REVIEW: Darling Valley – “Crooked Orchards”

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Let’s get something out of the way. Darling Valley is, for all intents and purposes, Accents with a new name. That would make this LP3. Three of the four people in this band were present on the last Accents record, and there is a shared sensibility. But, let’s not dwell on the past. In fact, y’know, let’s just skip the comparisons to the older records they released as Accents. Let’s start fresh.

Darling Valley may be one of the only bands playing this kind of music that doesn’t bore me after more than a few songs. We live in a post-Decemberists world. There is no shortage of people throwing mandolins, banjos, and whatever else into their indie folk stew. It takes a lot to be engaging, and even more to be good. Crooked Orchards is as fine of a full length as any band could hope to make. The band is built around the quartet of TJ Foster, Lauren Foster, Jordan Stewart, and Ashleigh Whitfield. Like any good band, they are definitely more than a sum of their parts.

The sound of Darling Valley is rooted in folk and country. More than that, they are shining examples of Americana and roots music. They know how to work indie rock and pop influences without letting that overtake the rhythm. The songs are meticulously crafted, and exist in the little details. An example would be like how the little trumpet flourishes on “Who You Hold On To” play beautifully off the otherwise straight country vibe. The great depth the vocal melodies on “You’ll Go Far, Kid” add is another.

Crooked Orchards is a wonderfully written album with a ton a heart. The lyrical themes are what you might expect. There is love, both lost and found. There are references to literature and war. There is celebration, and there is mourning. Folk music is full of those themes. They are familiar and relatable. And, when done well, they are engaging and meaningful.

Darling Valley
Sounds And Tones Records
Bandcamp
Buy It

 

REVIEW: Haybaby – “Blood Harvest”

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Haybaby is one of those bands that defy classification. They’ll come out of left field with something whenever you start to pigeonhole them. Blood Harvest only further solidifies that. Sleepy Kids was definitely a standout record of 2015, and Blood Harvest is definitely my favorite thing of 2016 so far. To borrow a sports journalist buzzword, this band has ridiculous depth. It’s not every band that can follow a Pixies-esque alt/indie song with a fucking hardcore rager. The beauty of Blood Harvest is there in the little things. It’s the way everything builds up great atmosphere. It’s a little sludgy sounding, it’s got kind of a sinister vibe, and it all fucking works.

My favorite thing about Haybaby is the way they’ve built this record. Like, ok. “Stupid” opens the record. It’s musically very sparse. It’s primarily being driven by Sam Yield’s bass and Jeremy Duvall’s drums. Leslie Hong’s guitar only really come into play around the hook. “Joke/Rope” has a similar vibe, but the guitar drives it a little more. It’s considerably less sparse. “Kramer/Dreams” builds further on that pattern. It employs the strong rhythm section, but it adds some very Pixies-esque guitar. Then all hell breaks loose on “What It Is.” It’s dense, aggressive, and vicious as fuck. Everything get reined in ever so slightly, and tension builds to it’s release by the time “Pig” closes the record. That is really an oversimplification though. Even the calmest and most atmospheric song can get angular and arty or disjointed and uncomfortable. It’s like a picture perfect combination of early 90s grunge/alternative and post-hardcore. The band really knows how to get that perfect rise and fall working.

Leslie Hong’s voice is totally integral to this record. She has a great range. She can sing very delicately, she can belt out, and she can yell. Anything the songs need, she can do it. I think my favorite kind of vocal on Blood Harvest is when she has this very dry, almost blasé delivery. That kind of things is on here quite a bit, on “Stupid” and “Joke/Rope” especially. Her vocals, like the band in general, seem to thrive in the genre blurring state of flux.She absolutely nails everything from start to finish.

It’s pretty easy to see the passion this band has. Haybaby just keep getting better.

Haybaby
Tiny Engines
Bandcamp
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REVIEW: Geometers – “Geometers”

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Punk rock is a shifting genre. Styles come and go. Geometers play a style that I really don’t hear much of anymore. They are bringing a fresh take on the gritty, post-hardcore influenced punk rock of bands like Small Brown Bike and Engine Down. Geometers have a definite late-90s / early-00s No Idea Records vibe to them. It’s pretty refreshing to hear bands still playing this type of music in 2016.

