80’s in their sound, remember that cheesy, ridiculously cheesy music used to be fun and reliving it doesn’t make you irrelevant or uncool. It just makes you glad that fashion has advanced since you were an 80’s kid.


Equation #40: Liars

Simulcast on


There’s always some guy in the music scene who likes the bands that no one else can stand. They hover around used record shops that deal in godforsaken albums that consist of 65 minutes of a guy hitting a steel garden shed with a baseball bat. These ‘hipsters’ call it ‘avant-garde’ when it’s really just a bunch of dudes smashing things with random farm implements while doped up on goofballs. However, while this guy may be a strange and frightening animal, don’t discount his theories outright because there’s a wide world of sounds out there and, by-god, not all of them sound like a million Amish nightmares screaming in unison. My first run in with a guy like this came about 10 years ago, while I was in high school. I was still listening to crappy bands like 3 Doors Down and Matchbox 20, you know “deep, edgy” rock. This was a guy in my drama class who was already excelling in his quest to be a 17 year old burn-out; shaggy hair, pale, skinny-legged jeans and a perpetual thousand-yard stare. We got into a conversation about music one day and he insisted that all the music I liked was terrible and if I wanted to really hear some deep shit I should listen to Ween. He was so adamant about this that he let me borrow The Pod and told me I would love it and that it would change the way I looked at music.

Well, he was half right. I took the CD home, popped it in and got about 60 seconds into “Strapon That Jammy Pac” and called bullshit on his so-called musical expertise. I thought he was playing a joke on me. I mean, who listens to an hour and twenty minutes of this whacked out, lo-fi madness and can still manage to put his shoes on the right feet? Eight years later I would come to love about half of The Pod and everything else by Ween. Who knew? I think I owe that guy a beer.

The point behind that delightful and not-at-all-irrelevant anecdote is this: just because it doesn’t sound musical at first listen doesn’t mean it’s not music. And a second point: it took a while, but eventually I became one of those guys who occasionally use the term “avant-garde” in the same sentence with ”deep shit.”

Case in point: Liars. A band with a reputation for not giving a fuck about what you want to hear; they make whatever the hell kind of music they want to make, and those tuned to their wavelength know it for the avant-garde, deep shit that it is. And to hell with everyone else. Liars enjoy the kind of fame that actors like Gary Oldman and Geoffrey Rush do; they’re underrated. Just as you’ll never see Gary Oldman on the cover of Us Weekly, so will you never see Liars on TRL or shilling ringtones on Myspace. And that’s fine, because Liars are fucking above the hype, man. Their previous releases have been called “dense” and “difficult” and “what-the-hell-are-we-listening-to?” due mostly to their constant reinvention of their sound and disregard for convention.

For their eponymous fourth release Angus Andrew (vocals/guitar), Aaron Hemphill (percussion/guitar/synth) and Julian Gross (drums) spent time recording in LA and in Berlin, two vastly different musical and cultural scenes. The result is predictably unpredictable experimental rock that’s shed much of the harsh and frigid influence of Neu!-ish acid-damaged trudge and the haunted incantations of last year’s Drum’s Not Dead. However, fans of pan reverb and crazy, metallic panging noises won’t be let down; their stint in Berlin produced quite few tracks that would go over great at your next art department black turtleneck party. That said, they have brought back some of the warmer, but still fractured, ’60s feedback rock a la The Stooges or The Fall’s messier stuff that was part of their sound in a previous incarnation. The album kicks off with a rousing, dizzy stomp called “Plaster Casts of Everything” that breaks the ice by hammering you repeatedly in the forebrain with a crash cymbal. After you’re sufficiently softened you’re treated to the laid back, Queens of the Stone Age-esque backbeat of “Houseclouds,” which is one of the only tracks on the album you’d play for someone you didn’t want to confuse or insult. It’s skipping snare, drowsy melody and smooth pace make it a surprisingly “normal” (see: not typical Liars) song that actually goes down easy. “Sailing to Byzntium” is a slumping, trip-hoppy lament that is as good as anything that’s come out of the Bristol scene in years.

As my old burn-out sensei would have said (had he not had his lips wrapped around a makeshift Coke can bong), defying convention is a necessary element in keeping modern music vibrant. Amid a self-importantly hip sea of bands that simply rip off the past, Liars cultivates, improves and mutates the time-tested methods of feedback, reverb, and stripped-down production to evolve noise rock and, yes, the avant-garde, while still maintaining a relevance and general appeal. Their power lies not in their ability to create music that can clear out a party or bring small children to shuddering tears, but in their constant reevaluation of what music can be. So while Liars’ music may not always be an easy listen, as long as they’re committed to shunning the status quo they will always be making music. And those of us who dig those avant-garde rock sounds will be happy.


Equation #39: Glint

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Gotta give the guys of Glint some credit for being thorough. How often is it that a debut album holds an intimidating 14 tracks and runs over 70 minutes? I mean really, I can’t think of one off the top of my head and there’s a lot of stuff on the top of my head. Though it’s mostly thick, luxuriously soft auburn hair. (Thank you Pert Plus!)
But seriously, fellas, leave some for the b-sides. You don’t have to cram every last musical idea into your first album. Take a cue from Guided by Voices and Bob Dylan; spread it out a bit. Not that I’m really complaining; I like a long playing Long Player as much as the next guy and there’s certainly plenty of decent music here. It’s just, you know, real long.

Well, we should take a look at what actually makes up the hour and ten that comprises Glint’s debut album Mode to Joy (I get it!). With a smorgasbord of musical influences, the guys of Glint have put together a mostly coherent collection of ear-friendly alternative rock, or, as the band themselves call it, “jambient rock.” I dunno. Imagine Snow Patrol, Lovedrug, U2, Radiohead, Dave Matthews and Jimmy Eat World crammed into a kettle and simmered over low heat until congealed. Only this isn’t quite the smooth, savory soup of a band that has risen above their influences, blending the subtle flavors into an altogether new entrée. No this is more a chunky stew, a hearty meal but you can clearly taste the individual ingredients. That’s not to say that Glint wouldn’t win the blue ribbon at the “Arena Rock All-Comers Chili Cook-off and Bake Sale,” um, cause they just might.

