Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

It's a King Thing's excellent indie tunes resonate with heartfelt nostalgia

May 25, 2010

Weezer’s Blue Album came out on May 10, 1994. On May 10, 1994, the Twin Towers were still standing, the Internet was in its infancy, the most common meaning of the word “pitchfork” was “garden tool,” and Bill Clinton was president. That was sixteen years ago. Kids who are old enough to be relating to the Blue Album were just barely born when it came out. It’s almost oldies to them. This is somewhat terrifying. Hopefully it will always remain a youthful diatribe, rediscovered by each new generation.

And if it isn’t, well, It’s a King Thing is on the case with their ridiculously titled Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. I shouldn’t be surprised; IAKT contains ex-members of the also ridiculously titled Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start. As I once referred to them as Up Up Down Down, I will refer to the album in question as Buffalo.

Even though the title of Buffalo is incredibly wordy, the particular and extensive title is part of the appeal that continues from the Up Up Down Down days and made me put a lengthy Weezer intro at the front of this review. It’s a King Thing has essentially remade the Blue Album for the indie-rock generation. And that, my friends, is as high praise as this reviewer can dole out.

The Blue Album was obsessed with three things: geeky high school life, monster riffs and snarky lyrics. If you replace monster riffs with mid-fi indie-rock sensibilities, you’ve described Buffalo to a T. There are tons of acoustic guitars, boatloads of dreamy production values, wistful melodies, and an overriding sense of awe that envelops the proceedings. These songs are so tightly crafted that not a one breaks four minutes, with only two breaking 3:30. But the twelve songs in thirty minutes thing sounds great, and it’s been done before; if “Only in Dreams” hadn’t been eight minutes long, The Blue Album would have been right over a half hour too.

These songs don’t just capture an essence of youth, indie production and wistful laziness. These tunes rule. The riff in “Baby Tantrum” chugs along in an entirely appealing way while proclaiming that the narrator isn’t acting like a baby; “Kira” makes me think of the first girlfriend I ever had while treating me to a banjo pluck and a sighing melody.  “Wine and Ponies” has a perky horn section to help it along, while the melodies and harmonies of “Triple Jump” are incredibly poignant and memorable. “Hangin Out” talks about hanging out in the middle of the night with more harmonies. “Old Hobbies” addresses relational dysfunction in an entirely humorous and realistic way.

I don’t often say this in reviews, because there’s often not an empirical reason to do so, but I love this album. The pitch-perfect nostalgia,  incredibly well-written songs and perfect production job have produced an absolutely stunning album. It transported me back to a place in my life that IAKT has never been; that’s the mark of superior songwriting. But on some level, we’ve all been in the place that IAKT is writing about; I mean, that’s why we still listen to the Blue Album. And that’s why you should be listening to (deep breath) Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Download the whole thing for free here.

I Can Hear Myself Levitate delivers a memorable, creative, genre-mashing EP

There are residual benefits to not listening to the radio. I don’t get overexposed to songs, so I never tire of good tunes (I still love “I’m Yours” by Jazon Mraz months after people can’t take it anymore; ditto for “Hey Soul Sister” and “Beautiful” by Akon). I also never get burned out on genres. If you’re making good pop-punk, I’m still able to rock out to it; I haven’t been burned out by its overexposure on radio.

Which is probably why I’m so enamored with I Can Hear Myself Levitate’s EP What is Left. ICHML has a sound that incorporates AFI’s darkly theatrical musical bent, Coheed and Cambria’s prog leanings, the high-pitched vocal preenings of Fall Out Boy and a low-slung form of guitar-centric rock’n’roll. They even dabble in some post-hardcore at points during the album. If heard with an uninterested ear, it wouldn’t sound much different than anything else on radio. The ear would hear the chunky guitars in the choruses and dismiss everything else that’s happening. And that’s sad, because ICHML have a lot more to offer than simple Boys Like Girls/Angels and Airwaves songs.

Take “Body Heat,” for example. The song sets up a distinct mood from the get-go, setting up the fast-paced drums against a moody, wiry guitar line. They pump it up for the chorus, but they never let the mood of the song change from an insistent, dark, patient piece. Mega props to the guitarist for not letting the song change mood. Its unique feel even amongst the tunes here gives it “standout track” moniker. “The Artifacts” plays with similar moods, but it doesn’t do it as effectively, as the song relies on the vocals instead of the guitars to create the mood. The vocals are great, but the evocative and pensive type of vocalist is not the type of vocalist they possess. Thankfully, they catch this by the end of the song and feature some tight guitar work in the back half of the tune.

