When terms like "indie," "singer/songwriter," and "open mic" are flung around, a (perhaps unfair) stereotype can build in the prospective listener's mind. What happens to me, particularly with the "indie" thing, is that I sit around and ponder on the meaning of the word. Is this a category, meaning that the artist is 'independent' of the mainstream? Or is this actually a musical genre?
Well, since there are no good answers to these questions (Not entirely accurate, since we all know that the real answers are: "It means nothing," "What, are you, like, 50 or something?!", and "Dude, just listen to some Pavement."), I don't let the indie thing bother me. Well sure, I do have a general idea of what folks are getting at, it's just that I really hate to let a label cloud my judgement.
Kurt Reifler's background contains the singer/songwriter thing as well as a bit of indie rock, both of which can be heard on this debut album. You can hear open mic sensitivity as well as echoes of the gnarly, nonlinear grind and sway of Reifler's funk rock group Sexred.
Indie rock? Ah, who cares! What I like are the jagged shifts in rhythms. Right from the start "Every Town" (an ode to travel, sort of) moves from some open chord strumming to the strutting main theme to the tense start & stop of the bridge. One of my big complaints against "modern rock" remains that guitar solos were removed and replaced with…nothing. So you'd end up with songs that had no real partitioning. Oh sure, there was the loud part, the soft part, and then maybe a reprise of the loud. To my ears, only bands like The Pixies and Nirvana were successful taking that approach. The uptempo songs on Reifler's album further are illustrations of how to spark interest by avoiding the ordinary.
"Graceful Exit" is a perfect example. An extra chord is added to the opening riff to move things away from a straight 4/4 feel. Maybe not for everybody. Maybe even uncomfortably "proggy" for some. For me, it opens a door back into the era of more edgy rock from groups like Pere Ubu and Television.
The funk? Yes, it's on full display on tunes like "Smile," "The Horses Mouth," and "A.M." The latter song? You will turn this up. You will have no choice.
Of course, the singer/songwriter inner excursions are here as well. While they might be rendered as full band arrangements, "Arrogance," "Never Be Free," and "More Sad Than Strange" show Reifler's introspective side. I particularly like the ringing guitar arpeggios on "More Sad…" There's a little Chris Isaak in there, minus the Tiki torches.
"Wake Up Dead" is a raveup rocker that closes out the disc. Given the "sub-genres" present on this album, it's difficult to pin down where Reifler's true musical heart lies. Is that important? With music as interesting as this, I honestly don't care if that question is ever answered.
By the way, my replies to the "implied quiz" at the start of this article are: a) "Of course it means nothing…and everything". b) "I am not 50. Yet," and c) "I don't own any Pavement records."