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Mid-July Singles: Indie Pop and Other Things

July 21, 2017

Indie Pop and Other Things

1. “Shake” – Go Gracious. Imagine if The Hold Steady and The Naked and Famous tried to write a song together. That sort of jubilant-yet-rueful mix is exactly what you get with Go Gracious’ debut tune. Summer jam for real.

2. “History Walking” – Amy O. Noodly, doodly, and propulsive, this chipper indie-rock tune pushes all the right buttons for “infectious summer listening.”

3. “Magic” – Amy Stroup. Beachy but not in the traditional ways, this tune makes the most out of a loosely funky bass line and rattling percussion. Stroup’s easygoing vocals strengthen the chill vibe.

4. “Molly” – Ratboys. This fascinating mixture of alt-country, female-fronted pop-punk, and indie-pop subverted my expectations at every turn. Great stuff.

5. “Small Space” – Tall Friend. Bright but with a hazy, rainy sheen, this lo-fi, unassuming indie-rock/indie-pop tune reminds me of warm afternoons on green grass.

6. “Your Voice on the Radio (feat Laura Gibson)” – Dave Depper. OH man, chipper indie-pop basically doesn’t get any better than this. The inimitable Laura Gibson on guest vocals, bouncy bass guitar, tropical vibes, great vocal melodies, the whole shebang. More please, thank you.

7. “We Must Stand Up” – Har-di-Har. Wow, is there ever a lot going on in this song. This song rockets from synth-pop to angelic folk to complex indie-pop to wubby post-dubstep and points beyond. If Muse was ostensibly an indie-pop band, they might come up with this wild and clever track.

8. “What the Open Heart Allows” – Brad Peterson. Sometimes you’ve got an inventive, layered indie-pop arrangement that is heavy on tension and it still gets outshined by a massive, soaring vocal melody in the chorus. This is a good problem to have.

9. “Shame” – Lushloss. A solid two minutes of deconstructed down-tempo rainy-day indie-pop that’s heavy on bass guitar and layering. The tune appears unassumingly and ends suddenly, making the song even more endearing.

10. “Waking Up” – Illyin Pipes. All genres can be amazing, no matter how “done” they are. This is a full-on synth-pop piece with no big quirks–ambient synths, fuzzy arpeggiator work, rattling drums, woozy vocals–and yet it sounds amazing and fresh.

Mid-July Singles: Acoustic and Such

July 20, 2017

Acoustic and Such

1. “Into Yellow” – Martin Luke Brown. You got up early to see it. You had to hike up a mountain in the dark and you nearly rolled an ankle three times. Is all this worth it? Really? You question things. You wonder things. You start to grumble at the person who set you up with this idea. But you crest the last incline onto the peak and you see it: a beautiful yellow warming–delicate, tentative–over the horizon. And pink, and orange, and yellow again, and your heart leaps. You’d do it again. You’d do it again. You’d do it again.

2. “You Gotta Sell Something” – Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Super-enthusiastic, jaunty Dixieland folk with a viciously satirical take on the contemporary music industry and modern life in general. I don’t know how something this sarcastic can be this much fun, but it’s a party and a half over here.

3. “The Lilac Line” – Karla Kane. Has a little bit of Kimya Dawson in the quirky lyrical content, but it’s the bubbly vocal melody in the chorus that really seals the deal. I also can’t resist a well-placed accordion (a la Laura Stevenson).

4. “Collision” – Hayden Calnin. Layered drones are in right now, and saxophones are in right now, and emotive pop melodies never go out of style, and yet when you put all of them together you get something that transcends them all. If you’re a person who (like me) unironically likes Coldplay, you’ll love the vocal tone and melodies here.

5. “Prom” – Monk Parker. Anyone who loved Clem Snide is going to grab this song in a giant hug and not let go it for a long time: Parker’s vocal tone echoes Eef Barzelay’s, and the weirdly indie-fied country Parker is purveying here was what Snide was best at. This song is an indie alt-country cornucopia, really: it’s even got a theremin.

