Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Debut: Grant Valdes’ “Streetcorner Waltz” clip

April 23, 2014

I’ve proclaimed my love for real dancing in videos and continued to write about Americana/folk for a very long time, so it should be self-evident that Grant Valdes‘ music video combining these two things would steal my heart. The instrumental “Streetcorner Waltz” off his album Brownout is a tender, fragile instrumental piece that is suited perfectly with a delicate, charming video. Click “Full Screen” and enjoy this lovely video debuting on Independent Clauses today.

Quick Hit: Hayden Calnin

April 22, 2014


April and November are the two most hectic times of the year for me, so it’s nice to hear some chill, laid-back tunes to get me through the craziness. Hayden Calnin‘s Oh, Hunter is just that: a five-song set of relaxed tunes. The sound itself is quite impressive, melding the melodicism of The National and the tense post-dub soundscapes of James Blake.

Calnin’s low voice is evocative, and it fits in the spaces provided by the sparse beats perfectly. Instead of airy synths, Calnin trafficks in cold, separated beats that he warms with his melodies and delicate instruments: high piano notes, fingerpicked nylon-string guitar, ghostly sounds. The resulting tunes feel weighty without feeling dense; they have emotional heft without beating the listener over the head with it. Calnin shows off his talent as a mature, assured songwriter here–check out the gorgeous “Comatose” or the sparse “Not Good for Me” to see him in full form. Recommended; one to watch.

Accents writes folk and pop-punk–it works perfectly

April 21, 2014


Is folk a mindset or a sound or both? The answer AccentsTall Tales provides is a giant yes to all. The album is built out of fingerpicked guitar and emotive vocals, expanding from that foundation into genres like folk orchestra (jubilant opener “Hold Me Close”), indie rock (the pensive “Artist in Denial”), and even pop-punk (the impressive “I Wasn’t Looking for You”). Some tracks forsake the folk backdrop and just start out in other genres: the excellent, hopeful ’90s pop of “Reminders”; the anthemic Mumfordy folk of “England Awaits”; the noisy indie-rock-with-horns of “Heart in My Room.”

But even through all these genres, the album holds together excellently; it’s that folk mindset coming through. Accents decided that if you want everything, they can give it to you: guitar rock, orchestration, female vocals, male vocals, hushed songs, brash songs, catchy songs, thoughtful songs, big riffs, the whole nine yards. There’s a pipeline between pop-punk and folk-pop; Accents is the house band for that pipeline. This is a brilliant accomplishment that in lesser hands would be a disjointed mess. Tall Tales is very worth your time.

Cameron Blake’s Kickstarter has me excited

April 18, 2014

I plan a lot of my blog posts ahead of time, but sometimes I don’t get to write much while I’m planning. I’ll occasionally stick placeholder text in the draft to remind myself; it’s usually “Band name, y’all.” (Oklahoma forever.) I always eventually change the text. But this time I feel like leaving it:

Cameron Blake, y’all.

That’s right. Cameron Blake is running a Kickstarter to fund an album of just him and a guitar. I’m a big fan of Cameron’s work, and so I’m really excited to see what he can do with the bare essentials. I have extremely high hopes for this record, based on the below demo and the music from the Kickstarter video.

So if you’ve got some metaphorical pennies kicking about, consider pitching some Cameron Blake’s way. It’s gonna be a great album.




Novi Split: The Grand Reconsideration

April 17, 2014

Novi Split is going through the great reconsideration right now. Between Spare Songs, Keep Moving, Disk 2 and If Not This, Then What, David J has spent the last three months publicizing, re-publicizing, and in some cases unearthing everything that his singer/songwriter project has done. In case you the missed the incredible work of David J over the last decade, he’s making himself easy to find now.


And that’s good, because these three releases show an impressive songwriter with a golden voice and a crisp, earnest singer/songwriter style. Let’s start with Keep Moving, Disk 2, which puts the focus on his 2003 debut, Keep Moving. Even though it invokes the title of the original album, it could more accurately be titled Pretty Much Everything I Did Between My First and Second Album, which was almost exactly four years from Jan 2003-Jan 2007.