Damn, now I’m hungry. (Note to self: never review thick, meaty albums just before dinner)

Overall Mode to Joy is a very strong first album. These guys play well together; they’ve got a tight sound that indicates they’ve been playing together for a while. Either that or their producer earned his keep. Whichever it is it’s refreshing to hear a band that can put out a strong debut rather than recording a few duds first. There are weaknesses though; while tracks like “From Me to You,” “Kro,” “One of a Kind” and “Deploy” are tight, clear and animated, others like “Retiring Your Fool,” “Umbrella” and “It Hurts” wander, fizzle or just never get going. With some bands the lyrics can sometimes offset a lack of strong and inventive music, however with most of Glint’s tracks this isn’t the case. The words are decent enough, don’t get me wrong, they deal with the typical rock standards - loneliness, attraction, regret, the pursuit of change - but nothing really stands out as a sterling example of poetry and one song even includes the line “Can’t we all just get along?” and I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic.

So if not the words, then the music, right? Yes, the music is good. “From Me to You” starts off with a barrage of “Naveed” era Our Lady Peace guitar that explodes, then backs off, giving way to a catchy, highway-worthy rock pace. Not that many people will make the connection, but it reminds me a lot of Portland band Crosstide’s single “Talk Radio” only more powerful. It’s a great arena rocker that’d probably be best choice for a radio single.

Departing from the alt-rock path doesn’t begin until “One of a Kind,” an electro-ambient haunt reminiscent of Radiohead’s creepier work on Amnesiac. From the distorted, ghostly piano arpeggios to the stark and robotic harmonies, it’s a creative and welcome deviation from the bulk of the album’s more standard rock tracks.

Another refreshing song comes later on in the record; “Deploy” begins with an almost Pink Floyd-like acoustic waltz leading into a powerful, emotional and mature ballad about regret, loss and loneliness. Possibly the most musically dense track, featuring drifting strings and piano on top of a lilting picked guitar, it builds to an anguished crescendo and is arguably the most satisfying song on the whole album.

All said, if they’d shaved off a few of the more milquetoast tracks then Mode to Joy would have been about 10 tracks and under an hour; with a little more pruning this album could have been one of the best independent releases of the year. Instead it’s a slightly distracted, albeit enjoyable, album that overstays its welcome by about 15 minutes. Still, if talent and presence are the true measurement of Glint, that extra running time won’t be their dreaded 15 minutes of fame.


Equation #38: The Clutters

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The Clutters

If one had a single word to describe The Clutters it would have to be “relentless”. The Nashville anomaly’s second album “Don’t Believe a Word” clocks in at just under 34 minutes and contains 12 separate tracks, but if you’re not checking your watch you’d think you lost a full hour of your life to the constant barrage of KISS influenced garage-spawned rock. It’s not time wasted, nor is it time you’ll want back; you’ll probably want the ringing in your ears to stop though.

I’ve said before that I believe Rock is dead; that once it became a commodity to be traded and marketed by old white guys in suits who don’t listen to music it was already cold as yesterday’s toast and twice as stale. Any band attempting to carry the torch was essentially just hired entertainment at Rock’s unending wake. The Clutters, like nearly all modern rock, fall into this heap, but damn it all if they’re not trying to rattle that corpse. Nearly every mind-mashing second of this album wails with an intensity that reeks of manic desperation and borders on full-on mental collapse. Take the opener “9999 (Ways to Hate Us)” for example: lots of crunch, lots of toms, and a crazy, revolving circus organ riff instantly grab you by the shirt collar and dare you not to watch as the band sonically beat the bejesus out of themselves. It’s the musical equivalent of watching your over-eager drinking buddy with the self-destructive personality climb your neighbor’s trellis without pants after treating himself to a bottle of cheap tequila and a couple of Red Bulls. It’s all about who’s watching, all about the reaction. The Clutters get what they’re after.

From the classic 80s bounce of “Radio” to the nasally Jim Morrison impersonations on “Fire”, The Clutters push forward like they’re running out of time and patience. Each track is short and clean, there’s no time for flashy solos or another stab at the chorus, there’s a lot to get through and you’re gonna sit there and take it all and you’re gonna like it, goddamit.

If there’s one downside to this album it’s that by the end of it all you’re practically begging for a ballad or a waltz or something to take the pressure off, it’s literally skull to the headrest for the entire album. It’s almost too much rocking to take, but that’s probably just how they like it. In your face, in your head and in your pants, The Clutters have their finger on the pulse of Rock, and they’re not ready to call Time of Death.

Puffmagic gives “Don’t Believe a Word” by The Clutters 4 out of 5


Equation #37: Icarus Line

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What do you get when you get a guy who looks like Iggy Pop, put him in a punkish, fuzzed-out garage band and set them loose to do drugs, fight people, vandalize, insult, and generally trash every club they play with their outlandish onstage antics? Well, if this was 1970 you'd get The Stooges. However, it's currently 2007 so you get Icarus Line, the apparent baton-receivers of Iggy and The Stooges legendary taste for distaste. Now, I played Icarus Line's long-coming LP "Black Lives at the Golden Coast" shuffled in with The Stooges "Raw Power" and despite the differences in voice and production the records could be cut from the same mold. Now Icarus Line is nowhere near as important, revolutionary, "talented" or honest as Iggy and company, but I'm sure they have a good time breaking things and howling and getting in fights with other bands, and their music isn't half bad either.

Though their sound is more progressive and varied than their elected father figures, mixing in the manic detachment of At the Drive-In along with the distortion heavy drone and thundering drums, Icarus Line still has the familiar funky odor of all those sweaty proto-punkers of the 70s. As I understand it, everything that happened in the 1970's (even disco) is now cool again. The fashion, the music, the political ideas, especially the hairstyles and penchant for well groomed mustaches, are sturdy foundations for a lot of the acts out there now. This is both good and bad; it's good because if there were a decade for new bands to mimic, I'm glad they picked the 70's and not, say, the 1920's. Or the French 1700's (which, coincidentally, is a sweet band name). It's bad because even if a new band becomes huge based on their creative interpretation of their favorite bands from the 70's, they're still riding someone else’s wave. I mean, the music on Icarus Line's record is really good, and it's certainly not a wholesale rip-off of The Stooges, The Velvet Underground or Black Flag, but no one could argue that without those elder legends as starting points that these guys could have just come up with this music. Now one could argue that, as it is very true, there's nothing new under the sun, that _every_ new band is just putting another coat of wax on that old and weary grand-pappy we know as Rock, and that may be so. But there are bands out there that are being original, look at TV on the Radio, Menomena, Gnarls Barkley, and Hella. These bands don't sound like anyone else and if they borrowed their style in any way they were conservative in their application and light in the touch. Everyone knows that Rock has been dead for nearly two decades, give or take a few years, so any new act touted as "the Revival of Rock" is merely rubbing the defib paddles and giving the corpse another shock. Sorry, but in a world where Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton make albums that sell and artists like Mike Doughty and Gruff Rhys grab for scraps of market share in the shadow of "Top 40" there is no revival of Rock. This fresh wave of bands who dress like Lou Reed, sing like Robert Plant or play guitar like Pete Townshend, whether they intend it or not, are really just playing in cleverly disguised tribute bands. If you plug your guitar into a fuzz box and just go all "wake the neighbors" there's nothing you can produce that, statistically speaking, hasn't been done before. You can't invent new chords, you can't play new notes and you can't turn it up any louder than someone already has. I love the guitar but if music is going to progress and break free of this creative maelstrom we're in we're going to need a new instrument. But that's neither here nor there.