6. “On My Side” – Gordi. Is folk-pop becoming cool again? Because this is definitely a folk-pop song: all yearning melody and stomping rhythms. Love it.

7. “Soulmate” – The Shivers. You can hear Tom Waits and The Antlers in this vaguely funky, soulful (but not over-the-top soulful), piano-led ballad.

8. “Two Hearts (Two Peninsulas)” – Gifts or Creatures. A vintage-y, spartan electric guitar sound meshes with a round keyboard sound to create the basis of this interesting tune. It’s sort of indie-pop (has a lovely male/female harmony thing going on that’s like Jenny & Tyler or Mates of State), and yet seems like folk (despite the absence of acoustic guitars). Thoroughly interesting.

9. “Inches Apart” – Magana. Trembling yet sturdy vocals sucked me in to this fingerpicked acoustic tune. It’s high-drama in the best way, where you feel the ache and want to know what will come next.

10. “Oh, Spaceman” – Micah P. Hinson. Hinson’s baritone pairs neatly with the trebly, soft fingerpicking of this folk tune. The fiddle and accordion add an old-world character to the piece that sets it apart from other tunes of its ilk.

11. “One More Waltz” – Redvers and Mélissa. A delicate, acoustic, love song waltz that tells the story of how the musicians met? Does it get any more romantic?

12. “The Horses Will Not Ride, The Gospel Won’t Be Spoken” – Tom Brosseau. Almost all of this song is a solo a capella piece, with Brosseau’s mellifluous voice holding the listener close the whole time. Not so many singers can do that, but Brosseau knocks it out of the park.

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Quick Hit: Tim de Vil and His Imaginary Friends

July 19, 2017

Tim de Vil and His Imaginary FriendsBeating Off the Loneliness is an indie pop album with vocals that skew toward the speak/sing of Say Anything or MeWithoutYou. The arrangements are deeply layered, compiled from acoustic and electronic instruments: some songs pile up found sounds and synths and drums and all sorts of stuff into a wistful, rueful amalgam that yet retains energy (“Purge-atory,” “The Patron Saint of Lost Causes”). Songs like “Who’s Afraid of Sarah Little” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You” are indie-folk ramblers instead of collages. These latter songs have occasional vocal melodies (“Say It…”), but the gold moments appear when lead singer Justin Robbins expertly controls the mood and tone of his spoken word–he can pack a lot of emotional power into individual lines.

Lyrically, this one is very much a breakup album, but it’s more in the mold of Spiritualized’s punchy Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space and Josh Ritter’s “everything that happened after the breakup” lyrical approach to The Beast in Its Tracks than a mopefest. (Not that I don’t love a good mopefest.) As is often the case with speak/sing work, the lyrics are dense and carefully constructed, despite sounding off-the-cuff; there are pop culture references (“Sleepy Hollow,” for example), emotional monologues, and word games to be had (like the title of “Hail, Mary”). The sum of all these parts is a fully-realized statement of an album that clearly shows Tim De Vil’s songwriting and lyrical skills. Fans of collage artists, spoken word ramblers, or experimental indie-pop will find much to enjoy here.

Mid-July Singles: Indie Rock

1. “I Wish I Was a Bird” – Luke Rathborne. Builds a cathedral of sound: a stomping, huge-screen affair that manages yet to have low-key fire embedded in it and a humble, earnest vocal performance. This sort of powerful songwriting and production is uncommon and wonderful–it’s indie-rock that manages to be slightly out of phase with the radio (it’s 8:33!) but oh-so-delightful for lovers of the genre. Anyone still rocking the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” will be all up on this, or anyone who would wonder what Josh Ritter’s “Thin Blue Flame” would be like in indie rock format.

2. “DaDaDa” – secret drum band. I listen to a lot of music while I’m reading or writing. Great songs make me love what I’m working on more. The best songs make me stop what I’m doing and just listen. “DaDaDa” is a perfect amalgam of tons of different percussion elements, low-mixed synths, and the occasional found sound/vocal yawp. They manage to make these basic, skeletal pieces of music into a deeply compelling piece of polyrhythmic indie rock.