Disk 2 collects great tracks off obscure EPs (“Get Me to Bed”), devastatingly beautiful covers (Material Issue’s “Very First Lie,” Robyn Hitchcock’s “Madonna of the Wasps”), surprisingly pretty demos (“California Skies”), and an aptly titled instrumental (“Instrumental”). It also includes no less than 21 live tracks, which are mostly of Keep Moving tracks. It is a deep dive into the catalog of Novi Split, and it will leave you charmed, pleased, and puzzled that Novi Split isn’t more well known. “The New Split (Live)” deeply moves me. “Me and Andy” has been one of my favorite songs for years. This reconsideration couldn’t come soon enough.


Once you’ve been blown away by his early work, let’s pick up with some mid-period stuff in Spare Songs. Pink in the Sink was a decidedly more hi-fi affair, and the songs on Spare Songs show that. “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” seems to have mixing and mastering, a luxury that was not expended on some of the early tracks. This by no means diminishes the charm of the early ones or raises the stature of the new ones. It merely makes them sound different.

David J’s voice gets featured a little less here, as his pristine songwriting gets played up. “Don’t Go Home” is an absolutely gorgeous piano tune, while “Pear” (a song I’ve never heard before) is a gentle, thoughtful instrumental that links up to previous tracks in the distant horn line. (Similar horn melodies will resurface in other songs–it’s a bonus, not a detractor. Trust me.) Spare Songs is capped by a delightfully weird and wonderful version of “Dancing in the Dark.” I like this version better than the Springsteen original, for real.

And finally, we make it to If Not This, Then What, which includes brand new versions of songs off Pink in the Sink (“You Got Served,” “Young Girls”), songs that got released between PITS and now (“Hollow Notes”), and a brand new cover (Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons”). Through it all, David J displays the intimacy that characterized his early works with the pristine songwriting and hi-fi production of his later work. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: David J’s voice and songwriting sound effortless, as if he just opens his mouth and the music comes out. He’s significantly more alt-country than he used to be, but it’s not a twangy-voiced alt-country but a pedal-steel affection. It’s downright beautiful stuff.

Now that Novi Split has cleared out every corner of the vault, I hope that we’ll be seeing some brand new work in the upcoming years. With all his work available and easily accessible for the first time ever (you have no idea how hard I worked to track down all the tracks that are now available on a single Bandcamp page), hopefully people will start to pick up on an unheralded, underappreciated master of the craft.

Quick Hit: Mike Dillon

April 16, 2014


Mike Dillon‘s Band of Outsiders begins with Dillon hammering on a heavily distorted marimba. The trombone and punk-speed drums come in next. Eventually Dillon layers on ominous speak/sing vocals calmly stating that the narrator will “throw you on / my bonfire.” Sometimes a band tells you everything you need to know pretty quickly.

If you’re still not convinced that Mike Dillon is (or isn’t) for you, here’s a bit of overview on the album. Dillon and his three-piece backing band whip through pieces that throw jazz, rap, ska, metal, punk, and bossa nova (seriously) into a blender and press frappe. Dillon has religious thoughts, anti-police thoughts, political thoughts, absurdist thoughts–sometimes all in within a span of 30 seconds (“Homeland Insecurity”). There’s a lot of trombone, which is not something I get to write very often. You can dance to it. You can mosh to it. You can shout along to it (“Carly Hates the Dubstep,” most emphatically). In short, Mike Dillon is out of his mind, in the most entertaining and musically challenging of ways. Unless you’ve heard Mike Dillon before, you’ve almost certainly not heard anything like this.

Risk Pays Off: Kye Alfred Hillig goes full electro to great results

April 15, 2014


I was knocked out by Kye Alfred Hillig‘s ability to convey emotions on last year’s eclectic Together Through It All: through pop-rock, indie-pop, singer/songwriter, and even electro-indie, Hillig showed he knew how to bowl the listener over. Hillig is back with Real Snow, and it’s an even better offering: his emotional power is fine-tuned even further, and he’s chosen a specific sound to investigate. Hillig has gone full electro-pop on Real Snow, and the focus makes it into an excellent album.

