Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Kitsuné Maison cranks out a killer dance compilation

November 19, 2011

I’ve been training for a half-marathon since August, and I now only have two more training runs before the 13.1 miles of something-vaguely-akin-to-glory transpire. My interest in running music has been directly proportional to the increasing length of the runs, which is one of the reasons IC readers are treated to the RunHundred top ten list every month. I haven’t jumped into the continuous mix boat yet, but Kitsuné Maison’s 12th compilation The Good Fun Edition is pretty close to one.

Kitsuné is an interesting story in itself: it’s a record label, music magazine and fashion store all at once, in addition to putting out compilations of electronic/dance music. The label roster boasts the excellent Two Door Cinema Club, as well as IC new faves Is Tropical. (Neither appear on this particular compilation, sadly.)

But plenty of other great tunes fill out the fifteen-track compilation: “Goose” by The Cast of Cheers takes a profoundly post-punk angle on dance music, providing a Bloc Party-esque indie rock extreme to the compilation. “Record Collection 2012 (Plastic Plates Remix)” by Mark Ronson and the Business Intl. and “Let’s Work” by White Shadow form the extreme end of the dance spectrum, as both are essentially clubby beats and melodies with minimal lyrics (and song structure) provided.

Tons of different angles on dance music fall in between those, like the Phoenix-goes-house genre mashup that is “Excuse Me” by Lemaitre (easily the most infectious track on the comp, as well as the most baffling). “Zimbabwe” by New Navy is all up in that post-disco/hipster-world-music groove. MuteMath is checking its discography to make sure it didn’t write “Closet Anonymous” by Man Without Country. There’s plenty of ’80s-inspired stuff, if you’re into that—although none of it reaches the transcendence of Chad Valley’s work.

If a good compilation is supposed to sound like a radio station that you don’t want to change, Kitsuné’s The Good Fun Edition is working exactly as it should. I expect nothing less from the compilation series that helped launch Icona Pop, although I don’t hear anything as immediately arresting as that find on this version. Still, the overall effect of the comp is impressive; you could leave this in your car and spin it for a long time without getting bored. And “Excuse Me” will most likely never get boring.

Contact your Congressmen to keep the Internet (and Independent Clauses) free and open

November 18, 2011

I don’t get involved with politics on Independent Clauses unless it’s critical, and it currently is critical. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is a proposed law that would give a wide swath of powers to “fight piracy” and “enforce copyright laws” to the government, corporations and individual citizens (with and without a grudge). The rules, which are currently “contact the offending website and request a takedown of offending material” or “pursue due process of law to attack copyright thieves,” would be modified to take out much of the process.

Here’s a worst-case scenario: I run a poor review of a band, accompanied by the band’s album art and a music video. The band, angry at this bad review, calls up our hosting company and complains that I posted their copyrighted content without their permission. At this point, our hosting company may be legally obligated to take down the entire Independent Clauses site. Not the post: The whole site. And since due process of law is eliminated, there’s little to nothing I would be able to do about it.

And that’s not even the part of the bill that includes government censorship of websites. This is very, very bad.

Please contact your Congressmen so that this ambiguous, amorphous future doesn’t happen.

Run Dan Run releases the rare album that's great as a whole and in parts

November 16, 2011

I don’t know of many people in the United States who still listen to Turin Brakes. The band is alive and kicking in Britain, but their U.S. moment in the sun came during the early ’00s with Ether Song during the melodramatic Brit-pop wave (Coldplay, Keane, Travis, etc.). For whatever reason, they didn’t have the good fortune of sustaining and entering the American public consciousness. Still, I really enjoy their thoughtful, pensive melodrama, and consider it a fuller, folkier counterpoint to the fragility of Parachutes-era Coldplay.

I mention all that to say that Run Dan Run sounds like Turin Brakes, and that’s a compliment in my book. (That payoff probably wasn’t as good as the setup warranted.) Run Dan Run’s Normal is a solid collection of acoustic/electric tunes that works incredibly well as a whole album, in addition to its single-producing abilities.

The fullness includes horns, drums and earthy electric guitar on “Lovesick Animal,” as well as some sort of synth/keyboard on “Box-Type Love.” These songs are the catchiest of the lot, offering up hooky vocal lines and intriguing tones to assert dominance over whatever was happening in your musical brain before this (for me: Sleeping at Last). “Box-Type Love” is especially potent in this regard, as you’ll be humming the nonsensical, titular hook after all is said and done.

