Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ENERGY AND STUFF

January 15, 2014

My last MP3 drop was pretty chill. Here’s some decidedly energetic MP3s to get you through the middle of the week.

ENERGY AND STUFF

1. “The Scope of All This Rebuilding” – The Hotelier. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the incredible title of the album this comes from: Home, like Noplace Is There. Then appreciate the frantic, emotionally charged, complex arrangements of this mile-a-minute pop-punk rager. It’s a workout, y’all.

2. “On Your Own” – Germany Germany. Clubby house with some neat synths and a great nighttime vibe? SECRET TECHNO FAN EMERGES!

3. “Tear Your Hate Apart” – Monks of Mellonwah. I cover hardly any modern rock, but man–these guys know what’s up. Interpol-esque moods, great falsetto, and strong control of atmosphere call up Muse comparions, but without the proggy bloat.

4. “Here We Go Again” – King Champion Sounds. The line between punk and post-punk is muddied here by horns that aspire to stay out of ska territory by being textural and integral to the sound.

5. “Evergreen (Feat. I AM DIVE)” – Brunetto. Moody electro incorporating fractured breakbeats, muscly tones, and some chill vocals (for contrast).

6. “Pulsing (Feat. Nina K)” – Tomas Barfod. You’re driving on an empty highway through a major metropolitan area at 4 a.m. This perfectly titled electro track is playing on the stereo.

7. “How Do You Know” – Scary Little Friends. Neil Young guitars, skyscraping vocals, and a ragtag alt-country feel propel this tune to great heights.

8. “Head for the Hills” – Night Beds. Night Beds can do no wrong so far, as the folky troubadour gives us a few triumphant indie-rock moments here. Give your ears a rest and enjoy this one.

DIY Ditty: CreativeLive lets the experts teach you … for free.

January 14, 2014

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As the years have rolled on for Independent Clauses, I’ve become very interested in how artists can make DIY, independent careers. To that end, I’m branching out from our bread and butter of reviews in 2014 and covering more inventive, creative services that are helping bands make their way in the world. (Don’t worry, reviews will never go away.)

CreativeLive certainly fits that bill. CreativeLive is a company that gives experts of various creative fields a longform platform to teach what they do directly to those who need it: aspiring members of those same creative fields. They started in photography, but have recently expanded to music recording classes: they’re doing a 3-day drum recording class with metal studio engineer Eyal Levi this week. As it livestreams, it’s free; after the recording is over, then they sell it. As soon as I heard about free, I had to know more. Finn McKenty, the executive producer of the music channel at CreativeLive, fielded my questions via e-mail.

1. What is CreativeLive? How can it benefit independent artists?

In a nutshell, Creative Live offers free, live education for creative professionals: photo & video, music & audio, art & design, maker & crafting, and business. The key thing with CL’s music channel is that all our teachers are DOERS, who actually make a living off of this stuff— as compared to the zillions of self-appointed “music industry experts” out there, or people who teach engineering/mixing/songwriting because they’re not talented enough to actually DO it. I’m not hating on those people; they have a place and more power to them. I’m just saying, if you want to get the info straight from the people who make the records you listen to, come to CL.

Which ties into how it can benefit independent artists. I come from the DIY punk/hardcore world, so my brain is permanently wired to do things that way… I spent my teens and 20s making zines, going to shows in basements and VFW halls all over the country, sleeping on a stranger’s floor after the show next to a pile of cat barf, and most of our teachers come from the same background. I’d say that probably 75% of my friends make their living either playing in bands or recording music, so it’s in my blood (for better or worse haha).

We are fortunate enough to have moved up in the world a bit since then, but those are our roots and we’ll never forget them— so EVERYTHING we do on CL is geared toward the DIY, independent artist. Not only because those are my people and I love them, but because (as I’m sure your readers know) that’s the future of the music business.

