Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Artist: Red Novella

Artist: Red Novella

In the melodic metalcore of Red Novella, the lows set up highs, and the highs drop you off a cliff. Julie Andrews was only partly right: The hills are alive with the sound of music, provided all that hilly undulation doesn't slow the sound of squealing guitar.

The title of RN's standout album, Failure by Design, is not just taken from one of its song lyrics. It's a hint of what's to come. The thematic arc starts at self-inflicted wounds: “Your words kill like a thousand cuts / And it's you that has to live / With the consequences and the blame” (Won't Back Down); “Did this go as you planned? / To self destruct … / To break down and be something that you're not” (Pieces); “You put the noose around your neck / And wonder why it's getting hard to breathe” (Broken Down); and “We can survive / If you swallow all your pride” (Survive).

At first glance, it appears most of RN's narrators would opt to stay stuck in admittedly awful situations (e.g. Won't Back Down, Survive, and Embers Never Fade). But then something happens. Near the end of the song cycle (Ashes Fall, Broken Down), we get the feeling that RN's romantically flawed narrators are nearly fed up. And it's here where inspirational lyrics (liberally sprinkled throughout the album) play a role. Most metal/-core bands avoid such constructive observation – e.g. Won't Back Down's “It's the past that makes us who we are / And guides us along the way ... Time heals all of our broken dreams / And all the scars … I'll stand my ground / I won't back down / I'm prepared to fight for this life” – to sidestep the appearance of being soft, even when doing so can come at the expense of establishing a deeper connection with the listener. On Failure by Design however, it helps to close the loop: It clues us in that RN's composite narrator will ultimately move beyond denial/acceptance to action. (And to think: It all started with the realization that the significant other's failure was by design.)
But in melodic metalcore, all the lyrical themes in the world would be nothing without metal or melody. With Red Novella, there are multiple moments that memorably meld both vocal and musical melody: Won't Back Down's “But I'd do it again, I wouldn't change a thing” (at :52); Pieces' “Tonight I sing this song for you” (1:19); and Ashes Fall's “My stomach turns / It's filled with envy” (1:08). These typically occur when the vocal lead is coupled with harmonies to evoke yearning.

As for metal, there's a reason I call Red Novella “the riff armada” (beyond the fact Groove Armada was taken). Examples are everywhere. To observe the important role that riffs play in the dynamic development of RN songs, look no further than album-opener Won't Back Down. After two minutes of its verse/chorus song-in-chief, when other bands would think about awkwardly ending it, RN simply goes off. Just as the screaming fades (at 2:22), RN's drummer and guitarist resume hostilities, trading punches until double-bass and screamo signal yet another round/layer of knockout riffage (2:32).

Like the best bands of the genre, Red Novella is blessed with a tremendous sense of melody, dynamic song-writing, and lyrical themes emotionally suitable to the musical heartbreak.

(In other words, they kick Julie Andrews ass.)

The reviewer of this blog is the vocalist/lyricist of hard rock band Jussy:

Artist: Hop On Pop

Artist: Hop On Pop

An album review's musical allusions are meant to supply the reader with all the tools he or she needs to make the decision: to listen? or not to listen? But with Hop on Pop's Chicken on a Bicycle, they just don't help.

For instance, although Todd Leiter-Weintraub's voice is akin to that of Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo), it also brings to mind J. Mascis's (his solo/live/acoustic albums, e.g. Martin & Me) on HoP's “Sheila of the Worms”; and HoP is memorably joined by Jonathon Newby (from the band, Brazil), whose falsetto (which recalls The Strokes' Julian Casablancas) is perfectly placed on “I'm Pathetic.”
Add instrumentation to the mix, and HoP touches the soul with achingly beautiful melodies, with “Come On, Let's Go” and “Hey” rivaling the best in movie music – The Pogues' “Fairytale of New York” (Basquiat) and Mark Lanagan's “The River Rise” (Hype), respectively.

And yet, even when you think you've got HoP all figured out, there are melodic mentions of experimental punkers The Mae Shi's “Lamb and the Lion” (in HoP's “Here”) and of rapper Kanye West's “Runaway” (in HoP's “Come On, Let's Go”).

Perhaps the most convincing proof that TL-W fully commands multiple genres, is that he knows when to relax control. On “Happy Days,” his wife simply shines on vocal lead, carrying TL-W's infectiously catchy tune like no other could. With this standout track, HoP captures the spirit of the oldies without being yoked by nostalgia or chained to convention.

Also noteworthy is “Say You Will (A Reluctant Soldier's Plea),” which merits discussion for exemplifying a phenomenon that has now frustrated/delighted me exactly twice. I'll call it the Sally Shapiro Phenomenon, after her “Dying in Africa,” the record on which I first heard it. So what exactly is the Sally Shapiro Phenomenon? It's waiting till the very end of a song to introduce (then lightly touch on) a transcendent musical idea – this, diametrically opposed to destroying beauty through repetition.

For me, I typically notice the phenomenon after the fact. I'll find myself yearning to re-visit a song part – a part I'm absolutely certain is a hook – only to find out it was actually an ending. Taking into account his song-writing chops, I'd be willing to bet that TL-W knew exactly he was doing. After all, the soldier is “reluctant” to reveal his gorgeously rendered plea, “Say you will.”

HoP is a singularly gifted song-writer, who I'd trust to write full-length albums in each of the genres previewed on Chicken on a Bicycle. But since that would mean me having patience, I'll just plant this idea in TL-W's head right now: An EP. To tide us over till Chicken on a Bicycle, Volume II. (Call it: Chicken on a Unicycle.)

I'm not alone in wanting more. On the live track, "Sheila of the Worms," the thing you notice (after the excellent guitar solo), is the love. And it's going both ways.

The reviewer of this blog is the vocalist/lyricist of hard rock band Jussy:

Artist: Radium Wild

Artist: Radium Wild

There are slow-developing songs that are nonetheless memorable for their eventual hooks – even in the pop genre. Corinne Bailey Rae (“Put Your Records On”), Colbie Caillat (“Bubbly”) and Sara Bareilles (“Love Song”) come to mind.

And then there's Radium Wild, whose indie pop gems are immediately catchy as they merrily bounce along – from the opening bar. In this, Radium Wild joins the pop pantheon previously populated by Feist (“1234”), Amy Winehouse (“Rehab”), Ingrid Michaelson (“Be OK”), and Lily Allen (“LDN”).

(Someone like KT Tunstall found success with both: immediately catchy with “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”; eventually memorable with “Suddenly I See.”)

Radium Wild's infectiously bouncy song-craft features playfully percussive piano, drums and acoustic strums, with colorful horns minimally employed to maximum effect. (The piano is prominent and uniformly proficient.) And as an added plus, Radium Wild's self-titled EP comes replete with compelling concepts, such as the release-form-as-break-up metaphor (“Release Form”).
There is a notable barrier when it comes to entering the upper strata of indie popdom. Mandatory is the appealing vocal lead, and Radium Wild is well-served by Lindsey Aufricht. Aufricht's vocal is strong and clear, and strikingly soulful. Simply put, she delivers on the promise of the genre. Indeed, Aufricht rises above even her fiercest competition (the above artists) when she shows she can also shade to Adele on the slow-burning “Remember When.”

It took Camera Obscura over a decade to find truly memorable melody (“French Navy”). With Radium Wild, it's taken a fraction of the time to shine. (In fact, this is their debut.) And as Emeli Sande has recently shown (with last year's “Next to Me”), this music, popular for a reason, isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

The reviewer of this blog is the vocalist/lyricist of hard rock band Jussy: