Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Folk thousand, pt. 3: hunters.

June 18, 2014

hunters

The members of hunters. absorbed the sounds and feels of folk, alt-country, and female-fronted singer/songwriter, then mixed them together to come up with Treeline. Their methods worked well: the San Francisco-based outfit is comfortable and assured here. Opener “The Her Is Me” includes mandolin, congas, violin, and Rosa Del Duca’s passionate alto vocals; it sounds like all the instruments belong right where they are. They follow up with the strings-heavy “Get It Right,” then move to the straight-up-western slide guitar sound of “The Grifter” (totally country name there, too).

The ability to mix these genres confidently shows that hunters. has avoided the sophomore slump after 2012’s white lies, which is always good. Their performances are tight, the arrangements are savvy, and the recording is well-done, keeping all the parts in equal measure. The title track that closes out the record might be the most memorable turn, as the outfit slows things down and lets Del Duca really sing over a sparse (well, sparse for hunters.) arrangement. Fans of alt-country should check out Treeline, as the interesting arrangements and strong vocals will be a treat.

MP3 Catchup, pt 1: Fun in the Sun

I’ve been behind on MP3s and videos, so there’s going to be a lot of them posted in the next few days in addition to album reviews. I’m breaking my “one post a day” rule, but I’ll get back there shortly enough.

Fun in the Sun

1. “Bring You Down” – Ships Have Sailed. Oh man, remember early 2000s indie pop-rock? Like Watashi Wa and stuff? The bright-eyed sound, the self-abasing lyrics, the high harmonies, the twinkly guitars? It’s all here. I can’t help but love this song entirely. That lead riff is just so great.

2. “Bitter Branches” – Static in Verona. I’ve always got room in my heart for a pulse-pounding, towering power-pop song. This one features high, melodic, non-aggressive vocals. It’ll be in your head for a while.

3. “Silhouettes” – Colony House. Are you looking for a fun, upbeat rock track to blast in a car? Here’s my pick for this week.

4. “Boulders” – Dear Blanca. Dear Blanca’s Talker was one of my favorite records of 2013, so it’s thrilling to hear the noisy folk/rock band back with an even tighter sound and lyrical sense. Can we get this band on tour with Conor Oberst already? Please and thank you.

5. “Figure Eight” – Pageant. Peppy acoustic guitars get kicked into overdrive by electric organ and hyperactive drums, turning a folky/poppy tune into a charging pop-rock tune. Fresh, tight, and fun.

6. “Insults and Polemics” – Wall-Eyed. I bet you’ve never head a punk band mashed up with a Norteño band. I bet you’ve never heard a Norteño band. I bet you’re really going to like it.

7. “New York, I Love It When You’re Mean” – Julian Velard. Piano singer/songwriter in the Billy Joel vein? Yes, please! Great melodies here.

8. “Come Up and See” – Tree Dwellers. Instrumental hip-hop with an acoustic bent: we’ve got acoustic guitars, cello, and Spanish guitar vibes going on here. Totally cool.

9. “Could Be Real” – Diners. Lazy, chilled-out, but not chillwave, this acoustic (but not folk!) band carves out the hardest space: the space that’s always been there. This is pop music, for real.

10. “Licorice the Dog” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig has been on a songwriting bender lately, pushing the bounds of prolific by doing all of his songwriting in vastly different genres. “Licorice” sees him return to his hometown of intimate singer/songwriter music with great results.

Folk Thousand, day 2: Ryan Joseph Anderson

June 17, 2014

ryanjosephanderson

Ryan Joseph Anderson‘s The Weaver’s Broom has an easygoing vibe about it that belies its craftsmanship. Anderson has a calm, quiet, yet confident voice that channels James Taylor at times; Taylor is an apt comparison for many tunes here.

Anderson does have some Southern Gothic in him (“Wandering Apparition,” “Before the War”), giving some bite to this album–but upbeat, comforting tunes like “Jericho,” “Weep Caroline,” and the title track are the main feature here. Anderson knows how to use his voice to its best end, playing it nicely off his smooth, lithe acoustic guitar. The melodies are warm and friendly, and the overall effect is one of relaxing Sunday afternoons, perhaps in a comfy rocking chair. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty great achievement in this book.

Folk Thousand, pt 1: Rogue Band of Youth / Cancellieri

June 16, 2014

I’ve got a bunch of folk albums coming down the review pipe this week, so I’m naming them all Folk Thousand, because Guided By Voices was great at naming things.

rogueband

“Listenable” and “enjoyable” sound like euphemisms for “I couldn’t think of anything else to say,” but Rogue Band of Youth‘s self-titled debut LP is immensely listenable and enjoyable. The North Carolina folk outfit have crafted an intimate, relaxed, casual-sounding collection of songs that fall somewhere between Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.

