Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Pics: Eastern Block/Ocean is Theory/Bottle Up and Explode

August 30, 2011

Last Saturday, August 20, I went down to Eighth and Rail and saw Bottle Up and Explode release their EP Kingsley. Nashville’s Eastern Block and Atlanta’s Ocean is Theory supported. Bottle Up and Explode’s release is on my to-do list. Click the pictures for the full sizes.

Eastern Block’s bassist.

Eastern Block’s vocalist/guitarist.

Ocean is Theory setting up. I really enjoy taking pictures of bands prepping.

Ocean is Theory getting into it.

Ocean is Theory really getting into it.

Bottle Up and Explode loading in. Then my camera died, because I’m bad at judging my camera battery.

My Education/Theta Naught provides impressive collaborative improv

August 29, 2011

Although I don’t feature it very often on Independent Clauses, I love improvisational music. I was in an art-rock band for over four years that mostly did improvisational music, and thus acquired the taste. It’s very hard to do well: to end up with listenable improvs, the members of the band have to know each other well enough to predict familiar patterns in unfamiliar compositions. Band members have to read each others’ minds.

With tons of practice, lots of jams and a good knowledge of music theory, however, it is possible to create spontaneous music that doesn’t sound like a jumbled mess. My Education/Theta Naught proves it in their Daytrotter session, which (I’m told) is improvised.

But My Education/Theta Naught isn’t one band: it’s two collaborating. That makes this Daytrotter session even more incredible, as they definitely haven’t had the years that many improv units have to gel effectively. But the post-rock that the two bands collaboratively craft has builds and swells that lead into sections of near silence, all seemingly coordinated perfectly. “Careful With That Saw, Ryan” is a gorgeous piece of post-rock that could rival any of the major bands in emotive power, especially with the swooning strings.

But it’s “Dingerland” and “En Masse” that capture my attention, as they are complex indie-rock jams that move a lot faster than “Careful With That Saw, Ryan.” The amount of difficulty in composing these pieces on the fly jumps up exponentially when members have to make decisions very quickly and in a very loud situation. But the band handles it excellently, building to roaring conclusions that feel very right.

As a longtime improv guy, I enjoyed hearing the drummer move through natural progressions of pattern and volume to take the band to the conclusion of “Dingerland”; there’s little that’s more enjoyable than hearing something that you know should be happening happen correctly. In that regard, it was just plain fun to listen to My Education/Theta Naught’s collaborative Daytrotter improv: I was looking for the markers, and they were there.

If you’re into experimental indie-rock or improvised music, I would highly recommend this to you.

*ps: This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a Daytrotter session, and I did it because of the nature of improvisational music: these songs don’t exist in this way anywhere else.

On the pervasiveness of electro-pop and the scarcity of film

August 27, 2011

As computers go, so does electronic pop. In the ’80s, electro-pop was this magnificent other (and if you’re Chad Valley, it! still! is!!!). As computers became more ubiquitous, electronic pop did as well; The Postal Service’s Give Up triggered pop culture’s awareness that electronic pop could be gentle. Now we’ve come all the way to The Shoes, whose song “Wastin’ Time” makes electronic pop sound downright organic by integrating it seamlessly into “real” sounds. And I do mean seamlessly.

The video, on the other hand, is a throwback to an era when film meant something. The cinematographic style, story, camera angles and immense attention to detail all point to a time before disposable YouTube vids. (It’s telling that this is hosted on Vimeo and not YouTube, but that’s another post.) The attention to craft and the perfection with which the visuals match the feel of the song make this music video my favorite of the year so far, barely edging out Brianna Gaither’s “Find You.” It’s a bit unfair competition, however: Director Yoann Lemoine‘s recent work also includes videos for Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

THE SHOES – WASTIN TIME from Yoann Lemoine on Vimeo.

Annie Crane's gentle acoustic tunes call up Nick Drake comparisons

August 26, 2011

My perception of music is inextricably tied to seasons. I can’t hear Bon Iver’s self-titled without at least pining for a “good winter,” and MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular is quintessential summer listening. The fall listening is dominated by the heartbreakingly gorgeous Nick Drake album Pink Moon.

