Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Warp Records keeps it coming, Polyfolk Dance EP sure to please

March 31, 2009

Scotland born and hip-hop oriented, Hudson Mohawke is an interesting listen. His newest release Polyfolk Dance EP could be labeled as electronic, dance, and experimental hip hop. It’s a little EP that’s short, but packed full of complicated, grimey beats. Hudson Mohawke immediately sounds that he’s coming from the same vein as Flying Lotus. This makes sense, as they are both backed by Warp Records, which seems to be focusing on experimental hip hop instrumental producers and has signed some competent people.

Hudson Mohawke’s beats are incredibly diverse, and are so thick that at times it’s hard to keep track of what exactly is going on. Imagine somebody putting a bunch of different items in a blender, setting it on “high,” and walking away from it.  But it’s this variation of flavor that makes Hudson Mohawke’s beats have an incredible amount of lasting appeal.  Most tracks are hip-hop samples layered upon  electronic beats; that allows for a one-trick pony with a lot of lasting appeal. Guitar riffs and horn pieces blaze above heavy drums on “Overnight,” while beats play with synths on “Velvet Peel.”

Hudson Mohawke is a new blood on Warp Records that has enough skill to be able to be around as long as there’s a beat machine. The PolyFolk Dance EP is only a small taste of what an LP could be and do with Hudson Mohawke as the pilot.

Frolic with Mermaid Skeletons

March 29, 2009

On Mermaid Skeleton’s myspace, the group claims that the band began when frontman Joshua Hryciak was inspired by the movie “Bambi.” And while I am not sure if they are completely serious about this or not, it actually makes sense after listening to their EP Darlings. The songs on this EP make me think of wood nymphs and magical forests, so it’s not hard to imagine a talking young fawn, too.

But what does it sound like? Mermaid Skeletons is a large group, with nine current members, but their music is acoustic, making the mini-folk-orchestra sound light and airy. There are percussive elements, but no drums. You won’t notice this, however, when you listen casually. (“The rhythm’s in the guitar,” as John Lennon used to say before The Beatles had a drummer.) Think Belle & Sebastian-styled melodies with a hint of Sufjan Stevens quirkiness topped off with a very talented lead vocalist. Hryciak’s voice is quite high, but it never sounds strained or forced, and his vocals (justifiably) steal the spotlight throughout Darlings. The band’s press release uses the word “sugary,” and I think this is accurate, but not in a sticky-sweet-how-cute kind of way – it’s more like icing on a cake.

The opener “Happy Bell” is just what it sounds like – both happy and bell-like, with the inclusion of the glockenspiel. It’s my favorite on the EP because of the gorgeous and catchy vocal lines, perfectly executed harmonies, and its range of dynamics to build tension. And ya gotta love glockenspiel. Really though, all of the songs on this EP have their strengths, and since it clocks in at a mere twenty minutes, you should definitely give all of Darlings a chance. All six songs (including a short accordion interlude) are on Mermaid Skeleton’s myspace. I highly recommend this darling EP, and I hope that the band will release a full-length.

Kid, Go Listen to Loomings!

March 28, 2009

At its forefront you’ll find a good deal of iniquity in the world of rock n’ roll. But, hiding in the alcoves of northern Illinois, you’ll find the ever-virtuous Kid, You’ll Move Mountains. They’ve got it all: that honesty and humbleness that when you hear it, you know even before you check their Myspace page that they’re from the Midwest; the patience that, after a year of recording, put a well-thought-out full-length album under their belts despite geographical complications and the numerous bands they began as a side-project to; and the simplicity and simultaneous bravery that offer something easy to latch on to while also challenging the band to explore the reaches of its own lengths and depths. These guys (and gal) aren’t just in it for the free beer, that’s for sure.

If you’ve heard any of the bands (El Oso, Troubled Hubble, Inspector Owl, etc.) that are parents to the lovechild that is Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, you might have a guess as to what their debut, Loomings, holds in store – but you couldn’t guess how well they pull it off. The brothers Lanthrum provide a fierce rhythm section and a sturdy spine without being afraid to throw a wrench into things with unusual bass effects and captivatingly intense beats. Corey Wills’ fancy effect-laden guitar work does an exemplary job filling out the band’s sound with spacey riffs and all the right noise in all the right places, weaving in and out with Nina Lanthrum’s often Hold Steady-esque piano work. The occasional chiming of Nina’s sweet and un-straying vocals blend seamlessly with Jim Hanke’s almost effortlessly sincere lyricism and strategically placed peaks and valleys of intensity and serenity.

