Review: Sandra McCracken – Desire Like Dynamite
Originally published by PopMatters, March 19th, 2013
Much can be said about Sandra McCracken: She is the wife of singer-songwriter Derrick Webb, controversial within Christian circles for his uniquely liberal, yet spiritual views; she herself is a devout Christian; and Noisetrade, the record label and non-traditional (read: free) music platform co-founded by her husband is behind the release of her latest album, Desire Like Dynamite. Here’s what should be said: Sandra McCracken is a powerful songstress – an agile singer and devoted composer whose atmospheric and unflinchingly steady approach to songwriting is unmatched within this religious pocket of the music industry.
After 14 years, seven full-length albums and various collaborative efforts (both with her husband and others), Desire Like Dynamitefinds McCracken at her most confident, exuding a feeling of complete creative realization that could very well put her over the proverbial top of the Contemporary Christian milieu. In its slow-burning and carefully formed construct, Desire Like Dynamite is an album that can be split into two parts: those led by the gentle hammers of McCracken’s piano, and those by the strum of her acoustic guitar. “Redbird” and “Gridlock” belong to the former and although they unfold at an often glacial pace, they bare adequate nuances and a demeanor just jaunty enough to keep both mid-tempo tracks interesting.
Review: Texas Is the Reason – Do You Know Who You Are? (The Complete Collection
Originally published by PopMatters, February 15th, 2013
Within the broad microcosm that is music whose origins date back to the days of early punk, the genre most often confused and unfairly attached to anything moderately aggressive and remotely emotive is unequivocally, post-hardcore. It’s a genre frequently mistaken for the interception between emo and hardcore, but most accurately described by the definition of its title as it was originally understood in its formative years: Music created by individuals coming out of hardcore in the mid-to late-1980s and more specifically, music redolent of such inclinations that found the punk aggression of hardcore, tempered and melodic.
Formed in the wake of influential hardcore bands Shelter and 108, Texas is the Reason, by definition, embodies the epitome of post-hardcore–arriving on the scene half a decade after the genre’s most celebrated trailblazers, Fugazi, got their start, and just a few years behind Quicksand, one of the first groups to embrace post-hardcore in their local New York City. Now, nearly 20 years since their inception and 15 since their disbandment, the group has reunited to play a string of shows, give their fans a proper farewell and compile their past recordings into one career retrospective package,Do You Know Who You Are? (The Complete Collection). Receiving more praise than ever, and commanding crowds larger than that of their original run, there seems to be no better time than now to look back at the short and illustrious discography of one of post-hardcore’s most beloved bands.
Review: Out Lost Infantry – The New Art History
Originally published by PopMatters, February 13th, 2013
Of the many dozen post-rock inspired albums released each year,The New Art History by England’s Our Lost Infantry is likely the most difficult 2012 release to describe. Think Mogwai meets Rush—the larger than life grandiosity of the former, the angular technicality of the latter—and the end result is a progressive post-rock that is neither moody nor somber, but forceful and gallant.
Nine movements and 36 minutes, The New Art History is meant to be experienced as a whole—a master work that ebbs and flows through moments of bellowing fury and sharp hooks (“Fearless”), pulsing dynamics (“Avogardo”) and soaring bravado (“The Hollow”). Unlike most albums of this nature—whose focus lies within its instrumentals—The New Art History is not a record that allows itself to be simply heard and exist in the periphery. It must be listened to and it demands the attention of its listeners as a focal point of consideration.
What Our Lost Infantry do best is display the intricacies of their compositions as more than just subtle nuances, but major players in the theatre of well-calculated soundscapes. This is never more apparent than when the band fuses the ethereal with experimental free-form in their effortless time signature changes. On tracks like “All The Street Lights Of My Hometown” and “To Meet Your Maker”, it is often unnerving to hear the group breeze through transitions with such an incredible ease. From rich textures and potent walls of sound, to more accented and methodical twists, the band does this without falling into a pattern of uneven start-stop shifts.
As a whole, The New Art History is a debut album that places Our Lost Infantry miles ahead of their peers, and is a call to arms to an English post-rock scene that has laid dormant for the better part of the last decade.
Review: Big Harp - Chain Letters
Originally published by PopMatters, February 6th, 2013
In 2007, while playing an opening set for Tim Kasher’s the Good Life, small-town Nebraska-native Chris Senseney found the love of his life in the headliner’s bassist, Stefanie Drootin (now, Drootin-Senseney). In what turned out to be the antithesis of a typical love story, the two fell head-over-heels for each other, and after weeks of binge drinking and smoking, found themselves pregnant. After a whirlwind three years that had them give birth their first child, walk down the aisle and become pregnant with another baby, the couple did what is arguably the most natural of the preceding occurrences: they started a band. Performing under the moniker of Big Harp, the duo got their official start in 2010 and immediately began recording their debut album, White Hat, within a week of inception. A collection of songs both intimate and acoustically driven, White Hatmade for a solid debut, garnering the couple moderate reviews. Unlike most husband and wife duos within independent music (Mates of State, the Weepies), the album surprised most for it’s lack of lyrical themes centered around love and affection, and most notably, Senseney, not his wife, took on the role of lead vocalist—decisions that proved to be pivotal in their approach as songwriters.