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Originally posted on June 14, 2011

The ethos of indie rock is, unsurprisingly, independence; independence from constrictive major record labels, independence from being confined by perceived genre norms. The Courtesy Tier have definitely embraced this ethos in their first full-length album, The Resolution, which they recorded at home and have preliminarily released themselves (the official release was May 26 at Pianos).

Each of the nine songs on the album are unmistakably rock, but with subtle influences from other styles that set them apart from standard rock songs. “Rescue,” with its jaunty repeating guitar riff, drone, and tricky vocal turn has an old-school country vibe, while “Just Like You” is more post-punk in style, with floating riffs and vocal harmonies that give it an ethereal feel. With its bluesy verses and straight-up rock choruses, “Hey Bee” is probably the most rock-sounding track on the album.

Resolution opens with “Standing Near,” which has a nice contrast between minor-key verses and major-key choruses, and “Preaches” also features this verse/chorus contrast, with a slower, laid-back feel that gives way to a more aggressive sound in the chorus. “Alright Mama” is a kind of sweet, lyrical ballad, while “Morning Run” is lonely and brooding, and “Calling Out” has the most powerful, driving chorus on the album. The album ends with the low-key “Home,” which steadily builds tension until the end.

Check out Courtesy Tier day after tomorrow, June 16, 8:15pm, as part of the Northside Festival at Spike Hill, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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Originally posted on April 7, 2011

Blarvuster played Matthew Welch’s Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2 at le poisson rouge last month, the group’s first time performing at the West Village venue (watch clips from Blarvuster’s set above).

Led by composer/bagpiper Matthew Welch, Blarvuster is part experimental chamber ensemble, part experimental indie-rock band, simultaneously capturing the rigor of composed music (note the sheet music in the video) with the spontaneity of rock music.  Infused into this mix is both a distinct Balinese gamelan feel—particularly in the way that each of the instrument’s lines interlock with one another—and of course the rousing Gaelic tone from the bagpipes.  What’s surprising is how very “New York City” the music sounds, with its continuous motion, created by considerable individual effort—individuals at times rhythmically unified and at others appearing to work independently of each other—and in which solo or duo lines can occasionally be heard singing through the multitude.

Welch describes his inspiration for Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2:

“A few years ago, the MOMA had an exhibition of large Richard Serra sculptures. They were gigantic, curvilinear, ribbon-like sculptures’ whose overwhelming size prevented one from really being able to absorb an entire work in one moment…This experience re-sparked my interest in the large-scale monolithic music composition (typical of early Glass/Reich and late Feldman) where the listener can become disoriented and lose one’s perception of the overall proportions of the structure. At that point I started writing long multi-modular pieces for Blarvuster, emphasizing an ecstatic web of gnarled contrapuntal lines and modal/noise improvisation. Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2 is one in this series bringing together dense and dark polyphonic arabesques in Balinese modes and the abstract, haunting lyricism of early Scottish Highland Bagpipe Piobaireachd.”

Originally posted on March 27, 2011

Say hello to Oliphant, the art/rock trio who manage that wonderful balance between complexity and directness.  The side project of three formally-trained “new music” (also variously called contemporary, experimental, and/or avant-garde music) musicians, Oliphant use their training to create songs that groove, via the employment of complicated techniques that often require the use of sheet music.  Sign up to their mailing list to be updated on future shows, as Oliphant can only sporadically be seen out in its natural habitat.

Originally posted on April 5, 2011

Out today on Klangbad records, Quick Words–a “recording made in the Brooklyn wintertime”–opens with Christy & Emily‘s “Bells.” The dark, driving beat fuels yearning lyrics and bright guitar riffs.  This recording officially ushers in a new era for C&E, in which the duo is joined by Kristen Mueller on drums and Pete Kerlin on bass.

The other track on the 7″ is Talk Normal‘s “Hurricane.”  A kettle drum and siren-like drone underpin declamatory, almost chant-like singing.  The track is mixed to sound like it was recorded inside a vast, empty warehouse–either that, or some otherworldly, secluded village.

