Review Summary: Remember when Cursive was good?
I've never reviewed an album for a band that qualifies for the tag of "midwest indie." As a start, let's just discard the whole "post-emo indie rock" tag as completely bogus. I understand that people started getting confused in the mid-90s because a lot of bands were influenced by legit emo, but come on guys, we shouldn't be giving fourfa.com that much cred. Now Rockets and Blue Lights are a fairly recent addition to the whole midwest indie thing. They eat a lot off the plates of bands like Braid, Mineral, and Christie Front Drive. They have completely clean-tone guitar, modal resolutions of the bass, midtempo drumming, and fairly touching, melodic singing/screaming/shouting vocals. All of their songs put the "honesty" of Saddle Creek Records bands to shame and their catchiness places them to be rivals with even the most prominent and popular acts to bite off the midwest style in one way or another (Sunny Day Real Estate, Jimmy Eat World, etc.).
However, I'm most fixated on how Rockets and Blue Lights diverges from these other bands. Whereas the other bands seem to be writing "songs," as in pieces of music that follow the typical verse-chorus-verse structure of the first generation of rock music, Rockets and Blue Lights vary the presentation a little bit to great success. When writing highly personal music that relies greatly on the lyrical content or delivery, there aren't many vocal appearances on A Smashed City with Flames and Music in the Air
. Rockets and Blue Lights favor longer instrumental interludes, that admittedly are very lyrical in their own soaring melodicisms, and only throw in vocals at certain important moments. The vocals are also mixed down and feel like background additions rather than in-your-face, heart-on-the-sleeve paroxysms like those of similar bands. The focus on instrumentals is really refreshing. The instrumental work itself is fairly ingenious as well. The interplay between the two guitar is tremendous, and in fact may be the best outside of that on Cursive's Domestica
. They create unisons at some moments and awesome contrasts at other moments, all to great success. The guitars will continuously play off of one another to create grooves and melodies that seem to wrap around themselves like a snake eating its own tail. The bass also contributes to this awesome sense of groove but creating countersubject to match the strong content of the guitar. The bass is especially fitting when throwing in little harmonics that can bring a smoothness to the often jutting midwest sound. The drumming isn't spectacular but does a great job of locking in the different feels that emerge from the interplay between the stringed instruments. All-in-all, it's guitar driven but all of the other instruments hold their weight as well.
The end result of these long instrumental, guitar-centric passages is a refreshing look at the midwest style that typically puts a premium on upstaging vocals and heartbreaking storytelling. Rockets and Blue Lights succeed at translating the "a picture is worth a thousand words" adage from visual arts to aural arts. The way the melodies of the guitars sing on this album contains as much if not more emotion and power than the vocals of a band like Braid or Cursive. A good album if only an EP. This band has since broken up but this EP is a perfect example of the midwest style done right.