05 April 2010

Catching up with The Irrepressibles and Rouge Wave

Life, life, life… Been trying to do some catching up on a few albums I have listened to that I have not had the time to review, but things keep getting in the way. So this week I promised myself I would do some serious catching up, even if I have to deprive myself of more sleep than I usually do! I really plan on avoiding any end of the year “blurb” posting, as I think that these musicians deserve a full-length review. So here are two bands that couldn’t be more different from one another than night and day. One a British chamber pop band releasing their debut, the other a Californian indie rock band releasing their fourth album and on its way to being veterans, both bands definitely have challenged what is expected of them. What I like about this odd mismatch is that at the end of it all, there is a communality between them, and it is that punk/post-punk ideology of “I am going to what I want, and if you don’t like it, move along to something else.” Both bands approach these albums with true craftsmanship, ignoring any of the brouhaha of current musical trends, and producing subtle irrepressible waves that shouldn’t be ignored.

The Irrepressibles: “Mirror Mirror”

The Irrepressibles is not just any ole band; this is a ten-member ensemble led by Jamie McDermot (vocals, guitar, and composer). The ensemble includes Jordan Hunt, (vocals, violin), Sarah Kershaw (vocals, piano), Sophie Li (vocals, double bass), Rosie Reed (vocals, flute), Nicole Robson (vocals, cello), Charlie Stock (vocals, viola), Anna Westlake (vocals, clarinet, saxophone), and Craig White (vocals, oboe, cor anglais). Definitely influenced by David Bowie and Kate Bush, “Mirror, Mirror” (11 January 2010 in the UK, 4 March 2010 in the USA as an import) offers up amazing chamber pop, bordering on dark cabaret at times, amazing arrangements, and visceral power. Outwardly avoiding the 80s-revival, they mirror the same kind of lusciousness in music of the 80s, instead of the barebones 90s.

This is an album full of music that is theatrical – not just dramatic. There is a sense that this music exists for the stage, where it will unfurl in a way that speakers at home are not capable of translating; there should be acting/miming to this music – I can imagine Commedia dell’Arte’s characters, like Columbine, Harlequin, and Pierrot, pantomiming on the stage to the music. Furthermore, just like the post-punk rockers, The Irrepressibles understand that in the understated and simple there is emotional undertow and power. You would think that as such a large ensemble they would aim at grandiose, over-the-top spectacle, but instead the music relies on simplicity to overpower you.

The opening song, “My Friend Jo,” starts with a harsh, “My friend Jo was a crazy bitch…” and ends with a kiss, and every mood appropriate is thrown in between. The music is dramatic, mirroring the emotional impact of the words and crooning. What follows is very disarming; there is no logical progression to the album – at least not overtly – unless you want to read it as narrative, which may be the point. But this adds to the experience; the inability to know where this is going may be disarming, but it leads to many surprises on the album. One such surprise is my favorite track on the album, “Anvil.” Perhaps the best orchestrated song on the album, the song is full of tongue-in-cheek: “When you were my angel, I was like your anvil.” And where we think of chamber pop as being a “serious” form of music, The Irrepressibles shine through over and over again with a sense of humor that would make Morrissey proud.

“In This Shirt,” the longest and final track of the album, is the most elegiac track on the album. And here is the twist to that Commedia dell’Arte reference: there is not this happy, bubbly, laughter full ending. And though the band is decked out, ready to be actors in Commedia dell’Arte (McDermot looks like a cross between Bowie doing Pierrot, Robert Smith, and early Andy Bell of Erasure), the album ends with the most contemplative, introspective song: “There’s a crane knocking down all these things that we were; I awake in the night to hear the engines pout. There’s a pain; it does ripple through my frame, makes me lame. There’s a thorn in my side, it’s the shape, it’s the prize.” And of course, it is no secret that I love sad, dark pensive music, but only when it really holds up a mirror to a reality we hate to admit to. And what “Mirror, Mirror” will do for you, if you listen carefully, is not echo those fable words from Snow White, but rather hold the looking-glass up to the audience who dares the scratch the surface.