3. “Gone Away” – Stolen Jars. Turns fluttering flutes and squealing horns into urgent indie-rock, a la The Collection. The subtle, insistent press forward that underlies this track is a rare thing to capture.

4. “People Like You” – Thumbnail. This tune strides the line between American Football-style emo and old-school indie-rock (pre-major label Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie): complex drums, semi-mathy guitar lines, soft vocals, and gentle trumpet come together into a propulsive-yet-dreamy track.

5. “Tree Trunks” – Basement Revolver. The groove locks in and commands headbobbing. The lurching, loping, slow-moving-train of this indie-rock arrangement contrasts excellently against the intimate female vocal performance.

6. “Part3” – grej. Ominous piano, layered percussion, and stabbing flutes create a tense, atmospheric track the likes of which you would hear in a suspense film.

7. “Great Cop (Fugazi cover)” – New Tongues. All proceeds from this furious post-hardcore rendition of Fugazi’s song about police/policed tensions go to Black Youth Project 100.  Timely content, excellent performance.

Premiere: Chris Wills’ “Since You Said Goodbye”

June 29, 2017

Chris Wills’ “Since You Said Goodbye” is a folk-pop tune anchored by an unusually syncopated bass drum pattern in the chorus that is punched way up in the mix. You might think to yourself, “How is there percussion in a folk-pop song that isn’t just whacking a tom on the 1 and 3?” or “Who pushes the bass drum all the way to the top of the mix?” Well, friends, listen and find out.

Beyond the percussion, Wills’ vocal performance is a highlight. His voice has a post-pop-punk tone–you can still hear some of the nasally, yelpy enthusiasm–that allows him to give the song energy just with his performance but also include more sophisticated vocal moves, such as subtle vibrato and small intonation shifts that give individual lines more emotional heft. The combination of the vocal performance and the unusual drum pattern gives a big lift to this folk-pop song, which has connections to The Lumineers, Twin Forks, and more brash, bold folksters.

This is a fun, interesting tune that serves to tease his upcoming EP quite well. “Since You Said Goodbye” will be on the This Place Ain’t For Me EP, which comes out August 11.

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Late June MP3s

June 28, 2017

1. “Somethings” – Sariah Mae. This song sounds like it was blown out of a bubble wand: a round, gleaming, shimmery, light thing that lolls along in the wind. Indie pop at its shiny, bubbly best.

2. “Super Natural” – Turnover. Does the thing has emerged in my family as a term of high praise: you need to do something, you select a tool to do it, and the tool works perfectly. It does the thing. This dream-pop tune does the thing: it has reverby guitars, delicate vocals, loping bass, and enough energy from the drums to keep the “pop” part working. Just totally solid.

3. “Bright and Blue” – Tomo Nakayama. This indie-pop track feels like walking on clouds, what with the ethereal pad synths in the background, the walking-pace shuffle snare, and the friendly vocal approach. Very excited for this upcoming album.

4. “All My Faith” – The Last Dinosaur. An intimate-yet-sweeping acoustic indie track that calls to mind Michigan-era Sufjan and other lush-arrangement singer/songwriters.

5. “Altaïr” – Camel Power Club. Well, isn’t this a wild mix: synths, acoustic guitar, ’90s hip-hop beats, bongos, breathy vocals, theremin-esque sounds, and more are all wrapped up in a smooth, grooving electro-indie-pop tune. Whoa.

6. “Living in Fame” – Fever Kids. The feathery vocals that provide the lead hook for this tune fit perfectly with a slightly ominous, LCD Soundsystem-esque bass line and create a sort of post-disco indie-pop track. The vibe here is unusual and exciting.

7. “Duluoz Dream” – Sal Dulu. A bleary-eyed jazz trumpet provides the entry point into this low-key indie-electro instrumental, squiggly bits, mournful piano, and other sounds come together to create a chill, head-bobbin’ piece.

8. “July” – Ellie Ford. Some jaunty flamenco rhythms on a nylon-string guitar provide the base of this song, which then expands into a carefully-coordinated minor-key indie-rock tune led by Ford’s delicate voice.