Opener “Cold Front” establishes the rules of the game. Good: synths, beats, live percussion, bass, cascading electric guitar riffs, soaring vocal melodies. Less Good: acoustic guitar, piano, ballads. Bad: things you can’t dance to. If you know Hillig’s previous work, “Cold Front” will be a little bit of a shock, but his signature emotive power, vocal tone, and engaging melodies are there. It’s just in a different genre this time. By the time you get to “None of Them Know Me Now,” you won’t even remember that Hillig’s last album was predominantly Americana. He sounds like he belongs in this genre, not as a toy or a lark, but as a genuine pop hitmaker.

I know that sounds weird from an artsy indie songwriter, but don’t worry–the word “slaughterhouse” appears in the chorus, and the narrator of the tune sounds positively solipsistic. Hillig is flexing other muscles, you might say–and when those muscles introduce the triumphant guitar solo in the breakdown section, you’ll be dancing right along without concern. It is truly wonderful. “None of Them Know Me Know” is basically what we wanted MGMT to mature into.

It’s not all neo-club-bangers in here: “Useless Keys,” “Like God” and “Bells of Doom” explore different elements of electro-pop. “Bells of Doom” pairs an insistent acoustic guitar strum with a twitchy, urgent low-key electro section reminiscent of The Postal Service. “Like God” ups the nervousness ante and moves straight into outright dread (complete with terrifying spoken-word section from a guest poet closing the piece). “Useless Keys” relies heavily on real electric bass guitar for its plodding yet bouncy vibe.

Hillig can’t get through a whole album without busting out a few ballads, and so “When You Were a Waitres” and “The Night Obscene” appear. “When You Were a Waitress” is a wrenching piano ballad depicting the remorse at the end of a one-night-stand/relationship that probably shouldn’t have happened, while “The Night Obscene” seems to depict quiet despair in an otherwise normal life via Americana-style acoustic guitar-heavy arrangement. Hillig delves this lyrical mine deeply in Real Snow; everyone seems sad about something. Even the funkiest track “Ugly We Were Born” opens up with, “Heavenly gates, Oh! Don’t you want me?/Don’t you think I’d make a great slave?” Whoa there.

So maybe the grating despair of some tracks makes interesting juxtaposition to the dance-oriented music; maybe the perky arrangements hide the heaviness somewhat. It probably depends on the listener. I know that I’m all about the sounds here; it’s some of the most interesting and enjoyable electro-pop I’ve heard all year. If you need to get down and you want something a little more cerebral than “Selfie,” Real Snow should be your jam.

Death and the Penguin: Clever, Intelligent, Heavy

April 14, 2014


I don’t review much rock music anymore, because much of it doesn’t excite me aesthetically or push me intellectually. But when a band breaks through the garage-rock haze that is covering so much of rock with melodic prowess and technical brilliance, I sit up and take notice. Death and the Penguin (named after a Russian novel) is the most exciting rock/post-hardcore band that I’ve heard since The Felix Culpa. With the members of Mars Volta hopping around various side projects and one-off things, Death and the Penguin looks like they’re offering their band as a good candidate to step into TMV’s spazzy, eclectic shoes. The 20 minutes of Accidents Happen are one long campaign speech (if people went back and listened to campaign speeches over and over, which I’m sure someone somewhere does).

Now everyone is in a race to be crowned the next TMV, and maybe that’s a disservice to all the bands whose personalities are getting subverted into this quest. But let me tell you: “Strange Times” is the most straightforward track on the EP. It fits neatly into the post-hardcore milieu, especially with the vocal tone and delivery. But though it fits neatly, it still has wildcards. Check out its deceptively short 2:30 for proof.