The lyric probably makes sense in context, but the lyrics aren’t foregrounded in the mix. This is an album about the sound of things, and a carefully constructed one at that. This detailed attention to craft is much more comparable to The Walkmen (Ed. note: two days of Walkmen references in a row!) than Mumford and Sons or even Coldplay.

Not that Coldplay doesn’t pay attention to the sound of things (they certainly did in Parachutes, and since Eno came on board, increasingly do), but the little flourishes are more easily recognizable as mattering than in other albums: The background keys in “Gestures and Patterns,” the mere presence of the instrumental “Intro,” the woozy bass tone in “Fresh Faces,” and the gently dissolving closer “In Parts.” This album belongs in the conversation alongside bands like Turin Brakes and The National: Old souls making contemplative music that gets labeled rock for lack of a better term.

There’s much more and nothing left to say about Normal. I could go on about individual tunes, but the main points have already been said: this is a beautiful album for the album’s sake that also has some great singles on it. Run Dan Run has succeeded in a rare task, and you should check it out.

Del Bel's evocative, melodic indie-rock fills holes

November 15, 2011

Broken Social Scene is gone, which means that there’s a hole in the “absurdly large, Canadian indie-rock collaborative” part of the music universe. Thankfully, Del Bel is here to take up that space, both in size and sound.

And it’s quite a collective, encompassing at least ten people (according to the Facebook page). Some of them have been in Do Make Say Think, The Happiness Project, Ohbijou and (surprise, surprise) Broken Social Scene, among other bands listed. But all this pedigree wouldn’t matter if the songs sucked. Is Del Bel’s Oneiric worth the hype?

Very yes. The members of the band draw on their extensive indie rock histories to create a diverse album of gently rolling, evocative, moving indie rock held together by a cinematic strain running through the tunes. Opener “Dusk Light” is a slow-builder that falls between The National and Portishead, but with a lilting female vocalist. “Stirring Bones” falls next, and it falls on the New Pornographers side of things, even invoking She and Him a bit. But instead of being disparate, the two seem like logical extensions of each other, both held together by legato guitar lines living just beneath the surface of the tune. Even though the first uses the subterranean guitar to press the tempo and the latter uses it to rein in the shuffling groove, the sound locks in to the listener’s mind in the same way.

It’s not the only marker that transfers across these gentle, beautiful tunes. The forlorn mood that so invokes High Violet is on display in “Beltone” and “No Reservation,” although the latter jazzes it up a bit with woodwinds and rumbling toms. The Portishead comes out in the separated beats and immense space of “This Unknown” and “Slave to the Deep.” A dash of The Walkmen’s dramatism is applied throughout, although the band never appropriates the trademark Walkmen yowl. These songs are primarily gentle, not caterwauling.

The control that Del Bel Oneiric asserts over its sound is incredibly impressive. By restraining any impulse to get frenzied, they have created a well-tuned set of songs that translate into a well-coordinated album. It’s rare that I hear an album that works on an individual song (local) level and a whole-album (global) level, but Oneiric does. Highly recommended for fans of melodic, artistic, evocative music.

Alston David's enigmatic, engaging pop grows on me

November 14, 2011

Our disposable culture doesn’t have much use for slow-growing albums. This is a profound sadness, as albums that sink in over repeated listens often offer the highest dividends. Alston David’s self-titled album of eclectic, vintage pop is one of such releases.

This review almost didn’t make it to the site; David’s e-mail to me bounced around in various folders before finally settling in the “To Review” section. I didn’t exactly know what to make of it: The thirteen songs borrow from both the light piano-pop of ELO and the ominous, psychedelic mishmash of the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic. “Photograph (Angels/Devils)” pulls from both at the same time.

But as difficult as it is to wrap my head around the contrasting aspects of Alston David’s work, I kept coming back to the songs. “When California Falls Right Into the Ocean” has a haunting melody doubled by the vocal and piano, a ragged sense of rhythm, and lush atmosphere. Opener “Spottedcrow Flies” foregrounds the arch feel of the album via a synth-heavy march. The forlorn “Tornado” features a cold-yet-elegant piano and strings. “If It’s All In My Head” is what Keane’s nightmares sound like. These are pop songs, but not like any you’ve heard recently.

The tunes are hard to place in the constraints of genre; this may be because I’ve not been exposed to a great deal of this type of music, or because their cross-genre sound takes a while to get used to. I do know, however, that the melodies keep running in my head, no matter how difficult it is for me to cite RIYL bands or even specific and concrete reasons I like the album as much as I do.