So, yes, Icarus Line is good, it's probably one of the most interesting rock albums I've heard this year. It's even gorgeous at times. But one can't help but wonder why they exist, what they're aiming for and where they would be if James Newell "Iggy" Osterberg never dove off a stage slathered in peanut butter.


Equation #36: The Mooney Suzuki

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The Mooney Suzuki

God bless The Mooney Suzuki. The one American band to shamelessly rip off The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground and actually make it work to their favor. They dress like The Ramones, their album covers ape landmark eras in music and they managed to lure in Suzuki (the auto makers) to feature their music based on their face-melting sound rather than get sued by them.

Speaking of face-melting: the first three albums these leather-clad, shaggy rocksmiths put out there were filled with the kind of sweaty, bucking, hand-clapping rock that makes you want to kick a trash can. Great fun. Their debut "People Get Ready" is raw, unabashed and, if albums had smells, would smell like George Thorogood (sweat, bourbon and your sister's perfume). On their latest "Have Mercy" they've taken it down a notch, not so much that they've softened up, but they've turned their amps down from 11 to about 9.5. The songs here are still about the rock 'n' roll lifestyle; booze, drugs, women, and havin' a good time, but it's a more refined kind of excess. While the songs on "People Get Ready" were about the need for gratification and the drive to experience and the urgency of living in the now, with names like "Singin' a Song About Today", "Right About Now" and "Do It"; "Have Mercy" is almost a reflection on those wild times through the lens of regretless reminiscence. The prime example of this is the hilarious ragtime sing-along "Good Ol' Alcohol", chronicling the life-long trip through the purple haze along side the always reliable booze. Lyrics like "Autumn is come/our summer is done..." from "Ashes" hint at a sense of mortality, as does the surprisingly tender "The Prime of Life" and the final reassurance of "Down but Not Out". Overall it's an album of hard-earned lessons about the difficulty of love, the repercussions of fast-living and the ever-looming shadow of time. The sound is mature, (there's even some dry, jazzy flute on "Adam and Eve") and is a natural step in the growth of a band that picked up where ZZ Top left off.

Despite a relatively short career they express surprising wisdom, they appear as men who've jumped on the back of life and dug their heels in, then clung to it's ankle as it dragged them across the floor. We can only hope that they've still got some rocking left in them and that this isn't a bittersweet goodbye.


Equation #35: The Cribs

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The Cribs

There's an idiom that people use to describe the even in which a new addition to an old stereotype pushes beyond the status quo and generates a new medium or, as middle management would say, "a new paradigm". The expression I refer to is "broke the mould". After almost ten years of fairly consistent releases by British and New York bands that rely on the dancy, post-punk sound, borrowing most of their ideas from the 1970s with only marginal innovation, the release of The Cribs third album "Men's Needs, Woman's Needs, Whatever" leaves the mould staunchly intact. This is not to say that it's a bad album, which it really isn't, it's just that when word comes down the pipe about the "next big band" that's just about to be "discovered" and it turns out it's just three guys playing the same music as everyone else it's a bit disappointing.

That said, the album needs a reviewin' and I reckon we ought to have one. In the vein of Arctic Monkeys, The Futureheads and Maximo Park, The Cribs play bouncy, punkish rock with a danceable beat and chirping syncopated guitars. Generally snotty, heavily accented vocals and purposely rough production only add to the idea that while their songs are original, their sound is not. Borrowing from the Stone Roses, Sonic Youth, Pavement, and produced by Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos the Cribs take the road more traveled and still manage to add a decent album of toe tappers into the collective genre. It's an album that feels familiar but asserts itself as a singular work with variations on it's contemporaries. In other words, it's not exactly The Strokes and it's not exactly The Futureheads but it's close.

So maybe they will be the next "big band", maybe they'll have a number one record and show up on MTV or an iPod commercial, it's not impossible, in fact it's downright plausible considering the taste of the current market. Even if they did make it big, success still doesn't break the mould.


Equation #34: Satellite Party

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Satellite Party

If there's one thing that many music lovers can agree on, and I'm sure there's at least one, it's that the sex has been drained from modern rock music. Not the misogynistic, porn-like sex that's prevalent in pop music, the "girl, I wanna rock you world" type, and not the idyllic, storybook romance sex, the "baby, our bodies sing to each other and the universe becomes one with us" tripe. No, what's missing is the "sexual" (not the "sexy"; there's plenty of "sexy" since Justin Timberlake was kind enough to bring it back), the carnal, passionate, unashamed human sex between two people who aren't just "hooking up". While "Sexy" requires gender roll-playing, physical perfection and, quite often, alcohol, "sexual" is funky, earthy, and has a mole on it's ass. Does "sexual" care? No! "Sexual" is all about the inner beauty, it's all about the deep desire for your lover and that good, good lovin' that happens. That's what's missing from rock; songs about planet-aligning connections and the ancient art of sensuality.

Well, Perry Farrell, his wife, and his A-list of talented friends are bringing the "sexual" back, as it were. Farrell's latest project called Satellite Party (occasionally "Perry Farrell's Satellite Party) culls together a "who's who" of modern prog, funk and pop including, but not limited to, Nuno Bettencourt, Flea, John Frusciante, Fergie, Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook, Thievery Corporation, Hybrid, Peter DiStefano, film composer Harry Gregson-Williams and Jim Morrison. Yes, that Jim Morrison. Farrell's included a "lost song" by the long-deceased Doors frontman called "Woman in the Window".

The debut album "Ultra Payloaded" is filled with upbeat, funk-rock tunes that resonate a sexual energy and project an atmosphere of, well, a celestial party. Dancing, loving, indulgence and uninhibited grooving are the themes. Virtually every song is either a call to boogie or a call to nookie. The first singe "Wish Upon a Dogstar" is a solid opener; a new wave rocker with a soaring chorus and an endlessly danceable beat starts the album the way a party album should be. The energy stays at shin-dig level through the funky, Chili Pepper infused "Hard Life Easy", the love-fest anthem "Kinky" and onto the deep disco groove of "The Solutionists". A key theme of "Ultra Payloaded" seems to be that everyone deserves to cut loose once in a while; life is hard, you put up with a lot of shit and now it's time to let your hair down, grab a Mai Tai and get buck naked.