Annie Crane‘s Jump With a Child’s Heart is also fall listening, not in small part because the delicate acoustic constructions owe a structural debt to Drake. At her best, Crane produces gently rolling songs of peace and quiet wonder from her guitar. The tasteful strings (“You & Me & The Evergreen,” “Copenhagen Heart”) only draw more comparisons.

Her lilting, Celtic-inspired voice is prone to soaring. It’s quite beautiful, and she knows it: when she tosses off words quickly and casually during “Salinger Said,” the variation is so surprising and welcome that the tune becomes a highlight of the album. Crane also adds some force to her delivery in the exciting, vaguely sinister “Lookin’ Out.” There’s nothing wrong with having a gorgeous set of pipes, but using them the same way the whole album makes for a charming beginning and a tedious middle.

Crane does mix up her arrangements, however: Background vocals, steel guitar, stand-up bass, trumpet, sparse percussion and even some clapping on “Money Only Hates Me” spice up the tunes.

Jump With a Child’s Heart has a gentle walking pace to it, only enhancing my desire to stroll down a path shaded by trees with leaves turning while playing the album. This is a very good album: Annie Crane has clearly established a recognizable modus operandi. In the future she will need to introduce people to other sides of her (and her voice) while retaining that clarity of mood and construction which makes her best music so engaging. The album drops October 4.

An older, calmer Beirut delivers on massive potential

August 25, 2011

I rode a fixed-gear bike for about two weeks as a result of an uninformed impulse purchase. (“Frame and chain for ten bucks? IN!”) After the initial shock and subsequent few days of learning curve, I deeply enjoyed the soothing rhythm of constant but leisurely motion. The pleasant experience ended in defeat and bike modification when I realized that Auburn is literally the hilliest place I’ve ever seen.

I was reminded of my fixie weeks when listening to Beirut‘s The Rip Tide. I’ve respected Zach Condon as a unique and important voice in indie rock since his debut album, but I haven’t spent much time listening recreationally to his music. The force with which he projected his signature tenor warble on the world turned me off, despite my affection for his horn/string/piano/auxiliary instrument arrangements.

That’s not a problem here, as Condon tones everything back (including his voice!) for a short but fully-realized album. In nine tunes and about 33 minutes, Condon does more to engender my affection than he has in all his previous work combined: each tune sparkles, but the gentle “East Harlem,” Sufjan-esque “Santa Fe,” sleepy “The Peacock” and swaying “Payne’s Bay” command my attention.

“Sway” is a good word for the whole collection, as the pieces seem to share a subtle rhythmic consistency. That’s what brought me to the bike: the tunes unspool at a speed faster than walking but slower than driving. It’s constant leisurely motion, otherwise known as the perfect soundtrack for lazy (bike) commutes home.

The mood is also consistent. Where Condon has been forceful or energetic in the past, he’s relaxed now. He never goes for the throat with any arrangement or vocal line, and the album is all the better for it. There’s enough variation in his horn-heavy orchestrations to distinguish between each song, but not so much as to strip the flow. You can still tell it’s Condon (no worries there, you’ll always know when it’s him singing), but I appreciate that it’s an older, calmer version.

The Rip Tide surprised me. I always give Beirut a chance, but this time Condon delivered on as much of his initial immense promise as can be expected. (So he’s not the next Jeff Mangum. And you are?) I have a feeling this will be in my year-end top ten, and that’s a big compliment, considering what made it into the half-year top list. But yes, The Rip Tide is that good. Go get it.

The Fierce & The Dead is this close to being great

August 24, 2011

Albums can generally be categorized into four groups: great and up, bad and below, average and almost great. This last category is the hardest to review; for every negative, I want to write in two positives (even when this is mathematically and realistically impossible). Furthermore, I want to point out all the negatives so that bands can improve just the little bit more they need to break over the top. The Fierce & The Dead’s If It Carries On Like This, We Are Moving to Morecambe is almost great, and it’s killing me.

The British post-rock group’s flaw is that it can competently play almost every style of post-rock there is, from romantic melancholy (“The Wait”) to dissonant and abrasive thrash (“Landcrab”) to indie-rock (“10×10″) to pensive build pieces (“Andy Fox,” which also has bonus sax, Empty Space Orchestra-style). The members’ impressive instrumental talents ensure that there are no individual pieces to knock, but the collection falls a tad bit short in terms of constructing a complete album. I don’t want ten copies of “The Wait,” but the flow of the album is weird.

