Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Teen Daze: "Ice on the Windowsill"

August 23, 2013

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I love Teen Daze, and I’m stoked that we get a new album so closely to his The House on the Mountain EP. Glacier will drop October 1, but until then we get “Ice on the Windowsill,” which pairs his beautiful, smooth chillwave with rattling beats to create a really nice mood. It’s like when you’re riding on a bus: everything is objectively going by quickly, but it feels slow because you’re not physically moving or controlling the vehicle. Beautiful, beautiful stuff. Highly recommend.

(I’m almost done moving, so I’ll be back on the reviewing schedule soon.)

Cellar Door Collective

August 19, 2013

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Cellar Door is a pretty common name for a band, thanks to an also-pretty-common reference to the two-word phrase as the or one of the prettiest phrases in the English language. The modern interest in the name is largely fueled by its mention in cult classic weird-out time-travel head-spinner film Donnie Darko. Whether or not the three-artist collective in DC is a fan of Frank, I don’t know. But their murky, enigmatic, tense music would be a perfect fit for the soundtrack.

RCRDS, Cinocal, and Pines effectively showcase their stuff on Cellar Door Compilation Vol. 1, giving a good picture of the related but different interests of each entity. They all fall somewhere in the outsider hip-hop realm: RCRDS and Pines do the Clams Casino instrumental thing, while Cinocal occasionally throws down bars over the beats.

The instrumentals split into two types: There are a bunch of atmospheric, near-ambient pieces that are eerie mood-setters, while tunes like “Old Jazz Standard” are literally old jazz pieces chopped up and re-appropriated. I’m a much bigger fan of the ambient/artsy stuff, like Cinocal’s “cloudage,” Pines’ “philosophy of time travel” and RCRDS’ “i feel dizzy.” There’s some R&B/soul-style stuff thrown in, as well as some more upbeat stuff, but it’s largely focused on chilling the listener out. And I’m down with that.

If you’re into instrumental hip-hop, I’d give this one a listen. Who knows, they could end up on a Kanye jam somewhere, because srsly that guy loves to discover undiscovered producers.

OH SWEET HEAVENS I CAN'T STOP DANCING

August 13, 2013

I don’t usually post one MP3 as its own blog post, but this is a “STOP THE PRESSES” moment. Anamanaguchi, whom I deeply love, have released the title track off Endless Fantasy and let me tell you it is so incredibly awesome I can’t even stand it. I’m on my third run-through in a row, and I still can’t stop dancing. That’s 10+ minutes of spastic arm-waving and chair-bouncing to glorious, glorious instrumental chip-tune pop-punk. If you’re having a bad day, NOT ANYMORE. NOT ANYMORE AT ALL.

This is some of the happiest music I can imagine, and I can imagine a lot of things, y’all. For real, I can’t commend this enough to you. AND LOOK THEIR BAND PHOTOS ARE GIFS. THIS CAN’T GET MUCH BETTER. (click through for gif action; I’m personally fond of #3.)

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Quick Hit: The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

August 8, 2013

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die is playing a quartet of dates with my early 2000s heroes Brand New soon, and that makes perfect sense. Whenever, If Ever is a volatile record, swinging from forlorn guitar/voice arrangements to all-out screaming over punk tunes to slow churners that are guilty of being under the influence of post-rock. The band pulls off the whole album with a consistent emotional ethos: even at its most turbulent, a conflicted optimism (neatly encapsulated in the band’s lengthy name) makes its way to the forefront. Just as a bonus: there are horns and group vocals intermittently. If you’re into punk-inspired ’00s emo, this a band you need to know. They’ve got a fresh take on the genre.

Post-Rock Trio: Dorena / Tyranny is Tyranny / Cmn ineed yr hlp

August 6, 2013

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Dorena‘s Nuet slipped under my radar when it came out in March, but it’s far too good to not extol. Dorena’s brand of post-rock is of the beautiful, cinematic variety: there are major keys, soaring guitar lines, twinkly keys, and an overall feel of hope. This wouldn’t be anything startling if the members weren’t incredibly strong songwriters. The Swedish quintet know how to use space in tunes not just as a contrast to density, but as an emotive player. Anyone can be quiet and then be loud. It takes skill to make that quietness mean something in and of itself.

Opener “Semper” and highlight track “My Childhood Friend” have loud sections that are enhanced by their quiet backdrops, but the quiet sections themselves are moving. The former sounds like the very best moments of Sigur Ros, while the latter puts me into a reverie sort of state before snapping me out of it with a huge, dramatic, fist-pumping riff. Dorena knows how to write a beautiful melody, but they also know how to write a whole song around that great moment. That’s what makes post-rock stick for me. I highly recommend Nuet.

