Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Take a walk with Ring Of Truth

May 28, 2009

A little bit punk, a little bit alt rock, and a whole lot of 1960s-style pop rock, Ring of Truth’s album Everything’s The Same But In A Different Place is a musical adventure that takes you along as the band explores variations on a signature sound. That sounded weird, let me rephrase. They experiment a bit, but you’ll easily be able to identify a common, unifying thread through the album. It’s an enjoyable if somewhat short work, clocking in at just over half an hour. Their sound seems like a mix of Sons and Daughters, the Raconteurs, and the Beatles. It’s energetic and earnest, the kind of stuff where you can tell they’re really enjoying performing.

The song “Well, I Walked” caught my ear almost immediately; it’s one of the most distinctive on the album, and quite representative of their sound. Generally Ring of Truth have a 1960s sound not unlike the Beatles or Beach Boys, and it works quite well for them. A sweet little guitar lick in the middle completes the track, and tempted me to air guitar a bit. “Maybe this is heaven, maybe this is hell / it seems to me these days they’re one and the same.” You won’t find any deep lyrics here, just light, catchy pop-rock.

The 1960s-styling continues into “Why Should This Be?,” albeit with a different tone near the end. It took on an almost psychedelic feel to it, a sonic blending of guitars, multiple vocal parts, and what sounded suspiciously like a sitar (correct me if I’m wrong, guys). The vocalist’s full potential shows through on the track as he gives it a bit more energy and emotion, with a sound that’s a bit rough on occasion. The end melts into a guitar-heavy instrumental session, a fitting end to the song.

Ring of Truth’s punk influence shows through in “Never Compromise,” which takes on a slightly 1980s, doomsday-ish tone in the chorus. They sing, ” I never compromised / you never compromised / we never compromised / there’s no compromise.” Amusingly enough, they can’t seem to leave out that 1960s influence, as the style mutates back into pop-rock for five or ten seconds at a time. “A Spanish Hunger” further fleshes out the album with a sound that is distinctly Ring of Truth, but also a clear break from earlier songs. Frantic hand claps and easygoing rhythm guitar create a fun, almost tropical style.

That potential I mentioned the vocalist had on “Why Should This Be?” comes out full-force on “Smile,” the next-to-last song of the album. It’s raucous and a bit crazy, with the lead singer wailing his lyrics over distorted guitar that has a touch of soul to it. It’s a strong performance from Ring of Truth, and I absolutely loved it. The album progresses well, going from the pop-rock, lighter fare of the opening, to more of a mellow tone in the middle, ending with the likes of “Smile” that are pure, unadulterated rock in all its vibrant and energetic glory.

Everything’s The Same But In A Different Place is a strong offering from Ring of Truth . It’s clean and polished, with a sound that at once pays homage to music of an earlier time and makes its own way. It makes for a fun listen, and I’d recommend it for listeners of diverse tastes – as long as you like some form of rock, you’ll probably like this one.

Blues that won't leave you feeling blue

May 27, 2009

There’s something about the blues that speaks to everyone. Maybe it’s just part of being human to value a guitar’s raw power, or to feel something from the earthy, no-fuss qualities of blues. But whatever the reason, blues is an important American music genre, and The Teague Stefan Band’s recent release, Game of Life, is a great blues album.

There are also elements of rock and funk on Game of Life, but blues is still the most prevalent style by far. The three-piece group, with Teague Stefan on guitars and vocals, David Marder on drums, and Todd Warsing on bass, consistently delivers tight, guitar-heavy head-nodders. (Of course “head-nodders” is a word, don’t be silly!) And the best part? The scorching, uptempo momentum never falters. All throughout Game of Life, the aim is clear – The Teague Stefan Band wants you to rock with them. And I say – mission accomplished.

Game of Life opens with “The Leavin’ Blues,” an angry, bass-thumping song with a very catchy guitar riff. There’s also a guitar solo in the middle that might just melt your face if you’re not careful. In fact, it’s obvious throughout the album that Teague Stefan is a very talented guitar player.

The title track is a bit mellower, but still fits with the rest of the album’s high energy songs. Other standout tracks are the aggressive and forcefully funky “No Matter What” and the really bluesy, sexy closer “Dues.” (No, it’s not weird to call a song “sexy.”)

Fans of The Black Keys will love the minimalism of the instrumentation and fans of Led Zeppelin will appreciate the emphasis on guitar. But The Teague Stefan Band’s Game of Life would also be perfect for anyone who needs a little more tell-it-like-it-is, good old-fashioned rockin’ blues in their life. (That’s everyone.)

Black Bone Child have got the blues(-rock) down.

May 26, 2009

Black Bone Child of Austin, TX, the self-proclaimed “Music Capital of the World,” have crafted an extremely fine piece of pure, unwavering blues-rock with their self-titled and self-released album.