“Eskimo Kiss” features jagged, intricate, organized rhythms against a smooth vocal line; the juxtaposition is immediately memorable. The vocal antics are especially memorable here as well; you can almost see the vocalist leaning out into the crowd and gesturing wildly. It’s another excellent song.

What is Left is a great EP. I Can Hear Myself Levitate presents a good snapshot of who they are and what they can do. The only thing I can particularly complain about is that the vocal style is very much a love it or hate it proposition. From beginning to end, they show instrumental chops, songwriting skill, creative energy and passion. What else could you want out of a rock band? Not much. If I Can Hear Myself Levitate gets to the right ears, we could have a serious contender on our hands. Watch for them.

Sin Ropas' woozy, blurry indie-pop is a puzzler

May 24, 2010

I’ve been listening to Holy Broken by Sin Ropas for a long time. I’ve kept dragging my feet on reviewing it because I keep feeling like I’m this close to really getting it. I try to pinpoint what bands are trying to accomplish on their albums and judge them on whether or not they accomplish that; but with Holy Broken, I’m no closer to figuring that out than the first time I listened to it. I don’t often say this, but I just don’t get this album.

At its core, it’s a slow, melodic pop album. It’s just covered up in a whole bunch of frills. But the problem is that if you take away the frills, the songs aren’t really songs anymore. This means that the frills are actually essential bits that just feel like frills.

“Folded Uniforms” exists primarily on a wash of guitar distortion, some muddy electronic beats, auxiliary percussion, buried synthesizers and an occasional piano bit. It constantly feels like the intro to something else. After a couple listens I got used to the fact that the sounds weren’t precursors; they were the main event. It’s a pretty song, but it doesn’t feel completed. It doesn’t feel uncomplete; the production is well-done and the tune has a beginning, middle and end. It just sounds weird to me. Other tunes have similar structures, like “X is for Christmas,” although it has a guitar line anchoring it.

The best comparison I can make to this album is an off-kilter Grandaddy. That seems like an insult, but I think the guys in Sin Ropas want this album to feel off-kilter. That’s the only explanation I can figure for an album that gives us “Nailed in Air,” which juxtaposes kitschy beats with a solid guitar-pop song and a meandering piano bit, and “Unchanged the Lock,” which I like for moments and then don’t like for others.

When they strip down, the purposes feel a bit more clear. “Stolen Stars and Light” shows that Sin Ropas can and does just write acoustic pop songs when they feel like it. So does title track “Holy Broken,” which uses the muddy beats and weird instrumentation just right. But the rest of the album leaves me scratching my head. It’s like something I would usually enjoy, but this time I just don’t. If it really is a slow-burner of an album, it’s an even slower burner than the National’s albums.

Like I said before; this feels like an off-kilter, slightly woozy Grandaddy album. Their quiet moments feel like Damien Jurado, which is wonderful. So if you’re a fan of fuzzy, woozy, blurry indie-pop and rock, this is up your alley. It has me stumped, though. Listen before you buy.

The Locals create tight pop-rock with a dynamic female vocalist

Discussing the Locals as a unit is difficult. They fall neatly into two parts: the band and the vocals. This distinction is particularly difficult, as it divorces vocalist Yvonne Doll from her arms (she’s the guitarist too). But it’s a necessary distinction when discussing Salt, their four-song EP.

The Locals are a pop-rock band, and an incredibly tight one at that. When the musicians kick into a groove, it sticks together and rocks hard. There’s not a moment where the band feels out of sync on the entire EP. It feels like the songs were born as a unit instead of from individual parts. This has to do with the engineer of the EP as much as it does the band; but even the best production can’t make something sound this well-performed. From the charging beat of “Sound It Out” to the bass-heavy “Away From Here,” the band locks it in on everything they try.

Yvonne Doll’s vocals sit on top of these songs. I say sit on top of very precisely; it seems that she is somewhat divorced from the band. I don’t know if it’s how it’s mixed or what, but there’s a definite distinction between the band and Doll in the songs. That’s a sad thing, because both are equally excellent. Doll’s voice has a good range, attitude without snarling and a smooth tone. It’s very inviting in its quieter moments and fist-pumping in the epic moments. I wish that she could have been mixed a little bit more into the songs, as I think that might help the odd division.