Even more mellow tracks like the orchestral "Awesome" and the hot and sweaty "Mr. Sunshine" keep the flow alive, the album as a whole could serve as a stand-alone party mix, for the right crowd. All along the way choice nuggets of ass-shaking, hip-gripping music. The closer, the "lost song" featuring a drowsy lyric by Jim Morrison, puts punctuation on the hippy lovefest experience with the line "Just try and stop us, we're going to love." For bonus reading and confusion, see the "Bio" for the band from their website.


Equation #33: Editors

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The definition of "emo" has been the subject of countless inquires, arguments and late night, coffee/Ritalin fueled discussions. Hell, even local news is getting in on the dialog (Jenny Tatone, you know what I'm sayin'.) Is it strictly defined by mopey teenagers with eyeliner, nautical star tattoos, lip piercings and shaggy bangs? I'm sure Hot Topic would like to think so. Is it as vague and open-ended as simply "emotion", whether it be in music, poems, or art? Doubtful. That definition is about as valid as calling a band "indie" these days. (Guess what Hipsters, when Death Cab for Cutie signed to Atlantic they stopped being indie, that doesn't mean they suck now.) So what is "emo"? I chose to apply the old euphemism usually tagged to difficult art pieces; "I can't define art, but I know what I like". In other words, you know it when you see it.

When Editors released their debut "The Back Room" last year they were met with the task of ducking the shackles tying them to Joy Division, Interpol and She Wants Revenge; granted their place on that train is fitting and not entirely uncomfortable, but Editors had more in mind than just carrying the much desired Ian Curtis torch, they wanted to actually affect people with their music. The skipped the cold, cocky smarm of their contemporaries and aligned themselves with more "emotional" bands (like "emo", see how I tied that in?) like Elbow, British Sea Power, Doves and even The Verve. Their debut stood out, it grabbed people's attention and tingled some neck hairs here and there and it was no accident that, while they blended in nicely with much of the dancey post-punk in the mix today, people actually remembered that the band was Editors and the song was Munich.

Their second outing sees Editors following much the same path they chose in 2006 but with affecting improvements. While their arsenal of choice hasn't changed they've managed to pack more content and at least as much feeling into the music alone. That's saying nothing for Tom Smith's lyrics which have stepped away from "The Back Room"'s often repetitive lyrical framework and moved into a much more thought-out, inventive arena. Not to say that there aren't choruses or hooks here, there certainly are, but there's at least more actual words in these new songs. The themes of the songs follow suit from before; love, hope, trust and friendship with the usual grandiose reprises and soaring confessions of fear, loneliness and longing to keep it grounded. The album's opener "Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors" is reminiscent of Coldplay but without the obligatory sappiness and engineered emotion. It's a good choice for a first track, it pulls you in emotionally but gets the heart-swelling over with early on so you're not gagging by the end of the album. The majority of the remaining tracks are more driving and up-beat, save the gorgeously worded "The Weight of the World" and "Push Your Head Towards the Air", and put to bed any worries that Editors have gone all adult contemporary on their fans. Tracks like "The Racing Rats", "Escape the Nest" and title track "An End Has a Start" are more forceful and intense and overall the album seems to have more of a sense of urgency than the last, as though "The Back Room" was a plea that didn't take and "An End Has a Start" is a more serious and desperate request.

For those who feel a band should reinvent themselves each time they release a record then you'll probably scoff at how similar these two albums are at times, but "The Back Room" worked for the same reasons this works and there's nothing wrong with the continuation of a theme as long as it's where you're most effective and "An End Has a Start" is a very effective album.


Equation #32: Battles

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The robots are coming! And they've learned how to make you shake your booty!

The debut full-length by the much EP'd NY band Battles is on a mission like a rich Nigerian potentate to infect you with it's intractable, mesmerizing virus. Resistance is futile and you WILL be assimilated, "Mirrored" beeps, chimes, buzzes and grinds like a clockwork juggernaut from the first spastic, cd-skip drum idle to the last click and blip. When people typically think of "dance" music, they probably think of something with a strong back-beat, lots of repetition and a steady hook. Battles, however, would like you to rethink what it means to dance, toss out your notions of sweaty models grinding their crotches together and imagine a more fevered, hectic scenario; a distant future tribe of people lunging and stomping in unison, shaking and flailing their limbs as if to summon some ancient and elder god to silence a volcano or end a drought. This isn't just music to get lost in, it's music to lose YOURSELF in. The maniac rhythms and throbbing synths urge you to freak out and start twitching. The syncopated tones and cheerfully insane whistles beckon you into a state of frothing abandon before lulling you into a passive, trance-like state where you're left to drift in the vast ocean of slow, drugged up freak outs.

People also call this type of music "math rock", which I can appreciate, as music at it's root form is essentially mathematics, but if this music is "math rock" then it applies to "math" as it was understood around the time of the Spanish Inquisition; a satanic, pagan system that was foul and heathenish in the eyes of Almighty God. This is no more "math" than a sausage is a Fruit Roll-up. However I bet it "Mirrored", run through a computation machine, hooked to an oscilloscope and fed through a vacuum tube would produce some interesting spreadsheets.

Overall this album is a refreshing glimpse into a rarely palatable genre of music, especially coming from a band from New York. Normally when I hear "avant garde" I gag a little on the mental pictures of over-serious performance artists shoveling breakfast cereal into their underpants dressed like a Greek god on a pogo stick, but this is the good kind of avant garde, the kind that actually has merit and relevance in reality. And for that, Battles, I thank you.


Equation #31: Fields.

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This is a Tek Screw. It's a self-drilling screw for sheet metal that's used a lot in the industry I work in. Last week I removed a wall in my office that used a lot of these and while I was removing and applying these screws I was listening to "Everything Last Winter" by Fields. (I think the period is on purpose) If you've ever used a self-drilling screw before you're familiar with the satisfying feeling of that thread finally taking hold as the screw breaks the surface of the sheet metal. For the first few seconds your pressing hard on the drill and nothing seems to happen, then it finally pops and it all makes sense. This is an experience I liken to Fields.' debut album.