To sum it up, Black Bone Child sounds like the Black Keys amped into a testosterone-fueled rage and channeling it into an acoustic/electric blend that evokes the classic blues style of greats like Muddy Waters and B.B. King, while presenting a hard rock edge that gives the band a genuinely unique sound.

The album is solely the work of the two key members of Black Bone Child: Donny James on guitars and vocals, and Kenneth M. on bass, drums, and harmonica. These two men are extremely talented, from songwriting to performance. James’ guitar riffs play like a fusion of blues, metal, and alt rock all melted into one. There’s not a single song on the album that the guitars don’t come off as impressive at least. Even though guitar, bass, drums and harmonica are the only instruments used in the album, the sound is incredibly rich and tightly composed. No use of instrumentation, from the background licks of acoustic guitar in some tracks to the constant chug of (what sounds to me like) the distorted acoustic bass, sounds superfluous in any way, and none of it falls flat.

The best way to describe the music is adrenaline pumping. I dare anyone who listens to this album to not start tapping his/her toes, bobbing his/her head or to simply start dancing. I found the album to be a particularly good companion to my workout this morning. This is just pure sonic fun.

There is a slight problem in the brevity of the songs, and the similar styles and similar lyrics in some of them can make the album sort of run together. However, this doesn’t really distract from the album, because it’s only at selected points, like the tracks “Light Up the Sky” and “Watch It Burn,” which may have been meant to flow into one another anyway. But since this is the only real complaint I could find in eleven tracks, I’d go ahead and say it doesn’t really matter all that much.

Now, I can only say that I hope Black Bone Child find their way up to Oklahoma at some point, because this album has definitely made me want to see them live. Well, I can also say that you should listen to this album.

ACL Explains It All: Kings of Leon

May 25, 2009

The concept of cool is messed up for me, and perhaps for everybody. The two bands that remind me of this more than anyone else are the Strokes and the Kings of Leon.

The first part that’s messed up is knowing what being cool actually means. Being cool can’t mean being most popular, because otherwise U2 would be cool. While they are considered awesome and even iconic, they aren’t very cool. In fact, Viva La Vida-era Coldplay would probably be very cool if not so many people liked them. But it’s not a specific number of fans either; I can give examples of bands at every level that are cool and equally liked (roughly numerically, by number of fans) but very not cool.

It’s not a look, either; because the Strokes and Kings of Leon don’t look anything like each other (or at least, they didn’t until recently, which may play into this argument). But they both are/were undeniably cool. What is it that makes a band cool? The Kings of Leon have slick new songs on their new album, but I can point you toward bands that have equally slick songs in a different vein. And Is This It?-era Strokes were cool, and they sound nothing like Kings of Leon.

I wish I could say that the only way that I can tell when a band is cool is when someone tells me; then I could pass it off as a totally objective concept passed around through need to be socially accepted. But it’s not that. I can tell when a band is cool and when a band is not cool. Is it confidence? Is it swagger? (Probably part of it, but not all; I mean Pete Doherty made it entirely on swagger, but Gogol Bordello misses out? who made that rule?)

What’s even more nefarious than coolness is keeping coolness. It’s obvious that Death Cab is not as cool now as they were in the Transatlanticism days, but that can be attributed to major-label washout and new-found prog leanings (now and forever, uncool). Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Vampire Weekend were victims to the fickleness of “new”  and thus are not cool any more.  Radiohead is still cool. CSS! is still cool (I think). The Postal Service emerged cool and got cooler, even with their stuff being co-opted for commercials galore (anyone who’s anyone has covered a Postal Service song; I have five versions of “Such Great Heights” on my computer, including the original, and I know of several more).

Yes, coolness is fickle. It’s created by something, and it is taken away by that same something. I am astonished when the entire indie-rock world turns on a person, and even more baffled when it celebrates something it seems to not be capable of celebrating (The Decemberists still get play? Really?).

And every time I hear a Kings of Leon song, I know they’re freakin’ cool. But I can’t tell you why, or whether they’ll still be cool in a week.

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ACL Explains It All: The Avett Brothers

May 21, 2009

So, this year is the first year I’m able to go to ACL, time and money-wise. This is exciting to me, because I love the idea of a festival (we’ll see if I still like the idea of a festival after the event). In preparation for this experience, I’m going through and listening to all the artists on Friday and Saturday that ACL has scheduled, and writing about them.

I’m calling the series ACL Explains It All because when I hear many of these bands, I think about things other than their music while I’m enjoying their music. Some artists I enjoy simply because of their notes and rhythms (I don’t care what Neutral Milk Hotel is saying), but most I enjoy because of the combination of their music, their lyrics, and their context. In short, I care about what it means in addition to how it sounds.