Need more diversity? “Bitumen” starts off as a stomping/clapping work chant before turning into a groove-heavy rocker. The guitar tone, the rhythmic variations, the intensity of it, the crisp production; it just all comes together perfectly. This may be a debut, but these musicians have played for a while. They know how to draw energy out of the smallest bits of song as well as the biggest ones.

The rest of the EP continues in that vein: juxtaposing unexpected sounds, creating tension and resolving it, and (most of all) throwing down wicked guitar riffs. “Space 1998″ is particularly powerful in those regards–as the second track, it’s the one that really raised my eyebrows and hooked me for the rest of the EP. Accidents Happen, alright, but this is EP doesn’t have much in the way of error. It’s tight, poised, heavy, energetic, intelligent, and clever. That doesn’t happen very often.


April 13, 2014

Continuing the massive singles drop from yesterday, here’s part deux.


1. “Com Et Dius?” – Royal Shoals. If you like your post-punk wiry, methodical, rhythmic and without a lot of repetition, Royal Shoals has a song for you.

2. “Everything (And Nothing)” – The Dark Ales. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear an organ in rock again without thinking of The Doors. Aussies The Dark Ales put a nice spin on not-too-grungy grunge with that organ. Also, rockin’ name, guys.

3. “Daily Echo” – Quickly Quietly. Thick, heavy distortion without being abrasive; whirling atmospherics without getting esoteric; rhythms without getting directly danceable. They’ve got something going on here, folks.

4. “Tongue-cut Sparrow” – Life in a Blender. A towering marching band a la “Tusk” dominates this mood-jumping, cabaret, Tom Waits-ian, carnival-hawking experience. If you’re adventurous…

5. “Buyin’ Time” – Black Girls. Woozy without overdoing it, poppy without underselling it–the Beatles would have been proud.

6. “Heartless” – Sean Michael Savage. Tender, confessional folk meets Ultravox. Just trust me on this one.

7. “Shallow Breath” – Early Morning Rebel. Quiet, tense, melodic: kind of like Snow Patrol, but without all the terrible connotations you probably just thought of.

8. “Bad Addiction” – Kylie Odetta. Torchy, dramatic female vocals over lounge-lit piano make this ballad a keeper.


April 12, 2014

It’s release season, which means that there are literally more things coming out than I can possibly review. The way I can best make sense of this is by dropping massive singles lists and then augmenting with reviews of the very best stuff. So here’s part one of a massive amount of singles.


1. “Rahh!” – Pepa Knight. I’m generally anti-congas, but Pepa Knight makes them sound so delightful in this jubilant indie-pop/pop gem.


3. “Suns Out Guns Out” – Concord America. Garage rock needed a shot of the Beastie Boys’ mid-’80s total abandon, and Concord America delivers.

4. “Melody” – Plustwo. This song was a hit in 1983, at the tail end of disco. Now it’s been redone and re-released. Since it sounds pretty much like it could have been written today, it’s now time to say: DISCO IS ALIVE, FOLKS.

5. “Gold Soundz” – Ray and Remora. Respectin’ their indie elders with a low-key indie-electro verzion.

6. “Dirty Mouth“- Killing Kuddles. Here’s a folk song that just couldn’t contain all the raucous energy it had, so it turned into a punk song. Excellent slice of folk-punk here, complete with wicked guitar solo.

7. “Faucet” – Samuel Cooper. Tons ‘o dudes doing the hazy-indie-pop thing, but not so many can do it with such endearing vocal tone and strong melodies.

8. “Running Game” – Awning. Melding ’90s pop to gentle electro to acoustic-pop, Awning are doing something a little different than the rest of us.

9. “When You Call” – July Child. Sometimes R&B is too limp for me, but the energy and strong vocal performance here make this track wistful without being wimpy.

10. “I Can’t Wait (to Get My Hands on You)” – Kelly Lee Keel. Fun, raw, lo-fi, female-penned alt-country ode to the female libido.

11. “Better Ride” – Curtin. Sometimes I hear a song and think, “damn, s/he must have been writing songs for a long time.” This chill alt-country tune just smacks of experience and expertise. Absolutely gorgeous.

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