See how depressing that sounds? Let’s recap:This album is really good, but the members of the band need to buckle down and figure out what they’re telling us. The band does tend to lean more toward the minimalist/pensive side, but the moods of those pieces range from the aforementioned romantic to “eerie horror movie” (“Woodchip”). On the one hand, it shows off their skills and creates some really interesting music; on the other, it’s hard to contextualize the whole album.

(side note: “The Wait,” which you will by now notice is my favorite tune here, sounds like this sketchbook looks [warning: one piece is NSFW])

Here’s another way of looking at this: as individual songs, The Fierce & The Dead have written approximately eight solid-to-amazing post-rock singles. (I know that’s not a real thing, but it’s for the sake of argument.) If you’re not the album type, pick at random (unless it’s “Woodchip” or “Hotel No. 6,” which are more sound experiments than songs), and you’ll really enjoy what you hear.

I have a feeling that with one more album under the band’s belt, The Fierce & The Dead is going to be something amazing. Right now it’s a B+. I know my critique doesn’t make it look like a B+, but man — I want to see this band take the next step really bad. I think they can do it. And that’s why it looks harsh.

It's the end of (paying for) (itemized) art

August 23, 2011

James Murphy at Austin City Limits 2010. Photo/Matt Carney

I keep accidentally reading things about the end of paid art (the basic theory, espoused neatly by Chris Anderson, that when anything goes digital it will eventually become free). The old model (paying for reproduced art items) is dead, but the good news is that it was really only a 20th century model anyway. For the rest of time, artists have been supported in other ways than selling physical interpretations of their work: art items (books, magazines, visual art) didn’t become truly viable until the 18th century, and not prevalent until the 19th, while music reproduction was almost impossible until the LP came along in the early 20th century. Before that, everything was live.

Everything.

No, really.

So yes, you will not make money selling your book/movie/album soon. This is especially a bummer for books, a medium which has no live element. But music, theater, art and movies* will survive and thrive on their live aspects, because there’s a vast difference between seeing the Sistine Chapel on StumbleUpon (which I did yesterday) and seeing it in person (which I did ten years ago). I still count the real experience of it as way more valuable than yesterday’s viewing – even though the digital picture was clearer online due to Photoshop.

If you play well live, you’re gonna be fine. People will want to come see your show. If you make art, have showings. People will want to come see it. Note how many people came in for LCD Soundsystem’s last show.

“But James Murphy is a genius!” people say. And it’s true! He is. But Nick Drake was a genius and a miserable, miserable showman. Josh Ritter (closer to the Nick Drake side of sounds) is closing in on genius status, and he’s a brilliant performer.

People flocked to the final LCD shows because the band just blew people’s minds live. Its recorded music pales in comparison. This is the new paradigm.

Does this mean a lot more time on the road? You bet it does. Brandi Carlile will be on the road the whole rest of the year, with the exception of October. That’s exhausting. But it’s the new shift.

There will be less people doing music professionally, and there will be more people trying to break in to that small elite. It will get even harder to become a band. But for those who are willing to sacrifice to do what they love, there’s still a place for you. There always will be.

Always.

Even when they start streaming shows online en masse (and they will), it will be like seeing the Sistine Chapel on Stumbleupon.

Always.

Even if we get to the point where we are entering 3-D renderings of shows that we are viewing through virtual reality helmets (by Google, probably), there’s just no substitute for the unquantifiable live energy that a band and audience create. You weren’t there, as James Murphy would note. You’re just bringin’ him down.

There will always be a place for people who bring it live.

Always.

*I value the theater experience. Many others do as well. We could debate the rise of home theaters, but I’m not really qualified to do that.

Photo/James Murphy at Austin City Limits 2010. Photo/Matt Carney

Initial thoughts on Google Music

August 22, 2011

I’m investigating Google Music in the same way that I investigated Amazon MP3′s cloud locker. Here’s some initial thoughts:

1. The Android app only works on firmware version 2.2 or better. For those of us on 2.1 and haven’t had the over-the-air upgrade (which, if I understand my provider correctly, is not due for a very long time), we’re out of luck. Attempting to manually upgrade crashed my computer repeatedly. Fun. Amazon 1, Google 0.