2. How did the music channel grow out of CreativeLive’s established work?

While we started in photography (because Chase [Jarvis] is a pretty famous photographer), our mission has always been to help people build the life they want as a creative professional whether you take photos, make movies, play music, do design, or whatever. So music is a natural expansion for us, and when I came on board last year, it was a natural fit for me to head up given that I’ve known Chase for 15 years and spent the last 20+ years of my life in the music world.

3. How did you choose the free-first, sell-afterwards model? Is that economic model working well so far?

Honestly, that happened way before I was here so I can’t really say WHY we chose it, but it works great for us for all the same reason it works for bands. If you want people these days to pay for content on the internet, it only works if a) the content is great and b) you build an authentic, real relationship with your “fans.” (being a punk/hardcore guy, I feel weird about using the term “fan” because I don’t see the people in the band as any different or better than the people in the audience, but that’s another conversation haha).

Personally, I think it’s a good thing for both us and our users. First of all, I love that you can watch every single minute of CL programming for free— because if you’re a 13 year-old kid making songs in your bedroom, I think it’s fucking awesome that you can get access to our instructors (who literally made the records you’re inspired by) for FREE. I am all about the kids, so that’s important to me. And second, it keeps us on our toes. If we want people to PAY for our content, it has to be great.

4. How did the upcoming class with Eyal Levi come about?

In addition to being one of probably to top 10-20 metal producers on the planet, Eyal is one of my best friends. I talk to him all day every day, so I’m always hearing about what he’s working on, what’s giving him headaches, etc. And hands down, one of the hardest parts of producing modern rock/metal is drums— getting that hyper-real, super polished sound without sounding fake is really hard.

I’m guessing your audience doesn’t really have to go to these lengths, but here’s an example: Eyal and I counted, and an album he produced a few months ago has an average of 1800 snare hits per song. Think about what it takes to edit and (potentially) sample-reinforce every hit on that album. You literally cannot learn these techniques at any school on the planet, and they’re super important to making modern albums, so we figured this would be a great chance for us to do a class!

5. What are some future music-related classes going to be? What are you excited about in 2014 for CreativeLive?

2014 has a lot of very very exciting stuff in the works that I can’t talk about yet, but stay tuned! What I can tell you is that a big part of 2014 for us will be a focus on mastering the basics. It’s easy to get distracted by gear, plugins, and all that, but at the end of the day that stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as the basics: getting great recordings of great performances. No amount of studio trickery will turn a shitty recording into a good one. It’s all about getting it right at the source, and our classes on Fundamentals of Mixing, intro to Logic/Pro Tools, and Fundamentals of Digital Audio will give you exactly what you need to do that.

6. What are some things you’re listening to right now?

I listen to literally every kind of music, from old 80s hardcore to top 40 to classical to minimal ambient electro to video game soundtracks. If it’s good, I’m into it. Stuff on my current Spotify playlist includes Never Shout Never, The Ghost Inside, Lorde, Anna Kendrick, Cerebral Incubation, Katy Perry and A Day To Remember.

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Ben Fisher: A voice emerges

January 13, 2014

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I don’t usually review albums pre-release, partially because I like readers to be able to hear/acquire what I’m writing about and partially because it seems like I always have a backlog. But with the new year, that latter point is moot, and with his pre-order, so is the former! So even though Ben Fisher‘s Charleston doesn’t come out until February, I’ve got the itch to write it up and the time to do it.

The goal of some artists is to always press forward: to keep growing not simply into the best version of themselves, but to then transcend that best version with another best version. Fisher’s previous releases saw him ascending toward greater things, and Charleston is that greater thing. But it also doesn’t feel final, as if Fisher has nowhere to go: this is a complete statement that yet points to greater things to come. Fisher’s voice, which he was working on finding in previous EPs, shows up in more than just occasional flashes here.