Track Listing:
1. My Friend Jo
2. I’ll Maybe Let You
3. In Your Eyes
4. Anvil
5. Forget the Past
6. Knife Song
7. My Witness
8. Nuclear Skies
9. Splish! Splish! Sploo!
10. The Tide
11. Transition Instrumental
12. In This Shirt

Keep up with Irrepressibles at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is some live footage, set to the track “Forget the Past,” from their YouTube Channel: TheIrrepressibles.

Rogue Wave: “Permalight”

Hailing form Oakland, CA USA, Rogue Wave released their fourth album, “Permalight” (2 March 2010). Always shifting their musical priority, this time they tilt more towards their pop sensibilities. Perhaps they are investigating a more radio-friendly format, or perhaps the new bassist (Cameron Jasper) has added a new dimension to the band, or perhaps they have never been happy prioritizing the same sound over and over again in a mindless drudgery of repackaging the same ole shite like many bands do, especially when hitting album number four. Though I am not sure how this album will be received by fans of Rogue Wave who have been with them from their nascent days on Sub Pop, I can say that they have made a skeptic like me take a double take and say, “Wait, there is something here I may have missed.”

I admit I did not run out to listen to this album; the first time I listened to this album was in a friend’s car, at high volumes, speeding – paying more attention to the tunes than really considering that my life was at risk with such a crappy driver. I was taken by just how inviting the album is; it emotes a friendliness and charisma that their past efforts did not. And though this is leaning more towards pop than their past work, it is not as if there is this grand departure of what they have done in the past. Two things that are a major shift are the electronic elements dominating on a few tracks and the production style; the band sounds more refined, but without sounding like a studio band that has no live chops. The album still has that feel of this being recorded by a band that prioritizes live performance.

My favorite track on the album, “Stars and Stripes,” immediately reminded me of The Joy Formidible – that short but powerful indie rock pop song that is not over produced, but arranged to perfection. And immediately I started to wonder were Rogue Waves listening and taking cues from their distant cousins in the British indie scene than their closer cousins in the Californian scene? Reality, from The Beach Boys to Jefferson Starship, from Black Flag to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, there has been music that is arguably “Californian” – none of which really seeps through this album. Actually, this album would rest more comfortably with the likes of The Joy Formidible and Maximo Park. If this were the case, they would not be the first American band to take cues from the Brits (The Bravery, Gossip, Interpol, and The Killers to name a few). And though many of the tracks are undeniably American indie (just not Californian), there are moments that Rogue Wave’s consciousness of music has so expanded that they blow away the contemporaries they are usually lumped with. Just listen to their recent single, “Good Morning (The Future),” and you know what I am talking about.

So, to my friend, the crappy driver, you were right; “Permalight” is an amazing album. From the tight power indie rock to the acoustic numbers, like “I’ll Never Leave You” (“We’re better when our paths combine…”), which sappiness is endearing, Rogue Wave has thrown us a curve ball with this album that really works beautifully. It is not always that a band that has been around for almost ten years makes me stop in my tracks and reconsider what I thought about them in the past, but Rogue Wave did just that. And, if like myself, before this you did not consider yourself a fan, then “Permalight” is the perfect album for you to take the plunge with. As I already said, there is something charismatic about this album that will grab you and just not let you go.

Track Listing:
1. Solitary Gun
2. Good Morning (The Future)
3. Sleepwalker
4. Stars and Stripes
5. Permalight
6. Fear Itself
7. Right With You
8. We Will Make A Song Destroy
9. I’ll Never Leave You
10. Per Anger
11. You Have Boarded
12. All That Remains

Keep up with Rogue Waves at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Good Morning (The Future)” from the RogueWaveVEVO channel.

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