9. “If You Saw Her” – Mark Bryan. The quirky, plunk-plunk lead melody in this folk/country tune is a weirdly infectious riff. The rest of the tune is a bright, clear, folk/country tune guided to its satisfying conclusion by an assured hand and a lithe voice.

10. “Stronger than My Fears (Naked Session)” – SHEL. This acoustic folk tune rides on beautiful melodies, a subtly excellent arrangement, and impressive harmonies throughout.

11. “Watching From a Distance” – David Ramirez. Ramirez updates his country sound with burbling electronics, Simon and Garfunkel-esque percussion, and a large arrangement more reminiscent of indie-folk than stark country ventures. It’s a surprising, excellent turn. His voice is still amazing–nothing changed there.

12. “I Wanna Go Down to the Basement” – Wooden Wand. Loopy, chilled-out folk that asserts “I am no longer afraid”; despite these reassurances, James Jackson Toth’s voice has a jittery quality that gives the song energy.

13. “Take Over” – Tom Rosenthal. Fans of Greg Laswell and Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay will love this piano-driven tune, which pulses and pushes forward and yet still remains intimate.

14. “Killing Me” – Luke Sital-Singh. The emotional piano ballad is tough to pull off, but Sital-Singh here provides a master course on how to do it right. This song is emotionally devastating.

Melvin Sparks: Live at Nectar’s

June 23, 2017

A translation of the live music experience to a recorded format often loses the jazz that makes the listening audience jive, but this one keeps it going. Celebrating that incredible connection between us all, One Night Records has released Live at Nectar’s, capturing the work of jazz guitar genius Melvin Sparks just months before his passing. This performance from the sixty-four year old guitarist became his final legacy to his fans.

The idea of jazz guitar came about in the 1930s as a result of amplification helping guitars to be heard over the full sound of big bands. This humble birth blasted forward with a sound that electrified audiences. At twenty years old, Sparks had a career that began with the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye; this connection to soul is apparent to new listeners and fans alike. The nine song album (including two tracks available here only) is a lifetime of jazz soul. Produced and mixed by Eddie Roberts with release curation by Simon Allen (both of The New Mastersounds), Live at Nectar’s is issued for the first time in limited edition vinyl.

At the venue’s recommendation, two variables were thrown into the mix: Dave Grippo on alto saxophone and Brian McCarthy on tenor saxophone (known as The Grippo Horns). This spark thrown into the musical amalgamate that  included organist Beau Sasser and drummer Bill Carbone, creating a true vibe of unpredictability for the music ahead. This group of musicians spans generations, a beautiful fact that is lost in the translation to multi-track tape to all but the most diehard of jazz fans. But because of their huge amount of experience, the outfit’s loving attention to detail puts listeners in the room, every nuance soaring in twisting spirals of melody.

Jazz is fluid and builds off of each piece of the puzzle to create. Songs like “Miss Riverside” show a flair for the solo work that came later in the evolution of the genre. But the brilliant thing here is the fact that the set is sprinkled with covers of well known songs. The band breathes new life into “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got).” Standards like “Breezin’” are here for listeners, as Sparks illustrates the life in each note of guitarwork, be it intricate or subtle. All the guitarwork is purposefully defying the definition of jazz as a free musical style with no set rules of performance.

“Whip! Whop!” is a bit of genius that effortlessly fuses together bits of funk, jazz, blues, and classical quips of music seamlessly. A bit of this treasure is the fact that Melvin Sparks and the audience interact here, a true live album. “Cranberry Sunshine” hits that cool vibe that makes the guitarist so great; subtle yet intricate it is the best of what jazz is.

Texas-born Melvin Sparks was brought up on rhythm & blues. Those influences infiltrate his guitar style on songs like “Fire Eater,” throwing in a toe tapping groove. “Hot Dog” and “Thank You” are only available on the album, songs that brilliantly fuse funk and soul into an uptempo party. These two are a fitting way to head out of an album, produced by artists in Allen and Roberts, who honor the talent that has gone before their own. —Lisa Whealy

Mid-June Singles: Happy (Mostly)

June 21, 2017

1. “Desultory” – Arthur in Colour. Jubilance seems always so difficult to singers with low voices (like Matt Berninger of the National and Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields), and Arthur Sharpe is no exception. You can tell he’s jubilant, though, because the multi-layered technicolor indie-pop that he’s fronting is hard to describe in terms other than “exuberant,” “bright,” and enthusiastic. It’s the sort of thing that has marimbas, synths, organs, jaunty guitars, and a constant male/female duet all somehow coming together into one beautiful synthesis.