This does mean Geometers are walking down a pretty well worn road though. This EP lives or dies based on what they do with the sound. They do well to keep the energy up, they hit the perfect mixture between melodic and heavy, and they work in some great hooks. The vocals are great, and the production work of J. Robbins in a total plus. If anyone can produce this, it’s him. Really, almost everything about the EP just works.

“Sidearm” is probably the strongest song on the whole record. It’s also the loudest and most aggressive thing the band offers up. It fucking rules. This isn’t to take anything away from “On My Own” or “Title Fight.” Both songs are also really great, and the tonal difference between them and “Sidearm” really show a solid amount of range. Like, I’m honestly super into most of the songs. The only one I’m one I’m not feeling is “Arp.” It’s only a short, instrumental interlude. Nothing huge. It just kind of kills the momentum of the record. I would have probably 86’d it if I had my druthers. It’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t make sense to be placed where it is. It would have been perfect as an intro track though.

Minor gripe aside, Geometers have definitely added some new life to one of my favorite kinds of music, and goddamn am I happy to see it.

Geometers
Jetsam-Flotsam
Bandcamp
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REVIEW: Orations – “Incantation”

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I love hearing modern bands play classic genre music. Orations are a prime example of how good it can sound. What they’ve done on Incantation is an interesting bit of songwriting, and certainly not easy. They live in a middle ground of goth inspired post-punk/new wave and driving, mid-tempo punk rock. They never sound like just a punk rock band trying to fuck with post-punk and new wave, and that is what makes this whole thing work so well.

The four songs on Incantation seem to be split into two styles. “Curses” and “Strangely Safe” bookend the EP with a style that calls to mind the poppier side of Siouxsie And The Banshees or The Cure. Mostly thanks to that classic post-punk/new wave guitar tone. Great use of reverb and great melodics. Those songs have a gothy kind of sound, but never fall into the droney and brooding genre traps. The middle two songs, “Circus of Currents” and “Nosedive,” have a much more straight forward punk rock sound. They definitely match the tone of the other songs, but maybe don’t rely so much on the overall atmospherics as much.

The band is great at tying everything together. Jason Draper (bass) and Paul Morin (guitar) absolutely nail the kind of interplay needed to make this sound work. Steve Sojka (drums) is very versatile in his own right, switching styles depending on what the songs call for. A lot of band would sort of fuck up the post-punk to punk rock shift, but Orations have it covered. But, in my mind, the strongest selling point of the record has to be Jess Collins’ vocals. She has a very commanding voice. It’s strong enough to stand out on the more driving songs, but versatile enough to weave in and out of the more atmospheric one.

This is skilled band walking a very tight rope. They’re making music that borrows from a classic sound, but they’re adding enough life and energy to keep it from being mindless throwback bullshit. A lesser band might not be able to do it, and that alone makes this one worth a listen.

Orations
Sheets Of Tens Records / Buy It
Bandcamp / Buy It

REVIEW: Camp Life – “An Ever-Growing Vision”

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I love these punk rock records that aren’t afraid to dip into indie rock and emo. I know it’s been done a million times before, but I don’t give a shit. I’m a total sucker for bands that are as earnest as they are urgent. Camp Life nail that formula on An Ever-Growing Vision.

The lazy explanation is that Camp Life feel like the middle of a Venn diagram where Joyce Manor, Glocca Morra, and Dear Landlord are the established sets. An Ever-Growing Vision is just a great punk rock record from start to finish. It’s gruff and driving, but with a melodic flair. There are little bits of that old emo twinkle, albeit distorted. The lyrics definitely fit those genre norms as well. A bit of anger, a lot of apathy, and a general sense of melancholy.

I don’t know. An Ever-Growing Vision just works, and Camp Life have made a really solid debut. The whole thing clocks in at just under eleven minutes, and it is well worth the time.

