Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Premiere: Charles Ellsworth’s “In My Thoughts”

April 15, 2015

Charles Ellsworth’s collaborative album with Vincent Draper, Salt Lake City: A Love Story, caught IC’s attention with its “melancholy country-folk songs … written and executed with precision.” We’ve been waiting patiently for his next album, and now you have a chance to be a part of it.

Ellsworth is about to record the follow-up to that record, and he’s looking for funds to do that. But instead of running a Kickstarter, he’s purchased the URL NotAKickstarter.com. Instead of asking for a goal amount and then making everyone wait, he’s going to ask for donations and then give his music to you immediately as a thank-you for that donation. He has six albums, EPs, and singles available as part of the promotion. That’s a lot to love, and a lot of reasons to contribute to this campaign.

To help whet your appetite for what you may hear when you contribute, here’s a live video of “In My Thoughts,” a track that appears on the Live from the State Room record. IC is lucky enough to debut the video today! (The live album is new, too, as part of the campaign.) “In My Thoughts” is a gorgeous, delicate tune that seems to tumble out of his mouth and out of the band’s instruments. His subtle arrangements frame his mellifluous baritone voice, as the band provides just the right amount of color: cello swoops, guitar garnishes, and percussion keeps the song all held together. The highlight is the chorus, where the rhythms of Ellsworth’s melody gently push against the calm setting for a memorable tension. It’s a song that shows off his skills. (And even though it’s a new song that wasn’t on Salt Lake City, he gives a shout-out to the city twice at the end of the track. Awesome!)

Check out the tune below, and check out the Not a Kickstarter for more videos.

Videos: Start

April 14, 2015

And now we’ve made it through the full Konami code. Cheers!

Blimp Rock’s pop-rock tune “Let’s All Stay In Tonight” celebrates the joys of staying in your house, inviting your friends over, and drinking tea. I heartily approve. For those who have been to hundreds of shows, a sentiment I have echoed for years: “I see there’s more than two bands on the bill / so I don’t think, I don’t think I’m gonna go / I wish it started at seven / so we could get to bed by 11.”

The Life and Times also celebrates home life in “Passion Pit”: the central character brushes his teeth, washes dishes, gets covered in leaves and hangs out with a housecat. The rest of his rock band follows him around his house. Good times had by all.

Keeping the domestic theme alive, one of the oldest urban living tropes I know of is brought to life here in Tyler Boone’s “Take Aim”: meeting a romantic partner at the laundromat.

In stark, vivid, flamboyant contrast to the first three, Many Things’ video for “Holy Fire” concerns the atypical, unusual, and surreal in a single-shot video of remarkable oddity. It’s not what I expected from this song, but it works. Oh, it works.

Lylit’s clip for “Unknown” is basically a combination of those previous things: there’s a very domestic ’50s flair to Lylit’s wardrobe, hair and surroundings, but the pastel coloring of everything makes it just a bit off-kilter. It’s still a fantastic pop song, on top of that.

Blisses B: Vivid cheeriness, weightless vibes

April 13, 2015

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Oakland blessed us with Blisses B, a quartet whose latest LP graces listeners with a bright disposition and diverse sounds that make it pleasantly hard to categorize. Sea Level Astronomy brilliantly and organically blends folk, rock and psychedelia into a record oozing Vitamin D. The band’s third full-length album evokes an animated, underdog tone through upbeat catchiness and folky, wholesome vocals. Its mentality is similar to Weezer’s “Beverly Hills,” but not as loud and with a bit more soul.

“Montevideo” starts us off with an energizing, rallying set of vocals and bass line that pretty much guarantees we’ll have a good time through the rest of the tracks. It resembles Kings of Leon’s “Taper Jean Girl” through its pop-art vocals and best-put-on-your-dancing-shoes rhythm.

Tunes like “Weapons Grade” and “Side Hug” are predominantly sun-kissed tracks. “Weapons Grade” chills things out with a clear, beachy grooviness. It reminds us that being the underdog can be fun, laidback, and bringing not a whole lot of in-your-face expectations. “Side Hug” shares some of those low-maintenance qualities, but with a little more oomph. Lacing enough reggae to weave together an additional layer of optimism, this tune is a Corona in song form. It feels, quite literally, like receiving a side hug — non threatening, friendly, always down for one.