2. “Outta Cash” – Bon Villain. There’s a subtle grit to the vocals here that remind me (ever so slightly) of bands like The Hold Steady. The music is a smart mix of bubbly MGMT electro and streamlined, slicked-back Cobra Starship electro. It feels very now and very on.

3. “Give Me Your Love” – Briana Marela. Chirpy synths, clicky beats, and stomping toms allow Marela’s smooth melodic lines to create a nice tension in this lush, expansive electro-pop tune.

4. “Fat Tuesday” – The AV Club. A funky, jazzy instrumental interpretation of the New Orleans Brass Band sound that’s so much fun. This retains all the spirit of the Big Easy with a slight twist, which is cool.

5. “Witches” – Good Kid. The frantic, youthful vocals of early Vampire Weekend meeting the stylized guitar-heavy indie rock of the early ’00s (The Strokes) results in a skittering, punchy, enthusiastically fun indie-rock track.

6. “Please” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. Following up their impressive debut EP, Josiah and co. return with a song that’s equal parts ragged Dylan-esque folk song, clanging Americana rock (a la The Low Anthem), and Springsteen. The falsetto-laden chorus is just great. The conclusion of the video is intriguing, too.

7. “Dear Science” – Blimp Rock. Blimp Rock is a endearingly absurd band (they tried to sue the Toronto Blue Jays, their stated purpose is to raise money for a blimp), and this song is no different: a duet/discussion between the lead singer and “science” (as played by a theoretical physicist who is not taking any shit from the lead singer). The quirky indie-pop-rock fits the content to a T.

8. “Moonlight Dancing” – Vito. It’s like Dashboard Confessional’s romanticism, a pop-punk band’s vocal melodies, and indie-rock mid-tempo guitars fused into a perfect simulacra of my teenage experience. The first time I heard this song, I felt like I’d known it forever.

9. “Jimmy” – GREY \\ WATER. I’m not really into the disco revival, but indie rock song  is disco smashed to bits, mixed with modern dance rock and indie pop vocal melodies, stuck in a blender, and then baked into something new. This is how you do genre mixing right. Dang.

10. “Dreamin’” – bellwire. Back when country and rock’n’roll and Brill Building pop were all intermingled, some really lovely ballads emerged. This track follows in that vintage-drama vein, tapping into modern (but no less dramatic; vintage pop included a lot of death and debauchery, for real) concerns.

11. “Rich in Love” – Afterlife Revival. Pulls the Neil Young trick of feeling both rickety and solid in its folky/acoustic/pop-type arrangement. The vocal performance is evocative, but it’s the oh-so-perfect melodic instrumental bridge that really sells this tune.

12. “Change It All” – Harrison Storm. Smooth, lithe, stark, groove-laden, and yet high-drama, this song packs a lot into its shape. You may think you’ve heard this acoustic/adult alternative all before, but there are surprises up Storm’s sleeve for those who listen intently.

13. “Heart and Mind” – Courtney Marie Andrews. Andrew’s passionate alto and thoughtful lyrics ring clear as a bell here. This stripped-down performance feels like a breath of fresh air.

14. “Runner” – Jon and Roy. A humorous, Wes Anderson-inspired video accompanies a chipper acoustic pop tune that starts out in the pocket and never leaves. Jon and Roy have been plying the trade a long time, and it shows in their easy confidence, infectious melodies, and strong groove throughout.

15. “Cold (Trevor Ransom Remix)” – Bjéar. Ransom transforms the original “build from solo piano to giant pop conclusion” chassis and totally reinvents it as a spacious ambient track that takes the listener on a walk through a dark-yet-wondrous forest.