I chose the Avett Brothers first, because their latest release was called Emotionalism. That’s a pretty descriptive word to describe my feelings toward all music. All music must be emotional, otherwise it wouldn’t connect with us. This is why the term “emo” is such a bizarre name for a genre; I suppose emo artists mean that emotions take precedence over the lyrics, the music, and the performance, although each of them contribute to the emotion the listener takes away.  I know that those who hate emo use the term to stand for “whiny, immature emotion.” This is equally true.

But if a person is whiny, immature and loves feeling things, I guess this works for them. And the genre persists, cranking out emotionally damaged pieces.

This is what the Avett Brothers do, but because the Avett Brothers are in a more respected genre than pop-punk (alt-country), they’re able to get away with basically title an album Emo and being loved and admired for it. What the Avett Brothers do isn’t much more emotionally stable than Fall Out Boy’s work; “Pretty Girl from Chile” includes a message played off an answering machine by an ex-lover (which is totally a juvenile move). But as an interlude between a banjo/acoustic guitar duet and a section of furious rock, it passes.

In fact, I don’t know why anyone hates “emo,” because almost all the music we like has lyrics that talk about the same exact things that “emo” does.  And what we hate with a passion in Panic! At the Disco (pretentious, sissy dress-up and makeup), we love in Of Montreal (pretentious, sissy dress-up and makeup), and idolize in others (Robert Smith from the Cure, David Bowie). So basically, there is no legitimate reason to hate “emo” pop-punk whatsoever.

Even the music isn’t hateable under real terms. There’s a storied tradition of 90s punk that sounds almost exactly like current pop-punk, and Riverboat Gamblers still do stuff that’s just like it.

In short, if you like the Avett Brothers, Of Montreal, or anyone who sings about break-ups, there’s really no reason to hate emo. Why? Because you’re already listening to emo. You just don’t call it that.

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Prep prep prep

May 19, 2009

So, I’m spending the summer working at a Christian summer camp. While this would seem to necessitate a slowdown of Independent Clauses, this is not the case! I’ve been working furiously to get stuff ready for summer, and it seems that we will be moving to four posts a week (as opposed to daily, which is what we were doing early in the semester, and scattershot, which is what we’re doing now). It looks like we’ll be posting Monday-Thursday.

And our twitter will keep twittering away. It’ll be like I’m not even gone!

But that’s where we’ve been for the past couple weeks; furiously preparing for summer. Just thought I’d drop a note and enlighten all of you wonderful people.

D.B.G. releases a solid folk concept EP

May 16, 2009

D.B.G., also known as Dan Barnaby Goddard, has released an EP called Earthling, and it has an unusual premise – it’s a folk concept album. The four songs on the EP are called, in order, “Man,” “Woman,” “Boy,” and “Girl.” Earthling is quite short, but these sleepy folk tunes are soothing and pleasing to listen to.

The first song, “Man,” is probably the darkest song on the EP, especially with lines like “man was the warrior, man drew the lines.” I almost think that it could be a better closer than an opener for this reason, but maybe that would mess up the song order and flow. From the beginning of this song, the listener can feel the philosophical vibes, which continue throughout the EP. But “Man” also gives the listener a false idea of what the rest of the EP will be like, because it sounds so moody and mysterious.

For example, the lazy-summer-day-sounding “Woman” really fits the feel of the rest of the songs on the EP. The organ in this song is a great addition – it gives “Woman” a nice fullness. And speaking of organ, a neat aspect of Earthling is that D.B.G plays every instrument, including guitar, bass, viola, mandolin, drums, and the pleasant organ in this song.

“Boy” picks up the pace a little bit, and D.B.G. does a great job of writing a youthful-sounding melody. Would it be weird to say that this song actually sounds like a boy? And the happy, delicate “Girl” also reflects its subject matter well using mandolin as the main instrument.

D.B.G.’s Earthling is recommended for fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young who doesn’t mind a little philosophizing or for anyone who wants some good, calming morning music.

Happy Birthday to Us! (Six Years!)

May 15, 2009

So, the official beginning date of Independent Clauses is murky. I distinctly remember putting up a crappy, crappy website named VRCnet.tripod.com in November of 2002, but I can find no evidence to support this. I can, however, find that the earliest post from the original incarnation of Independent Clauses (again: http://vrcnet.tripod.com – it’s still online!) is dated May 15, 2003. This means that today is our sixth birthday.