Fisher will probably get lumped into the folk category, but he very clearly meshes distinct elements of folk, country, and singer/songwriter genres. Opener “Mason Jar” is titled for a favorite hipster-folk icon, but it’s quite clearly an upbeat, ’70s-folk-influenced tune. “Dreaming & Doubt” is a straight-up country tune, complete with weeping pedal steel guitar. “Magnolia Lane” shows off his folky troubadour bonafides in a gorgeous guitar-and-voice ballad.

On the note of gorgeous: the songwriting is excellent, and it’s made even more impressive by the excellent production work. Fisher ran a Kickstarter so that Charleston could be produced by Noah Gunderson, engineered by Floyd Reitsma at Seattle’s Studio Litho, and mastered by Ed Brooks at RFI (in the aforementioned city). Their technical chops make the tunes jump out of headphones clear and crisp, whether it’s a full-band arrangement or a piano/vocals take. It just sounds beautiful.

More on the songwriting, though! “Hyde Park” shows off Fisher’s lyrical abilities and vocal melody prowess: it seems that the ode to Chicago just spills out without effort, both lyrically and vocally. “Dublin Blues Pt. 2” is another in the same vein, a tune that is charming, clever, and affecting all at once. “Rare Desert Rains” is a stark, evocative piano/vocals tune that calls up the best of The Mountain Goats’ work on The Life of the World to Come, which is a humongous compliment from over here. The religious themes resonated deep with me, while the melodies moved me.

But the centerpiece and true heart of the album is its title track, which is presented in two different ways: as a cosmopolitan full-band folk tune and a wistful instrumental piano reprise. Either way you hear it, it’s a elegant ode to hometowns and how they are hard to leave; the fact that the tune keeps coming up in the album drives the point home all the more. If you give it the space to affect you, you may find yourself chuckling and pensive in turns.

Some albums seem effortless; some seem like intensely constructed pieces of art. Charleston is the best of both worlds: the tunes seem to have fallen from the sky unbidden, but the construction of the album makes it clear that this was deeply thought through. Fisher has worked so hard on this album that it doesn’t sound like he had to work that hard at all; with his easygoing baritone, beautiful songwriting, and crisp production, this is an album that will charm you. That’s a voice starting to emerge. This album will say hello, set up shop in your living room, and refuse to leave. It’s a strong statement from Fisher, and one that I expect to be listening to throughout the year. Highly recommended.

(If you’re in Seattle and want to hit the release show on Feb 7, tickets are here.)

Cheers! MP3 mix

January 10, 2014

Have some chill. You made it through the first workweek of the year. Cheers.

1. “Obstacle Eyes” – Morgan Delt. Walking-pace psychedelia that calls up the Beatles without being derivative. Lots of chill vibes here.

2. “Raised Incorruptible” – New Mongrels. Gospel-infused folk that strikes all the right notes and tugs the heartstrings. Check that accordion.

3. “Ice Age XVII (DEMO)” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig always manages to jam a sense of wonder and deep gravitas into the same space. This delicate song is no different.

4. “Dusk” – Jon Kohen. If the Postal Service had been more into fingerpicking an acoustic guitar, this could have resulted. Major props for including electronics without letting them dominate the tune.

5. “Thanks for All” – Exzavier Whitley. If Iron and Wine’s original tunes had been a little more excitable, you’d have the sort of joyous, imperfect rhythms and melodies that Whitley gives us here.

6. “Liquid Night” – Lucas O’Connell. The hushed vocal style of Elliott Smith meets a rustic, streetlamp-lit mood for a swaying, horn-touched ballad.

Jacob Furr’s beautiful Indiegogo campaign is worth your time and money

January 9, 2014

I get sent a lot of crowdfunding projects (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Pledgemusic, others), but I only feature the ones I really believe in. I don’t even feature all of the Kickstarters that I personally support.

I believe in Jacob Furr’s Indiegogo campaign for new album Trails and Traces. The Fort Worth singer/songwriter is (to date) the only person who has made me tear up while watching a crowdfunding video. The new song in the video is gorgeous, and the story he tells in the text of the video is beautiful.