I’m sure this has been a relatively unexciting read, and I apologize to everyone involved. But Alston David’s self-titled album is engaging because it’s enigmatic, and then enigmatic because it’s engaging. That loop makes for great listening, but not necessarily good writing. Just go listen to it – it’s worth your time, especially if you give it a full listen (and then think about it for a while).

Indie (and not indie) hip-hop

November 13, 2011

Tiny Mtns songwriter Elijah Wyman has stressed that If you like this, share it with yr friends. If you don’t, share it with yr enemies. will be a rotating mixtape, and he wasn’t kidding. In the time since we first mentioned it and now, he put another mix of “Bold as Lions,” then removed one to leave only the “Sexy Boyscout Mix.” I don’t remember which version was the “original” version, but with this sort of rotating project, that seems relatively unimportant. The hazy, herky-jerky indie-groove of “Underfence Passes” is brand new, and forges ahead in the vein of his previous tune “Local Honey.” The indie/hip-hop, organic/electronic collision is a unique and entertaining sound that I highly recommend.

I’m a couple weeks behind on posting the Run Hundred top songs list from October, and there’s really no excuse for that. Here they are, with links!

Tim Berg – “Seek Bromance (Avicii Vocal Edit)”
Alex Gaudino & Kelly Rowland – “What A Feeling (Hardwell Remix)”
Wolfgang Gartner & Will.I.Am – “Forever”
Hot Chelle Rae – “Tonight Tonight (Goldstein Remix)”
Taio Cruz & Flo Rida – “Hangover”
Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull & The WAV.s – “I Like How It Feels”
Kaskade & Skrillex – “Lick It”
Adrian Lux – “Teenage Crime (Axwell & Henrik B Remode)”
Flo Rida – “Good Feeling”
Kelly Clarkson – “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)

Saturday tunes

November 12, 2011

With Stanford getting unexpectedly stomped, my evening plans took a turn for the boring. So, I’m breaking my usual moratorium on Saturday work by sharing these tunes with you.

Hey Geronimo is (yet another) Australian band blessing my ears with its wonderful tunes. Their gleeful single “Why Don’t We Do Something?” features enthusiastic acoustic guitars, tambourine, perky bass, maracas, a guitar solo and a guy yelling “Yeehaw!” Where do I sign up for more?

The Finger mixes modern rock guitar tone, dance-rock grooves and a female vocalist to create a memorable tune in “In a Fragment of Time.”

Starlings, TX is no stranger to tragedy, in life and in song. So it’s fitting that he was moved by the wildfire that devastated a huge section of Bastrop State Park that he wrote a beautiful alt-country tune about it. Proceeds from the pay-what-you-want download will go toward recovery efforts.

I have been known to malign the Ohio State football team as “the national champions of Ohio” based on their Buckeye State-centric non-conference schedule. But wonder-filled indie-poppersBreathe Owl Breathe is about to become the musical national champions of Michigan, and that’s nothing but admirable. Check this touring sched with Little Wings, who will appear on all shows except the early Nov. 26 engagement:

Fri. Nov. 25 – Grand Rapids, MI @ DAAC
Sat. Nov. 26 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Wealthy Theater – 3pm
Sat. Nov. 26 – Grand Rapids, MI @ DAAC – 8pm
Tue. Nov. 29 – Evanston, IL @ SPACE
Wed. Nov. 30 – Ann Arbor, MI @ Arbor Vitae
Thu. Dec. 1 – Kalamazoo, MI @ The Strutt
Fri. Dec. 2 – Ypsilanti, MI @ Dreamland Theater
Sat. Dec. 3 – Detroit, MI @ ‘Noel Night’ at The Scarab Club
Sun. Dec. 4 – Brown Town, MI @ House Show
Tue. Dec. 6 – Marquette, MI @ Up Front & Co.
Wed. Dec. 7 – Hancock, MI @ Orpheum Theater
Fri. Dec. 9 – Traverse City, MI @ Higher Grounds
Sat. Dec. 10 – Petoskey, MI @ North Woods Studio
Sun. Dec. 11 – Bellaire, MI @ Shorts Brewery


November 11, 2011

Pat Campo‘s video for “JTITM (Just Text It To Me)” is a OK Go-esque video with pretty clever tricks up its sleeve. It’s really impressive; you should watch the whole thing closely.

