Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Goodbye, summer

August 19, 2011

School started recently for some folk. Other students are wringing the best out of their last days of freedom. I’m in the former category, as I’m enrolled in grad school after a jaunt in the “real world.” (It’s all pretty real to me.)

Here’s a tune courtesy of The Hue that fits the mood of those last fleeting days: upbeat, but tempered from the gung-ho enthusiasm of June. “The Bump,” indeed.

Also, if you remember how awesome Live was in the ’90s, you’re going to be all about Red Wanting Blue. RWB has a bit more of an organic feel (Gin Blossoms!), but you’ll love it.

Restorations gets it

August 18, 2011

I love the emotive power of music. I listen to music so I can be transported out of this time and space. I go to shows to hear someone else play my heart. If it doesn’t have life running in and out of it, I’m in and out of there.

That’s part of the reason I grew out of pop-punk; I lost my connection to its heart. I still find a punk band every now and then that gets it, and I love it. Restorations, however, is a totally different animal. These guys sound like they have the same story as me: loved that punk, grew out of the four-on-the-floor charge, and started relating differently to everything. Not less passionately, but differently. Lots of people quit music at this point in their lives. Restorations didn’t, and I’m super-excited that, instead, this is where their story starts.

The band can really crank it out – be assured of that. This is a rock band. But this is the type of rock band that builds to earns your trust. Opener “Nonlocality” doesn’t blow the hinges off the door: they ease in before kicking the door down with “West River.”

The rolling snare and harmonies of “Nonlocality” make it clear that these guys have the patience and maturity to realize that the shiver-inducing first vocal entry is worth the effort. When the bass-end-heavy guitar comes swooping in 3/4ths of the way through, I wanted it there. It was a cathartic moment.

The rest of the songs have similar traits. The gruff vocals and punk energy of “Neighborhood Song” fit because the band has earned my trust. I want to know why they feel like the charging guitars are necessary (and they do reveal it). “Broken Vacuum” has a latent energy about it that makes it a joy to drive to. I can’t even explain to you how powerful “When You’re Older” is. Just go hear it.

Restorations’ self-titled album has a mature power that leaves an impact. Their restraint makes a bigger bang than other “louder” bands, because they’ve set up the big moments better than straightforward ragers. It’s like if old-school Arcade Fire had a heavy guitarist, or if Appleseed Cast let things loose a bit. It’s an incredible album, and it just keeps growing on me.

This is the sort of band that sings people’s lives. There is life after age 23, and Restorations plays it.

Red Sammy's gravelly rasp leads into Tom Waits country

August 17, 2011

Red Sammy vocalist and songwriter Adam Trice describes his music as “graveyard country,” and it’s not hard to see why. A Cheaper Kind of Love Song‘s country/folk has one very noticeable distinguishing feature: a gravelly, broken, Tom Waits-ian voice leading the way.

The voice is the band; other than the sung notes, the songs are very nice, unimpeachable country/folk tunes. A vintage National guitar plays the leads, but without prior knowledge of the National sound (of which I don’t have much; I discovered this tidbit in the press release) it will sound like any other steel guitar (even though it is most assuredly not). An acoustic guitar provides the rhythm, and the drums and bass fall in behind.

So, for all intents and purposes, listeners’ appreciation of Red Sammy depends on your feelings for vocalists in the Tom Waits arena. If you love a mangled instrument (as I seem to remember a writer describing Waits’ voice), you’re going to eat up Red Sammy, regardless of your genre affinity. If the phrase “permanent damage” floats ominously through your mind each time you hear Waits’ music, you will want to pass on Red Sammy.

For those taking things on a case-by-case basis, it’s less simple. You can’t count the whole album as a simple “take it or leave it” endeavor, as the band has an upbeat side and a mellow side. “Come Back Home” turns Trice’s rasp into a roar that gives the shambling tune power; “It Ain’t You (Carolina Road Anthem)” doesn’t electrify the song in the same way as the previous, but it certainly fits in authentically.

The slower work, which is most of the other six songs on the album, leans on the contrast between Trice’s low, gruff croak and the smooth, folky instrumental performances. Trice summons a surprising amount of pathos on the downtrodden “Baltimore,” making it a standout on the album. “Cactus Flower” is less empathetic, but still memorable.

A Cheaper Kind of Love Song is divisive, but a recognition that Tom Waits has been rocking his shtick for over 40 years proves that there’s an audience for sounds like these. If you’re in the market, this is an album you’ll want to pick up. Adventurous types are also recommended to check it out.

Concert review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

August 16, 2011

So I’ve arrived in Auburn, AL, which means I have a whole new music scene to discover. The early frontrunner for band with the best name is Bottle Up and Explode, closely followed by The Bandar-Log. I’ll be seeing Bottle Up and Explode Saturday (hopefully).

