From contributing writer Kyle Smith:
Independent labels tend to be a grab bag of music. You never know quite what to expect – sometimes you’ll dig up bands that are only enjoyed by the most hardcore, Ray-Ban wearing, iPhone toting, mason jar drinking hipsters who have made the pilgrimage to Portland at least three times. Other times you’ll discover bands whose music will cause you to want to do unspeakably cruel things with a grapefruit spoon to the nearest fuzzy animal every time the music is played. And sometimes, you will find yourself enjoying some good music.
One example of this is the recently released The Cruelest Kind from Animal Style Records. This debut EP from the band “Indian School” – a retooling of the earlier indie, pop-punk band “Audio Karate” – is a fun, little, seven-track album filled with catchy writing that will have your foot tapping and your head bouncing along to the beat in no time.
Probably Indian School’s greatest strength on this album is arrangement and instrumentation. Throughout the EP all of the instrumentation seems to fit quite well together – no part being over or underplayed, but rather having each instrument complement the sounds of each other while all contributing to the overall sound of the song. Being rhythmically and melodically tight across the band lends itself well to the performance on this EP. This display of musical maturity is a breath of fresh air in the independent label realm.
Overall, many of the songs share a similar sound and structure, but this works fairly well for an EP. Most of the songs have an up-tempo, anthemic feel about them, with a couple of acoustic-guitar led ballads thrown into the mix. If this was a longer album, I would like to see a bit more stylistic variance, but I was quite pleased with The Cruelest Kind as a whole for an EP.
Some exceptions to Indian School’s generally excellent arranging skill would be the vocals as a whole and a few guitar riffs that seem to not mesh well with the mix. The vocals seem to be a bit far back in the mix and are a little over powered by the rest of the instrumentation (example: chorus of “Elvis”). Also, the vocals have a definite indie-band whine to them (example: “Wind You Up,” and “Bowerbird”), but it seems to work for the band. Another characteristically indie trait featured on the album is the “buzzy” guitar and bass tone (example: opening of “Rob Your House”), but this and the vocals do not necessarily detract from the quality of the album – it simply fits solidly within the “indie-pop” genre and Indian School pulls it off well. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Cruelest Kind, and I am curious to see what Indian School has in store for the future. It is exciting to see such musical maturity in arrangement on a debut EP, and it will be interesting to see where the band will go from here.