Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Premiere: The Pollies’ “Paperback Books”

September 10, 2015


Drone in indie-rock work is a funny thing: it features in some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard (The Low Anthem’s “This Goddamn House,” Headlights’ “Get Your Head Around It”) and also can kill a song entirely. (I’m eliding electronic and metal uses of the technique here, because the ways that drone works there are very different.) The Pollies‘ “Paperback Books” uses warm drone as a gentle, subtle intro–a backdrop for the tune to play out against, invoked but not integral after the band crashes in.

Jay Burgess’ voice evenly balances the quiet reverie of memory with the rueful quality of the same; it’s a tune that can amplify either uplifting vibes or the sort of desirably-sad feelings that we all look for sometimes. It’s a rare tune that can fit multiple emotional spaces with a single sonic one. That drone helps it cut both ways–it can mean stability or uncertainty, depending on how you look at it. The lyrics revel in that sort of backwards/forwards look, that positive/negative combination that we can’t avoid in life. This song is quickly moving into my permanent rotation, because it so perfectly captures a mood that I’m often looking for.

But even if you’re not the sort to get emotionally attached to your tunes (should you, mythical creature, actually exist), it’s hard to deny the skill with which this song is crafted. The alt-country band transcends the genre here, focusing on meandering-yet-careful lead vocals, soaring bgvs, twinkly lead guitar, and a reverb-laden sense of nostalgia. The arrangement is carefully layered and mixed to perfection–it feels effortless, even though there’s quite a bit going on. All the pieces melt into each other to create one sonic idea–a feat that should not be downplayed. Even if you don’t want to get emotional and “remember the days when we were just teens,” “Paperback Books” is a warm, lush tune that deserves your attention.

The Pollies’ Not Here comes out on September 25th via Single Lock/Thirty Tigers.

Colour the Atlas: Amethyst

September 4, 2015


Colour the Atlas is labeled an alternative/trip hop band, but I find it more accurate to compare the liveliness found on Amethyst to 2000s UK rock. And the more thrilled I got about this revelation, the more I thought vocalist and key player, Jess Hall, resembled the one and only pop-punk princess, Avril Lavigne. Don’t let this confuse you though–Colour the Atlas may involve a recently-retired pop punk sound, but they’ve put a contemporary, soulful spin on it.

It’s more than the texturizing of swelling piano, emotive guitar riffs, and rocky percussion–the vocals most effectively aggrandize emotion. “Scared” features head-turning male and female vocals that somehow never compete with the pop-rock instrumentation. Hall’s voice soars on “Lighter,” where her confidence in range is Aguilera-esque. And “Sweet Harmony” takes the amplification down a notch with a pairing of breathy, smoky male and female vocals.

Variance in instrumentation peaks during “Hold Me Down,” a charming mix of luscious vocals, rich bass, and even glimpses of soulful guitar lines that are all initiated by exotic bits of percussion. Lyrics like, “Hold me down and make me feel/Take me anywhere but here/Show me love and show me fear,” give this track soul.

But it was “I’ll Be Your Lover” that clung to my heart like a Joss Stone song. Once the beat drops, there is a No Doubt feel that had me hooked, especially with the breezy vocals that drift through the dreamy trip-hop.  I can imagine “I’ll Be Your Lover” as the opening song on the Ten Things I Hate About You soundtrack. It’s a pair of high-waisted jeans, a crop top, and short/spiky hair in song form.

Colour The Atlas hasn’t missed their time; they’re just bringing it back, alternative/trip hop style. —Rachel Haney

T e e n e n d e r: Decadeless, youthful tunes

September 3, 2015


Boston-bred T e e n e n d e r fuses indie, pop-punk and 80’s elements, culminating in a young-American-just-trying-to-get-laid sound, similar to the one popularized by late 90’s pop punk/alternative rock bands. If you’re looking for something reminiscent of your first sip of beer or those basement hangouts where you nervously inhaled Cheetos and proceeded to make out with a braces-wearing classmate, then the duo formed by brothers Brian and Chris McKenna will hit the spot.

Twinkling, synth-studded opener “checks+crosses” jabs a spunky, upbeat groove, sending me back to those Music Express carnival rides that made the Top 40 sound suddenly awesome. Passion Pit-esque vocals hit it off with The Killers retro poppiness. Half-way through, the sonic pairing joins forces with a jazzy horn section, resulting in a feel-good epicness that shimmers throughout the rest of the EP.

But it’s “nitetrap” that emits a heart-racing, cheeks-blushing angst through a catchy chorus, breezy vocals, and a handclap that cheers our pretend couple on. Lyrics like, “It’s a seductive drug…Your sweet reaction gets me high” give this track a caramel-sticky-crushin’ theme. “nitetrap” is that summer camp love, the song you could lose your skinny dipping virginity to.

Pop party track “noheadrush” takes a slightly different stance, warning, “Be careful what you’re craving/She’s not sugar.” At the EP’s end, Baerstronaut gently pumps the original with enough helium until his remix reaches a bouncy playfulness, making for a total roller rink vibe–disco ball and all.

As we tend to save the best for last, “badangel” is a standout on the EP. Dark alt-pop energizes this track from the start; by adding that tinge of malevolent naughtiness through intensified synth and pulsing rhythm, T e e n e n d e r continues to evoke slick casualness. “badangel” is like being in the coolest detention ever.

