The boys of The Transit War have definitely come a long way in the last few years. They first found a medium with their flawed but passing ’02 self-titled EP, then landed on a couple of random indie mix tapes and samplers from the exposure. Once nothing really panned, they set out in 2004 to put together their modestly successful, potential-filled EP Ah Discordia! This one shined, especially with opening track “We’re Sleeping Better Now;” which at least caught you with a hook to pull you in, and let you know that—yes—when this band hits it just right, they hit it well.
Flash forward two years, and they have a new home at indie label Orange Peal Records. With the new label home also came the opportunity to record Miss Your Face; the band’s first, technical full-length album. So, the question stands, can the band that made a small splash with a fairly jaunty EP, and some cameos on samplers, carry it over for a full records worth of material?
The answer, I’m happy to say, is most definitely yes. What The Transit War have done here on Miss Your Face is put together a longer, stronger, more mature version of what they did on their Ah Discordia! EP. The notable difference obviously being that they’re finally making good on the potential they showcased so haphazardly two years ago. Miss Your Face opens quite strongly with the punchy, catchy “Radar;” with easily digestible hooks, and churning guitars. On “Chutes and Lasers,” The Transit War can’t help but remind me quite a bit of mid-‘90’s indie demigods Sponge—Rotting Piñata-era, to be precise. “Desiree, Safe!” has that easy-going, indie-pop feel to it. Album closer “Safety In the Air” also shines quite strongly; relying on acoustic instrumentation, giving the track an indie-tinged, Wallflowers feel.
With Miss Your Face, The Transit War have accomplished to lift themselves from a mere background contender to at least a lightweight slugger, in the overly crowded indie rock boxing circuit. They’re not the best; at least not yet, but they do make a stand that they have enough talent that they could, potentially, be fighting in that grand match an album or two down the road. On it’s own two feet, and at its barest essentials, this is an excellent indie rock record; coming from an excellent, up-and-coming indie rock band. It’s unabashed, unpretentious, and greatly enjoyable. What else could you ask for?
(Orange Peal Records)
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.