Review Summary: Twain Harte contributes another fun release to the emerging Northern California math rock / post-hardcore scene.
Twain Harte - A Sunny Place for Shady People
This past Saturday I'm in Palo Alto seeing a free show at the Jungle. The first band is some scrub overly-sloppy skramz band that rips off CTTS. Okay cool, ya whatever. Then there's Drowning With Our Anchors (ex-Makanda) who are/were sick. Sort of like if City of Catepillar had a much better sense of melody. And then, there was Twain Harte. When they first came out on stage I thought they were somebody's little siblings helping out or something, but then the near adolescent drummer took off his cutoff plaid shirt and sat down at the drum kit. The tiny guitarist (for the first half, played bass the second half) slung his guitar up around his chest. The bassist, looking older than 16 purely on the virtue of his patch beard, plugged in his bass and approached his mic (the drummer is the primary singer). If you didn't know any better you'd expect some covers of some crap off of American Idiot
, but what emerged when they let loose their show a few seconds later was surprisingly sophisticated math rock from Livermore, CA in the spirit of Tera Melos, Maps and Atlases, Owls, and Kidcrash. To keep it short, they rocked pretty hard live. There was a lot of movement and the musicianship was impressive.
After the show I picked up their first release, A Sunny Place for Shady People
, from "the hot looking blonde chick" as they referred to her. And while the similar artists I've listed, and even Twain Harte's geography, suggest this album is a techfest, it's really not. It's not as convoluted as Tera Melos, not as jutting and cut and paste as Maps and Atlases, and not as epic and crushing as Kidcrash. This album, while technical, is more fun than anything else, which is likely a product of it feeling like a less intense version of all the aforementioned bands.However, getting past that whole wearing influences' on one's sleeve, Twain Harte is producing pretty sick music. The angularity and mathiness of this album is quite tasteful and is used more to produce really sweet interludes and memorable passages like 2:27-2:49 of "Raped by an Octopus," a section the shimmers and bounces along as if the band weren't throwing around tempo and feel shifts. Even when the band sounds their most sappy or "typical," as in their brief introduction to "Pyramids" they immediately redeem themselves by convoluting some aspect of their music whether it's a guitar riff or a drum fill or whatever.
I have a few brief complaints about the album. It'd be crude to frag the album for being poorly produced or only being an EP because Twain Harte are a super young band (since their inception I mean) and this is merely a taste of things to come rather than a full professional release. My real complaints are in how the vocals are integrated into the music. There are only three band members, and it seems like there isn't much breath to waste on the vocals because everybody is shredding away on his respective instrument. However, there are little vocal flourishes thanks the primary singer, Logan, the drummer, with little fill-ins from the bassist/guitarist, Cody. They feel ill-placed and unecessary in every song. Where are band like Tera Melos involves the listener purely with their instrumental performances and a band like Maps and Atlases or Owls has a very compelling vocalist/lyrics to augment their instrumentals, Twain Harte is the awkward inbetween, not really committing to vocals but not completely laying off either. The result is the aural equivalent of blue-balling the listener. I'm never sure if I'm supposed to care about the vocals/lyrics or if I'm just supposed to rock out to the band. Also, the vocals themselves aren't particularly scintillating either. They're sorta shouted, sorta sung, mostly boring.
As I've made apparent though, the Superbad-esque vocals are really just a small portion of A Sunny Place for Shady People
, which is primarily an instrumental album and will be respected as one. Twain Harte have produced a really appealing debut release and I look forward to hearing what they can put down in the long player format.