Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Wintry tunes

April 26, 2012

Trip-hop has been popping up on my radar with increasing frequency lately; I don’t know if there’s been a recent bump in its creation, or if I’m just getting exposed to it more. Whichever it is, I’m thankful for it: the slinky, wintry cool of “Stealin’ Hearts” by the awesomely-named Chrome and the Ice Queen should do to you just what the title states. Download “Stealin’ Hearts” here.

The incredible Patrick Watson has released a mind-bending, beautiful video for “Into Giants” that morphs from its Skype opening into a Broadway musical. It is mesmerizing. (And they get snow thrown on them!)

Red Wanting Blue, who I’ve covered several times, are finally coming to my home state of Oklahoma for Norman Music Festival 5; sadly, it’s the first year of the festival that I won’t be there from the earliest shows to the end of the main stage. My personal problems aside, the band is on the rise: RWB just booked its first gig on Letterman for July 18. Check out “White Snow.” (More winter! But only metaphorically.)

Speaking of things related to my home state, The Rock’n’Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher was shot completely in Oklahoma. Check the comedy’s trailer:

Fall tunes

April 25, 2012

I just did a fascinating research project about MP3 blogs, but I’ve got a problem: now that I’m sitting back down to write my own blog posts about music, I can’t decide whether I want to go along with my findings or purposefully buck them. In a related note, album reviews will return by the end of the week.

Xoë Wise’s wistful acoustic tune “Comes & Goes” calls up a fall sound. Although it incorporates horn and bells into the mix, the tune remains a gentle, walking-speed tune that’s sure to charm. The single precedes her May 1 release Archive of Illusions. Download “Comes & Goes” now.

Ocelot Eyes‘ “Hide” is a strummy, peppy indie-folk tune with vocals that call up the Decemberists (in the best way possible). It’s also an autumn sound, but you can pine for the falling of leaves in April just fine.

Royal Headache can make a royal racket, and they do so on the 2:13 of barely-contained garage-rock glee that is “Psychotic Episode.” The distortion and speed is there, but the production has a bit more fi in it than Ty Segall or other San Fran garage rockers, which I appreciate.

Awesome jams

April 24, 2012

Rifftastic Austin magic meets West Coast tour funkiness in Megafauna’s “Touch the Lion” video. Everyone wins.

Fool’s Gold unleashes sure-fire mixtape magic with “The Dive.” If African influences and orange-tinted summer videos ever fall out of style, it will be a sad, sad day at IC HQ.

Dirt bike wheelies on the freeway, dudes hip-hop dancing, and a vaguely ’80s cast to the whole thing? Sign me up for the video to Phoebe Jean and the Air Force’s electro jam “Day is Gone.”

Charlotte and Magon have been batting 1.000 with their pensive, trip-hop-esque indie rock. Depending on your aesthetic, “Dice” is yet another grand slam or a complete strikeout. I suppose it depends on how you feel about absurdist adventures in the desert.


Moody beauty

“Shenandoah” is one of the songs that sparked my love of folk music, so I’m always up for new versions of it. The tune received an elegant, reverent treatment in sound and video here, as Goldmund and Alex R. Johnson (La Chima Films) teamed up to create a beautiful rendition of the Appalachian standard.

The enigmatic video for Exitmusic’s “Passage” sets up an engrossing mood with an inscrutable but intriguing storyline and beautiful visuals. I couldn’t look away.

The eerie, evocative clip for The Angelus’ “Crimson Shadow” is similarly riveting. Jake Wilganowski‘s confident direction and gorgeous cinematography meet the tune perfectly, and the result is a powerful piece.

Hoodie Allen’s second video from All American pairs the pensive “No Faith in Brooklyn” with a clip that matches the mood.

Other moods

April 19, 2012

Independent Clauses started out as a general interest independent music magazine: our writers were knowledgeable in punk, metal, rap, electronic, indie-rock, singer/songwriter and more. The project has pared down to a one-man blog over time, and that one man mostly likes singer/songwriter, folk, indie-pop and upbeat indie-rock. Emphasis on the mostly, though, inspires this blog post: several albums from genres I rarely cover have caught my ear over the past few weeks.

One IC reviewer wrote about Caltrop in 2007, urging “fans of doomy, dissonant rock to experience fans of doomy, dissonant rock to experience this great little demo.” Five years later, Caltrop‘s riffing has matured from an unfocused roar to a pointed boom: the pounding riffs are combined with atmosphere to make a sum bigger than the parts. At points on Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, Caltrop sounds like a southern rock band at nine times the heaviness (“Birdsong,” “Blessed”), while at other moments the members blend melodic interludes with mega-distorted guitars to create genuinely moving music (“Zelma,” “Light Does Not Get Old,” “Perihelion”). Their one-sheet mentioned riff monsters Pontiak as an RIYL, and that’s a great comparison. (Fun fact: Pontiak was on the cover of the first of two print editions of Independent Clauses magazine.)