The first time through it didn't strike me as anything really special, it was very standard indie with a twist of shoegaze and a light dusting of prog. It played through and, like a 45 day jail sentence, didn't stick. Until the second time through, about two and a half minutes into the track "Skulls and Flesh and More" when the vocals drop out and the synths and guitars start singing this beautiful melody that washes over and over and it just hit me. The threads finally gripped and the album dug it's way in and I haven't been able to put it down since.

After sitting down and giving it the proper attention and focus I realize there's a hell of a lot of nuance I was missing trying to pass this album off as background music. The opening track "Song for the Fields" starts out with a rhythmic acoustic strum pattern and an off-beat clean guitar chirp, giving the listener the impression that this album is going to be a Clash\Blur\Ride revival album through and through, that is until the vocals lift-off about a minute in with a harmony that almost lifts your feet of the ground. Once airborne the song kicks in the jets and is off with a growl. Screaming along with purpose and passion and focus it levels off with the repeated vocal "you're not the only one" and glides for a moment in a sonic hold pattern only to break off into a dive again, ending in a knee-gripping splash down after a full 5:47 flight. In case you didn't catch that analogy, it was airplanes.

The album takes a softer turn in "Charming the Flames", a quiet, haunting guitar pattern leads into chiming arpeggios then into a full-open pop/rock jam. Following it up with the dreamy, relaxing "You Don't Need This Song (To Fix Your Broken Heart) takes it down another step with sunny harmonies and a skipping drum part and honest, self effacing lyrics; "Sing this song like any other one/cause they're all the same". The synth woodwind solo is a nice, appropriate touch. Up next is the beautiful folk number "Schoolbooks", tender harmonies and a waltzing 12-string guitar bring to mind Great Northern or Calexico and, like most of the other songs on this album, it doesn't hesitate to break into a fuzzy wall of guitar and organ to add just a bit of a diversion to keep it interesting.

"The Death", by far the heaviest track on the album sounds like Bloc Party if Block Party had a female vocalist and used a Hammond B3. Present again is Nick Peill and Thorunn Antor's flawlessly melded harmonies and that persistent wave of distorted shoegaze guitar. That doesn't change for "You Brought This On Yourself", a humming, chugging track reminiscent of a less progressive Zwan (remember Zwan?). My favorite track on the album, the one that finally made me stand up and take notice, is "Skulls and Flesh and More", it starts out upbeat, sparse and poppy and is pretty typical of the rest of the album until the instrumental mid-section which is just this soaring, beautiful drenching of sound which drops out for Antor's delicate Icelandic lilt to take the forefront and finish out the song as it started but more energized and refreshed, like that sigh you get after hugging someone you haven't seen in a while.

The band then follows it up with a darker, more serious track "Feathers". Again featuring Antor on lead vocals, it's similar in many ways to a lot of the other tracks but is just different enough to keep the album moving forward.

I've noticed that I tend to like an album more when the band saves an excellent track for the tail end of the album, something to reward you for following the path to the end, you know? Well Fields. left a gem in "If You Fail We All Fail" right before the end of the record, it's got a brilliant guitar lick on top of a stampede of rumbling sound that repeats throughout the song and really takes on the lead part in this track, wrapping it all up with a white gust of feedback and fading into the gentle, cheeky acoustic footnote "Parasite". Despite being a track designed to say goodnight, "Parasite" doesn't seem like a toss-out afterthought but a well-intentioned final statement to an album that has taken the listener on an exciting, refreshing ride.


Equation #30: Travis

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Were Travis ever cool? I can't tell. I used to listen to "The Man Who" and think that it was cool; it had nice melodies, it had those infectious early Coldplay guitar chimes, it was basically left over 80's pop without the weird clothes and big hair. But I'm listening to Travis' new album "The Boy with No Name" and it's almost exactly the same as "The Man Who", which was released in 1999. Their last album "12 Memories" was a bit heavier, a bit more produced and pretty much overtly political. I didn't really like it much. That album was easy, I formed an opinion on it and stuck to it and a few years later I'm still satisfied with that opinion. However "TBWNN" is causing me some confusion; can a band effectively release the same album with different chords and words eight years later and still hope to stay relevant?

Well, apparantly so, in this case. Travis has doubled back to cover the same "puss-rock" path they blazed in 1997, (you know, the one that Coldplay and Keane followed them down, snapping twigs and trampling foliage?) using much of the same relaxed, mellow production, easy melodies and pacifying arrangements that made them semi-famous as poster boys for adult contemporary soft-rock. They've recreated themselves as an earlier version of themselves, but the question remains: is that so bad? I mean where could Travis really go? They can't jump from the inevitable and lazy Radiohead comparisons to the more popular and equally lazy U2 comparison like Coldplay did, they can't beef up and try to be tough because the led singer's name is Fran, and they can't get any MORE mellow or they'd risk turning into Smooth Jazz and their only fans would be female office workers in their early 40s. Not to say that that's not the primary bulk of their fan base, but there's still a nugget of folk like me who still enjoy a bit of mellow Top 40 every now and again. So what are we left with? It's been 10 years since Travis' debut and if you were to measure their creative growth in steps toward the refrigerator then they bumped into the dog's water dish and fell backwards into the recycling bin. I DARE you to decipher that metaphor. However this album is filled with truly enjoyable songs, I'm super cereal! It's got more puss than a cat show and offers about as much to the modern music collective as a Right Said Fred Greatest Hits compilation it's still kinda catchy and kinda pretty and kinda...... nice. Just, really, gosh-darned nice.

So, I'm 400 or so words into this review and I still haven't really formed an opinion about this album, and I know that's hard for you readers because without my vastly enlightened opinion on records you're just flopping around like fish on a porch swing, so I'll scrunch my face up real hard, bear down and grunt out a position on whether this album is good or bad.



Equation #29: Pela

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Thursdays at my office are pretty boring. Everyone sort of stands around wishing it was Friday, waiting for that sweet release like a weary Death Row inmate. I'd usually be sniffing dry erase markers and playing solitaire on my palm pilot in the men's room by now but today is different, different because of Pela.