“I guess it all depends how you want this to taste,” Hanke calmly sings to open up the album before riling himself up with loads of clever wordplay and brutal honesty. But I like to think of this line as a disclaimer, explaining the thought that just as our peers or anyone else can convince us of something, we can just as easily convince ourselves of the same, or otherwise– and to acknowledge this is to acknowledge that the band is well aware of our predisposal, thus allowing us to relinquish our biases and listen with an entirely open mind. From there the album only picks up.

With a mere nine tracks, Loomings is damn near impossible to get bored with. Even when the tempo isn’t at its highest, they put enough candy in your ears to keep you on a sugar high until well after the album’s end. If “I’m a Song From the Sixties” doesn’t have you on your feet dancing or “An Open Letter to Wherever You’re From” doesn’t have you singing “Midnight, my house – the last one out of the city, burn it down…” non-stop, then you probably need your ears cleaned out.

Kid, You’ll Move Mountains’ debut full-length(ish) may have come out in the middle of a harsh Midwest winter, but I think Loomings will become an instant classic filed under ‘indie rock road trip’ music, and it leaves us hopeful for a summer just as long, so that we can listen to this with the windows down and feet on the dash for just a while longer. For fans of bands like Maritime, Annuals, and Mock Orange, I strongly suggest you get your hands on this release.

Conceptual Music is Tough, but Tasty

March 25, 2009

There are music albums, and then there are conceptual albums. Hand in the Dark by Tin Veil falls firmly into the second category. The album’s sound is ephemeral, floating; every time you think there’s a pattern emerging, it takes a completely different course. Vocals range from trippy, wordless effusions to a wailing, pseudo-Flyleaf sound. The album is perhaps a bit too long for what it is, occasionally losing focus, but the end result is plenty rewarding even after the slightly-confusing mix. Tin Veil’s instrumentation consists of guitar, a ton of synth, and vocals.

Describing individual songs in detail is a little difficult for this album, perhaps even pointless, because the point isn’t what each song sounds like, but rather the emotional layer it adds to the whole. These tracks aren’t readily accessible by the mainstream public, and there will be peace in the Middle East before any of them breaks into the Top 40. That being said, here’s what I can tell you:

Hand in the Dark opens with “Intro A,” heavy on synth and effects, but light on actual music. Tin Veil’s vocalist erupts with half-uttered phrases and nonsensical ramblings that give the listener a vague idea of something being wrong, but no clear idea of what’s going on. Deeper in, “Dartboard” features light guitar and moaning lyrics; it has an echo-y, melodramatic tone. I could be wrong, but it seems as though the aim of the vocals is more to give an idea of a character and her circumstances than to actually sound good. That may sound harsh, but I want to make it clear that this is a conceptual album – it’s not readily accessible music, and even listeners experienced with this stuff may have a hard time getting into it.

The album swings in a different direction on “Float,” sounding more trippy and strange than the somewhat overdone quality of the earlier track. It starts out dreamy, then gets a bit like a bad trip, anxious and scared.

Near the end, a repetition of ideas from “Dartboard” surfaces in “Intro B.” Concepts come full circle, bringing a new level of understanding. “Intro B” has a different tone than “Dartboard;” it’s lighter, perhaps even hopeful or optimistic.

Honestly? Don’t listen to this album for its musical quality, because it isn’t strong in that area. Listen to it with the intention to do so as a thought exercise, because that’s where it excels. Each song on the album reveals further dimensionality whatever it is that you interpret this album as being representative of. I had a very strong feeling of a single person as I gave the album repeated listens; maybe you’ll get something else entirely out of it. Regardless, if you like conceptual albums and you find appeal in the idea of learning to think differently about what an album can be, Hand in the Dark wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Kings and an Untruth

March 21, 2009

It took me a little longer than usual to write this review. I downloaded the Lie To Me EP by Kingsbury, unzipped it, and added the album to my music library. Once it started playing, I threw it on repeat. I do this because first, I want to listen to an album as much as I can before passing judgment, and second, I like to take notes while I’m listening.  Hearing each song multiple times lets me be pretty thorough in that regard. After that, well, suddenly it was three hours later. I’d totally gotten lost in the music, and managed to listen to the album seven times straight through without writing a single word.