But these tunes don’t suffer too much from that problem. They are attention-grabbers, as Doll’s voice and melodies don’t let go. The contributions of the band (especially on “Everything Must Go”) add distinction and charm to the already great songs. The four tunes on Salt show a band that has a lot of promise ahead of them. A band this tight with a singer that talented should have lots of play in the future. I look forward to their future songs, because there should be many more of them. Recommended for fans of female-fronted guitar pop or the Goo Goo Dolls.

On Joyful Wings releases the best compilation album I've ever heard

May 23, 2010

I am a big fan of compilations. Twenty or more bands to check out at once in a format that plays them end to end while I chill? Yes please. On Joyful Wings‘ compilation We Were Lost, We Were Free is the best compilation I’ve ever heard, bar none. It even trumps Deep Elm‘s enormously influential Too Young to Die; seeing as I discovered my favorite song of all time via that comp (Appleseed Cast‘s “Fishing the Sky”), please know that I’m endowing an immense amount of praise in those words.

The reason it’s the best ever is because out of the 21 bands featured, there’s only two bands whose offerings I didn’t enjoy. Furthermore, I was inspired to go get more music from eight of these bands. Add in the fact that I already own music by three of these bands, and you’ve got an 11/21 conversion rate. That’s enormous for a comp. Mostly I find one or two bands off a comp that I enjoy enough to follow. These guys know what’s up when it comes to tracking a comp.

The bulk of the tracks here are gorgeous, flowing acoustic tunes; there are a couple indie-rock tracks, an indie-pop song and an excellent pop-punk tune by Chasing the Sky, but other than that it’s all acoustic. Holcombe Waller contributes “Risk of Change,” which has brilliant melodies, solid lyrics and a contained energy that makes the song infectious. I’ve listened to it 22 times already. I’ve also listened to “Umbrellas (Acoustic)” by Sleeping at Last 22 times; the track itself is gorgeous in its construction, and this acoustic version translates beautifully.

Carl Hauck‘s “To Coast” was written specifically for this comp, and its optimism through depression sets the tone for the whole album for me. Ikaik offers up a soul-crushing (yet still beautiful) tune that contradicts that last statement, as there’s little hope in the lines, “you can hate me/you have got the right/and when you leave tomorrow/don’t say goodbye/and don’t try to change my mind.”

TW Walsh (ex-Pedro the Lion) contributes a really nice change of pace with a goofy, upbeat tune; Tom Hoekstra reinterprets “Be Thou My Vision” excellently; Josh Woodward goes all Depression-era troubadour tales on us; Fireflies offers a beautiful “fields at dusk”-type piece; and Jeremy Larson leads off the set with an impeccable piece of melodic, cinematic pop.

If a 19/21 success rate and a 11/21 conversion rate aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps the fact that you get all that plus contributing five dollars to the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation should pique your interest. Great tunes and a charitable feeling in your soul. At this point, your only question should be “why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?” and the reason for that is that I’m a jerk. and I’m busy. But mostly a jerk.

But seriously, get over to their Bandcamp page and download it. You will not regret it if you like acoustic music. It’s an absolutely incredible collection, and I absolutely can’t wait for their next project, which they’re already working on. I promise I’ll tell you about it quicker next time.

This Drama creates solid, entertaining punk with some pop leanings

This Drama’s San Diego XIII features punk that flirts with poppy intentions and has some dance rock thrown in for good measure. If that sounds even remotely intriguing to you, this album is a good investment.

There’s honestly not much more I can say to convince you that doesn’t fall under that previous statement. The band cranks out the tunes with charging riffs, hollered vocals and the requisite amount of snare. Some songs are ready-made for pogoing (“She Had a Knife!” ). Others beg to be moshed to (“Strictly Dishonorable”). “Tiger vs. Lion” has a tight dance vibe that is way more uninhibited (in a good way) than any of the Killers’ or the Bravery’s work. “Fish Taco” takes a fifty-three second detour into metal.