Opener “Fair Shake” sets the stage of the album with tidy fingerpicking on top of a gentle strum before launching into three-part vocal harmonies. The band sounds completely comfortable here and elsewhere: “Smoke Screens” has an easy flow, while “Blind” has a propulsive energy reminiscent of Blind Pilot. The songs don’t stray from modern folk as a sound, but their songwriting is varied and interesting within those bounds, from country-inflected rhythms (“Daedalus”) to new-school Iron and Wine angst (“The West in My Eyes”). If you’re a fan of modern folk with pastoral vibes and enough angles to keep things interesting, Rogue Band of Youth should be on your to-hear list. You’ll enjoy it immensely.

welcometomountpleasant

Cancellieri‘s Welcome to Mount Pleasant takes a more modern tack on new-folk, leaning toward the warm, rolling arrangements of Iron & Wine’s recent work. The opener sets the stage for this album as well, as “Oregon” includes some tender bass work; distant, lightly distorted guitar; double-speed drums pushing the tempo; and a beautiful crescendo to the end that turns into a huge wash of sounds. These are beautiful tunes.

These compositions sound more like songs than they do folk songs; the arrangement of these tunes is indelibly important, and if you covered them with another band they might not hold the charm they have now. This not just true of songs like “Oregon,” highlight “Lake Jocassee,” and the Mangum-by-way-of-Win-Butler awe of “Mount Pleasant.” It’s true of stripped-down tune like standout “Hold On Hurricane,” whose rapid fingerpicking meshes perfectly with singer/songwriter Ryan Hutchens’ fragile yet clear voice.

If there’s a single thing to point to in Welcome to Mount Pleasant that turns these arrangements from standard fare to the excellent collection they are, it’s the drums. The percussion throughout these tunes provides a spark that is often under-utilized in a post-Mumford world where straight quarters on the kick and snare are seemingly all that you need. The drum work here is complex and difficult, yet remains in the background, not stealing the show. It’s the little things that make the difference, and here it’s the drums.

If you’re into warm, enchanting, upbeat folk/indie tunes, you should definitely check out Cancellieri’s Welcome to Mount Pleasant. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, and quite possibly cheered, by the subtle beauty throughout.

Whoa there, Captain (Baby)

June 13, 2014

captainbaby

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Captain Baby combines Indian vocal stylings, Bloc Party’s guitar rhythms, and LCD Soundsystem’s rubbery bass. Sugar Ox opener “I Say You” features songwriter Asher Rogers singing in a lilting, soaring, Indian-inspired vocal line over LCD’s signature thrum-thrum-thrum bass line and some twinkly guitar work, creating a haunting yet still comforting mood. It’s difficult to imagine those two moods together, but it’s difficult to imagine Captain Baby’s music (unless you’re Asher Rogers, apparently). It’s also difficult to capture in words, so I’m going to keep this short and refer you to the singles.

“Bury Your Head” and single “Forest Charm” pick up the pace with Bloc Party’s helter-skelter drum/bass/guitar style–if you were into Silent Alarm, you’ll find much to love here; Bloc Party also toed that line between tension and catharsis. But where Bloc Party stayed firmly in a “midnight on an urban freeway” vibe, Captain Baby strays into some Of Montreal joy occasionally. The quirky, frenetic songwriting quality of Tokyo Police Club also gets roped in every now and then (second single “Row On”).

It’s a fair bet that when I have this many RIYLs in a review, I’m struggling to encapsulate something truly unique and interesting. Captain Baby displays a vision not often captured with Sugar Ox; what’s even more impressive is that it doesn’t have to dip into the avant-garde to do it. (You can still dance to this!) Sugar Ox is commended to anyone who seeks out adventurous and challenging music that is still fun.

Quick Hit: The Parmesans

June 11, 2014

theparmesans

The Parmesans make folk/bluegrass with a musically traditional bent and a hilarious streak through the lyrics (see title: Nature’s Burrito). Every release of theirs I’ve had the privilege of reviewing has been charming, and this is something like the fifth one. Burrito shows them in fine form, with their “everyone around the mic” approach to recording showing off their instrumental and vocal chops.

The harmonies are particularly gorgeous in “Walls for the Wind,” an adaptation of an Irish blessing. “Sweet Moonlight” is the highlight here, as the verses feature vintage melodic structure and instrumentals before picking up into a fun, modern chorus. If you’re into English mythic folk, The Parms poke a little bit of fun at the genre with “The Wizard Song”; if you’re into traditional tunes, they do a trumpet-infused, peppy version of “Pallet on Your Floor.”