Greek rockers The Finger caught my ear with their first single “In a Fragment of Time,” which combines modern rock guitars, The Killers-esque synths, four-on-the-floor drums, and a slinky female voice. They held it through various singles before unleashing I Don’t Believe My Eyes. The band expresses a strong melodic control throughout the 11-song album, imbuing each of the tunes with some hook or moment that kept me coming back to it even though I haven’t listened to modern rock in years. The stuttering rhythmic bursts of “I Was So Young” segue into a straight dance-rock groove; “Too Slow” has an atmospheric groove punctuated by tight drumming that invokes ’80s new wave; “Brain Stroke” juxtaposes the smooth female vocals over a pressing track with a squalling chorus guitar line. Fans of Interpol, Paramore and The Killers will find much to love.

Tyburn Saints also have an ’80s rock vibe going on, but they mix their new wave synths with post-punk rhythms. The vocals are a baritone swoon, calling up Joy Division comparisons, which is both a strength and a weakness. But the best tune of Tyburn Saints’ You and I in Heaven EP is “Last Time I Sing for You,” a tune that filters out the rhythmic clank and some of the vocal gloom to deliver a spacious tune that calls up a calmer tune by The Walkmen. It’s the sort of tune that appears out of nowhere, hooks you, and points towards bright futures for the band. Straightforward rocker “Broken Bottles” closes the quartet of tunes, making me wonder, “When you can write optimistic guitar and vocal melodies like these, what’s with all the down-and-out sound?” The band has room to grow, but Tyburn Saints is one to watch.

Quick Hit: Their Planes Will Block Out the Sun

April 17, 2012

Their Planes Will Block Out the Sun makes serious music, as I’ve noted before. Their most recent EP adds to their oeuvre, as “Cut and Run” features more of the interlocking, calculated style of rock. The moods shift more easily than in their previous work, calling up comparisons to a less-bombastic The Walkmen. “Brasil” is a tense and quiet tune, reminiscent of the paranoia-filled moods invoked by OK Computer. But it’s the band-title song “Their Planes” that makes the deepest impact, as the members give in to their melodic tendencies and lets some emotions spill out. The mournful vocal line of “Their planes … will block out the sun/everything will be alright” over warm bass, trilling treble guitar, and snare clicking creates a song that I can’t get out of my head. They’re definitely a group to watch. Fans of The National and the aforementioned bands should give this a spin.

Quick Hits: Elizaveta

April 13, 2012

I’ve got files and notepads and contacts and contracts all over the place right now. I keep thinking, “I feel like my head is about to explode.” I’ve been mitigating this through musical means: My “Get Stuff Done” playlist powers me through work, while Elizaveta‘s debut Beatrix Runs calms me down when I’ve done all I can do for a day.

Elizaveta is uniquely suited to this endeavor. Her malleable soprano can pull off dainty charm (the Norah-esque “Snow in Venice”), quirky concern (the Regina-esque “Beatrix Runs”) arch operatics (“Odi Et Amo”) and even R&B (“Onion”). But her bright moment is “Dreamer,” where Elizaveta combines all her vocal affectations into something uniquely her own: her bright vocal lines mesh perfectly with gently burbling synths, breathy background vocals, and piano to make an infectious, catchy tune. “Armies of Your Heart” performs a similar feat, showing that Elizaveta is on her way to a distinctive style.

Elizaveta’s personality is still a bit in flux on this album; she’s tempering her operatic tendencies against her indie-pop aspirations, and the mix hasn’t stabilized quite yet. Even so, there are many moments of beauty, and the album is an interesting listen throughout. Fans of quirky singer/songwriters (all the aforementioned, Ingrid Michaelson) will love this one.

Apologies (from a tour)

April 10, 2012

I’m booking a big summer tour for folk/electronic act The Duke of Norfolk, and that has me busy. (If you live in a city, and you want to play a show with the three-piece, shoot me an e-mail at indieclauses@gmail.com!)

This means that I’ve been listening to a lot of music, but I haven’t been writing about it. Good job, bloggerself. But I absolutely love the Here We Go Magic track “How Do I Know?” that hit my inbox today. It’s a great slice of propulsive summer pop, complete with handclaps, some drifty haze, and boy/girl vocals. Hello, summer.

Loyal Wife throws down passionate riffs and pensive emotions

April 5, 2012

One of my favorite albums is Before Braille‘s 2004 EP Cattle Punching on a Jackrabbit, which features masterful rock tunes like “New Vein/Proventil” and “Well as Well.” It was one of the first albums I covered for Independent Clauses that I truly loved, with the other being Novi Split’s Keep Moving. I still listen to both frequently.

Before Braille met its demise in 2006, but frontman David Jensen moved on to other projects. I missed two albums under the name Art for Starters, but I’m back on board for his project Loyal Wife. Faux Light is the debut album for that project, and it doesn’t disappoint. The main elements of Before Braille’s sound are present, as well as growth.

Before Braille was an emo/rock band comparable to a thinking man’s Jimmy Eat World. The guitars were riff-heavy, and Jensen howled with a righteous fury against the ills and travails of the world. But lyrical, rhythmic and textural complexity set them apart from the pack. And so it is with Loyal Wife; there are riffing guitars, and there are some howling vocals—but there’s a lot more going on than just that.

