Plumbiferous Media

Midwestern Minutes – Defiance, Ohio

Jul 8th 2010
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Midwestern Minutes - Defiance, OhioDefiance, Ohio
Midwestern Minutes
Score: 58

Indie-folk-punk group Defiance, Ohio (from Indiana), founded in 2002, released their third LP, Midwestern Minutes, on Tuesday. With Minutes, the band has developed an acoustic take on a range of genres into a colorful, well-balanced mix. While Minutes isn’t a perfect album, it’s definitely one that displays the creativity of the band behind it – and it’s certainly enjoyable for that.

Two things are immediately and most prominently noticeable on Midwestern Minutes. The first is that the album is remarkably out of tune. While punk bands certainly have a license to play around with intonation to some extent, the intonation on this album is simply atrocious. The guitar is barely tuned, all the strings dip in and out of tune constantly, and the vocals are by far the worst of the bunch. While there’s nothing wrong with, say, a singer using pitch bending for added depth of sound, when absolutely nothing is in tune, it’s quite hard to sound at all decent.

The second extremely noticeable element is, of course, the heavy use of bowed strings (read, not guitar). To say this is unusual for a punk band is an understatement, and the uniqueness this lends to the album is one of Midwestern Minutes greatest strengths. Just as impressive as the use of strings at all, let alone their extreme importance, is that while Defiance, Ohio has in their use carved out a very small and clearly defined sub-sub-genre for themselves, Minutes is not a repetitive album. Each track is quite different from the next, something especially important for an album where a number of the tracks really aren’t all that great.

Vocal duties on Midwestern Minutes are shared by four members of the band, each of whom contributes their own approach, thus creating the album’s rich variety of styles. Beginning with “Flood Waters”‘ simple, rhythmic poetry-style sound, the album spins (becoming a bit disorienting at times) between styles, as that first track leads into the punk-heavy “The White Shore,” with all vocal edge that implies. From there, the album travels along the scale, occasionally finding a near-perfect balance (such as on “Hairpool”), but often slipping into a more clashing sound that takes away from the instrumentals. It’s also evident across the album that some of the vocalists are much more skilled than others, begging the question as to why so many of Defiance, Ohio’s members provide vocals to the album.

Lyrically, Defiance, Ohio, is as opinionated as punk has ever been – which is honestly refreshing, compared to the masses of insidiously banal lyrics on albums with less to say. Lyrics-wise, probably the most typically “punk” is “The White Shore”‘s speech: “I will not condemn / What anyone did to survive / But I will not defend / A culture that makes us decide / To assimilate or die / Or that defines survival / As running as fast as you can from the places you came from.” But as typical as the sentiment may be, it’s hard not to get the impression that Defiance, Ohio genuinely believes in it. Whether the band is drawing a picture of the “end times” on “Flood Waters:” “Bodies crumble ’bout as fast as a house in the sun / And what you leave behind / Is an uncorporeal monument of time,” singing about their band’s origin in Columbus, or slipping into their less-than-excellent lyrical moments (“This town is way too small to ever need the bus / So meet me at the pool / That they keep unlocked all night for us”), they’re definitely passionate about it.

Something very odd happens to Midwestern Minutes towards its end. “The Reason” acts as a very clearly defined fulcrum, tipping the album head over heels into what can only be described as happy punk. It is not, to put it bluntly, something that mortal ears should ever hear. While the album levels out from the complete giddiness of “The Reason,” that initial shock, followed by a fair number of all too cheery tracks certainly do the album no good. But in the end, however scarring it may be to those truly opposed to the concept of out of tune, happy punk, Midwestern Minutes is definitely a quite unique album, and it still has more good than bad, though the margins may not be all that large.

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