There’s a pretty good reason for this. Kingsbury is dark indie rock. It’s somber and chock-full of emotion. The instrumentals are simple, mostly relying on piano and guitar, along with some synth and percussion. Vocals are soft and melancholy, with appropriate lyrics to back that up. Any one song won’t blow your mind, but as a whole, well, that’s another matter entirely.

Lie To Me opens with “Ocarina Mountaintop,” a post-rock, instrumental piece that sets the mood quite nicely. It grows somewhat over the course of the song, taking on a sound that’s something like This Will Destroy You, but without ever really hitting a loud or defining moment. The album then flows seamlessly into “Back in the Orange Grove,” building on the previous number with vocals that intone, “I’ll never go / back in the orange grove.” I love frontman Bruce Reed’s voice; he conveys quite a bit without using a ton of range or volume. Kingsbury defines itself with slow, rolling music that has body and depth to it.

The album continues with “As I See It” and “Lie To Me,” both of which hold their value in their lyrics. Stuff like “Everything has got to be just like I want it / Everything has got to be as I see it /  Everybody in the world has to care” from the former and, “The deeper we go, the higher we are / No one can say if you take this too far” from the latter are priceless, if only because the real meaning of each song lies in what goes unsaid. The music itself just serves to emphasize and reinforce the emotional impact of the words. “Lie To Me” feels like the darkest song on the album, though it does so quietly, instead of getting all death and destruction and mayhem on you.

All the parts here work well together and contribute to the overall tone. The songs are long, but it works for them. This is one of those albums that’s a continuous experience; each song seems to melt into the next. I want to describe the sound as haunting, but that’s cliché, and I use it too much to describe music. Maybe regretful or remorseful is better.

This album is strong, but it’s because of Kingsbury’s restraint, not because of loud guitar riffs or bombastic lyrics. The moderately repetitive instrumental and vocal parts are what bring home the emotional impact of the EP. For this I say well done, Kingsbury. They created an album that I’ve really enjoyed, and they’ve earned my respect as artists. If you want to hear the Lie To Me EP, it’s available online as a free download at http://www.kingsburymusic.net/audio/released_mp3s/lie_to_me.zip

Werth is Worth It!

March 20, 2009

maps_webAndy Werth and band hail from Seattle, Washington, but there’s not much evidence from their first full-length album, Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass, that it ever rains there. And while we all know this to be untrue, Andy Werth sure makes an impressive case for listeners to believe in Seattle’s perpetual sunshine. With bright accompanying horns (trumpet and sax), joyful piano arrangements, and a hint of electronic sounds mixed in, Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass is a perfect soundtrack for spring. There are clouds on the album cover, and there are some “cloudy” moments on the album, but there’s always sun in the forecast.

The album’s opener, “Stay Here with You,” begins on a calm note with Werth’s Ben-Foldsy piano part, but really shines during the incredibly catchy chorus. You’ll be singing along the first time you hear it. “Stay Here with You” also introduces the reoccurring theme of travel (especially by car) and direction, which would make this album really great for road trips. “Get in Your Car” has a pretty similar format to the opener, but has a different enough melody to make it another pop gem.

“15th Street” stands out for its fun lyrics and (again) its catchy chorus. By moving seamlessly from verse to hook to chorus, this song is very well-composed in an “art is hiding the art” sort of way. The energetic and dance-inducing bass (played by Steve McPherson) is also fun in “15th Street.” “Emily” has a lyric that really stands out for me – “you’ll find out there’s more to life than just being alive.” Also, listen for a neat bit in here with a low, walking piano line working in tandem with punctuating horns – it only comes once, so pay attention!

“Back Row” brings more upbeat rock to the album, and includes a downright funky horn section. Relentless, pounding energy from drummer Jeff Roeser drives the song. “Nothing to Fix” also adds another jolt of adrenaline to the second half of the album, with an insistent beat and angry lyrics.