“Figurative Light” shifts down a gear in vivid cheeriness and turns up seriously heartfelt guitar sentiment that builds to a fervid solo at 2:35. The song captures a raw, honest sense of eagerness that fits perfectly into the puzzle of power in perspective. It balances the heavy positive charge the album transmits by electrifying us with something darker in hue, more grounding. Bloc Party-esque, “Figurative Light” hones that happy-sad beauty found in a sunrise or sunset.

Sea Level Astronomy has an undeniably warm sepia tint. Blisses B brings the California sunshine with its feel-good, weightless vibe and none of the damaging rays. The best part: Blisses B’s ability to prove it’s cool to not be cool, bigger to not be big and inexplicably genius to not be mainstream genius. —Rachel Haney

Videos: B A

Ryan O’Reilly’s gorgeously-shot video for “Northern Lights” plays out like a wintry Moonrise Kingdom. The high-drama, piano-led singer/songwriter tune fits perfectly with the video.

Some bands know how to create gravitas out of the same old instruments. There’s nothing unique about the instrumentation in Lowland Hum’s “Odell,” but they wring heartbreakingly powerful indie-rock tunes out of it (a la a catchier Bowerbirds). The video is a perfect foil to the song, pulling the heavy and the light out of everyday experiences.

The swift fingerpicking of Caitlin Marie Bell’s “Mama” is filled out with a gentle alt-country arrangement that calls to mind Laura Stevenson’s immediately-engaging work. Bell’s evocative voice leads the way through the arrangement, resulting in one of the best new songs I’ve heard this year. I’m very much looking forward to more from Bell.

Laura and Greg’s pristine, bell-clear, minimalist songwriting is similar to The Weepies. The terrific video is a lovingly hand-drawn animation that will make you want to watch it over and over.

MP3s: Left Right Left Right

April 12, 2015

Left Right Left Right

1. “Make Me Wanna Die” – White Reaper. If Oasis had been playing at 40 bpms faster and way thrashier, you’d end up with this catchy, snarling, fun track.

2. “Hard 2 Wait” – Iji. My first thought when I get a pseudo-disco tune is not, “Oh yeah, that’s my jam.” But somehow, Iji has won me over with this charming retro nugget. It helps that the disco is fused to a San Fran indie-pop sort of sensibility.

3. “Punk Band” – Conrad. Actually a synth-pop band with some chillwave inflections and post-punk rumbling bass singing about a punk band. Joins “The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton” in the “odes to other genres” genre. It’s pretty great.

4. “Oh Josephine” – Vienna Ditto. Pulling back from their brittle ways, but not their noir drama ones, Ditto delivers a smooth, sultry indie-rock cut with a hint of trip-hop glamour to it.

5. “Bibleblack (demo)” – Autumn Owls. That sort of ominous, artsy, glitchy rock that Radiohead burst into the public consciousness is on display here. AO is following up on their debut of dark, melodic indie-rock with a new album later this year (after their lead singer recovers from–oh no!–a mugging).

6. “Asleep in the Pine” – Birds of Night. Do you remember that moment when Band of Horses was the biggest thing going? Birds of Night totally do.

7. “Aleph” – Battle Ave. The band’s raw, frantic rock has met atmosphere and jangle since we last heard it, resulting in less panic and more mumbly confidence (is that a paradox/oxymoron?). New York cool permeates this tune, even though Upstate New York is part of their story instead of the city.

8. “Singing Tower” – R. Ring. Two rock vets team up for a poignant, delicate acoustic lament. Seems like if you can write a song somewhere, you can write a song in a lot of places.

9. “Kote’w Te Ye” – Beken. Sometimes a song comes along that’s so fresh, warm, and bright that it just lifts the clouds of whatever’s going on. The raspy, gravitas-laden voice of Haitian Beken, who sings in Kreyol, is accompanied by an easygoing group of male singers, tom-heavy percussion, and a lively acoustic guitar.

MP3s: Down Down

April 11, 2015

Down Down

Grainy” – Cotton Claw. You know that scene in action movies where the spy is in a club, and then he spots his guy, and then a noir-ish chase scene through a dark, glamourously-lit urban landscape erupts without the music changing all that much? Plug and play.

Rooftops” – Sick of Sarah. Is it a dis to say someone sounds like Paramore these days? If not, the confident vocals and tight dance-rock beats makes this tune sound like an enthusiastic Paramore club remix. If yes, this sounds nothing like that at all.

No Exit” – Nightmare Fortress. Dry industrial beats meet round, warm synths and biting alto female vocals; it’s oddly accessible.