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Mid-June: Acoustic

June 20, 2017

Acoustic

1. “Promise Land” – Sinners & Saints. Big-hearted, foot-stompin’, smile-inducing alt-country complete with stand-up bass, fiddle, and harmonica. The vocals are infused with a sweet, earnest quality that is not usually found in this type of music. Remember when the Avett Brothers were a ramshackle, upstart duo that could make you holler and cry? It’s like that. Great stuff.

2. “Let You Be” – Gian Luca & the Oak. Italy by way of London? You’d never know it from this thrilling slice of upbeat, major-key Americana. A vivid fiddle and enthusiastic stand-up bass create the frame for joyous harmonica and Luca’s low vocals. This is just a ton of fun.

3. “Evergreen” – Builder of the House. This warm, open, happy folk tune plays like an inversion of Fleet Foxes (all love to the FF): the harmonies expand the soaring reach of the song instead of getting close in, and the arrangement is spacious. There’s room to sit with this, to hear every instrument and to clap along. If you’re into Lord Huron, this will be immediately interesting.

4. “Bait My Soul” – James AM Downes. Somewhere between twinkly folk music and bouncy indie-pop lands this lovely, dreamy track. The arrangement here is tight and engaging, wrapping me in a mood instantly.

5. “Behold” – J. Alan Schneider. Resonant, bass-heavy acoustic guitar picking with more than a bit of Appalachian melodic influence opens this track in a powerful way. Schneider’s whispery voice is a high tenor that contrasts nicely against the low end of the guitar, and that tension drives this emotionally-charged song.

6. “Sundial” – Kazyak. Good-natured full-band folk that recalls Lord Huron in its commitments to be fully involved in acoustic folk music but also fully involved in being poppy and fun. The song passes by easily, leaving me with a grin and good vibe.

7. “Falling South” – Lee Watson. If you’re up for a slice of Laurel Canyon/West Coast Country, Lee Watson has a perfectly-turned tune in the style for you: creaky vocals, cooed background vox, weeping pedal steel, and a walking-speed acoustic guitar strum.

8. “Slow Sip of Whiskey” – Eric Barnett. A deep voice and a fingerpicked guitar layered with metaphors aplenty: fans of David Ramirez will rejoice over Barnett’s back-porch country-folk work here.

9. “The Birds and You” – Miles Horn. Fans of indie-soul like the Antlers will find much to love in this stripped-back, romantic, bluesy ballad. The vocal performance here is strong and clear.

10. “The Way to You” – Elliot Porter. Calls to mind Brett Dennen and Passenger, emotional acoustic songwriters who ride the line between folk and adult alternative. Porter’s chorus and big outro are both catchy and impeccably arranged for maximum effect.

11. “Comfortable” – The Washboard Abs. A perfect companion for a rainy day, this loping, downtempo acoustic pop tune has all of the hazy, slackery spirit of lo-fi recording without actually sounding fuzzed out (which I count as a total benefit in this case).

12. “Heartbeat” – Almond&Olive. It’s hard for me to get tired of fingerpicking and close harmonies. This beautiful, relaxing tune comes off like a more folk-oriented version of The Weepies, which is always a good thing. I love the horn inclusion at the end.

13. “If Heaven” – Mystery Loves Company. Ostensibly a song about what the songwriter doesn’t want to see in heaven, the song ends up being a statement of what the band believes is vital and good in the world. The acoustic pop song structure is accompanied by a lovely cello performance.

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Mid-June: Indie Pop and Indie Rock

June 19, 2017

Indie Pop and Indie Rock

1. “Schopenhauer in Berlin” – Emperor X. Those who are into singers who cram too many words and so many references into a song and yet somehow come out with indie-pop gold (read The Mountain Goats, the Weakerthans, the Rural Alberta Advantage) will find a huge amount to love in Emperor X. This track is fidgety, subtly chaotic, weirdly emotional, and overall a wild trip that has me absolutely stoked for this record.