To sum up: The Parmesans are pretty great at every aspect of traditional music that they take on, and you just have to pick which version of their skills you like best. You can put their discography on as the soundtrack to your backyard summer bash, and you’re good to go for the whole party. Gosh, I love The Parmesans.

The Geminids is a fascinating and rewarding listen

June 5, 2014

thelovelyfew

Space has been an intriguing concept for musicians for an incredibly long time. (Cue David Bowie!) But rarely has it been as literal a fascination as it is with The Lovely Few, who have named five consecutive releases after heavenly bodies. The Geminids, a third in a series of releases named after meteor showers, features only one song that isn’t obviously named after something in space: opener “Les Anciens,” which is probably something awesome I’ve never heard of.

The Geminids, however, falls in the category of “things I have heard that are awesome.” The Lovely Few’s previous work drew some easy comparison to the bleep-bloop electronic pop of The Postal Service, but Mike Mewbourne and co. have opened up the sonic palette on this one to incorporate a lot more moods. The basic sound is still electronic-based pop, but prog, ambient, acoustic pop, Sufjan Stevens (especially The Age of Adz), and “space-rock” are all equal contributors to the album.

“Les Anciens” shows off this diversity of influences well, opening with a proggy, spacey keyboard line before adding in the signature clicks and pops of twee electronic beats. But all that gets wiped off the board as some tribal-esque beats come in. From there, Mewbourne and his collaborators start to layer sounds and vocals. Mewbourne’s voice is a perfect fit for this environment; it’s evocative but not theatrical, calm but not placid. It holds mystery in it. There are spaces to be explored and pondered in both his vocal delivery and songwriting.

The lyrical elements have a very Bowie-esque feel to them: are they metaphors, stories, or both? Tunes like “Venus” and “Castor and Pollux” beg me to read the whole album as a concept piece about a relationship; “Tyndarids” and “Mars” seem to be just about things in space, with some religious overtones. I don’t think it’s an either/or thing–I think there are levels of content here.

The Geminids is an intriguing album that requires investment. You can just listen to it once to play “spot-the-references” and take in the nice mood, but its true treasures are unveiled after multiple listens. The sleigh bells in “Gemini,” the rhythmic tension in “Prelude,” the pacing of “Phaethon 2”–these are all joys that aren’t immediately apparent. This isn’t an album with singles, really; the thing comes together as a whole. If you’re going on a late-night road trip, or perhaps watching the stars, The Geminids would be a fascinating and rewarding companion.

Drift Wood Miracle’s emo-revival offerings are passionate and impressive

June 4, 2014

There’s a lot to be said musically and sociologically about why the emo revival is interesting, but spilling that ink here would do a disservice to Drift Wood Miracle. Even if DWM is the band that has me thinking about it, I think it’s more important to note that this quartet has instrumental chops, songwriting skills, melodic prowess, and the earnest passion to pull it all off. I caught their live show at Kings Barcade last Saturday, and the performance was electric.

The quartet features a relatively traditional setup: two electric guitars, a bass, and a drummer. One of the guitarists and the drummer trade lead vocals, which is only one way the band adds diversity to their set. The band does a great job of covering the acoustic/rock/punk/post-hardcore spectrum, as their set featured highlight moments or songs in each of those genres. They’re comfortable with fragile, gentle emoting and thrashing, technical post-hardcore. “My Condition” handles both extremes with ease, but they can express the emotions on their own as well; “Solum” is a beautiful, tender ballad that sounds like the work of a veteran group of musicians.

It’s one thing to make a racket with walls of amps and speakers, but it’s quite another to resist rock’n’roll and mic your 65-watt amps. The little amps that the members of DWM put on stage thrilled me for a variety of reasons: it nodded to the punk “make do with what you’ve got” ethic, underscores the lack of pretense in the band, shows that the talent here is not just a function of nice equipment/recording, and displays the youth of members. To be this talented while still be in high school is rare indeed.

Many emo bands can be less than energetic live, as the band just stands there. Drift Wood Miracle wasn’t going all Rites of Spring on us, but they definitely showed their passion for the music throughout the set: guitar waving, stomping around the stage, and some passionate jumps (not to be confused with theatrical “rock jumps”) made me feel like I could do more than bob my head to the music. It was a good feeling to watch a band be moved by their own music and then feel the desire to move with it too. This is by no means a new thing–I’ve been moshing and dancing and jumping and bouncing at shows for years. But Drift Wood Miracle got me into it, and that’s a thing worth praising.