Broken Angels” – Jade the Moon. Other than the wub in the bass, this is a vocals-heavy, female-fronted mid-tempo club banger from the ’90s. (That’s totally great with me.)

Raincoats” – Maribou State. Got me wondering: what’s the politically correct term for Tribal House these days?

Enchanteresse” – Scattered Clouds. Dissonant, disorienting flashes of guitar lightning crash on an ominous plateau of baritone speak/sing vocals and plodding bass. For fans of apocalyptic post-rock.

State of Low” – Cajsa Siik. I know this sort of delicate, feminine indie-electro-pop existed before I heard Frou Frou on the Garden State soundtrack, but I can’t escape thinking about Imogen Heap’s vocals whenever something this light (yet dark, always dusk where they are) appears.

Lost” – Zohara. An unusual fusion of pop chanteuse vocals, dissonant orchestration, and pleasant piano produces an enigmatic, interesting track.

Forest Fires” – Axel Flóvent. If you’re the sort of person who longs for winter as soon as it gets warm, this acoustic- and piano-laden track will give you all the snowy-cabin-folk chills you need to get you through the hard months.

True Colors” – Johanna Warren. Surprisingly technical guitar playing gets matched with calming vocals and very serious arrangements of piano and flute. This results in a tune that is both calming and unsettling.

MP3s: Up Up

April 10, 2015

Up Up

Without A Care” – Turn to Crime. The insistent arpeggiator, the squawking guitar, pushing drums, and repetitive nature of the song make this perfect road rock’n’roll. Also the topical matter, now that you mention it.

Killer Flamingo Báy” – Flamingo Bay. Manages to be raw and snarling while still also conveying droll boredom with the subject matter. In essence, the most rock’n’roll stance you could take, according to the Vines and Cage the Elephant.

Loose People” – Sans Parents. This feels like a garage rock song jammed together with a melancholy Beach Boys track, but as if those two things have been waiting to be put together forever.

Get It Out” – Two Sheds. Lumbering, towering, yet oddly good-natured rock that seems to be trying to engulf its lead singer entirely.

Struck Matches” – Bop English. It says “English” on the tin, but this cross between roots-rock and Styx is about as American as classic rock stylings can get.

The Devil Got to Go” – The Through & Through Gospel Review. If Of Montreal ever got conscripted for a prison chain gang work crew…

All the Time” – Nai Harvest. You look like you need some good, straight-ahead power-pop in your life.

City Livin’” – Round Eye. Frantic, zinging, careening punk from China. What’s not interesting about that?

One More Life” – Shy For Shore. I suppose if you hate electro-pop, it’s this sort of thing that you rail against. But I don’t know what’s wrong with high drama, big synths, and yearning vocals–if you’re looking for subtlety, just turn away. If you’re looking for that big moment: feast on, friends.

Holy Fire (Radio Edit)” – Many Things. Due to its hypnotic ostinato piano line, U2-level bombastic production, and demands to “throw up your hands now,” this thumping-beat pop anthem is contractually obligated to be played only in stadiums and at least 10 feet above the heads of the floor audience.

Build a Sun” – Wartime Blues. This outfit is trying to cram gleeful abandon into a tastefully restrained orchestral folk-pop band. The results are like Josh Ritter with old-school Arcade Fire creeping out from around the edges.

All Through the Fire, All Through the Rain” – Rosenblume. Isn’t a clean-cut, well-sung adult alternative love song a great thing? Check yes or no by clicking this song link.

Trying Man” – Emilio. There’s more than a little Simon & Garfunkel tucked into this track; the British accent gives it a unique spin. The vocalists at the end also add to the tune.

Brett Borovic’s Western indie rock delivers diverse instrumentation

April 9, 2015

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Brett Borovic’s The Fearless and the Faint highlights the great talent of Brett Borovic in a myriad of ways. Each song has a unique flavor to it via the many different instrument pairings throughout the album; whether it’s harmonica, violin, guitar, bass, or drums, you can find them all and more on this album. (It is simply amazing that the only instrument not performed by Brett Borovic himself is Nathan Tulenson’s violin.) Borovic’s voice is also a very powerful instrument. His often-soulful voice adds a certain sensuality to his music, especially when paired with instruments like the piano and electric guitar (“Day Becomes Night”).