The hollered vocals aren’t as raw as Latterman’s, nor are they as soft and melodic as radio-friendly pop-punk bands. They fall somewhere in the middle. They’re able to be yelled along to, but they’re also able to be sung. There’s group vocals, too; no worries there. They go all-out rage on “F*ck Your Local Scene,” and given the title and song sound, it totally fits. “Hungry Eyes” also has some pretty intense vocals, but the music of the song is less ferocious than the aforementioned.

The highlight tunes here are “Tiger vs. Lion” for its aforementioned dancy goodness, and “Hungry Eyes” because of the little intro (I know that sounds weird, but you’ll remember it and listen to “Hungry Eyes” more because of it). San Diego XIII is a good pop-punk album. There’s nothing ground-breaking about it, but it’s solid, enjoyable and worth popping in the CD player when you’re knocking about town with the windows down.

Happy 7th Birthday to us, pt 2: FREE MP3s!

May 18, 2010

…we have the tunes that keep you movin’.

We here at Independent Clauses have covered music for years, but we’ve never put any music into the world. This is a problem that we are fixing right now. We are releasing for your ears’ delight, Independent Clauses, vol. 1: Our Friends are All Freaking Awesome. Seeing as this is our first time releasing music, we’ve got a few kinks to work out and a few curves to learn. But, below is the zip file.

Independent Clauses, vol. 1: Our Friends Are All Freaking Awesome

1.  “Brian, Jenny, and the Mayan Calendar” by Marc with a C
2. “I Won’t Back Down” by Chris Hickey (Tom Petty Cover)
3. “I Melt With You” by Fairmont (Modern English Cover)
4. “Another Stripe – Carradini Mix” by Dishwater Psychics

Super props to all four bands that contributed; this is a dream of mine, and I’m so grateful to them for making it happen. Props to all the bands that we’ve worked with over the years who have motivated us to want to release music in the first place. Super thanks to my friends Katy and Albert, who allowed me to use their computer to make this post happen (my internet is jacked, which is why there wasn’t a post yesterday).

The art, metadata, and more are on the way. I just really wanted to get this out, because I’m excited about it. I once was concerned about everything being perfect on the first try; seven years later, I’m convinced that everything is a work in progress.

So, enjoy the songs! Three of them are unreleased, with the Fairmont cover being a rare b-side. I’m really excited about all of the tunes, as evidenced by the title, and I hope you are as well.

*start* pause

May 16, 2010

So, the gift that we promised you is coming. Today got away from me; in addition, our gift to you is slightly more complex than we thought when we set out on this process. Bear with us. You all are great. Here’s to tomorrow.

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Happy 7th Birthday to us, pt 1: We are living in charmed times

May 15, 2010

We are living in the best musical times the world has ever known. This point was driven home to me by a band called, incredibly appropriately, The Very Best.

Yesterday at work, I was having a hard time getting going. It was rainy, it was Friday, there was not much work to do. But I had some work to do, so I needed a pick-me-up. I remembered a Facebook (1) post talking about Stereomood (2). The site features static playlists attuned to mood, instead Pandora’s (3) revolving playlists based on musical attributes. I pulled up the “energetic” playlist, which treated me to tunes by bands as disparate as Etta James, Nirvana, Broken Social Scene and House of Pain (“Jump Around” is nothing if not energetic). Third track on the list was the enigmatic “Mfamu” by The Very Best. The indie/techno beats combined with African language and vocal style gripped me. I needed more.

I jumped over to their Myspace (4) and let it roll. The tunes were tight, and I noticed that they were all remixes (5). Because remixes are almost entirely free to download and handle, I jumped over to my favorite rare/unreleased music site.  Hype Machine (6) aggregates hundreds of blogs (7) and puts their downloads and posts in one location. I searched around a bit and found a digital mixtape (8) that they had made at Gorilla Vs. Bear. I listened to a track off the mixtape and was seriously stoked.

I jumped over to Amazon (9) to see if their album was available stateside. The members are from Malawi, Sweden and France, all meeting up in London.  Music knows no international bounds any longer (10). I found out that it had, indeed been released across the pond. I found that I’d also missed the boat by about six months, as The Warm Heart of Africa came out last fall, but that’s alright by me. So, by this time I’d gotten through all my work for the morning (thank you, the Very Best!) and took lunch.

Since my local record store (11) is literally down the street from my workplace, I went down to Guestroom Records and had the clerk order the album for me. It will be there for me Tuesday or Wednesday. Score!