2. Google Music’s uploader took about the same amount of time as Amazon’s, but it slowed down my computer dramatically for almost a week. Amazon 2, Google 0.

3. Google’s instant playlist option fills in the holes in your music library with other like artists, which is very cool. I don’t have a great deal of female singer/songwriters, so when I made a Regina Spektor playlist, Rachel Yamagata and Sara Bareilles appeared in the list. Nice! But I do have a bunch of dude singer/songwriters, so Google didn’t fill in as many tracks on my Mountain Goats list. Also very cool. Amazon 2, Google 1.

4. Google’s “Free Songs” library has bands like Oasis, Ben Folds Five, Modest Mouse, Blitzen Trapper and Empress Hotel. That’s neat. (It also has Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” which gets it like a million extra points.)

5. It’s really intuitive to use, and the streaming has (so far) been flawless.

Overall, I’m incredibly annoyed at their decision to only support 2.2 or above (I bought this phone* in March. It is not old.), and therefore will be using Amazon’s MP3 cloud player until the situation resolves itself in my phone upgrading and/or Google downgrading. But if you’ve got a 2.2 Android, I would check it out; it’s pretty sweet.

*I would just have my phone company upgrade it, but there are some things that void the warranty.

How to get blogs to notice your band, by a guy who notices bands for a blog

August 21, 2011

I’m not the only blog in the world, and there’s a quick’n’dirty way to find blogs that will potentially like you and write about you.

1. Go to Hype Machine. It’s a blog aggregator, pulling MP3s from a ton of blogs and hosting them in an easy-to-use format.

2. Figure out a band that your band sounds like, or a band that would share similar fans with yours.

3. Enter that band into Hype Machine’s search box (top right).

4. Look at the first listing. It should be “Artist – Song Name.” Under that line of text is a small link that says “Posted by x blogs,” where x is a number. Click that link. (If this link is not below the text, that blog is the only blog that posted the song. Note the name of the blog, then move on to the next listing.)

5. A dropdown should appear, listing the names of blogs that posted the tune and an intro paragraph to the corresponding post. At the end of the intro paragraph will be a link that says “Posted on x y,” where x y is a date. Open that link in a new tab.

6. You are now at the blog that posted about an artist you sound like. Find the contact info for the writer of the post. For larger blogs like Aquarium Drunkard, this person will be different than the editor of the site. Smaller blogs may be a one-person outfit.

7. E-mail them nicely, mentioning the band you sound like in the subject line.

8. Have your music, bio, picture and contact info easily available from the e-mail but not cluttering the page. You want to keep your e-mails short and to the point. Your bio and picture could be good attachments. Blogs have different policies on music submission, but I hate getting huge, attached files. A nice, discrete link to a download site or Bandcamp is great.

This process will help immensely, as blogs get approximately a gazillion e-mails a day, and quick connections make you stand out.

In practice, it looks like this. The band King Rey e-mailed me their EP Street Friends. It’s heavy on the doo-wop pop sound that’s enjoying a resurgence. I’m not a big fan of the genre, even though King Rey sounds talented in their craft. I know that Tennis is a band that has some similar sounds going on. Plug in Tennis, and “Tennis – Pigeon” pops up. Eight blogs have posted it, including Tune the Proletariat, Indie Shuffle and We All Want Someone to Shout For (twice!). Those blogs would be a good idea to hit with an e-mail for King Rey.

Similarly, Killing Kuddles is a rockabilly band. Punching in the word “rockabilly” doesn’t produce very good results, as the word “rockabilly” doesn’t appear in band names or song names often. Searching “Legendary Shack Shakers” brings up several blogs that would be good for KK to e-mail (I am a Moonshiner, ninebullets).

Even though this gives you a good in, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get heard. Blogging is a horribly inexact art, driven in great part by “what I feel like doing today.” There are very disciplined bloggers, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I don’t feel like listening to x band because I’m in y type of mood, even if I would probably like the type of music x band plays if I were in a normal mood. Based on the number of e-mails bloggers get, that disconnect (which is entirely not your fault) could deposit you in the “get to this someday” or “deleted” pile. And that sucks, but that’s the way it happens sometimes.