Their debut album "Anytown Graffiti" is just the anthemic, grandeous rock I need to make the first Thursday of May seem like the third Monday of October, if you know what I mean... Yeah, neither do I. Despite only running 40 minutes the album packs in quite a bit of of feeling, obviously taking a cue from elder rocksmiths like U2 and Coldplay they layer each track with bombast and bravado, long reverbs, swimming delay and thundering drums. You know, arena rock. Only don't expect them to be playing Live Aid or selling out Red Rocks anytime soon, their sound is still very much in the larval, or even pupil stages; nervous, a bit timid but filled with optimism and enthusiasm. While the arena rock label is a pretty easy tag to attach there's really a bit more going on here than just huge choruses and walls of shimmering guitar. Adding a bit of that New-New-Wave-Post-Dance-Punk-Core stuff the kids love so much brings up comparisons to Bloc Party and The Killers but with less emphasis on booty shaking, which is not to say that there aren't some toe-tappers here, but it's not a Franz Ferdinand cover band, as if you'd ever need such a thing. In short, it's a collection of poppy, happy sounding rock music with some great melodies. It's feel-good stuff, well crafted and enjoyable.


Equation #28: Handsome Furs

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Handsome Furs

If you're not paying close attention you'd assume that Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner are the same person. If they were two guys in totally different bands that weren't from Canada then you'd never suspect that they might be sharing the same throat. But put them both together in Wolf Parade and they sound exactly the same. The same warbly, yelping cries, the same manic, half-drunk shivers come from each of their mouths and it blends very well together. Now, until recently I truly thought that there was only one singer in Wolf Parade, until I started collecting family tree projects; Sunset Rubdown (Krug), Swan Lake (Krug), Atlas Strategic (Boeckner)and now Handsome Furs (Boeckner). I thought they all contained the same singe person from Wolf Parade. I thought wrong. Dead wrong.

Ok, that's a bit dramatic but seriously, these Canadians and their band orgies. It's no wonder that Wolf Parade moved from Victoria to Montreal, they were probably hoping to garner a spot in Broken Social Scene. OOOOO SNAP!

But anyway, this review isn't about Wolf Parade anymore than this review is about delicious cupcakes. This review is about Handsome Furs, which is not Wolf Parade, it's close, it's got a lot of the same crunchy grooves, but Handsome Furs is only two people who are getting married and play instruments while Wolf Parade is 4-5 guys who are (as far as I know) not married to each other. Right, so have I made it clear yet that Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs are not the same band but are similar on many levels due to it being a side project of one of the key members? I have? Good. Stop asking me about Wolf Parade, I'm trying to do a review here.

What makes Handsome Furs so different from Wolf Parade (ha! You can't stop me! I don't care who you are!) is in the earnest emotion in the delivery. Boeckner has always sounded emotional (or "emo") when singing but the music hasn't always matched that level of sincerity. Forming a band with his fiancee must have been the right move to bring the noise down to a more personal level. The songs often sound as though they were created and performed simply for the enjoyment of the creators, though that's not to say that it's not enjoyable, accessible rock that jumps and grinds and wheezes like a sweaty desert wind. Simple guitar, simple drum loops, simple melodies end up creating a complex sound that masks the lack of a full backing band. Plus I'm sure multi-tracking helped a bit. Tracks like "Handsome Furs Hate This City", "Can't Get Started" and "Dead + Rural" have the obvious helping hand of a robotic rhythm section, though it doesn't detract from the rustic, arid feel of the music. Though tracks like "What We Had" and "The Radio's Hot Sun" feel more analog there's still an element of modern clicks and whistles giving the whole album a anachronistic feel. Kind of like Blade Runner or the uniforms in the original Star Trek.


Equation #27: Sage Francis

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Sage Francis

Hi, My name's Puffmagic, and I'm a white guy. Because I was born white and live in the suburbs I don't usually listen to rap. Many believe that rap is music that only black people, or "people born in America with either direct or ancestral African lineage who's skin produces higher levels of melanin", can appreciate. While much of the content of mainstream rap and hip-hop indeed carries a context that I can't relate to I feel that it's unfair to wholly discount rap and hip-hop as merely "black people music" as my elderly neighbor refers to it. I'm not saying that the countless MCs and DJs spreading out their rap demos are all beacons of musical prestige, I mean how many times _can_ you rap about how your rap skills are the mad freshest, having sex with hoes, getting lots of money, buying diamond encrusted items and drinking expensive champagne (pronounced "sham-pag'-nee")? Eventually you have to come to the conclusion that some or most rap artists must be lying about their skills as a rapper because they all claim to bring the fire and that all the other rappers are "Whack MCs", and that certainly can't be the case, some rappers must be as good as others, it's just math. But what do I know, I'm a white guy from the suburbs. The suburbs of Oregon.

So discovering fellow white guys that are also good at rap (or rap well? Is that how you say it?) makes me feel like I can appreciate at least some parts of the rap/hip-hop culture without actually pretending that I can relate to it. Because I've seen white guys who pretend to relate to it, I've seen them in my town, they wear FUBU and straight billed, over-sized "lids", big gold chains with fake diamonds and their pants are always around their knees. They look fucking ridiculous. I don't think I have to grab my genitals when talking to appreciate rap music. That's why I'm thankful for Sage Francis, his rap is genuine and masterful. He doesn't appear to buy into the typical themes of rap, i.e. the aforementioned bitches, hoes and bling; his lyrics are more about reality than a magical world where everyone drives a Bentley and throws fistfuls of cash at people. Racial Disclaimer for the Liberals: I know that not all rap is like this and that there are "African Americans" who's rap is poetic, thoughtful and deep, but I'm not talking about them right now. Right now I'm talking about a white guy. Relax. Anyway, where was I, oh yeah. white guys who are good at rap. Francis does spend some time assuring the listener that he is, in fact, that fresh while you are unfortunately "really not all that dope", but for the most part his lyrics read like beat poetry, which makes sense because it sounds like he's spend plenty of time reading up on it. He name drops a veritable college hipster's Lit. course worth of material; Bukowski, Ginsberg, references to Faust, the Bible, Bob Dylan, My Chemical Romance, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Jagged Little Pill. A few of the tracks tend to fade into each other stylistically, "Keep Moving", "Waterline", "Black Out on White Night" and "Hell of a Year" make up the album's slow middle but it's capped at both ends by some excellent, powerful tracks. The first standout track is "Got Up This Morning", a swampy reggae beat with dry, hillbilly acoustic guitar and guest singer/musician Jolie Holland wailing like a stray cat in heat. In the immortal and enlightened words of Paris Hilton, "That's Hot." Cause it is. The next stand-out is "Clickety Clack", a dark and calculating track about captivity, violence and revenge. Imagine Gnarls Barkley's "Necromancing" without the creepy and twice the sinister. Beyond that Francis returns to trashing on his over-eager competition on "Midgets and Giants" where he takes the young, false DIY DJs to task on demo tapes, drugs and nipple grabs. The last part of the album is bookended with three very good tracks, the smarmy and broad-chested "Call Me Francois", the raging, anarchist "Hoofprints in the Sand" and the thugged up prison story of "Going Back to Rehab". It's rap, nay poetry, about anger, violence, divorce, sex, ego, and the struggle of man against his odds, whether they be government, relationships, family or his own demons. There's no catchy dance to accompany any of the tracks, there's no product placement, there's not a guest rap by a guy he owed a favor to, there's just Francis, his notebook and some beats and that's more than enough.