2. “Wake Up with the Sun” – Little Lapin. A chipper, summery little ditty that calls to mind Lilith Fair, Counting Crows, and other cheery ’90s acoustic pop. I couldn’t help but clap along. Totally fun.

3. “Hey Leanne” – Frozen Houses. The reverb and rhythms of the guitar recall the ’80s, and specifically Graceland. The flute-esque pad synths are vintage too, but they’ve been so appropriated by Vampire Weekend that there’s a touch of them in here too. But it’s a less hectic song than both of those outfits are fond of, as the lead singer uses a gentle, calming voice to sing long, smooth vocal lines.

4. “Bones” – Fairmont. The kickoff to their 9th (!) studio album, this indignant blast of sound distills what Fairmont does best into 4 minutes and 10 seconds: melodic-yet-somewhat-sinister guitar-driven indie rock with roughed-up vocals and an eye toward the theatrical.

5. “Dynamite Quartz” – Bass Lions. It’s not often that a song puts me at a loss, but this track is a blend of a lot of things that don’t usually go together and yet somehow work perfectly: traditional pipe organ playing, a harpsichord-esque / autoharp thing, ominous subterranean bass notes, strings, perky percussion, and expressive Arcade Fire-style vocals. Or maybe they just feel like Arcade Fire because there’s so much going on. Either way, this is a veritable maelstrom of stuff, and somehow it turns out into a snappy, inventive indie rock tune.

6. “First of May” – James Irwin. Heavily reverbed, distant guitars create a ghostly presence over a fuzzed-out bass chug while Irwin’s feathery vocals intersect the two. The results are a dreamy form of indie rock that is actually equal parts dreamy and rocking.

7. “Screen Time” – Banana Gun. Funk is not my usual stomping grounds, but Banana Gun fuse funky bass lines and a jazz-infused horn section with slick, tight rock music a la Cage the Elephant, et al. (which isn’t usually my province either). Sometimes a song comes out of nowhere and just gets everything right, and even people not in the genre can hear it.

8. “R.O.S.E.” – Brother O’ Brother. Imagine if the Black Keys had never gone stadium rock and instead got more and more furious in their vocal delivery. That’s basically what BOB is, give or take a Marshall stack or three. This track is a pretty great intro to their raw, super-charged garage blues on 11.

9. “Fruitfly” – Heavy Heart. This is a pitch-perfect ’90s female-fronted modern rock tune, which means that it’s low-slung, catchy, and nearly deadpan in its vocal and instrumental delivery. The video is a mishmash of drugs, junk food, pizza, kids, and static that also perfectly recalls the ’90s. It’s the sort of video that has to be done perfectly to not be derivative, and Heavy Heart pulls it off.

10. “Gentle Release” – New Tongues. It’s hard to keep me interested in post-hardcore these days, as I’ve gotten pickier and pickier with the heavy music I listen to. New Tongues are one outfit that I can count on to mix melodic elements, brittle distortion, brute force, hollered/screamed vocals, and long run times in intriguing ways. This latest track is spot-on: a 7.5-minute journey through different dynamic levels and arrangements that yet never feels like it’s overstayed its welcome. Anyone who can write almost eight minutes of post-hardcore work without getting repetitious is doing a great job. Mad props.

11. “Mississippi, Come and Take Me” – Syntax Club. Somewhere between the enthusiasm of Ra Ra Riot, the dreamy vocals of Death Cab for Cutie, and the beachy sound of The Drums is this charmingly layered indie pop song.

12. “STRESS” – Kylie Odetta. Odetta has been reinventing herself over the past few years and seems to have landed on jazzy, piano-led soul. This latest cut mines that vein with some breathy sax playing counterpoint to her hiccuping piano line and lithe vocals.

13. “Eclipsed” – Diamond Thug. This impressive electro song rides on an intriguing arpeggiator pattern and a smooth, flowing, head-bobbing mood (even though the arrangement gets pretty complex!).

14. “Where the Birds Nest” – Alex Tiuniaev. Tiunieav expands his stark solo piano oeuvre into a dreamy ambient electro/chillwave space with some snappy, beat-heavy plunks and blips. It’s a head-bobber, for sure.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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