Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Movin' and shakin'

September 30, 2011

The latest edition of SLTM the Podcast is sponsored by Independent Clauses. You don’t want to miss it, especially if you’re a fan of heavy music, 1800s poetry, or The Parson Red Heads.

Elizaveta initially comes off as Regina Spektor/Ingrid Michaelson follower, but there’s a sharp left hook in the chorus that has me very excited for the future. Don’t worry; you’ll know it. Hers is a career to watch closely. (As for the video? Well, it’s got serious wtf factor.)

Noisetrade’s Fall Sampler includes several artists that IC has featured among its 30-strong ranks: Brianna Gaither, Jenny and Tyler, Joe Pug, David Ramirez and Sleeping At Last, the last of which was covered so early on in Independent Clauses’ history that the review isn’t even on this version of the site. There are also several bands we highly recommend that haven’t been officially covered here at IC: The Middle East, Derek Webb + Sandra McCracken, Ivan & Alyosha, Josh Rouse and Josh Garrels. I’m guessing the other third is full of joy and wonder as well – I’ll be checking it out soon.

If you’re into the whole ’80s nostalgia thing that’s going around, you’re going to be all over Geoffrey O’Connor. His album Vanity is Forever is streaming in full over here. Seriously, it’s 1985 on that webpage.

Beirut’s The Rip Tide is still keeping me company, and now a visual aid has been supplied! Sunset Television made this bizarre yet somehow fitting clip for “Santa Fe,” and while I’m not really sure what’s happening, I enjoy it.

Oh Look Out, because you're going to be addicted to this

September 29, 2011

Quick note: SLTM the Podcast’s latest edition, sponsored by Independent Clauses, is up now. Check it out!

Each genre has embedded strengths that double as weaknesses. The best bands in a genre will deal will those issues, either by subversion, exaggeration or infusion of other genres.

Oh Look Out has solved the fundamental problem/feature of video game-inspired music (playful, but not emotional) by meshing it with current guitar-based pop-rock (emotional, not playful). The result is the fascinating, fantastic Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright.

Alright‘s approximately 25 minutes leaves more of an impact than albums much longer because it knows what it can and can’t do. No riff is beaten into oblivion, no chorus sung repetitively, no song lasting longer than you wish it would. This is economical songwriting, as one might expect from a songwriter — who goes only by JP — so influenced by electronics (Can we tolerate slow, overstuffed computers?).

The one-two punch is “Analogatron” and “Bass, Not an 8-Track.” The most complete of the songs here, they have distinct vocal melodies, memorable vocal performances, meaningful rock sections, quirky video-game contributions, and deliberate song flow.

“Analogatron” can be appreciated by structuralists and pop-lovers alike. It builds like a standard rock song, opening with bass and vocals before bursting into acrobatic distorted guitar lines. The song adds evocative synths, then ratchets it up to a big conclusion. On the other hand, both the vocals and the guitars are catchy as anything, hinging on the line “When I’m dead, I’ll play cassettes!” Heck yes you will.

“Bass, Not an 8-track” is even better. It’s a fist-pumping, clapping, stomping anthem of a rock song. I got shivers when, at the climax of the song, JP hollers “TAKE! TAKE ME BACK! BASS! not an 8-TRACK!” over a stomping guitar line and synth majesty. This is pretty much all I could ask of a rock song.

But it’s not all herky-jerky pop-rock. The stark “Short Waves” and “Implode Alright” bring to mind keys-laden bedroom pop experiments of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Daniel Johnston and more — but in a much less frustrating, self-indulgent demeanor and tone than much bedroom pop. They’re delicate, emotional, hummable and able to be put on a mixtape for a girl. This is pretty much all I ask of a pop song.

Also, the persistent, perky keyboards of “Kam” are absolutely legit.

Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright is on my shortlist for best pop-rock album of the year, right up there with Generationals’ Actor-Caster and Laura Stevenson and the Cans’ Sit Resist. Its emotional and playful elements balance perfectly, giving me songs that I can feel good about but also feel something in while singing/yelling along. Seriously, what else do you want? Free? Oh, well, it’s that too.