A lot happens to mellow a man in eight years, and so tunes such as “Hold Up,” “GodSlight,” and “In Trouble” show a pensive side to Jensen that wasn’t on display in the frenzied Cattle Punching. “Hold Up” is one of the high points of the record, a stark acoustic tune that nails that rare space where honesty and tunefulness mix. It’s raw, but it’s not weepy or overdramatic; there’s a dignity that remains as Jensen sings “If I hold up,” and that’s powerful.

“GodSlight” includes bells into the acoustic mix, resulting in a nice mix between indie sensibility and plaintive emotion. “In Trouble” is the best moment for Ashley Taylor, the female vocalist who provides another critical difference from Before Braille and Loyal Wife. Her vocals mesh perfectly with the arrangement, a sparse rock tune that relies on the space between instruments and interactions between the male and female vocals. Jensen and Taylor harmonize excellently together, and “In Trouble” is the overall highlight of the record due to its spotlighting of the duo.

The rock tunes here are solid as well. The doggedly rhythmic closer “Light Off” recalling the most brittle, brutal moments of Before Braille in the best way, while “Ivory” sets Taylor as the frontwoman against a pounding rock track (Jensen handles the vocals in the great breakdown riff). It’s passionate rock with a dark timbre but not a dark tone; it’s a rare middle-ground that Loyal Wife strikes, and I like that a great deal.

Loyal Wife’s Faux Light is an album of slowly-unfolding charms. After the immediate hit of “Hold Up” and “In Trouble,” the rest of the tunes here grew on me. It’s a definite progression, and one worth checking out. If you want passion in your rock and quiet tunes, Loyal Wife should be on your radar.

Jenny and Tyler release their best yet in Open Your Doors

April 3, 2012

Being prolific is one thing, but being consistent while in the midst of a never-ending release cycle is quite another. Folk/pop duo Jenny and Tyler have trumped mere consistency with Open Your Doors, maturing in musical and lyrical skill while keeping a high release rate. Each song here moves me in a different way, while still holding together beautifully as an album: what else are you looking for?

Open Your Doors takes a leap forward from last year’s excellent Faint Not, which ranked #3 in my “Top Albums of the Year” and placed “Song for You” at #5 on my “Top 11 Songs of the Year.” A leap forward.

Full of towering arrangements and difficult emotions, Faint Not is a turbulent record. Even the happiest of the tunes are tinged with pain; as a result, it’s a comforting listen on a hard day and tough to hear when things are going well. Open Your Doors splits the difference between those two poles in a realistic way, creating an album that can be enjoyed by those in the struggle and those in the sun.

This means that this, their most mature work, ties together fans of their two eras in both lyric and music: the charming acoustic pop tunes of A Prelude and the heavy folk/rock tunes of Faint Not. Opener “Little Balloon” is a perfect example: it begins as a gentle, sunny ditty with melancholy lyrics before unfolding into a more assured, full-band proclamation of hope.

And hope is the theme of the album. It’s structured almost as an epilogue to the storms of Faint Not; from the get-go the tempos are calm, and the mood feels like the relief of a still day after a long week of rain. There are moments of stress (“O That the Light,” “Fear Thou Not”), but the tone of the album is upwardly ascending, literally and metaphorically. The album’s third act consists of an evocative setting of “Psalm 86,” a triumphant modern hymn about the end of history (“See the Conqueror”), a reverent tune about subsequent celestial perfection (“Kingdom of Heaven”) and the worshipful piano intrumental “Selah,” which is so hushed that the sound of the pedals moving can be heard. A full listen of this album is genuinely comforting. The care with which it was assembled and ordered is evident, and it’s easily the most complete effort they’ve produced.

But the songs contained within it can stand alone as well. “Fear Thou Not” is a powerful sonic holdover from the tension of the last album, but the lyrics tell the other side of the story: instead of the narrator “Faint Not” telling her own soul to keep on, the narrator of “Fear Thou Not” assures, “For I am with thee/for I am thy God/and I will strengthen thee/Fear thou not!” The heartrending “O That the Light” is a lament for someone trapped in addiction; “You Keep Loving Me” is a stark, lo-fi tune that cuts to the core of things.

But it’s “See the Conqueror” that’s in the running for Song of the Year. The beautiful lyrics are carefully written and ordered into a specific scheme, then fit to an equally detail-oriented musical framework. The arrangement builds in tension, but the expectant sort: it’s that feeling you have when you know that the beat is about to drop and everything is about to get crazy up in the club—except it’s a folk song, and the beat is sleigh bells. (They’re that good.) It’s an exhilarating tune, and one that doesn’t drag out the proceedings. It leaves me wanting more.

The first act of the album leans heavily on their pop side, while the middle draws from their emotive folk-rock. But that final chapter is a new direction for the band, synthesizing both visions into something greater. And that’s ultimately the most incredible thing about this album: not only did they surpass their last work, they’re setting up another album. This feels like a full statement, but of the summing up and moving on variety; there is more to come from Jenny & Tyler, and I’m stoked about that. Open Your Doors lives up to its title and opens up their sound through a complete artistic vision. You need to get this album: it’s going to be one of the best of the year.

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

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