Drift Wood Miracle’s rock/punk/emo is impressive and worth checking out. Appropriately, a guy in the audience was wearing a Brand New “Fight Off Your Demons” shirt (The hook in the raw “To Endeavor” contains a modified Brand New quote, even). If you’re into that Brand New/Thursday/early ’00s emo sound, you’ll love Drift Wood Miracle.

Edward David Anderson: Taking the best of what was, making the most of what is

June 3, 2014

edwarddavidanderson

If you didn’t hear about Backyard Tire Fire while they were alive, that’s pretty sad but I won’t blame you. My favorite song of theirs was called “The Daze,” which was a song about a band that seemed suspiciously like Backyard Tire Fire. Their brand of perky indie-pop-rock was a ton of fun. But all good things go solo, and now Edward David Anderson has released a solo album. Lies and Wishes is a folk album (because most solo albums these days are, I suppose), and it’s pretty great (because of course it would be).

My favorite BTF song was roughly autobiographical, so it’s fitting that my favorite EDA song off Lies & Wishes is also (probably?) autobiographical. “Son of a Plumber” abandons some of the folky, rolling acoustic strum in favor of a slightly toned-down version of the perky indie-pop that BTF was so good at. When Anderson yawps, “hey!” and lets an accordion solo take over, it sounds just perfect. It’s a song that seems like it always has been and always should be. Even if it doesn’t sound folk, isn’t that the definition of folk?

But the rest of the album holds a little tighter to the folk sound. The opener/title track has cascading fingerpicking reminiscent of early Iron & Wine, framing Anderson’s evocative, occasionally creaky tenor well. “I Missed You” has some downtrodden country strum and sway; “Taking It Out on You” adds some Dawes-esque guitar crunch. “Fires” is a conflicted love song that leans in towards romantic, adult alternative territory (which is not a complaint from this blogger). Closer “The Final Melody” is a perky fingerpicked number that recalls Justin Townes Earl, New Orleans blues, and a cheery chorus fitting of BTF. It’s a perfect mix of the old and new. (Check that whistling!)

If you’re not obsessed with purism in your folk and instead mostly see it as a lens from which to see a variety of melodies and lyrics, Edward David Anderson will charm your socks off. Lies and Wishes is a laidback, enjoyable set of folk/indie-pop tunes that takes itself realistically: not over-serious, but not undervaluing, either. Anderson knows what he’s about, and it shows here. Very enjoyable.

The EP Report

June 2, 2014

silences

The three songs of Nevernames by Silences hold intimacy and expansiveness in close quarters due to impressive songwriting and an incredible production job. Silences’ sound fits neatly at the intersection of Grizzly Bear’s arrangements, Fleet Foxes’ casual vibes, and Death Cab for Cutie’s vocal styles; this makes for songs that are incredibly easy to listen to but also challenging enough to like with your hipster hat on. If you sometimes turn on music and want it to hug you, Silences might be your band. “Santa Cruz” culminates in soaring beauty that will make you want to hit repeat; “Emma” is inspired more by hushed Iron & Wine folk. It’s a very impressive outing from a band I hope to hear much more about.

popandobachan

The humble, earnest simplicity of Pop and Obachan‘s female-fronted singer/songwriter work reminds me of Waxahatchie. I get that comparison in early, because these raw, quiet tracks have that hard-to-qualify x factor that makes this really worth hearing and not just another person with a guitar. Is it the endearing vocal delivery? Is the vocal melodies? Is it the use of strummed banjo? I don’t know what it is, but I heard Unfurl and immediately said, “yes. that.” If you love the feel of punk bands that slowly turn into alt-country bands and then into straight-up folk-singers (you know who they are), then you’ll love the vibe of Pop and Obachan.

carolinastars

The Debonzo BrothersCarolina Stars does pop-rock that reminds of early 2000s bands like Grandaddy, Vertical Horizon, and the non-“Stacy’s Mom” things Fountains of Wayne did (and yes, they did plenty of those). There’s guitar crunch with some dreamy arrangement layered on it, plenty of emotional angst, but also a warm vibe that keeps this aimed at pop. The five tracks of Carolina Stars are catchy but also invested with sonic depth that keeps things interesting after multiple listens. The title track and “More than This” capture their vibe really well.

cereusbrightbig

Cereus Bright combines acoustic pop and folk in a way that doesn’t diminish either tendency. The band plays really bright, cheerful songs that feature mandolin in a way that sounds like a mandolin (not just like a mandolin playing a guitar part). Oddly, the one sad track is the title track of Happier Than Me. If you’re a fan of Nickel Creek, Cereus Bright will have you tapping your toes, singing along, and recommending them to friends. Not everyone can balance pop and folk without skewing toward one or the other, but Cereus Bright does an impressive job of it. “Stella” in particular will perk your ears.

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

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