If you get back an e-mail that says, “Hey, it’s good but it’s not my style,” don’t take it personally. There are tons of other blogs out there. Go get ‘em.

How to get blogs to cover your band: a best practices PSA

August 20, 2011

As I noted yesterday, I recently transitioned from the workforce to academia. There are three major differences for IC with this change:

1. My daily round-trip commute went from 75+ minutes to 5, which significantly cuts into the time I have available for music listening.

2. I will spend a great deal of time attempting to comprehend complex and esoteric theory, the reading of which is not conducive to simultaneous music consumption.

3. My old job allowed me to listen to mainstream indie music at work, allowing time for undiscovered indie stuff on the commute/at home.

These will all work together to ensure that I listen to and write about less new music. I’m still hoping to update IC daily, but it could be about anything music-related, not just undiscovered CD reviews.

BUT!

Even though my music consumption will constrict to stuff that I feel is fantastic (Sorry, Bon Iver, it’s just not as good as For Emma), I’m not going to leave good bands high and dry. I’m not the only blog in the world, and there’s a quick’n’dirty way to find blogs that will potentially like you and write about you.

1. Go to Hype Machine. It’s a blog aggregator, pulling MP3s from a ton of blogs and hosting them in an easy-to-use format.

2. Figure out a band that your band sounds like, or a band that would share similar fans with yours.

3. Enter that band into Hype Machine’s search box (top right).

4. Look at the first listing. It should be “Artist – Song Name.” Under that line of text is a small link that says “Posted by x blogs,” where x is a number. Click that link. (If this link is not below the text, that blog is the only blog that posted the song. Note the name of the blog, then move on to the next listing.)

5. A dropdown should appear, listing the names of blogs that posted the tune and an intro paragraph to the corresponding post. At the end of the intro paragraph will be a link that says “Posted on x y,” where x y is a date. Open that link in a new tab.

6. You are now at the blog that posted about an artist you sound like. Find the contact info for the writer of the post. For larger blogs like Aquarium Drunkard, this person will be different than the editor of the site. Smaller blogs may be a one-person outfit.

7. E-mail them nicely, mentioning the band you sound like in the subject line.

8. Have your music, bio, picture and contact info easily available from the e-mail but not cluttering the page. You want to keep your e-mails short and to the point. Your bio and picture could be good attachments. Blogs have different policies on music submission, but I hate getting huge, attached files. A nice, discrete link to a download site or Bandcamp is great.

This process will help immensely, as blogs get approximately a gazillion e-mails a day, and quick connections make you stand out.

In practice, it looks like this. The band King Rey e-mailed me their EP Street Friends. It’s heavy on the doo-wop pop sound that’s enjoying a resurgence. I’m not a big fan of the genre, even though King Rey sounds talented in their craft. I know that Tennis is a band that has some similar sounds going on. Plug in Tennis, and “Tennis – Pigeon” pops up. Eight blogs have posted it, including Tune the Proletariat, Indie Shuffle and We All Want Someone to Shout For (twice!). Those blogs would be a good idea to hit with an e-mail for King Rey.

Similarly, Killing Kuddles is a rockabilly band. Punching in the word “rockabilly” doesn’t produce very good results, as the word “rockabilly” doesn’t appear in band names or song names often. Searching “Legendary Shack Shakers” brings up several blogs that would be good for KK to e-mail (I am a Moonshiner, ninebullets).

Even though this gives you a good in, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get heard. Blogging is a horribly inexact art, driven in great part by “what I feel like doing today.” There are very disciplined bloggers, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I don’t feel like listening to x band because I’m in y type of mood, even if I would probably like the type of music x band plays if I were in a normal mood. Based on the number of e-mails bloggers get, that disconnect (which is entirely not your fault) could deposit you in the “get to this someday” or “deleted” pile. And that sucks, but that’s the way it happens sometimes.

I love new music, and I’ll still be covering it. But if I send you back an e-mail that says, “Hey, it’s good but it’s not my style, and here’s a way to find some other blogs that will like you guys,” don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s me. No, really.

Recent Posts

Recent Comments

Archives

Categories

Meta