Eerie/beautiful video from Ofelia Dorme matches the song perfectly. The song is appropriately titled “Cheer Me Up.”

This video from MC Subcon featuring Kam Moye is absolutely gorgeous.

Nikki Lane's approximation of old-school country is a winning appropriation

November 10, 2011

Having just taught an entire unit of classes on authenticity in music, it’s prescient that Nikki Lane‘s Walk of Shame is next up on my slate for review. The primary draws of Lane’s debut album are her voice and ability to create songs that are a dead ringer for old-school country tunes from that ambiguous past that reviewers liberally reference.

First the easy stuff: Lane’s husky, dusky drawl does reach back to the time of Loretta Lynn and other full-voiced singers. It’s mesmerizing in both its evocative quality and its rarity; you just don’t hear singers that sound like Lane that often. She celebrates the unique qualities of her voice, using her pipes to roar on tracks like “Lies,” get indignant on “Hard Livin’,” and deliver an earthy gravitas to the romantic “Comin’ Home To You.” It’s possible to enjoy this whole album simply by listening solely to the vocals.

But she’s not singing a capella, of course. The tunes are definitely country, but it’s a modern approximation of what old-school country should sound like. There’s nothing wrong with that at all; that pretty much what Jack White did in collaboration with the aforementioned Lynn.

It’s not all up-down bass lines, plucked guitar strings and pedal steel (okay, there actually is a lot of that third thing). The title track is very nearly an early ’00s retro-rock song, what with the organ, rumbling toms, syncopated distorted guitar and charging chorus. The only thing that marks it as a country song is her drawl, giving the song a fascinating flair.

“Sleep For You,” “Blue Star in the Sky” and “Look Away” are more traditional country tunes, adhering to strictures of the slow-dance two-step that was quite popular in the Texas of yesteryear. “Coming Home To You” is reminiscent of Kenny Rogers. “Come Away Joe” sounds like country as filtered through Coldplay (no, for real). The songs all sound like modernized, hi-fi versions of themselves and that’s not a bad thing; if they literally sounded like their time-period, people would be confused. But it certainly doesn’t sound like Taylor Swift, either; be it far from me to claim that.

Nikki Lane‘s Walk of Shame has good songs, a good vibe, great charm and repeat factor. It’s not for those who are (still) allergic to country, but if you’ve got country kickin’ around in your heart, you need to be on this train.

Matt Stevens' post-rock keeps the listener close

November 9, 2011

Matt Stevens is a prolific guy. Fresh off playing guitar for post-rockers The Fierce and the Dead’s If It Carries On Like This, We Are Moving to Morecambe, Stevens released a whole album of guitar-based post-rock under his own name. Just as If It Carries was a moving and emotive album, Relic is an evocative and fascinating collection of songs.

Stevens’ control of rhythm, melody and atmosphere make this album. Anyone can write a melody, but turning it into something unexpected melodically and rhythmically while supporting the piece with the right feel is a unique skill. Opener “Nightbus” is the perfect example of this, as it warps relatively common rhythms and melodies into a singular piece.

These instrumentals draw heavily on post-rock, trip-hop and acoustic rock for inspiration, but it’s all filtered through a keen sense of what an acoustic guitar can and can’t do. Stevens knows when it’s time to break out the electric guitar, and when to let the acoustic do it’s thing. This results in organic-feeling pieces like “Up” (check the handclaps!) and “Rusty,” as well as polished post-rockers like opener “Nightbus” and the uniquely digitized “20 GOTO 10.”

However, the not-problem problem of his former album continues in the latter album: Stevens is so good at all the aspects of post-everything indie rock that the album lacks flow in places. This is nowhere more prominent than in “Frost,” which starts off with a churning section of metal that would make some modern-day thrashers envious of its heaviness. It is a jarring contrast with the rest of the album, and especially its direct predecessor “Sand (Part 2),” a highly atmospheric piece that draws on trip-hop and jazz.

Still, it’s hard to knock Matt Stevens’ Relic. It’s obvious just from listening that a ton of thought has gone into this record, but the album doesn’t often sound intimidating. The tunes here are awe-inspiring in a majestic, soundtrack-to-my-own-life sort of way; they rarely devolve into towering, look-how-awesome-I-am pieces (Dragonforce, AWAY!). It’s that listener connection that makes all the genre-jumping palatable: it feels real and relatable. Highly recommended for fans of post-rock.

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

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