If you’re a fan of Josh Ritter, Gregory Alan Isakov, or old-school Joe Pug, you’ll love Jacob Furr’s new work. Hopefully you’ll love it enough to support its existence.

The Yellow Dress presents the first great album of 2014

January 7, 2014

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I was one of the millions stuck in airports over the weekend. I eventually made it to my destination, five days after my original boarding pass assured me I would. During the last of my three airport visits, I queued up The Yellow DressFaint Music / Ordinary Light. Opening track “Tummy in the Blood” (provided commentary: “what a gross thing to name a song”) has a chorus that I wanted to sing with all my soul: “We try, and climb, but we know that / mathematically speaking, it gets harder every day / the chances of finding ourselves home again / of finding ourselves in the same way.” It’s a beautiful, passionate call, made all the more wonderful by perfectly illustrating the seeming futility of my situation.

The music itself leans more toward non-traditionally passionate than traditionally beautiful, as The Yellow Dress sounds like an exuberant mix of latter-day Mountain Goats, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!. These speedy indie-pop tunes ooze DIY personality from instruments you’d expect (glockenspiel, horns, off-kilter vocals) and don’t expect (clarinet and the unusually prominent bass, which immediately calls up references to Peter Hughes of the Mountain Goats).

The songs move sprightly along, scattering quirky melodies from vocals and instruments throughout songs without concern for obvious mile-markers: there are choruses in some places, and then sometimes there aren’t, but it all sounds wonderful. “A Complete List of Fears Age 5-28 (aprox)” starts with Neutral Milk Hotel-esque heavy strumming, then builds until it’s a roaring Funeral-style indie-rock tune, complete with frenzied vocal delivery. It’s the sort of song I listen to over and over.

My repeated listens are enhanced by the excellent lyrics. Existential angst, growing up, and seizing the day are all things that a person in their mid-20s can relate to at times–especially while trapped in a travel-induced limbo. “FatherSunFunRun/Walk Towardson/Daniel Pennypacker” is a standout in this department, while the previous two mentioned are also wonderful. There are lines throughout each of them that I could see ending up on my computer wallpaper (which, let’s be real, is the equivalent of a middle school trapper-keeper). It’s all incredibly earnest stuff, so I suppose if you’re not into that it might curl your ears a bit. But I’m all about sincerity, so I’m excited about it.

Beyond the intriguing arrangements and captivating lyrics, The Yellow Dress can just be a ton of fun. “Isaac Fitzgerald (bum bum bum)” sees a ragtag choir singing the titular “bum bum bum bum ba-da-da-da” repeatedly as a sort of chorus. If you’re not singing along by the end of the song, we’re probably not on the same page musically: this tune is pretty much all that I ask for in a song. It’s got a great arrangement (check that bass! and saxophone!), strong lyrics, a part where you can yell along exuberantly with the band, and melodies I want to sing out loudly with my windows down. It’s just wonderful.

If you’re into indie-pop, you need to know about The Yellow Dress. Faint Music / Ordinary Light is a wonderful album that takes all the idiosyncrasies that make DIY indie-pop great and rolls them together. It’s the first great album of 2014, and I can see myself listening to this one way into the 2014. Happy new year, y’all, and safe travels.

Quick Hits: Tender Mercy / Major Leagues / Aaron Lee Tasjan

January 6, 2014

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Fans of lo-fi slowcore like Songs:Ohia, Elephant Micah, and old-school Damien Jurado will have something new to cheer about in Tender Mercy. As Someone Else You Embrace the Moment in Us consists of five songs that never get louder than a single fingerpicked guitar, Mark Kramer’s forlorn voice, and tape hiss. The songs are slow, low, and heavy on atmosphere: discerning between the songs is possible (there are breaks in the tape hiss to mark song changes), but it’s not really the best way to enjoy this set of tunes. Instead, it’s best to let it wash over you; there’s enough gentle reverb on the tracks to imagine that you and Kramer are in a big room where he’s singing just to you. If you move too quickly, you’ll miss the tranquil beauty in it.