The duo has brought back the freshest qualities of the ‘80s and sweeped in enough of a modern sound for this EP to be decadeless. If I could describe T e e n e n d e r as anything, it would be passing your license test on the third try and heroically speeding off in your mom’s minivan with the speakers giving all they’ve got. –Rachel Haney

Premiere: Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls – “A Season Undone”

September 2, 2015


Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls‘ “A Season Undone” opens the record of the same title, so it’s fitting that the first 20 seconds sees all the band members easing their way in. By the time the band is at full power, a rootsy rock sound has been unveiled that splits the difference between The Jayhawks’ unfussy alt-country and Needtobreathe’s dramatic Southern rock.

Heath’s tenor voice carries most of the song, particularly in the surging chorus. (I’ve been humming the melody, with all its dramatic stops and starts, for a while.) The exception is the extended solo section in the bridge, where the band just goes for it: guitar theatrics, searing organ, thrumming bass, stomping drums, the whole nine yards.

By the time the song winds its way to a close (“Our souls are shining brighter than the sun!”), Heath and co. have made a statement not just about this song, but about the record: they’re going all-in on this one, from the songwriting to the performances to the production. (This is no indication of their previous efforts, of course.) If you’re into acoustic-led rock with Southern and country influences, check this one out.

I’m proud to premiere this track today. In addition to sending over the lovely link above, Jason gave me a description of the track and the lyrics to run for your edification as you hear the song. They’re both run without adornment or comment below.

A Season Undone comes out September 11 on Industrial Amusement. –Stephen Carradini

The song is about the process of tearing down to reconstruct… That moment when the rug has been pulled out from under you and maybe you don’t have a clue as to how to proceed. It’s about coming face-to-face with the fact that everything you’ve known up to this point is no longer serving you and just might have been false all along. You get to a point where you no longer have the strength to hold onto the past and the future is utter darkness and uncertainty and you’re seconds from letting go and falling into the abyss… but somehow you know you’re gonna survive. You’ll push on and come out the other side. Maybe a bit wiser… perhaps stronger… but definitely alive.

It’s one of those songs that rolled around in my head for quite some time before I finally let it come out into the world. I guess I had to face enough of my own demons to be able to write it properly.

“Days like these have come and gone
We try so hard but we can’t hold on
We’re all lookin’ for a reason
we’re all searchin’ for the sun
… welcome to season undone”

While I was recording the song I was reading about the vibrational tones that planets and stars emit and the sun is 126.22 hz so I used a tone generator and it worked perfectly for the intro and solo sections of the song. Jay (Federici) came up with an organ part that was really great, But the piano licks he put in were truly genius… he hadn’t rehearsed — he just sat down and played these really sparse lines that were perfect and lifted the track up to another level. And Tobin (Dale) played a really inspired solo for sure. All the guys played great on that song and the entire album for that matter. I’m truly blessed to play with amazing musicians and fantastic human beings. —Jason Heath

A Season Undone

Step Into the Light
from the dark It’s your right
The Choice is your’s to make
With a grasp or a fist
Life is like this
you can give or you can take

And I saw you standing alone out on the road
Take my hand we’ll make a stand
Together we’ll carry the load

Days like these have come and gone
We try so hard but we can’t hold on
Wer’e all lookin for a reason
we’re all searchin’ for the sun
… welcome to season undone

Spend your days
caught in a maze
searchin’ for the pieces of your heart
frozen in fear
no step is clear
Surrender the hardest part

And I saw you tremblin’ like a star up in the night
Darkness has grown but we’re never alone
together we are the light

Days like these have come and gone
We try so hard but we can’t hold on
Wer’e all lookin for a reason
we’re all searchin’ for the sun
… welcome to season undone

Days like these have come and gone
We try so hard but we can’t hold on
The World just keeps on turnin’
The shadows dance and the fire’s still burnin’
Wer’e all lookin for a reason
we’re all searchin’ for the sun
… welcome to season undone

Our souls are shining brighter than the sun(4x)

Premiere: Bear and Moose – “Chicagovenient Store”

September 1, 2015

Bear and Moose‘s “Chicagovenient Store” is indie-rock in one of the most old-school ways to envision it. Chronologically post-punk rock’n’roll in the way that the Minutemen were, Bear and Moose feels like it is carrying the torch on the Minutemen’s natural progression from punk’s loud/fast/brash via added lyrical, technical performance, and sonic concerns. Like the Minutemen, Bear and Moose’s lyrics concern political issues; unlike their forbears (who were concerned with America’s relationship to globalization and, in particular, Central American politics), the subject here is American suburban materialism, despondency, and political malaise. We can use more critique on those fronts, for sure.

The wryly amused, satiric vocal delivery contrasts with the perky, skittering music that the duo constructs. The tune opens with a hectic bass line that’s doubled by the guitars–past the intro, the song sways and jolts and tilts as the varied guitar strumming patterns zoom back and forth. The frantic guitar and bass are locked down by a drumbeat that keeps everything in line (and the aforementioned vocalist, who seems content to toss off pronunciations while totally unaffected by all the complexity going on around him). The song threatens to come apart at the seams with all the various melodic lines zinging here and there, but those two elements hold it all together to make a really exciting song.

It’s a bit of controlled chaos, which is a pretty good definition of what I’m looking for in rock music. If I really have to pin a label on it, the guitar tone and the engineering job tie it tenuously to surf-rock and/or garage rock. But I’d rather just let it stand on its own, under that big tent banner of indie-rock.

Bear and Moose’s album third album Obstacle comes out September 15.

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

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