Equation #26: Great Northern

Great Northern

Behold the glorious resurrection of the Indie Equation with the band Great Northern. In conjunction with my Mog and the record reviews within hopefully we'll see more and more of these things popping up. Anyway, if you're here from Mog, which I'm sure all of you are, welcome and make sure to leave comments back there cause I'll read them more. Ta.


Equation #25: Butterfly Explosion

Butterfly Explosion

Anyone who knows me can attest to my love of shoegaze and of Anglo-oriented music, thus it's no surprise that I instantly took to Ireland's Butterfly Explosion. Though some would say they missed the shoegaze movement by about ten years, I would counter that shoegaze never died; it just never grew. It appeared in roughly the same size that it disappeared, with a few lingering echoes to carry the torch, such as Starflyer 59, Voyager One, Sianspheric, Pacific UV and now Butterfly Explosion. I wouldn't say there's a huge amount that makes Butterfly Explosion unique amongst it's predecessors, they follow the traditional vein of layered sound, subtle build to wall-of-sound climax, eerie synth, some prog guitar, droll vocals, etc. But the reason they're here being mathematically dismantled is, even though it's not really new, it's still damn good. See there's still demand for shoegaze and as long as bands like Butterfly Explosion keep the lucid, murky dream alive Anglophiles like me can still revel in the days when tapered black jeans, floppy hats guys with lipstick and lots of pewter necklaces was still kind of cool.


Equation #24: The Boy Least Likely To

The Boy Least Likely To

I've only recently discovered these two fine young brits, and when I kept seeing them pop up in Rolling Stone I figured they had to have "made the scene" as they sometimes say some places. Indie at it's truest form, that's how I'd describe these guys. Clever, melancholy lyrics (the vocals often multi-tracked, Elliott Smith-like), a dash of alt-country/folk, a lingering devotion to Rubber Soul and some kind of gimmick. TBLLT's gimmick happens to be that they robbed a day-care center of all the toy musical instruments they could carry and use them to build a style that's both precious and sincere, as though they were finding a direct method for channeling their inner children. The result is a very listenable, often heart-warming, bunch of smart songs dealing with the typical indie subject matter: love, rejection, fear and loss. Rob Gordon with your baby cousin on xylophone.


Equation #23: Climber


Portland band Climber are one of the best local bands I've ever seen, and I don't think it's because I'm a huge Radiohead fan either. Standing there in some tiny bar watching these four young guys make this exciting, delicate, orchestral music is as stupifying as it is breath-taking. I may sound like I'm gushing, and perhaps I am a bit. When I first heard some of their free tracks from their website I thought, "this is the kind of music I've been looking for for a long time", it's complex, interesting, melodic and emotional in a "these-thoughts-came-to-me-on-Ritalin" kind of way. It's difficult to pin them down right now, their 6 track EP that came out in 04 is more subdued and simple than their anthemic and vivacious newer material. You can hear the difference yourself by previewing tracks on their website. Compare the older "Foxes" with the more recent "Bugbear", their current radio single. If the new tracks are any indication of their as yet unmentioned full album I see Climber being propelled nationwide in a very short time and with the amount of time they've spent refining their skill and sound the definitely deserve it.

Equation #22: Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade

So, first off let me say that (1) I'm sorry that it took me 6 months to post a new equation and (2) I REALLY appreciate all the notes and comments telling me that people still occasionally glance at my work while I'm off doing other things. I'm going to do my best to keep them coming as often as I can because I really do enjoy this and it keeps my music brain sharp.

That being said, let's talk a bit about Wolf Parade. On their record "Apologies to the Queen Mary" it takes approximatly 4 seconds to get hooked by Arlen Thompson's dry, stripped down drum stomp and after the dirge-like keys and bass come in at 12 seconds you'll be gluing your cd player's tray closed. The goodies don't stop there however. The rest of the album mixes some dancy indie with a few arena rock ballads all the while frosted with Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krugs' fractured, stuffy-nosed yelps that reminded me a bit of Bowie and a bit of Beck but with more energy. Overall this is one of the best albums of 2005. Stand out tracks: "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son", "Shine a Light", "I'll Believe in Anything", "It's a Cure".


Equation #21: mewithoutyou


I recently saw these guy in concert and, though they were the opener for the opener for the opener, I think I got my ticket and service charge money out of their performance alone. My brother has tried to get me into them for some time but for some reason I wasn't ready. Most people would be put off by Aaron Weiss' way of putting across his journal-esque stream of thought lyrics, specifically speaking them loudly over layers of guitar fuzz and cascading delays in a style that can only be described as Scream-o meets Poetry Slam, but once you let the whole sound sink in you realize that if he just sang they lyrics it would sound like any other broody, literate musing by some suburban kid with a Fender and a Five Star notepad. Not to say that the band doesn't carry the words in a fitting way, the addition of swirling, space rock noodlings over the grind gives the music a dreamlike, often warm sound to what could be just the same old indie noise. Though these guys are just barely breaking into the scene they've already played hundreds of tiny shows in places you've never heard of. However, if you catch wind of their arrival in your town make sure you check them out. I was literally standing there with my jaw dropped and being a jaded, cynical hipster elitist that doesn't happen too often.


Special Edition: Children of the New Order

In the meantime, whilst I'm away conjuring new equations, (yes that's right, I haven't completely given up on this thing yet) please enjoy this special piece I did for a few months ago. The idea was to make a sort-of family tree for the highly influential electro-pop band New Order. A lot of it I just pulled out of my own ass and linked them loosely, basing the ties more on general sound than hard research. But those who reviewed it at the magazine thought it was fairly spot-on, so I don't question it. It's by far the most involved piece to date and it uses no math to speak of, simply a flow chart type of web mess.

Thanks to the arrival of a few nice new comments resulting from the Damien Rice Equation I've decided to do my best to revive the IEQ to at least half of it's former self, meaning I'll give my all to update you with new equations every 2 weeks starting tomorrow. So... new update a fortnight from tomorrow. Send in ideas if you want to see someone special. I heard that I should do one fo da ladiez, so I just might. But now I'm rambling so just stop reading........ now.