Some of the weaker songs on Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass are the electronically-driven ones, but they are pretty short, and it is still interesting to hear it partnered with the classical piano. The best moments on this album are the choruses, which are generally the most full-sounding and satisfying parts. Another strong point is Werth’s voice, which is fun and youthful, but also developed enough to sound mature. He has a no-nonsense vocal style which hits all the notes (some of them soaring) without unnecessary embellishment. Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass will be available for purchase on April 7th, but you can check out the whole thing on Andy Werth’s website.

Independent Clauses is now on Twitter

March 18, 2009

Yes, we finally have caved to the most ADD of all social media. You can follow us as we follow music at twitter.com/indieclauses. I am currently incredibly amused, so I’ll be keeping it up obsessively for as long as my interest remains piqued. Then we’ll settle in to a nice, steady rhythm. I am not sure when this will equalize.

Also, we are trying to think of a good abbreviation of IndependentClauses so that we can get a shorter domain name. Unfortunately, IC.com and theIC.com are taken; we’re thinking indieclauses.com, indiec.com, independency.com (just kidding), or something else if someone else comes up with something good (someone suggested eyesee.com, but it’s taken).

Thoughts on either point? hit up the comments.

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Lo-Fi, Oh My!

March 17, 2009

inhourThere is a certain sound quality that an exceptionally slick, well-produced rock record yields, and it almost always evokes images of stacks of dollar bills, mile-long mixing boards, men in three-piece suits, and other semblances of the like. It has this great mystique, but of a rather intangible sense. To the contrary, there is a property that the poor man’s recording possesses, and its character summons a great quality of the listener – imagination.

Meneguar’s 2008 LP, The In Hour, isn’t slick. Heck, it’s not even marketable. But it has been blessed with great amounts of personality that ultimately lend to a great amount of listenability.

The Brooklyn-based quartet’s third release lets us know that they’re capable of writing more than just the anthemic nineties-esque indie-post-punk-noise-pop that captured so many fans, including myself, with 2005’s I Was Born at Night and the follow-up, Strangers in Our House. They’ve gone out on a limb here with a newer, yet more lo-fi sound, and they even threw in some new instruments to seal the deal – the haunting ‘The Morning, the Night’ is airily (and eerily) chanted to a backdrop of piano, glockenspiel, and a gang of oohs and aahs. The album’s title track also debuts the use of acoustic guitar as a primary instrument, but it’s comfortably pulled off with some noisy electric to back it up.

Don’t worry, though, for the familiar habits of penning irresistible sing-along choruses and jagged yet smoothly flowing, harmonizing guitar parts still found their way onto The In Hour. You shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself shuffling your feet and subtly pumping your fist into the air with a big grin on your face upon first listen of the album’s opener, “Let Us Decide,” and others like the adrenalized-turned-psychedelic jam “We Own We Sell.”

If bound together correctly, playfulness and urgency can suit each other pretty well. Artistic expression and frisky, wound-up rock and roll fit like a tailored suit on Meneguar without coming off as pretentious or too out-of-reach. In fact, with the harshness and recurrent dissonance you’ll find in the band’s third full-length, you’d probably think this was its first release. But that’s the beauty of it. This LP should prove that, while there’s still some work to be done, experimentation leads to a band’s excellence; and The In Hour has been a successful experiment.

Like Clockwork creates delightful pop confusion

March 16, 2009

figureitinI’ve been following Like Clockwork for a long time. Jesse Astin, the driving force behind the band, has always had a unique vision for his songs. Sometimes this is awesome; sometimes it’s just confusing. “Oh My God!”, a new single off  upcoming album These Are All Things is no different.

It is different in the fact that this is the most accessible thing I’ve ever heard Like Clockwork make: the bulk of this song is a indie-pop techno ditty, a la Postal Service. The vocals are in turns sneering and vulnerable, but always clear and confident. The song’s melodies are all clever and immediately memorable, inspiring multiple listens. The only problem is that there are some weird extra bits in the song that drag it in weird directions. I don’t say they drag it down, but with their inclusion, “Oh My God!” definitely situates itself outside the canon of “normal pop songs.”