Afterlife Parade's Rebirth is a successful one

September 28, 2011

J. Quinn Erwin is the first Horizon artist to drop the tag, and he’s done so with impressive speed. It was just July that I was wondering where Afterlife Parade would go from its impressive but scattered debut, and three months later he’s clarified his position — with an exclamation point.

Erwin has gone the anthemic route over the subtle track on Rebirth, and it’s a bit of a revelation. There are strong suggestions of U2, Kings of Leon and Springsteen here, but Erwin makes the markers point to his tunes instead of away to those other guys’ works by meshing the easily categorizable elements with unusual, complex arrangements. That is exactly how you play those cards. High five.

The title track appropriates new-millennium U2 excellently, underlying the “woah-ohs” and terse melodic action with a rumbling energy that connects it to the other seven tunes here. “Black Woods, White Beach” is where Erwin really gets going, however. He deftly meshes raw emotional power via the vocal tone and melody with triumphant, Funeral-era Arcade Fire crescendos in a way that was missing from Death.

Erwin shows shades of his exuberant songwriting ethos throughout, whether in the giddy “Sequoia,” the clever minor/major pull of “Devil’s Dirt” and the fitting closer “Maypole.” These songs are bursting with interesting things to talk about, but that would strip the joy of discovery from you. Yes, it is that good.

Rebirth truly lives up to its title. Afterlife Parade now has a recognizable sound and the makings of a distinct songwriting vision that’s more than a gimmick. There are no clunkers on Rebirth; furthermore, there are no easy picks for “best tune.” They all have their own treasures. I expect big, big things from Afterlife Parade. I also expect you to go check out this album.

Horizon: Red Wolf Forest

September 27, 2011

The piano-based pop of Red Wolf Forest‘s self-titled album presents a unique problem: does 1+1+1 equal three or one? In a perfect world, the band’s combination of ’90s-style pop melodies, ’00s-style modern pop song structures and Muse-style stadium pop embellishments would mesh neatly into a striking, original sound — and its best moments, it does. The three parts stand apart from each other in other tunes, making for some ambiguous math.

The songs are enjoyable when they stick firmly in a genre: “No Regrets” calls up David Gray comparisons in the highly emotive melody and mood, “Keep a Secret” is extremely evocative for fans of “Creep”-era pop, and the synths and distorted guitars of “A Stitch in Time” will make fans of Matthew Bellamy and co. stand up and take notice. Other tunes appropriate the genres to lesser extent (“Live,” “Sinking”).

The reason I’m making a qualms with “enjoyable” is that closer “Endless Love” combines all three of their favorite affectations and creates something bigger (and potentially interesting) than the three genres alone. The synths are there, but they’re not the point; the vocals have ’90s inflections, but they don’t overdo it; the song’s structure will be quite familiar to anyone versed in pop or indie rock in the last ten years, but it’s not derivative.

The song is unique and interesting, although not quite as engaging or confident as some of the songs that remain firmly in a genre. This is no knock to the skill of Red Wolf Forest: Expansion on established work is one thing, while synthesis is quite another. I applaud the band for taking a risk, and hope they continue to put themselves out there.

Red Wolf Forest has the beginnings of a unique vision waiting to be developed. The band needs to grow into this sound, which is why they’re on my horizon. But in sports language, they’ve got a ton of upside built in.

News! And some videos.

September 26, 2011

I just heard word that Independent Clauses is the official sponsor of this week’s edition of SLTM the Podcast! I am super-stoked about this, as Brad Bugos spins some great tunes and does a lot to promote good music out there in the world. In addition, The Duke of Norfolk will be getting a spin on the show, which drops Wednesday.

Broken Arm serves alt-country straight-up: It’s all Ryan Adams, Jayhawks, The Elected goodness up in here. (Side note: How do you know you’re in Portland? Your pedal steel player has dreads.) This in-studio of “The Cold” is the band’s first foray into the recorded world, but the band assures that more is on the way.

