31 January 2010

Catching Up with The Silent League and Good Shoes

We are going to straddle both sides of the Atlantic for this one. The first band hailing from Brooklyn, the second from London, crossing genres and styles, here are two bands that really put craftsmanship before glitz and hype. What is amazing about both of these bands is their ability to incorporate multiple musical ideas/genres into their music. Though nothing alike, they both have the ability to put forth music that you will feel both physically and emotionally. So with no further ado, here are the latest releases from The Silent League and Good Shoes.

The Silent League: “But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker”

The Silent League is one of those acts that have given me many occasions to scratch my head and wonder over the last couple of years. The brainchild of Justin Russo, this is a band that believes in pushing any normal convention of genre that we normally have. At the core of it, they are a chamber pop band, using luscious arrangements, with a post-rock edge. But on their third album, “But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker” (27 January 2010 in North America), this Brooklyn-based band doesn’t hold steadfast to any of the rules. The band’s claims to fame are that they understands how to compose music, how to record and produced an album for maximum effect, and avoid any overused clichés or trope. This album is no different, and may just make a fan out of some people who have never heard of them. It is a great example of musicians who can think outside of the box.

For instance, “Yours Truly, 2095” really shows how this band thinks outside of the box. Utilizing a vocoder, this song narrates the love affair with a robot (“she’s an IBM…”). The vocoder fits the futuristic image of the song, but the song is kept warm by the acoustic guitar in the background and the other analogue sounds. Essentially a pop song that brings in the big orchestral feeling between the verses, the song captures a dramatic feeling that is typical of some of the greats in music, like David Bowie. But when the song is most painfully emotionally bare, towards the end, the electronic elements fade out, and repeated over and over is “Is that what you want?” And this just adds to the dramatic magnificence of the song.

And though every song on this album has its own identity, its own personally, all fifteen songs (in under fifty minutes) seemingly glides smoothly. There are no choppy moments, speak about incredible production. But for all the production, you are not given little gimmicks (or impossibly reproducible moments for live performances). And though I have a preference for these long epic songs that wallow in some emotion (disparity, fear, anger, rage…), these short songs pack emotional power. The two longest tracks are definite jewels. “There’s A Caretaker in the Woods” (almost four-and-a-half minutes) is just one long sigh. It really never excites itself, and remains contemplative all the way through. Then there is “Final Chapter Meeting” (at slightly over five-and-a-half minutes), which brings into the mix so many elements that you’re in sonic euphoria: strings, synths, slightly affected tight vocal harmonies, and an incredible beat that drops in nearly half way through the song to name a few. At this moment you sit back and say, “Yes, this is epic.”

The only shame about The Silent League is that they are not household names. “But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker” moves fluidly through each song, with a constant interplay in sounds, arrangement styles, and ingenuity. Another thing to love about this album is that the band really sports their influences, but never allows them to define their sound. Avoiding all that revival mania, this is a band that is most content with developing their own sound and their own way of doing thing. Just like the final track, a two-and-a-half minute minimalist instrumental: “How And Why Our Dads Lost The War.” Gone, at the end of it all, are the big arrangements, but still present is the visceral and dramatic power of the band. And it is when a band can generate a song like this, in many ways the antithesis of what came before, that keeps you entranced, that you are force to say, “This is great craftsmanship.” And indeed, the entire album is and you need to check it out.

Track Listing:
1. Egg Shaped
2. When Stars Attack!!!
3. Yours Truly, 2095
4. Little I
5. There’s A Caretaker In The Woods
6. Sleeper
7. Here’s A Star
8. Day Planner
9. The Ohio Winter Conventioners
10. Rules of Disengagement
11. I Go
12. But You’ve Always Been The Pilot”
13. Resignation Studies
14. Final Chapter Meeting
15. How And Why Our Dads Lost The War

Keep up with The Silent League at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Good Shoes: “No Hope, No Future”

“No Hope, No Future” (25 January 2010) is the sophomore effort by London indie rock band Good Shoes. On offer is a punk influenced, minimalist approach to music, that is neither overbearingly heady nor emotional, but enjoyable and thought inspiring. Free of the hype-machine that surrounded their debut, the band is able to experiment with more melodic and somber arrangements, and leave behind the banality of their freshman album. And what I really like about this album is that even though there are definite cues from the past, what shines through is a band with their own vision and sound. Though cluttered with punk rock, post-punk, and 90s references in their sound, you will find it difficult to accuse them on capitalizing on the sound of a band from the past.

Good Shoes most definitely selected the best opening track for this album: “The Way My Heart Beats.” The infectious beat makes you want to dance or mosh, and Rhys Jones (vocalist/guitarist) demonstrates the inevitable personal growth that we all go through: “Try and do the things you want, but you never do them for me. Try and say the things you want, but you never say them to me. And move on… to someone else, but it’s always the same problem.” Lyrically, the insight that Jones has developed is a marked difference to the more “topical” / “surface” lyrics of the first album. And hey, starting an album with a “Okay you dumped me song” is a smart move, because who has not gone through that? This sort of emotional nudity carries through the album, but never in any overwhelming way. There is just this matter of fact feel to the album that is great.

Loaded with great tracks, this album doesn’t slow down until “Thousands Miles An Hour,” which is the eighth track of ten. It is almost ironic, to slow down for a title that implies speed, but again it is that new insight and mentality the band brings to the table. The other slower track is the closing “City By The Sea.” It is also the most emotional song on the album. Before hand, though, is a plethora of gems. For instance, “I Know,” with its punkish, near sprechgesang (speak-sing) in the verse, has some simple, but mesmerizing guitar arrangements. “Under Control,” hands down my favorite track, is a spunky sexual narrative: “…her muscle tense as I tighten my grip, when smooth means rough, and soft means hard, but she always wants more and I’ve got to supply.” And then there is the dark “Our Loving Mother in a Pink Diamond.” It is not that kind of emotionally laden undertow kind of dark, but by comparison to the other songs, a heavier mood is immediately set from the first notes.

“No Hopes, No Future” definitely marks a subtle growth in Good Shoes. Though using many of the same kinds of hooks as their debut album, this sophomore effort shows more depth, has more emotive qualities, and yet is as infectious as their debut. And though I do not say this often, a rarity actually, this is a second album by a band that I like much more than the first. Debut albums are usually full of songs that a band selected from months, years of playing and writing before getting signed; of course the best of the best are selected, even for b-sides. Sophomore efforts are usually ridden with anxiety and pressure of recapturing initial success and expectations, written over a short period of time, and often lack the ingenuity of the debut. In this case, Good Shoes discarded the pressures, discarded the expectations of others, and have written an incredibly tight album that more than meets the mark.

Track Listing:
1. The Way My Heart Beats
2. Everything You Do
3. I Know
4. Under Control
5. Do You Remember
6. Our Loving Mother In A Pink Dress
7. Times Change
8. Thousand Miles An Hour
9. Then She Walks Away
10. City By The Sea

Keep up with Good Shoes at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Under Control” from their YouTube Channel: goodshoes.

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