The first fifteen seconds are distorted screaming. I kid you not. It doesn’t seem like the best intro to a pop song, and to be honest, I’m kind’ve disappointed in the intro, because it doesn’t introduce the song well. Then the pop song about paranoia comes in and sticks around for a while; then a rock song denouncing America appears. The juxtaposition holds together because he says he’s worried about living in America, as “every empire must fall, and I live in America.”

But the weirdest bit of the song comes in the last minute, which is a field recording of a guy ranting about all of us being one. It’s your garden-variety “all is one! forget countries! forget religions! just be one!” street corner ranting. In addition to it being a peculiar addition to a pop song, I can’t figure out if he’s supporting or rejecting this guy’s ideas. I think he’s supporting it, but it’s not clear.

Even though it’s a bit conflicted and a tad bit confusing, it’s a mark of a good songwriter that I can write three hundred and fifty words about one song. If Jesse Astin has more songs of this caliber or better lined up in an upcoming release, I’m very excited for that release. I recommend checking out Like Clockwork’s myspace for this track.

Get Your Head around Muttonhead

March 15, 2009

muttonheadMuttonhead by Constant Velocity is a little difficult to describe, mostly because their style varies from song to song. Part post-rock, part lo-fi, with bits of punk and general alt-rock thrown in, these guys have created a sound that is immediately likeable, yet hard to put your finger on. It’s like The Mountain Goats decided to make babies with mewithoutYou, then asked Massive Attack to be the godfather for the offspring. Anyway, Muttonhead grabs you as soon as you start listening, and doesn’t let go. I’m currently on my fifth straight-through playback of the album, and it’s still interesting and fresh.

I feel as though I can’t even go into discussing individual songs without talking about their sound a bit more. The recordings of the songs on the album aren’t perfect – far from it, in fact. Every so often, you hear something that sounds like it might have been a small mistake, the vocalist’s voice wavers a bit, or something along those lines. That’s part of the charm of this album – it isn’t a glossy, airbrushed album full of studio-adjusted separate tracking for each instrument and extra little effects that can only be done with computer software. This stuff is as real as it gets, and I’m guessing Constant Velocity sounds almost exactly like this in concert, which is pretty wicked considering how good it already is.

Muttonhead opens with “From the McLean Co. Lockup,” a gorgeous bit of rock that evoked my comparison to The Mountain Goats. The song is simplistic in its composition, yet manages to come off as epic in scope as something from Explosions In The Sky or This Will Destroy You. The lyrics are great, with stuff like, “Allow me to pontificate / Whilst I inebriate my liver and kidneys and brain” being the rule and not the exception. This song alternates from soft and thoughtful to loud and bombastic, then back again.

“Kelly” presents an entirely different flavor. It opens with something of a western twang, a musical irony when compared with the lyrics “Kelly don’t like country / Kelly like the city / Kelly I’d like to show her / I’d like to show her I’m not a failure / Kelly, come back to my trailer / Please.” It’s hilarious, frankly. You just don’t see lyrics like that very often. When combined with a raucous, rolling tempo and borderline-country music flavor, the song becomes absolutely irresistible.

Later on in the album, the band delivers a little punk with the song “Truculent.” It’s heavier on the bass, with a really fun sound, a little like Primus blended with the afore-mentioned mewithoutYou. The lyrics open with “Nice truck, asshole.” It’s literary genius, if you ask me. Instead of singing the stuff, the vocalist delivers his message rapid-fire in a style that’s borderline spoken word. This stuff rocks, really. “Truculent” is witty and relentless, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Constant Velocity’s other songs continued to throw me for a loop, each one a little different from the rest, yet with an overarching sound that is undeniably their own. “Time” is pulsating and reminiscent of Massive Attack (they perform the intro song on House, if that helps). “Lucky Double Nines” reminded me of Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia.” Perhaps appropriately after so much great music, “In Memoriam” closes out the album with the lyrics, “And you’ve earned it old man / So why don’t you rest.”

This album is long enough to make me love Constant Velocity’s sound, and short enough to leave me drooling for more. Fingers crossed that they crank out more, ASAP.

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