This is music to experience, not to sing along to or play in the background of your life; the nuances of the individual performances make the tunes what they are. Individual voice warbles, the pluck of one string harder than the last, and the subtle changes in timing that suggest emotions behind the work are all compelling. The songs seem very simple on the surface, but there is depth to be plumbed here. Some variation could be incorporated in future work to help differentiate between tracks, but this release is still great for fans who enjoy more difficult music (i.e. old-school Mountain Goats, Jandek, Silver Jews, et al.).

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Australia is my favorite international music scene. The latest thing to fall in my lap from The Land Down Under is the buzzy, friendly power-pop of Major LeaguesWeird Season EP. The Aussie quartet plays chipper, female-fronted tunes that strike a nice balance between energetic and chill; you can listen to these tunes while driving, surfing, or while laying around in your backyard. Each activity would bring out a different nuance: the driving rhythm section, the sweet guitar tone, or the laconic vocal delivery. Weird Season is a fun way to remind yourself that it may be winter, but summer’s coming. Actually, it’s summer in Australia. Ponder that.

Tasjan

Aaron Lee Tasjan employs a songwriting style on the Crooked River Burning EP that mirrors with Joe Pug’s newer work: a folk troubadour working with a full band. Both singer/songwriters bring their own unique confidence and internal rhythm to the work, which makes resulting songs an interesting mix of personal and group efforts. The balance works best on “Everything I Have is Broken” and “Junk Food and Drugs,” which give enough space to Tasjan’s voice and guitar that his personality shines through. Both have intricate lyrics, quirky vocal rhythms, and an overall sense of energetic possibility. They would be a blast to sing along with live, certainly. “Number One” is a hushed ballad in Jackson Browne style that surprised me with its depth of emotion and tasteful inclusion of strings; it shows off the best of his solo work. Tasjan has strong songwriting chops, and I look forward to seeing what he puts out after the Crooked River Burning EP. Photo by BP Fallon.

Zack Walther and the Awe Hells: Folkier, Rock-er, and Gospel …-ier

January 4, 2014

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I compared Zack Walther and the Awe Hells15:51 EP to the folk-and-gospel-infused southern rock of Needtobreathe, and those comparisons hold true in their new Seduce the Backbeat EP. But they’ve cranked the dial on both ends of their sound, making the rock more rockin’ and the folk/gospel folkier and gospel-ier.

“You’re Going to Get It” is a straight-up Black Keys stomper (brittle fuzz guitar tone and all), while “Ode to Bailey” is 3:20 of a Walther-led a capella gospel choir. Both are vastly entertaining slices of their respective genres. “Crazy Town” is a southern rocker, while “Hole in the Desert” is an ominous, organ-led country tune that crescendoes up to something way louder than that. Walther’s commanding voice is the constant through all four tunes; his expert control over tone and range make him simply fun to listen to. If you’re into Needtobreathe, The Black Keys, or the heavier side of Zac Brown Band, you’ll love Seduce the Backbeat.

Some Things You Can Enjoy

January 3, 2014

Nicking a ploy and some musical cues from The Black Keys, Colony House pairs their guitar-rock with some Killers-esque vocal melodies for an infectious tune.

How much interpretive dancing can you do in a pencil skirt? Apparently lots, as the protagonist of the video for Andrew Collberg’s “Rich” points out. A wonderful video.

Our last “Best of 2013 list” comes not from me, but from Chris Lawhorn over at RunHundred. Let him tell you what to work out to. —Stephen Carradini

The end of the year is a great time to survey workout music for two reasons. First, it provides a chance to look back at the year that’s winding down and reminisce. Second, the new year is when folks make resolutions–often to get into better shape–and the recap includes a few songs that might help with that.

