Chin Up Chin Up

This Harness Can't Ride Anything

Listening to This Harness Can't Ride Anything, the sophomore album from Chicago's Chin Up Chin Up, is much like a visit to the Midwest - forgettable.

This Harness, recorded with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine), begins with promise. The opening title track offers a head-bopping beat, overlapping, effects-driven guitars and a quirky melody in the distance. But less than a minute in, Chin Up reveals its one inescapable flaw: Jeremy Bolen's vocals.

In theory, the raspy, melancholic voice would fit in with the indie-pop sound Chin Up pulls off quite well. The band gets most of the ingredients right: catchy and slightly unsettling percussion; odd song titles ("Blankets Like Beavers"); unorthodox instrumentation (harmonic pipes on "Trophies for Hire" and "Mansioned"); and complex (if untidy) compositions. But Bolen, whose vocal stylings suggest a failed imitation of Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, is frustratingly annoying and draws attention to the repetitive nature (and deplorable lyrics) of the songs themselves. The rhythmic and melodic differences that at first seem varied quickly prove unoriginal and overdone.

- Jonathan Liebembuk

Califone

Roots & Crowns

Predictable only in their uniqueness, there are few bands around as consistently interesting as Chicago's Califone. The band's newest release, Roots & Crowns, finds them delving deeper into the experimental folk and blues sound they've explored over their seven studio albums. Their signature combination of straightforward songwriting contrasted with avant-garde production again proves too potent to be called gimmicky. The album's standout track, "The Orchids" (a Psychic TV cover), turns the mechanical ping-pong sound of the original into something much more cozy and sentimental. The humming swirl of warm melodies and fragmented harmonica makes lines like "and in the morning after night / I fall in love with the light" particularly resonant. The album creates an intricate soundscape that melds the rustic tones of weepy acoustic guitar with dissonant noise. For the patient listener, Roots & Crowns offers a rich and beautiful reward.

- Joe Yeakel

The Blood Brothers

Young Machetes

"Fire! Fire! Fire!" and so begins the hectic, deliberate attack of the Blood Brothers' newest infectious and insistent creation, Young Machetes. The pseudo-hardcore outfit retains the same raw screams, distorted synthesizers and frenzied guitars of their earlier work, but adds a poppy new twist. Their hit albums Burn Piano Island, Burn and This Adultery Is Ripe succeeded thanks to wild, sometimes brutal experimentation; Young Machetes relies instead on melody. The standout track, "Lazer Life," epitomizes this new style with a catchy instrumental melody underneath the usual interplay between Johnny Whitney's high, breaking shouts and Jordan Blilie's suave and provocative voice. The album showcases the band's evolution, drawing on the strengths of their other four albums, while creating a work that appeals more effectively to a mainstream audience. Distinctive enough to please die-hard fans, Young Machetes works also as lubricant for stubborn ears.

- Evan O'Donnell

Exit Clov

Respond Respond

Tired of waiting for Stars to come back to town? Is your Metric poster looking a little frayed? Need a new band to like before everyone else does? Exit Clov fits the bill.

The D.C. band's twin-sister vocalists harmonize exquisitely over a backdrop of tight instrumentation. The danceable beats and synthesized vocals of "Moving Gaza" pull off what Pretty Girls Make Graves couldn't do on their latest album. On "MK Ultra," the quintet evokes the pleasurable sounds of the Rentals, but kicks up the tempo and improves the production. "Beast Simone" shines as the highlight of this new EP, combining uplifting violin with staccato bursts of guitar and moody ambient noise.

Exit Clov succeeds in putting just the right amount of tense energy into catchy, unique pop/rock. The girls' sugar-sweet vocals belie the snarky political barbs of their lyrics, which are intelligent enough to give you a whole other reason to like their work. Exit Clov does in 20 minutes what most bands can't do in an hour: harness their talent to craft perfect indie-pop.

- Rafael Garcia


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