Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Whether The Empty Storm, Colter Harris, Keenan King

"Red Light"/"Simon"
* * * 1/2 / * * * * 1/2

When I first saw the band then known as The Fixture and now known as Whether The Empty Storm perform, they ended their set with a cover of Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" that was sincere but a bit much for the small, then-high school-aged ensemble to take on.  One rock opera (fight, the youth., penned by band members Evan Linsey and Brendan Hornbostel) and a few new band members later, Whether The Empty Storm is a formidable rock band capable of making Arcade Fire sound small.  Their latest, two-sided single unmistakably demonstrate this.  "Red Light" is a sweeping rock song that covers vast amounts of instrumental terrain and features some jaw-dropping moments (the synth-and-vocals section before the song's climax is perfect) despite being ill-suited for singer Sirkka Miller's strident voice--her vocals are the most well-defined thing in the song, and when she takes the mic, everything else seems to fade into the background. 

"Simon" is another story altogether.  It starts out innocently enough, with Miller singing about a lost love over pizzicato strings that blur the line between Top 40 and baroque pop, before giving way to one of the most poignant, massive, and artfully constructed choruses I've heard in any song this year.  The male-female vocal interplay and wall of crushing guitars bring to mind My Bloody Valentine, but rather than suggesting the ghost of a pop tune, the disparate elements combine into a bigger, catchier, and infinitely more beautiful hook than anything on the Top 20 at the time of this writing.  Whether The Empty Storm is clearly a band with lofty ambitions, and these two remarkable songs make it clear that their focus and devotion pays off.

Unblue EP
* * * *

The debut EP from Santa Cruz singer-songwriter Colter Harris is a scrappy affair, allegedly recorded in a laundry room, but it's also an intensely focused work.  Its five short songs move in a defined arc, beginning with two scrappy bursts of pure pop in the title track and "Jimmy Dean Of The Nile" before entering a lull with the next two more mellow songs and ending with the John Darnielle-esque rager "Cool."  While the mellower songs are less remarkable (despite the haunting sample that forms the backbone of "Telephones), the tunes that bookend it are elating, clever and incredibly catchy.  The title track is particularly outstanding, using twee elements like recorders and melodicas and managing to simultaneously be unapologetically adorable and piss-in-the-elevator gritty.  While Harris's early singles made it hard to tell if he was just fucking around or not, Unblue makes it clear that he isn't--but he doesn't give too many fucks either.

"Don't Ask Me"
* * * 1/2

Keenan King recently split ways from Sun Clay, which is not surprising upon listening to his debut solo single "Don't Ask Me"; while Sun Clay leader Matthew Horton trades in Deerhunter-styled indie rock, "Don't Ask Me" is the sort of hormonal pop-punk anthem most people who listen to Deerhunter-styled indie rock wouldn't be caught dead listening to.  That's not to say it's bad--in fact, it's incredibly effective.  The interplay between the different dynamics in the song is the key to its appeal, switching between an uneasy chord progression on the verse and a pop-savvy but intensely heavy riff on the chorus.  The production (courtesy of Sarchasm's Mari Campos) emphasizes the inherent aggression of this sort of power-leaning pop--there's not a weak-sounding instrument in the mix, and everything feels huge and aggressive.  But perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Don't Ask Me" is how promising it sounds coming from an artist who recently split from an extremely promising band--it's proof in one song that King is capable of running an equally, if not more, successful career than the group he left behind.

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