Once the unnecessarily long video intro finishes, “Orange Tree” by Paper Thick Walls is a charming acoustic-led tune in the vein of The Civil Wars, The Weepies and She and Him (although more Americana-tinged than each). The video is a bit goofy in contrast to the wide-eyed romanticism of the tune, but it’s fun.


The Master Thief's jarring indie-rock will knock you out

September 24, 2011

It’s rare that a sound punches me in the face, so the opening seconds of The Master Thief‘s “Beethoven by Proxy” were jarring in the best way. The De Kalb three-piece rock band sounds like The Minutemen as filtered through modern indie-rock vocal melodies and structures, and that’s something I can get behind, yo.

They accomplish this feat by having jagged, stiff guitar riffs that bounce all over the place in unexpected ways, held in place by a steady rhythm section. The sung/spoken vocals provide the cherry on top, as they play with the listener’s expectations as well. “Beethoven by Proxy” is the best benchmark of their sound: you’ll know immediately whether you’ll like the rest of Get It While It’s Gaunt by the end of the tune. Now that’swhat an opening track is supposed to do.

The rest of the seven-song EP is a fun trip through a unique sound. “The Master Thief” and “Antsy Nantsy” are continuations of the rock vibe, while “Tank Top” is a slowed-down, poppy take on their angular sound. “Pterodactyls” is an impressive instrumental that allows the guitar to do double duty as rhythmic leader and primary melodist (a role the vocalist often plays). The only misstep is the jokey “Secret Song,” an acoustic song that detracts from the overall effect of the EP (although they do an admirable job of incorporating the angular melodic ideas into an acoustic guitar framework).

Get It While It’s Gaunt is an impressive, attention-grabbing EP. If you’re into mid-’80s/early ’90s indie rock or like angular riffs, The Master Thief will not disappoint.

Review Split: Mad Anthony and The Yellow Belts b/w The Gromble

September 23, 2011

Sometimes split releases pair incongruous bands, but Mad Anthony and The Yellow Belts complement each other perfectly. Each band contributes a song to a 7″ of rowdy rock’n’roll. The Yellow Belts’ hard-charging “War on Science” combines the four-on-the-floor urgency of Clutch with elements of the early ’00s rock revival, while Mad Anthony’s “Bear Attack” more directly draws from the Strokes/Hives/Vines rock sounds in songwriting style, guitar sound and overall mood. Both songs are pulled off with ferocity and fervor, making it a completely enjoyable 6:54. If you’re into rock, you’ll be into this.

Pop-rockers The Gromble are releasing a full-length later this year, but their self-titled EP is starting to work its way into my consciousness. If I had to put the The Gromble on a musical map, they’d be somewhere between Jack’s Mannequin on the high side and OK Go on the low side in terms of saccharine pop qualities. (I’m a big fan of both bands, so take that as a compliment.) Guitar-heavy tunes like “Cold Wolves” and “Toto” evoke the treadmill-running merrymakers, while the lazy “NYC Frog” has a melodic core reminiscent of Andrew McMahon’s work. If you’re into pop-rock, The Gromble needs to be on your radar. I’m looking forward to the full-length album immensely.

Quick hits: Banquets — Top Button, Bottom Shelf

September 22, 2011

I like to write long reviews, ’cause I like reading long reviews. I want to contribute to the “long reviews” file of the world. However, BanquetsTop Button, Bottom Shelf resists that approach, and not just because this punk album consists of ten songs in an airtight 25 minutes.

Nope, the reason this review is short because there are a small number of elements in Banquets’ sound that set it apart immediately from other pop-punk.

1. There are few obvious verse/chorus/verse structures, meaning that this whole thing feels like one hooky stream of consciousness.

2. The vocalist is stellar, bringing the perfect mix of vocal acrobatics, muscle and melody to the music.

3. The guitarists turned down the treble knobs on their amps, creating a bass-heavy, immediately accessible sound. Similarly, the treble on the cymbals is (thankfully, thankfully, thankfully) cranked down.