Available as a digital download is the extra track “Endtime Evangelist” by Christy & Emily.  An Oakley Hall cover, C&E bring energy and urgency to the original–which has a slow, ambling country-esque feel to it–with a repeated Wurlitzer note and clean guitar tones.  For the final verse Emily shows off her vox chops in strong but gentle high notes.

Originally posted on February 3, 2011

Two of Julia Wolfe’s orchestral strings works were performed at Miller Theater on Thursday, by the young and dynamic string players from Signal.

Cruel Sister opens with a pulsating low drone that repeatedly builds upwards and then falls back, each peak intensifying the drama as the tension builds between the two sisters over a shared lover.  As the music falls back once more, a sustained, stratospheric melody begins to call out amidst the pulsations, as if the sister preferred by the lover is pleading with her “cruel sister” for understanding, maybe forgiveness.  To no avail, though, as the intensity builds again, before abruptly dropping out completely, leaving the high, chilling melody floating alone, like, as Wolfe explained, the drowned body of the murdered sister.  This eerie death song, which lasts nearly four minutes, is more emotionally harrowing than the loudest peak of Cruel Sister.  The melody is joined by the rest of the ensemble to create a sound like the bellows of Death’s accordion being slowly filled with air.  Gradually this sound is replaced with plucking as the dead sister’s breastbone is fashioned into a harp whose purpose it is to torture the cruel sister at her wedding reception.  Plucking is joined by strumming as the violinists hold their instruments like ukuleles, until the entire ensemble plucks in a seemingly arhythmic unison (an impressive feat for such a large ensemble), and a single violin plays fragments of a melody, this time lower in range.  The piece ends with a slow crescendo, as if the horror of the cruel sister’s action is swelling within.

Wolfe exploits the full, visceral potential of the string in Cruel Sister: the threads of the bow being dragged against the strings of the instruments, the latter being plucked by the fingers of several players in unison.  Signal rose to the challenge with such virtuosity and abandon that less than 10 minutes into the performance bows were already fraying.

Fuel, the second work on the program, also tells a story, albeit the more abstract one of oil drills and loading docks.  Written in conjunction with the creation of a film by Bill Morrison, both audio and visual elements of the performance were seamlessly knitted together and depicted, as Wolfe puts it, “the whir of incessant mechanisms…the sweat of human energy, and the power source of the sun.”  Accordingly, this athletic piece was spun out in front of time-lapse shots of industrial landscapes that sometimes featured the NYC skyline in the background.  Fast-paced rhythmic patterns and scratch tones created a sort of cold beauty that highlighted the graceful movements and bright colors depicted in the film.

Originally posted on January 24, 2011

Say hello to Brooklyn’s Heads Up Display, a tenebrous guitar rock band who just recently released a self-titled eight-song LP.  While the faster songs are tightly performed and have all the rousing energy of melancholy punk, HUD’s songwriting skills really shine through on the slower tracks, like in the spiraling, repeating patterns of “20/20 Hindsight.”  “Precious Cargo” is a beseeching, atmospheric song with a soaring guitar line, and the last track, called “Little Teeth,” is a mournful lullaby, Cimmerian in its simplicity.

Originally posted on January 18, 2011

Extra Life returned to the stage last Saturday night, playing to a packed room at The Silent Barn.  (Hear clips from the seven-song set in the video above.)  Commingling with the often-chilling lyrics is music that at times exhibits all the delicacy of medieval chanson, at others the aggressive drive of metal.  The unconventional metric patterns and detailed orchestration choices—listen to the first song with headphones to catch the high, metallic-sounding electric guitar line accompanying the acoustic intro—bear the marks of a songwriter accustomed to experimenting with sound.  Not surprisingly, the band’s creator and songwriter, singer/guitarist/keyboardist Charlie Looker has a history of mixing “pop” (using the word in the broadest sense possible here) forms with experimental techniques.

Highlights from the set include an exuberant looping synth pattern overlaying bass, guitar and drums in the fifth song (about 4:19 in the video): one can almost see multicolored splashes of light emanating from the group.  In the last song (6:32) the voice of the jeering parent portrayed in the lyrics is echoed in the weighty,  lugubrious movements from the band.