Later I found an interview with the members of the Very Best, and I found out that they self-recorded the album (12). They’re also not on a major label (13), according to their Myspace. Best of all, they seem incredibly down to earth and devoid of any rock star excess (14), seeing as the front man (still? maybe?) runs a second-hand store in London. I also found out that their title track features Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, which is awesome because collabs rock (15) and it’s a guy who wants to be African singing on a track with someone who actually is African.

So, as the guys and gals here at Independent Clauses celebrate our seventh birthday, we’d like to give a shout-out to people with unrelated day jobs who keep it real (16), people with related day jobs that keep it real (17) and people who don’t have jobs and keep it real (18). Major props to the unsigned musicians (19) who keep this place running; without music, we’d be ships without a sea.

With those nineteen reasons anchoring us, we celebrate all the reasons (listed and unlisted) that we’re living in charmed musical times. May you never take it for granted. And if you ever feel inclined to, let me remind you that…

La Strada makes energetic folk-infused indie rock with a small orchestra in tow

May 9, 2010

I came into an appreciation of folk music at about the same time the folk revival was beginning to gain prominence (roughly four or five years ago). I was finally lucky enough to catch a thing at its peak; it seems I always go back and discover the goodness of a thing after the fact (point: I saw Death Cab for Cutie on their Plans tour, the Mountain Goats on their Get Lonely tour, Coldplay on its X&Y tour, and Guster on its Ganging up on the Sun tour; all of which were one album after their best album). But this time, I’m on the edge with the rest of the people rocking out to Mumford and Sons, because folk finally reclaimed energy.

La Strada’s New Home does Mumford and Sons one better. Instead of just being a folk band on speed (which, as M+S’s immense popularity shows, is quite alright), they’re a folk band on speed eating an indie band. It’s like gentler Beirut with a guy who can sing; it’s like Arcade Fire with acoustic guitars. This album is so incredibly hip and current that I’m afraid I’m not cool enough to review it. But I reject that notion, because the songs are brilliant. These songs aren’t just for the cool; they’re for people who like anything related to pop music.

“The Traveler” features a bouncy drum line, a mini-orchestra and a jaunty vocal line. The smooth quality of the vocals is immensely reassuring from the beginning of the album; he has the best elements of many different vocalists. His ability to convey emotion without oversinging recalls Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard; his effortless delivery recalls people with gifted voices like Novi Split’s David Jerkovich. The fact that he meshes so well with the band makes me think of the National, even though their voices seem separated by (several?) octaves.

The ragged yet gentle rhythms of “The Traveler,” plus the immensely reverbed guitar solo, strings, trumpets, tubas, and keys make for a richly ornamented, impossible-to-dislike song. There’s tons going on here, but as in an Anathallo song, it all works together. Even when they kill the beat, punch up the accordion and turn the song into a Parisian street waltz (not kidding), it sounds amazing.

Then they kick into “Wash On By,” which brings a indie-rock surge of energy to their still-instrument-heavy mix. This song will make you move, as well as yell and cheer with the band. The rhythms, which are distinctly foreign but not exactly easy to pin down, simply bring the house down. I wish I could be in the audience for a performance of “Wash on By.”

Then there’s the title track, which for once is appropriately chosen. I hate it when bands don’t choose the right title track, but this one is far and away the most memorable track of the album (and you thought I’d lavished all the exuberant praise I had in me? naaa). The song is sparse, but it’s not sparse in the lack of instruments; they use the instruments sparingly, locking them in together to pull a distinct and certain mood out of the tune. The word masterful is not an exaggeration of this tune’s quality.

The whole thing is held together by the vocals, again, which are glorious and command several beautiful melodies. The brass band and strings contribute significantly to this tune. You will be singing “Hello strange familiar, you’re my new home; oh, wha-o, wha-o wha-o.” Trust me, it looks goofy there, but you’ll know exactly what I mean when it happens. You will be powerless to resist it.

My highest praise for an album is “I could write a small book about this album.” And it is very, very true of New Home by La Strada. I didn’t even get to talk about the lyrics, the art, the rest of the tunes (and seriously, that’s a tragedy to me, because “Baptism” and “Where You Want to Go” and “Go Forward” are all wonderful and worthy of covering). All I can say is, for your own good, buy this album. It will improve your mood for weeks.

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

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