The list below reflects more than 70,000 votes placed last year on Run Hundred—the web’s most heavily-trafficked workout music blog. According to the folks polled there, the most popular artists in the gym this year were David Guetta and Pitbull. They’re the only two artists who appear in the list twice—though they managed this feat with the help of collaborators like Christina Aguilera, Ke$ha, Rihanna, Akon, and Ne-Yo.

As is the case each year, there are some workout music staples present in the list. There are chart hits—like those from Flo Rida and Jason Derulo. There are hits that got beat out by their own remixes—like those from Lady GaGa and Avicii. There are monster hits that didn’t make the cut—like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Lastly, there are songs that got more love in the gym than on the radio—like Fergie, Q-Tip, and GoonRock’s contribution to The Great Gatsby.

On the whole, there should be a few songs here you loved, a few you missed, and a few that have been given a makeover since you last heard them. If you’re looking for a few tunes to jump start the new year—and possibly a new you—the list below provides 10 great places to start.

Pitbull & Christina Aguilera – Feel This Moment – 137 BPM

Selena Gomez – Come & Get It (Dave Aude Club Remix) – 130 BPM

Fergie, Q-Tip & GoonRock – A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got) – 130 BPM

Flo Rida – How I Feel – 128 BPM

Lady GaGa – Applause (DJ White Shadow Trap Remix) – 141 BPM

Jason Derulo – The Other Side – 128 BPM

Avicii – Wake Me Up (Avicii Speed Remix) – 126 BPM

David Guetta, Ne-Yo & Akon – Play Hard – 130 BPM

Rihanna & David Guetta – Right Now (Justin Prime Radio Edit) – 131 BPM

Pitbull & Kesha – Timber – 130 BPM

To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. —Chris Lawhorn

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Happy New Year! Songs!

January 2, 2014

It’s 2014!! So here’s some pop, punk, and other speedy goodness! WOOOOOO NEW YEAR!!!!

1. “Sweet Release” – Stoney. If manic popster King Charles had a bit more electro-pop in his musical veins, he and Stoney could tour together. Pop goodness, right here.

2. “Orchard Breath” – Hectorina. After shedding some of the spiky edges of Collywobble, Hectorina’s new song has much in common with the theatrical, occasionally ominous pop-rock of My Chemical Romance.

3. “Sunshine Avenue” – Paul Newman and the Ride Home. Punk rock led by a ukulele. What more explanation do you need?

4. “Town Like This” – Outrageous Fun. Punk rock that sounds exasperated, agitated, and coming apart at the seams. Like all good punk rock should be.

5. “Picking up the Pieces” – Atrocity Solution. Gruff, rough vocals + ska guitars + woah-ohs + pounding drums = punk rock. Also, there’s an awesome guitar solo because why not.

6. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” – David Broza. Israeli Broza collaborates with the Jerusalem Youth Choir, which features Palestinian and Israeli teens, to create a light and airy version of the Nick Lowe classic that yet carries incredible weight.

7. “Saturday Night Blues” – Natural Child. Was Warren Zevon rock’n’roll? Is CCR still rock’n’roll? Maybe the members of Natural Child ponder these questions in the tour van, before going out and playing their own answer: yes, they are.

8. “Alberta Gold” – Matt Andersen. If Zac Brown Band were a bit more folky and less country, this jubilant track would fit perfectly in that fictional album.

9. “Lap Steel Blues” – Mandarin Dynasty. This indie-pop tune with grit and glory explodes like a firework: burns bright and disappears before you want it to.

10. “When I Die” – Scott H. Biram. Appalachian gospel is one strand of true American folk music, and Biram serves up a foot-stomping slice of that sing-a-long mountain music.

11. “Flightless Bird” – Scott Barkan. Starts a gentle singer/songwriter rumination, grows to a raucous electric stomp.

12. “Yoshimi” – The Adversary. If you cover The Flaming Lips, you get an auto +2 cool factor in my book. This chill electronic take is a nice corollary to the sweeping, grand original.

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

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