The Indie Equation is on a break. Here's a couple reasons why:

1. I've taken a closer look at the stats for the page and I notice that while I receive a good number of hits per day, they're all google image searches resulting in false positives as visits. My actual returning reader base is at most 6 people. While I love and appreciate those 6 people, as well as all those one timers that left a comment or signed the mutha-luvin Guestbook, my life is too hectic at the moment to keep it going with no returns. I started this page because the idea cracked me up, I moved to a weekly issue schedule to make it easier on potential readers to stay posted, now I find that it's more of a chore to find some band to dismantle just to make a post than it would be to just let the funny come naturally. What I'm saying is, if there are genuinely people out there who want to see this site leave it's mark, you need to let me know. Even if it's just a short note saying hello, at least I know you've been here long enough to actually look at one equation. To me that's enough. The next equation will be posted whenever the muse moves me, after that, we'll see. In the meantime, if you've read this drop off a comment. I need to take stock of who's out there.

2: It's my birthday, so I'm partying not doing math, even if it is fake math.

Thank you and have a pleasant day.
Oh, and keep rocking.



Equation #20: Quickspace


Oh yeah! Quickspace! If you've ever heard them before that's probably what's going through your head about now. Yes, Quickspace..... what is there to say about them? They sound like crunchy, doped up nursery rhymes with chirping electronics and spazzy guitar noodles. But the good kind. I bought this album on a whim one day at a record store and promptly never listened to it, then about a year ago I dusted it off and gave it a shot. I liked it now, who knew? I guess at the time I wasn't ready for it but since my taste has expanded to include trippy, repetative post-rock meanderings like Mogwai, Super Furry Animals and Bent Leg Fatima I guess they fit right in there. Not really the most revolutionary of their contemporaries, but enjoyable and quirky nonetheless. Looks like money well spent.


Equation #19: Idiot Pilot

Idiot Pilot

Idiot Pilot. Where to even begin. I can't seem to get a solid opinion from multiple reviews. Some hate them, some adore them, some pages don't load. Ok, I like them, they're talented young turks with a penchant for emulation they manage to bring several styles together all at once without sounding too incoherent, though there are a few moments that make me wince a bit. (Rap?) Also, I'm not a huge fan of "Screamo" bands like Hopesfall, Underoath, Thursday and the like, but these kids mix it well. It's no secret, though it may not have come up here yet, that I'm a huge Radiohead fan, so naturally I made the Kid A connections immediately (I mean look at their original cover art) so those parts of the album appeal to me the most. In fact I had to get used to the screaming parts a while before it seemed to fit in. All in all I think they have potential and they have a great start, after all a celebrity makeover from Reprise Records doesn't just happen to every band. I'd say that they can go places if they develop more of a unique sound and don't rely so much on the blazed trails of their forefathers. I can't be too harsh on them since the damn munchkins are barely peeking out of their teens but I can give them a stern warning not to go the way of Hanson, i.e. Don't get labeled as child pop prodigies and loose your grownup cred down the road. Not that Hanson has that much grownup cred, but you get the idea.



I'm sorry my pretties, there's no equation today. I just got done being groomsman in a wedding and drinking and dancing my little emo ass off. I'll dazzle you later this week.


Equation #18: Autolux


Why a tire fire? It's obscure, I know. Tire fires are slow burning, like Autolux. Tire fires are nearly impossible to extinguish, like Autolux. Tire fires are awesome and... smelly? you know, forget about that. Lemme explain. When I first got a copy of Autolux's disc Future Perfect I immediately heard the influences, I heard the shoegazing drone, I heard the noise-pop squelches and I really enjoyed it. Then the disc was over, the music stopped, and I had forgotten everything I just heard. Not because the music was bad, (which it's not) and not because the songs are forgettable, (which the aren't) but for some reason for the first 10 listens or so the album was like a very sexy dream to me - great while it's going, but when it's over it fades quickly and you can't really recall who that was and why she had a can of cherry pie filling. But I'm rambling. Future Perfect is a great album and now that I've had it glued into my CD player for about a week straight it's really gotten ahold of me, but it took a while. The songs come off very listenable but not completely catchy at first, until you realize that you're humming them while you're on the toilet and you have to put down your copy of Modern Bride to figure out who's music is caught in your head. That's Autolux. See? Slow burning. Tire Fire. It's brilliant!


Equation #17: Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age is one of my favorite bands, and for a band that's been making music for as many years as I've been out of high school (that's 8 for you math people) I have to say I'm envious of their résumé. I mean, they've had 4 amazing records, what have I done? I'm a working stiff who makes humorous little pictures on the internet. Josh Homme has connections, he's had 2 great bands and the man can shred. I've been in 3 bands and none of them made it past the local grange or some dude's birthday party. I suck, QOTSA does not. Moving on. While I've heard next to nothing from their first eponymous disc I have heard the other 3 and I have to say they have their shit together. Definitely in my top ten list for best bands ever.



Thanks to all, this graph tells me I need to get my ass back in gear and start dishing out new Equations. This Saturday, I promise! Also, all you n00bs who are just discovering the IEQ, show a little love!

Click to Enhance....enhance......enhance.


Equation #16: Mindless Self Indulgence


Equation #15: The Helio Sequence


Equation #14: IMA Robot



Took this weekend off because I was working on my feature for Subter. It should be going live in the next few days so check it out. It's by far my most formidable science experiment yet. I'll be back next weekend with another ridiculous adaptation of mathematics and Photoshop. Take care now. Sign the guestbook! (Thanks for being the first Matthew.)


Equation #13: Danielson Familie



The Indie Equation is on vacation until next week. While you're waiting, why not sign the guestbook? It's right over there. -------------->


Equation #12: Stellastarr*


Equation #11: The Polyphonic Spree


Equation #10: Jaimie Cullum


Equation #9: Pete Yorn

Due to me being out of town this weekend I bring you this week's equation 2 days early. Enjoy.



First off, thanks for all the folks checking out the Indie Equation from and audioscrobbler and, it's a pleasure to amuse you.

Secondly, as of March 19th the Equation will be updated once a week on Saturdays, so enjoy the latest addition and I'll see you again in 8 days.

P.S. I've been contacted by the editor of and they would like to do a special article on The Indie Equation, that will be available May 2nd on their site. I'll keep you posted about developments.

Equation #8: Sondre Lerche


Equation #7: Damien Rice



I've taken a week off from the equation to relax and whatnot, I'll resume my wiseass behavior shortly.


Equation #6: The Secret Machines


Equation #5: Xiu Xiu

Equation #4: The Rapture


Equation #3: Ween