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Tyranny Is Tyranny is named after a chapter from Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of the United States, which you can read in full online via History is a Weapon. Their debut Let It Come From Whom It May features songs called “The American Dream Is a Lie,” “Manufacturing Truth,” and “Owned by Thieves.” The band’s sound very effectively combines Isis’ sludgy soundscapes with punk’s furious tempos. At this point, you should know if you want to check out Tyranny is Tyranny or not.

But if you’re still on the fence, consider “The American Dream Is a Lie” as a litmus test. It starts out quietly, with a ponderous, winding guitar riff that leads into a section of building through the dissonant two-guitar setup. Two and a half minutes in, the vocalist finally appears, yelling atonally the phrase “opiate the brutish life.” The guitars get heavier as the band starts to pick up steam through minutes three and four. At 4:45, there’s a tonal shift that could maybe be called a breakdown, before it leans back into that winding riff from the beginning. Then it reprises the heaviest section of the tune, bashing its way to the end of the track.

If that’s the sort of music that’s intriguing to you (and it’s very intriguing to me), then you’re going to be all about the rest of the album. Heavy, left-leaning, but never gratuitously brutal, Tyranny is Tyranny makes angry music for a reason. There’s not enough of that going around these days (and a lot of self-obsessed yuppie anger), which makes Tyranny is Tyranny all the more valuable.

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The band name and title of Cmn ineed yr hlp‘s It Came Without Warning…As Most Disasters Do also tells you almost everything you need to know before you even hear it, but in a very different way: this post-rock band has big aspirations but also a good sense of humor. Their five-track release is instrumental post-rock that tells the story of a giant sea monster via vocals that are recorded to sound like they’re from ’50s radio broadcasts. (Or maybe they’re actual found sound? That would be boss.) The music itself is densely textured rock that leans toward the mathy end of things: dissonant chords, patterned guitar riffs, acrobatic drumming, and a strong bass presence mark the tunes.

The story is pretty important to the enjoyment of the album: no particular song stands out as the hook. It makes good on the original promise of post-rock: trying to achieve other artistic goals with the rock idiom. There are impressive moments, like the opening bass work in “The prognostication is murder” and the gymnastic guitar riffs on “Without a sail in view,” but they aren’t given any particular preference over the churning, full-band attack of closer “Cold, airless, forbidding.” The band really operates the album as an album, and that’s a cool thing to hear. Recommended for fans of math rock or “something different.”

Among Giants / Aspiga split

August 5, 2013

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The two new songs from IC faves Among Giants on this split with Aspiga turn over a new leaf for the band. AG has been mostly an acoustic-punk band (with the notable exception of the screamy “There Is a Ghost“) until 36 seconds into “In the Jungle,” where the drummer hits a downbeat and a crunchy distorted guitar line crashes in. Rhythmically the song remains an Among Giants tune, with a lot of staccato hits and separated notes. Greg Hughes’ speak-sing delivery is also retained until the very end, where he cranks it up to a ragged scream for emphasis.

That ragged scream warms up the listener for “I Care About Everyone I Meet,” which is a straight-up punk-rock tune. The only thing that connects “I Care” to Among Giants’ back catalog is the positive lyrics present in both. The song is strong and enjoyable as a punk song, but even the rhythmic style of the tune has a whole different feel. I like both of these tunes a lot, but this might signal the end of acoustic-heavy tunes like “A Letter” and “Get Your Shit Straight.” Alas, nothing stays the same but change. Here’s to the new sound of Among Giants.

It fits that they’re splitting with Aspiga, a gruff, tough, gritty pop-punk band. Both Aspiga tunes feature metallic bass tone, chunky guitar riffs, and tense moods. I’m not a huge fan of screaming in punk songs (that’s ultimately why I ended up writing an indie-pop blog, after growing up on pop-punk), but Aspiga does it tastefully in “Direction.” They bust out a synthesizer for “Old Hobbies,” which impressed me a ton and took me back to 2003. Their half of the split is fun and enjoyable for fans of the genre, although long-time readers of IC may not be into something so gritty and tough. You can pick up the 7″ over at Say-10 Records, or stream the full thing.

Tea for Tyrants wants to take over your music experiences

August 2, 2013

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I’ll admit it, I’m uncool: I think vinyl is too much work. When I want to experience music, I want to sit back and let it wash over me. I just don’t look forward to breaking reverie so I can flip the record. Phil Lomac and Andy Angelos have come up with a plan to popularize a different sort of music experience. They want you to enjoy a spot of tea while you hear their music.