4. The band hits it and quits it, never dragging out anything that could be made into too much of a good thing. Always leave ‘em wanting more.

The best place to start is “Unforgiven V,” which is unsurprisingly the shortest song here except for the intro tune. A dual vocal approach and a sense of high drama that isn’t pushed into melodrama create the song of a summer I want to have. Mega.

So yes. Get yourself some Top Button, Bottom Shelf if you like pop-punk at all. It’s not your average “super-loud-pop-songs-yaallllllll” — it’s so, so much better.

Acoustic guitars warm hearts

September 21, 2011

“I’m having a week. Are any of you having a week?” And we all nodded yes, some more emphatically than others.

Kate Martin reminds me of fellow Aussie Brooke Fraser, and that’s nothing but good. An “Apples” a day keeps the blues firmly entrenched in your soul in that most warming of ways.

The Damn Choir, who seem to always be having a week, have a new album (You’re My Secret Called Fire) coming out soon. The song here is the draw, because Gordon Robertson is that guy who could sing the menu at the corner deli and still move me.

The Miami's reinvented songs strike a modern chord

September 20, 2011

Slave songs developed to encode the experience of temporal suffering and the longing for Earthly emancipation into the language of religious suffering and heavenly freedom. The hopes and fears of slaves are memorialized in those oft-mournful songs.

The Miami‘s “I’ll Be Who You Want Me To Be” is a translation of eight traditional African-American, but not exclusively slave, lyrics into a very modern indie genre that emphasizes the world-weary, beaten down aspects. The Miami, a duo of self-proclaimed “middle-class, secular, well-educated college kids,” sounds a lot like the most downtrodden moments of Pedro the Lion and Damien Jurado. In fact, my favorite Pedro the Lion song (a heartbreaking version of traditional hymn “Be Thou My Vision”) is similar to The Miami’s reinvention techniques. The Miami, however, eschews all familiar markers from the songs — you’ll never recognize “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” — to bring the tragedy of the words to the forefront.

It’s interesting that The Miami wears its secular background on its sleeve. Some lyrical meaning dissipates if the songs are being understood outside of an eternal hope – the afterlife wasn’t the only meaning of the words, but it was certainly a part of it. However, in translating not only the lyrics of the songs but the meaning of the tunes into a world-weary (“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”), “lo-fi,” occasionally avant garde (“If He Changed My Name”) genre, The Miami is free to make reference to the modern music world’s redemption stories.

And lo-fi (which at this point in history is an aesthetic choice, not an actual fidelity level) is about as redemptive as the current story runs. There are stops and starts in performance throughout the album; the album isn’t perfect, nor is it intended to be. There are intentionally unfixed “mistakes” (what a modern radio-listener would call mistakes, at least).

This, I believe, points out that The Miami is not broadcasting from some high tower: they are normal people, just like the listener. The acknowledgment of human collective (which is what the original slave songs produced) is here as well: the erratic, idiosyncratic aspects of the album were chosen to show that this is how we do mourning these days – and we can all tap in to that.

At least, “all” of those who ascribe to a Pitchforkian ideal of lo-fi recording as ideological purity. The vocal performance of “I Shall Not Be Moved” can be described as hysterical, strangled and occasionally atonal; it sounds glorious as juxtaposed against a beautiful, stately keys backdrop. There are large swaths of people who would only hear the vocals and hate it. The atypically loud and distorted ending to “I Danced in the Morning” will call up all sorts of garage-rock comparisons, which will turn off other people. Just the fact that I invoked Pedro the Lion will turn away some.

“I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go” is not for everyone. It’s as much (if not more) fun to think about than to actually listen to, especially in the more difficult songs. But it does possess a beauty for those willing to look and listen deeply (“Ring Out, Wild Bells,” especially). It’s an unusual album, but it has distinct worth and merit that I enjoy.

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