But the first local band I saw in Auburn was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Yes, Jason Isbell (ex-Drive By Truckers) is from North Alabama, which makes him local enough for me. He showed up minus a guitarist that was on the poster, but hey – I wasn’t familiar with Isbell or DBT before this show, and I didn’t notice the hole.

The audience, however, was familiar with his DBT work (the crowd loudly requested and then went nuts for “Outfit”) and his new stuff. His rootsy, folkier stuff held the audience in sing-a-long thrall, while his more Southern rock-tinged stuff seemed to lose some of the audience hanging out on the fringes of the venue.

I was one of those wallflowers, most impressed by the tender folk-pop of “Alabama Pines.” Isbell’s descriptive, emotional storytelling was best displayed on quieter tunes like these. His engaging between-song banter made the show even more enjoyable. All in all, I’m very interested in checking out “Here We Rest,” Isbell’s new album.

Here's your half-year, 2011

August 15, 2011

Colin Stetson's "New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges"

Just like IC puts out its year-end best-of list in February, my half-year best-of doesn’t hit until August. This list includes the music I covered while at the Oklahoma Gazette.

If you would like to see this list visually, I’ve created an Independent Clauses Pinterest page that also includes the best artwork that’s crossed IC’s path in 2011 and a list of best books about pop music.

16. Chad Valley – Equatorial Ultravox. ’80s dance-pop revivalism that captures both the playful nonchalance and wistful romanticism of the first disposable music era.

15. Aaron Robinson – A Dying Art EP. The Nashville songwriter comes into his own, creating a set of unforgettable melancholy tunes.

14. James and Evander – Constellating EP + 2. The true heirs to The Postal Service’s throne, at long last.

13. The Antlers – Burst Apart. Song of the year “Putting The Dog To Sleep” caps off a emotional album of indie-fied slow jamz.

12. Adebisi Shank – This Is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank. Exuberant O-prog (optimistic prog rock) that makes the very best of a trio by use of some wicked complicated pedalboards.

12. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh. A gorgeous album of secular hymns. “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes” is the quietest emotional wrecking ball of the year.

10. Cameron Blake – Hide and Go Seek. The album establishes Blake as a songwriter with a unique voice and something to say.

9. Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. I am still blown away by the power in her voice and assured quality in her piano songwriting. Tough to believe it’s a debut.

8. Jenny and Tyler – Faint Not. They’ve upped their game from charming folk duo to serious songwriters with heart-pounding lyrics and music.

7. Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resist. One of the most complete albums of the year, as well as the most varied. Stevenson can hit shots from all over the indie court.

6. Typhoon – A New Kind of House. Horns, strings, drums, guitars, choirs: Chamber-folk doesn’t get better than this Portland outfit.

5. LCD Soundsystem – Last Show at Madison Square Garden. Not a true album, or it would be higher. The frantic energy of each tune makes this a can’t-miss for even casual fans of James Murphy’s work.

4. Generationals – Actor-Caster. Perky indie-pop tunes with undeniable charm and indelible melodies. “Ten-Twenty-Ten” is my summer song.

3. Brine Webb – O You, Stone Changeling. If emotional nakedness were the 100-yard-dash, Webb would be Usain Bolt. Dazzling folk beauty and devastating lyrics.

2. Braids – Native Speaker. Mesmerizing, wandering, evocative beauty from the only band to surprise me with a unique take on indie-rock this year.

1. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges. Stetson turns a single baritone saxophone into an art-rock band, churning out astonishing post-rock pieces at turns terrifying and rapturous.

Rat Wakes Red's ghostly melancholy is best experienced whole

August 14, 2011

I don’t often sit back and chill, as I usually relax by reading or writing poetry. But the dreamy simplicity of Acres by Rat Wakes Red makes just being a very pleasant experience indeed.

RWR creates intimate, melodic tunes reminiscent of old-school Iron and Wine. Songwriter James Raftery plays more piano than Sam Beam did, and his sketches tend more toward ghostly melancholy than the bearded wonder’s. Raftery’s voice has soothing reverb on it, giving the tunes an even more ethereal air. Gentle synths and strings make appearances, capping off the tunes.

Raftery’s tightly-defined production leads to the make-or-break point of Acres: the eighteen songs tend to run together when listened to in one sitting. Barely a song steps outside the guitar/piano/vocals/auxiliary instrument oeuvre he sets up.

As a result, the overall effect is not song-driven; the album is best experienced as an un-dissected document. In an ADHD era, this is a liability in attempts to gain casual listeners; there is no single here. But for those who love the experience of setting an album on and blissing out to the mood it creates, this is a treasure trove. Fans of Other Lives, Elliott Smith, Sigur Ros and Joshua Radin will find much to love in Rat Wakes Red’s Acres.

Odds 'n 'ends

August 12, 2011

These guys said that pop music would eat itself, and they were right. But I’m not sure it’s the horrible thing they implied it would be. G-Eazy‘s “Runaround Sue” sees him rapping over Dion’s classic pop song – and it’s great.