Thanks to all the people who have helped make this dream possible:

The Stellas (RIP) and All Against Adam, for giving me free music at that very first show I ever tried to get review copies at.
Traindodge, for sending me a CD of On a Lake of Dead Trees that was probably the first actually talented submission I received.
ReedKD, for befriending me.
Purevolume.com’s General Promo boards, where we found most of our initial friends.
Scott Landis, for helping me turn this into a real organization.
All the staff I’ve ever had. Illogically, this number is reaching fifty.
Megan Morgan and Nate Williams, for being the longest-running writers I’ve ever had.
Kyle Ellman, for anticipating problems with IC and generally being the best web guru solid affection and slight bribery can buy.
All the PR companies that (somewhat illogically) send us music to review (especially Chuck from Beartrap).
All the record labels that (somewhat illogically) send us music (Lobster/Oort, especially).
All the independent artists that stay loyal to us through multiple albums (Fairmont, Evan from Futants, Josh Caress, so many more).
Everyone who has stayed with us through multiple losses of albums, websites, staff and more. (DBG, your review goes up tomorrow. It’s already scheduled)
Everyone who’s ever let me go to a show for free, or attempted to let me go to a show for free (Sugar Free All-Stars, I love you; Pontiak, I love you more, because I wasn’t 21 at the time).
And everyone who has ever read this; we’ve had upwards of 50,000 hits some months, which means that people are getting their kicks right here at Independent Clauses.

I’ll post a more philosophical musing on six years later, but I wanted to thank everyone profusely first. As with all good liner notes, thanks to Jesus Christ, without whom this wouldn’t exist. And thanks to all those people I forgot to thank that deserve to be thanked. Comment on this and I will thank you immensely.

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Leonard Mynx's Vesper gets a rave review.

May 11, 2009

I came from a punk background, but over the past three years I’ve spent a lot more time listening to singer/songwriters than I have punk. The more I listen, the more I’m interested in the barest of the bare: chords, melody and words. This, to me, is the essence of songwriting; with no distortion, no band, and no gimmicks to fall on, the songwriter’s qualities and demerits are all that is left. And it’s artists that are okay with displaying what they got that excite me.

Leonard Mynx fits perfectly into that desire. If singer/songwriters are placed on a continuum where Damien Jurado is the quietest of the quiet and old-school Dashboard Confessional is the loudest of the loud (I swear, even his quietest stuff ends in hollering – and it’s great because of it), Leonard Mynx would fall toward the Damien Jurado side, right up against Ray LaMontagne and near Jose Gonzalez. That is, there’s not much clutter in these songs; they’re pretty bare.

It is their stripped-down qualities that make Vesper such an incredibly tight piece of work. There is not a wasted second on the album. Mynx knows that his strengths lie in letting his low tenor voice meander over subtle, sparse guitar accompaniment. And he does plenty of it. But he also knows when to introduce other instruments; forlorn trumpets (a la Bon Iver) appear with enough frequency to merit notice, and a female singer accompanies Mynx in some of his best moments.

The fact that Mynx knows his strengths and exploits them is what makes this album like a warm winter coat on a cold day. Sometimes I wish that artists would do more of what they’re good at as opposed to “experimenting.” Mynx doesn’t fall prey to this at all. “Robert” is over nine minutes long (atypical for a folk song), and it sounds great. There just isn’t anything wrong with it.

Mynx plays with other atmospherics within the context of his songwriting; “Many Hours” has a full band, while “The Reins” has a distinctly Bon Iver-ish atmospheric build-up. Several tracks nod to folk tradition and have harmonica back-up. But it’s all done in a very forlorn way; none of the tracks here get caught up in their own pomp and circumstance. These songs are incredibly straightforward, down-to-earth, and enjoyable.

Mynx’s voice and lyrics add a whole other dimension to the songwriting. The lyrics are good, but his delivery makes them into what they are. Even when Mynx is delivering lines that would otherwise be cliches due to their amount of use (of which there are a handful), the way he delivers them and the context in which he delivers them make them seem like Mynx just really, really means those words. It fully doesn’t matter that other people have had those thoughts; Mynx had them too, and they were just as legit when he felt them as when those who went before him felt them.

This album is wonderful. The honest, sad, realistic clarity of the songs makes me want to put the entire album on repeat and have it running in the background of my life. I feel like people would understand me better if they heard this album. Seeing as someone else wrote this album, that’s a pretty weighty endorsement. If you like acoustic folk (Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez, Iron and Wine, Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter, Josh Radin, Damien Rice, Damien Jurado, et al.) there is no reason you won’t adore this album. I adore Vesper.

All Apologies

May 8, 2009

So, the IC has been a bit sporadic recently. Our Twitter has been super-active, but we haven’t posted a lot of reviews. This will change, starting tomorrow. Expect us to be back on a daily schedule for the rest of the summer.

Thanks for your patience.

Favorite bands right now: School of Seven Bells, Avett Brothers, K’naan.

Upcoming (overdue) reviews: Leonard Mynx, Love of Pi, several more.

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