Camp Life
Ozona Records
Bandcamp
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REVIEWS: Save Ends – “Hug Your Friends”

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Let’s start this out simply, as I’ve talked about about Save Ends a few times already. The stuff I said I loved about this band in 2012 and 2013 are the same things I love now. I don’t want to just be lazy and recycle the same talking points, so I’ll tackle this a little differently than I usually do. At least the intro paragraph anyway. I first heard Save Ends right around the beginning of 2011, maybe even at the end of 2010. The first song I heard was “The Art Of Throwing People In Volcanoes.”  I don’t remember where I heard it, but I remember that I was totally into it immediately. I still get excited when that song pops up in a shuffle, on Tumblr, or whatever. That song made me want to hear more. The point I’m clumsily making is that I’ve been listening to this band for a while now. Almost as long as I’ve been doing this shitty little blog, actually. I’m always impressed by what they put out. This was true of their self released EPs, it was true of their debut LP, and it’s still true now.

The easiest way to talk about Hug Your Friends would be to place it in the band’s overall discography. It does exactly what their older records did. It builds on the strengths of all their other works. It’s why a lot of the praise you’ll see for this mirrors the praise of the older stuff. The obvious starting point is the overall sound. This band is really good at finding that great middle ground between indie rock and pop punk. Even their slowest, most reserved songs still have that heart and energy behind them. The hooks, the big choruses, whatever. All those things are on this record, but maybe a bit more restrained. The tonal shift is noticeable, especially compared to the more driving songs on Warm Hearts, Cold Hands. I’ve seen a lot of Lemuria comparisons in the press leading up to the release. To borrow from that comparison, the stylistic shift is comparable to how that band transitioned from Get Better to Pebble. The songs still have drive and energy, but the EP definitely plays in a more melancholy territory. It’s really fucking good though, and that’s what matters. Genre descriptions be damned.

i always thought the strongest thing about Save Ends has always been the vocals. I love bands that do the dual vocal thing. It’s rare to find a band where both people singing absolutely nail it. It’s a really easy thing to fuck up. That is absolutely not the case here. Christine Atturio and Brendan Cahill both sound as strong as ever. It doesn’t matter if it’s lead, back up, or wherever they are on a song. The interplay between the two is always a great thing. “I Fell Asleep” and “Love Like A Home” showcase how well their voices play off each other in a split lead situation. The songs they take the lead on individually, “Smudge” for Atturio and “Sam’s Lament” for Cahill, show how solid they are at carrying songs on their own.

Hug Your Friends is a fantastic record from start to finish. It’s clear that they’ve spent the last couple years really focusing on songwriting. Everything sounds crisp and alive. It’s everything you would expect from Save Ends.

Save Ends
Black Numbers
Bandcamp
Buy It

REVIEW: Middle Part – “Middle Part”

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Middle Part is pop and noise. They are where those two sensibilities intersect. It’s weird, it’s abrasive, and it’s not for everyone. It’s really fucking good though. Let’s not bullshit around with some long write up. Middle Part is making aggressive, lo-fi music. There is a lot of noise, a lot of yelling, and a whole lot of muscle. This two piece from Harrisonburg, VA isn’t holding anything back this EP. They have a drum and a bass, but are way more than the sum of their parts.

There are a number of things this band excels at, not the least of which is the ability to make a hard left turn out of nowhere. Songs like “Dip Dip” and “Like Before” pull you in with an almost dancey, post-punk sound. The former shifts back and forth between that and a killer hardcore/noise combination. It’s disjointed and jagged, but it works. The latter is probably the most accessible song on the record, but even it plays around with time changes and styles. It’s shift is almost a pop to dirge to pop thing.

“Fight Song” is all aggression. Musically, vocally, whatever. In fact, Judy Hong’s vocals are what makes this record work for me. They can range anywhere from melodic and halting (“Like Before”) to just fucking shredded (“Fight Song” and “Dip Dip”). The vocals work so well with the distorted bass and pounding drum. The production work from Tristan O’Shea, who is the other half of the band, absolutely nails the mood of this record too.

There isn’t a whole lot more that needs to be said. If you want a record that will keep you on your toes, this is absolutely it. Check it out.

Middle Part
Too Far Gone Records
Bandcamp
Buy It