The video, with near-perfect appropriations of ’50s dress, hair and make-up, is also worth mentioning as awesome.

Independent Clauses tends toward the quieter end of the spectrum these days, but SLTM (The Podcast) features great harder music, some courtesy of Phratry Records and Chuck Daley at Beartrap PR. I’ve covered a great deal of music from both sources, so I was excited to see someone else upping the good work. Hit up the podcast, which just released episode #116. Whoa.

My friend Jeff, who played with me on this album, was in a band called Best Left with one of the guys who is now half of the acoustic pop duo The Motha Folkin’ Soul. Jeff recommended/dragged me to their show at the local dive, and I went along almost entirely on the strength of the ridiculous name.

The band lives up to their eloquent name: the duo plays dirty ditties to make the members laugh, as wordplay, in-jokes (Kunek/Other Lives reference!) and goofy antics abounded in their short set. Their latest single is “Coffee Sex,” and if the song wasn’t so guile-free and catchy, I’d probably not listen to a song with that title. Instead, the songs are endearing and affecting in a “how is this so sweet?” sort of way. Awesome. Hit up their single here.

And that’s all I’ve got. Album reviews will return tomorrow, much to my own glee (and hopefully yours!).

IC is going to win the World Cup

August 11, 2011

The first half of Jurgen Klinsmann’s debut last night as U.S. National Soccer coach was pretty boring. The old guard did just enough to stop Mexico from running away with it. When Klinsman sent in the new blood after the break, their creativity and energy put Mexico on the defense for the whole back half.

Consider this new design our second half. Chris Krycho scored two big goals: vastly improving on our old digs, and giving us a sweet mobile version. If you’re in the market for a creative and energetic striker/designer, I’d point you his direction.

With our new design comes a new Twitter account, which will feature my thoughts instead of an indie music newsfeed. Since Facebook mercilessly and without warning destroyed archived our old Facebook page, we have a new one of those too.

In other music-related news, my latest production effort came out Tuesday. “Nightingale” by The Duke of Norfolk inserts little electronic flourishes into his emotional alt-folk, and I think it sounds great.

Expect an odds and ends post tomorrow, and then a return to CD reviews on Saturday. Here’s to future hat tricks.

Horizon: The Loose Salute

August 9, 2011

The Loose Salute‘s Getting Over Being Under mashes She and Him-esque vintage pop and modern alt-country sounds together. The resulting 11 tunes are incredibly pleasant, as you may expect a combination of those earnest genres would create. (Ian McCutcheon, drummer for alt-country greats Mojave 3, is the songwriter here.) The album is only problematic if you ask it to be more than nice.

“Vintage” is a peculiar fad in and of itself; a thing’s age is not an intrinsic marker of quality or necessity. Decades-old furniture that lasts is valuable; the trend of leg warmers (now almost 30 years old!) is not valuable. When bands appropriate a vintage sound, is it worth it? Does a band gain something by appealing to a person’s nostalgia?

I’m not sure they do. By drawing a direct line between “the good old days” and their current work, bands are attempting to recreate a thoroughly-tapped well. This almost precludes them from being able to do anything new and creative: If a band’s goal is to sound like someone else – even a nebulous other that is “vintage” – the achievement of that goal is a total absolution of whatever element would cause a band to stand out.

That’s where the problem lies in Getting Over Being Under. Each of the tunes are competent, pretty, even enjoyable. But I can’t pick out a single thing that I remember after the album is over. It’s akin to the music that movie characters hear on the radio when they wake up: pleasant, but not really the point of what’s happening.

“It’s a Beautiful Thing” is a pleasant, charming tune with some nice strings and a plodding country bass line. There’s nothing bad about the song at all. But by the time it folds into the perky “Run Out of Morning,” I totally forget it. No matter how many times I listen to the album, I find myself searching for the one track with really great horns (“So Out of Time”). There’s plenty of organ throughout. The mellow tracks are kind and calm: “This Is Love” is especially pleasing.

The really baffling thing about this album is that because it appeals to my nostalgia, I like it a ton. When I’m listening to it, I truly enjoy it. But afterwards, I can’t remember it. The band has effectively insulated itself against being disliked by me, but I’m not sure that’s the goal of being a band. I wouldn’t have written about it if I could find something to dislike about it. But this is a solid, enjoyable album – sort of. The Loose Salute is quite talented, and I would love to see the members branch out and take some sort of step to distinguish themselves from the pack. If not? Well, they’ll always be pleasant.

G-Eazy's new jam

August 4, 2011

The “G” in G-Eazy could stand for “Generationals,” as the indie-rock rapper’s new jam “Make-up Sex” uses that duo’s “When They Fight They Fight” as the hook. I’m thrilled.

G-Eazy’s new project The Endless Summer drops Saturday.

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

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