Many instruments come together to make the very unique sound, self-described as “Existential Western Indie Rock.” Picture this: the song begins with a piercing violin intro, then introduces a gentle drum beat after a couple measures, followed by a spaghetti western guitar riff. I just described opener “A Truth I Never Thought I’d Find.” Overall, the album effortlessly combines classical elements, such as the violin and piano, with a modernized spaghetti western sound achieved mostly through the bass and guitar.

Although the album is often a fiery affair, a highlight off the album is actually one of the softer songs, “All I Thought I Wanted.” Borovic softens his powerful voice a bit to fit with the sweet lyrics and gentle strumming of the guitar that simply demands that you sway. The last song “So Blue” is also notably softer and more melodic in its instrumentation.

The dark and fiery moments of The Fearless and the Faint come together with its playful Spaghetti Western influences and occasional softer moments to make a truly unique sound. The Fearless and the Faint is out now-Krisann Janowitz

Quick Hit: Sam Vicari

April 8, 2015

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I don’t think I’ll ever tire of cheery power-pop with crunchy guitars, effervescent melodies, and heartfelt angst. Sam Vicari‘s Giving Up is a testament to the undying power of the charming genre, combining Death Cab for Cutie-esque vocals with the clanging guitars and big drums of an old-fashioned guitar-rock trio. Of the ten songs on the record, only two make it above 2:30 and break 3:10. (Holding to that 2:20 pop song form hearkens back even earlier in pop’s history.) I don’t think there are any instruments on the record except guitar, bass, drums, and vox–sometimes simple purity is the best.

But there’s nothing retro or nostalgic about Giving Up; instead, Vicari delivers fresh, modern pop nuggets like “All and Everyday,” “Looking for a Warm Heart,” and “October” in rapid succession. If you’re into summery, cheery guitar-pop, Sam Vicari’s Giving Up will thoroughly satisfy you. Crank the windows down and the volume up.

James Irwin’s Unreal is a time-traveling indie-pop adventure with modern tinges

April 7, 2015

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A breathy saxophone is one of the first and last sounds you hear on Unreal, James Irwin‘s ’80s-inspired chill-out album. Irwin is a laid-back cat: rubbery bass, feathery woodwinds and flutes, reverb-heavy guitars, Irwin’s relaxed vocals and easygoing tempos form the predominant framework for tunes that unfold at their own pace. The resulting amalgam sounds like if Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders somehow time traveled into 1986 Miami.

Tunes like the title track, “Face Value,” and “Sahra” aren’t tropical or Caribbean in any large sense; instead, they capture the languid haze that was layered over seemingly all ’80s cop dramas. Tension here isn’t ominous; it’s simply a push and pull of instruments. Snappy high hat pushes the tempo while pad synths hold it back in “Face Value.” The warm synths that open “Sahra” give an almost chillwave vibe before gentle sleigh bells and plodding guitar flip the script entirely: “Sahra” is actually a slow ballad.

The title track reminds me of M83’s “Midnight City” in its use of saxophone and its deep commitment to a particular style of sound, but the tunes couldn’t be more different and still be evoking the same era. (“Michigan Miami” is the one that actually appropriates a driving ’80s electro pop sound.) The synths that Irwin uses aren’t the sharp, whiny synths common to modern EDM or the twinkly ones common to stereotypical ’80s pop. The pad synths are diffused whispers that call up memories without being the lead element (most of the time). Given those synths as a base, the title track relies on an almost doo-wop bass line to bring a bit of motion to the straight-up-and-down drumming and gauzy backdrop. This causes the final product to come off seeming like a recently-unearthed mid-’80s predecessor of The Antlers’ work.

But Irwin isn’t doing a nostalgia reconstruction here: “Blood Going Back in Time” and “Siberia China” draw on modern indie-pop elements. The delicate fingerpicking, separated drumming and distant synths of “Siberia China” call Clem Snide to mind (as well as the aforementioned Squires). Standout “Blood Going Back in Time” fuses the ’80s sentiments to distinctly modern, quirky guitar production to really come into his own sound. The vocals, arrangement, and cryptic lyrics (including several prominent references to George Henry Wallace) make it a tune worth listening to multiple times.

Nostalgia is a dangerous game sometimes, because it can seem like there’s no creativity there. James Irwin’s Unreal is more than just a time-travelogue to a particular sound. It’s a re-envisioning of a certain mood and sonic space with modern developments included. If you’re into the ’80s, well and good–you’ll be all over this. However, if you’re into adventurous, thoughtful chill electro or indie-pop, you’ll be just an enamored with the album.

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

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