Review: Strawberry Girls – American Graffiti

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Listen to the last song of the album French Ghetto by the instrumental trio, Strawberry Girls, and let it transition into the first track of their newest one, American Graffiti. The cosmic melody that carries out “Do Peace” concludes the first effort and then begins the follow-up record. Clever girls.

Somewhere within that snippet of celestial sound bridging the albums, Zac Garren, Ben Rosett and Ian Edward Jennings realized all the potential they displayed on their debut release. The sophomore full-length and first with Tragic Hero Records has all the hallmarks of a matured band: the instrumentation tightened while the sonic scope broadened, the production grew crisper, the music layered and fully realized.

You can buy American Graffiti here.

You can buy American Graffiti here.

Strawberry Girls prioritized crafting music that is heavier, more energetic, and swathed with more infectious groove than anything they’ve done before—all without the over-caffeinating one might expect from a branch of the Dance Gavin Dance tree. Take the cassette switch at the beginning of “Spanish Bay” for example. Where French Ghetto would over-indulge in this found sound, on American Graffiti the moment is concise, serves its purpose of distinguishing the song to come, and lets the band cut right in with brain enema-inducing guitar shredding. No wandering. No distractions. Fork is aimed straight for the proggy, psychedelic-tiered cake.

As mentioned, the record begins where the previous left off, carrying the intensity and aggression of French Ghetto’s most fortifying output. Garren, Rosett and Jennings come full throttle on the title track, pummeling the guts out of their instruments and laying the ground rules for the next hour. This is a group hell-bent on proving they are more than a jam band. Single, “Volcano Warship”, featuring soaring croons by guest vocalist Sarah Glass, experiments in tropes of metalcore with its dark, stadium-anthem beginning and ear-bursting breakdown while “Antiquation” straps listeners to a foundry conveyor belt and slowly carries them to a cauldron of fire gurgling with biting palm mutes and fierce distortion. The intensity and fervor is reminiscent of a cut from Thrice’s The Alchemy Index Vol I: Fire, showing the band at their most aggressive to date.

Writing heavy music isn’t the only way to show growth, however. Rather than feign maturation and devote all 13 tracks to broodiness, as countless bands have done, Strawberry Girls display their music prowess through versatility and inventiveness. Moments of diversity abound. The beginning of “Violent Night” contains a luscious little guitar lick dripping with delay as the bass and drums play off each other to create a sexy introduction and abrupt departure from cathartic opener. The band stretches out on “Gospel”, the first of four songs with guest vocals. At over six and a half minutes, it’s the longest of 13 tracks despite supporting singer Joey Lancaster with a straightforward pop-structure for the first two-plus minutes. What follows is a bombardment of spastic noodling and musical interplay that unfolds with the stamina of a boxing match.

Where French Ghetto felt like a one-ring circus with Garren’s guitar as the main draw, here Rosett and Jennings prove they are more than mere side attractions. They make “Egypt” their baby with Jennings’ bass providing the song’s backbone and Rosett sprawling all over the drum kit across the many changing sections. The two combine for a guttural, Primus-inspired thunder roll at the 40-second point that marks one of the best moments on the record. To be sure, “Egypt” is a microcosm of the cohesion the group has developed. Every section of every composition feels like it was slogged over by all three musicians.

In a time when bands are parroting their influences without covering their tracks, Strawberry Girls display the versatility and foresight to experiment across genres while concocting a novel album worthy of end-of-the-year lists. American Graffiti leverages careful restrain and focus to make each song stand out as a unique composition while interlocking with one another to achieve excellent ebb and flow. The result is an album that is consistently refreshing and never exhausting, slowly revealing new layers with each listen—a telling sign of a band in full bloom.

4.5/5

by Kevin Sterne

kevin-sterne1Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist with a passion for music, art and creative perspectives. He lives in Chicago and is earning an M.A. in Writing but mostly thinks the English cannon is for douches. The best concert he’s been to was Sufjan Stevens at Eaux Claires. Follow him on Twitter @kevinsterne or read more of his work here: www.kevinsterne.com

Review: He Is Legend – Heavy Fruit

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If you’re a fan of the sound of He Is Legend’s music, don’t get too comfortable. The Wilmington, North Carolina, rock band has made a career out of sonic swerving and switching lanes amidst chaotic traffic, refusing to land in one spot for too long. Nevertheless, each respective landing seems to produce its own, individually lauded product, the most recent of which is perhaps the band’s finest.

It’s been 10 years since He Is Legend released their frenzied full-length debut, I Am Hollywood. That album fit the time will – a fast-paced post-hardcore adventure that sat neatly on the shelf next to contemporaries like Underoath and As Cities Burn. Those days are long gone, and truthfully, the band is all the better for it.

Heavy Fruit, the band’s latest release, follows a hiatus and shares some similarities with its predecessor, 2009’s It Hates You. While that album served as a primer for a band embracing its Southern hard rock roots, Heavy Fruit expands on that notion from every conceivable angle, taking sludgy detours and using various metal influences as building blocks to add to the band’s repertoire.

Like every He Is Legend release, there’s something bubbling beneath the surface throughout the record, but on Heavy Fruit, the band appears content to let a moment simmer without forcing a boil over. Opener “No Visitors” serves as exhibit A and finds the band slowly sludging forward for nearly two minutes before vocalist Schuyler Croom takes the reigns with a soaring, melodic chorus, singing the shadowy lines, “Some say that’s the sun in a disguise / and he’s in the sky tonight / One day you can worship who you like / but you’re on your own this time”.

Throughout the album, the band transitions between faster, pop influenced numbers (“This Will Never Work”, “Smoker Scoff”) and slower, brooding tracks (“Miserable Company”, “Bethozart”) almost effortlessly. Heavy Fruit is truly a collection of the best parts of He Is Legend compacted into one solid front-to-back experience.

Croom takes each of these opportunities in stride, utilizing his cryptic delivery while adding in a new layer of vulnerability that, until now, hadn’t been put to tape. On “Be Easy”, Croom uses a gentle faltsetto atop a bouncy southern guitar lick from Adam Tanbouz, revealing even more vocal prowess than we knew existed. On the album’s lead single “Something, Something, Something Witchy”, he unleashes what may be his most explosive and melodic chorus to date.

On “Time to Stain”, the band try their hand at soft, dark radio rock and succeed triumphantly. Croom bares his broken soul on the track, singing, “I hope I cross your mind / You’re on mine all the time / I hope you find what you need / I swear it’s me”. Not quite what you’d expect from someone who has made a career crooning about vampires and witches, but a much appreciated diversion from fiction.

Heavy Fruit is a slow burn, for certain. The over-the-top moments and neurotic madness are limited here, requiring a patience not typically expected from a He Is Legend release. Nonetheless, listeners who spend some time getting to know the record will come to appreciate the band’s restraint and shape-shifting ability from track to track. Heavy Fruit is an album that deserves to be experienced from start to finish, truly a greater whole than the sum of its parts.

It’s impossible to know what lies ahead for He Is Legend, which is surely part of the allure. In the meantime, they appear to have nearly perfected their own unique brew of rock and have released one of the best records thus far in 2014.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.