“The idea behind Tea for Tyrants is that we really wanted to provide a unique listening experience around music by pairing it with something that people are willing to buy in their normal lives,” said Angelos. The concept isn’t much more than that, ultimately. The duo pairs types of tea with indie music, then send both to the paying customer: the tea physically, the music digitally. The consumer then sips the tea while listening to the tunes, creating a measured, thoughtful experience. It works because Angelos knows a tea farmer in Japan, and both men know independent musicians whose music is conducive to tea-sipping (including themselves).

Angelos and Lomac

It’s an absolutely great idea. But great bands break up all the time. What’s to stop this one from sputtering out because of a bad manager or a failed website or any other number of things? The answer: Angelos and Lomac have worked in multiple technology start-up companies. Each have first-hand experience with how a business scales up from an idea to a reality to an enterprise. With business experience and music experience, Tea for Tyrants has a leg up on many music companies. They haven’t lost sight of a greater goal in the midst of dollars and cents. The hope is that Tea for Tyrants can become a large enough company to create an alternate stream of income for bands who are right on the cusp of supporting themselves through music.

“We’d like to help artists pick up the financial gap between touring so even when they are not working through touring, the tea product, paired with their music, will bring in income to help sustain their career as a music artist,” Lomac said. The number of bands that they’d like to partner with is undetermined: citing supply and demand, they’ll provide the number of products that the consumers want on the time schedule that they want them.

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“You have to be open to [change]. You can’t be too set or defined at the beginning, because you might miss an opportunity. You have to learn from your customers what they want,” said Angelos. The company is open for business now: you can find 50 grams of Gyokuro Karigane green tea paired with Her Vanished Grace for $15; 100 grams of Houjicha Bancha goes for only $16.50 (with the Marc Higgins Band accompanying). For music and tea, these are great prices; the two-for-one grab is what makes the deal attractive. For the price of a vinyl (or less!) you can get something for three senses (taste, smell, hearing) instead of just one. I am totally down with that.

Tea for Tyrants’ goal isn’t domination of the music market, as the name might imply. Instead, the venture is focused on the bottom line: helping musicians get where they want to go.

“I still believe that someday I’m going to wake up and have music be my primary vocation,” Angelos said. “Working on a project like this gets us closer to that goal.”

Cold Country / Matt Carter

August 1, 2013

ColdCountry

I gushed over Filbert’s Chronographic earlier this year because of its humble attitude toward music and lyrics. Cold Country‘s Missing the Muse EP reminds me of Filbert, because band leader Sean McConnell’s high tenor sounds like Daniel Gutierrez’s and the folky arrangements have an earnest, plaintive feel. The chamber-folk on Missing the Muse has a ragged, woodsy edge that sets it apart from pristine soundscapes like Bon Iver and well-produced hoedowns like Babel, although the album doesn’t stray far enough to alienate fans of those works.

The climactic finish of opener “What It Takes” features a fuzzed-out electric guitar dueling with a smooth harmonica, rumbling drums, glockenspiel, and distorted bass. The cavernous rumbling of the percussion keeps it from turning into a garage-rock tune and instead places it as an expansive, dramatic folk track. Even with the tune played out on a large screen, the tune feels intimate. That’s the primary tension in each of Missing the Muse‘s five tracks: the titular tune features an excellent guitar solo but carries a very personal sense of sadness; “My Bird of Paradise” is built on Fleet Foxes’ gentle guitar and harmonized vocals and also features a bass riff. The big arrangements never give way to an impersonal front and protect against being too hopelessly introspective. It’s a pretty impressive feat.

If you’re a fan of chamber-folk arrangements, then Cold Country’s Missing the Muse is required listening. These aren’t Mumford and Sons stomp-alongs, and they aren’t trying to be. The tensions that McConnell plays with are perfectly enough for fascinating listening, thank you very much.

Daylight

The great thing about EPs is that there’s no reason that all of the songs can’t be excellent. When working with 10-15 songs, there’s bound to be something that doesn’t appeal to someone, but three songs can be crafted to near-perfection. And so it goes with Matt Carter‘s Daylight EP: the tunes are expertly written, arranged, performed and recorded. Carter applies to the Ray LaMontagne school of singer/songwriters: the more romance can be piled into one tune, the better. “For You” introduces Carter’s lithe voice, with just a touch of LaMontagne grit, over gentle acoustic guitar, delicate piano, upright bass, and swooning violins. It is as gorgeous as you might imagine.

Carter doesn’t let up with “From a Payphone Stall” or the title track: both frame Carter’s vocal melodies in arrangements that have as little to do with dissonance as possible. These are beautiful, carefully constructed tunes: instead of coming off smarmy or James Blunt-ish, they are delivered with assurance and confidence. Carter knows what his strengths are, and he plays to them perfectly here, creating memorably gorgeous songs. I’m looking forward to much more from Matt Carter, as he has put a lot of skill on display here in just over 10 minutes.

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

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