Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Premiere: The Contenders’ “Not Enough” video

November 7, 2017

I am quite picky when it comes to music videos. The song and video have to go together–a good video can’t survive a boring song and vice versa. On top of that, I vastly prefer narrative-driven videos to performance videos. After 14.5 years of reviewing, I’ve seen hundreds (if not thousands) of performance videos, and they’re pretty much all the same. Given those facts, my recommendation of a performance video should be recognized as extremely high praise.

The Contenders‘ “Not Enough” performance video is that needle in a haystack. The song itself is folk-rock at its very finest. The guitar-and-drums duo knows how to make the most of their skills. Jay Nash’s songwriting is immediately engrossing, and his lead vocal performance is brash yet tempered with pathos. The chemistry between the two is palpable: the instrumental mesh is tight between Josh Day’s kit and the guitar, and the close-harmony vocals from both are impressive.

The most impressive note of the performance is what Day mentions at the end: Nash apparently improvised part of the song, and Day followed him hand-in-glove with harmonies. Now that’s impressive. (The ridiculous nature of their banter makes me think that their live show would be a blast too.) The duo clearly has the chemistry, charm, and chops of a hardworking, road-tested outfit.

The video itself is, yes, a performance video. But the space they’re in is more interesting than average: the wood-paneled walls give “Precision Valley” a rustic-modern feel that fits with the tune. Yeah, I know it’s not a ton, but when we’re talking about performance videos, any element that breaks the stereotypical mold of bands-on-stage is appreciated.

If you’re intrigued by any part of The Contenders’ work, check out Laughing with the Reckless, which came out Friday on Rock Ridge Music. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and at a show.

Late October Singles 3: Everything and Anything

November 6, 2017

1. “Your Brand” – Mo Troper. Between huge guitars, emotive vocals, incisive lyrics, and a triumphant conclusion, everything good about power-pop is jammed into this 2:19.

2. “Invisible Man” – Cassandra Violet. Punchy ’80s vibes meet ’60s-style girl group vocals and some ’70s Fleetwood Mac dreaminess for a timeless, thoroughly modern pop track.

3. “High Enough ft. Propaganda” – The Gray Havens. TGH is usually a folk-pop duo, but they sound pretty slick purveying some low-slung, head-bobbing R&B/hip-hop. If you aren’t convinced by the beat-heavy arrangement, then take it from 1:40 when they employ some bars from Propaganda to great effect.

4. “Beat Wave” – The Holy Gasp. If you’ve never heard The Holy Gasp, this song is a pretty good place to start: frantic, chaotic, jubilant music that almost defies explanation. There’s some crazy surf-punk vibes, marimba, B-movie theatricality, cheerleader chants, Gregorian chants, and Benjamin Hackman’s howling baritone all thrown in together. If you’ve heard The Holy Gasp before: yep, they’re back. [Editor’s Note: the band noted that the instrument is a xylophone, not a marimba.]

5. “Cool Kids” – Shana Falana. The jumbo-jet-huge guitars here have some shoegaze influences, but they’re used in the service of vocals instead of obscuring them. The results are a big, arms-wide-open pop song with catchy melodies and a memorable arrangement.

6. “Every Decision Counts” – Russell and the Wolf Choir. I grew up on Transatlanticism, and wherever I hear that indie-pop vibe I turn my head. Russell & co. have the easygoing vibes, nonchalant guitar work (at least until the big push), and airy vocals that can make any fan of mid-era Death Cab for Cutie swoon. It’s a blast.

7. “Happy Pills” – Dirty Sunset. Somewhere between alt-country, funk, and jam lies this unusually groovy acoustic-led tune. The vocal delivery is particularly engaging.

8. “Hunt Your Love Down” – Royal and The Southern Echo. This bass-heavy folk-pop tune had a lot going for it, and then the horns kick in. Yes yes yes.

9. “Tulsa” – Pro Teens. This downtempo, relaxed psych-pop tune is named after my hometown, played by a band from my new city of residence (Phoenix). Chill in so many ways.

10. “Sims” – DROO. The battle between loopy casio-pop and skittering breakbeats creates a tune that isn’t quite either thing–neither aggressive nor relaxed, twee nor brittle. It’s an intermediate state. Very unique and interesting.

11. “Petal” – Hovvdy. If you’re into sleepy, rainy-day emo/indie, Hovvdy has a delicious slice of it for you.

12. “Beds” – Sierra Blanca. Just nails it: the sleepy folk vibe, the subtle bass groove, the world-weary vocals, the warm organ, the barely-there background vocals, they’re all there. Just great stuff.

13. “Leave It to Fate” – Emily Magpie. Delicate fingerpicked guitar, soaring vocals, tom-heavy drums, and wubby electro bass make for a unique, intriguing folk tune.

14. “Welcome to Being Human” – ODDA. A floating, lithe indie singer/songwriter track with a bits of Jonsi, Sufjan, and Frightened Rabbit mixed in.

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Trevor James Tillery makes an artistic statement about social media

November 3, 2017

Each day is a reinvention. For Nashville’s Trevor James Tillery, the process has been performed in front that fickle demographic that has been labeled millennial. To say that this has been a bad thing would be unfair to a creative talent like this songwriter, who is set to release Together, Alone November 10, 2017 (pre-order).

It could be said that the artist, who lists both Los Angeles and Nashville as home base, embraces that duality within his songwriting: a mirror for personal experiences with themes exploring a range of perspectives on the isolation within today’s climate of disconnection. This lyrical expression of disconnect as a result of social media, religion, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships was produced by Joshua D. Niles between the winter of 2016 and the summer of 2017. Though the artist is proud to say that this is a collaborative album, there is a strong identity for listeners to hear, a foundation that is carried throughout the ten song album.

The album cover art comes from London-based photographic duo Stefano and Alberto Scandeberg. Elegant and lyrical, the album art encompases the ideas that pull this artist’s work together, making each element of the release part of a greater whole. For an album decrying social media’s effects, there is a subtle irony in the artwork: Tillery connected with the artists via Twitter after seeing their work, which has been published in Vogue and elsewhere. Small world, big possibilities.

With an eye on the attack of social media and the alienated repercussions of that separate-but-together existence, “In Your Atmosphere” is a taste of brilliance. “Silver Sea” features a landscape of sound enveloped by authentic lush vocals. “Lonely With You” has that echo of Grizzly Bear: a bit less dark and haunting, and more accepting of the isolation. “Numb” may be the standout track of the album, as it encompasses everything thematically. It is hauntingly disjointed, with an almost rave-like tempo and a falsetto kicking in on the chorus.  

Creating a different feel within the songs, “Immortalize” could feel out of place if not for the way that the album was released: Tillery chose to release the album one single at a time. Dripping out each song on its own gave the tunes a chance to breathe and find their audience. Like many people today, Trevor agrees that most listeners are unable to commit to immersing in an entire album at one sitting. While admittedly critical of the lack of patience that listeners have when sitting down, embracing, and digesting an album in one listen, there is a method to Tillery’s madness with Together, Alone.

The space trip of “Equilibrium” is an invitation for the listener to contrast much of the rest of the record. It is a little jarring, but that may be the point. Throughout Together, Alone, Trevor James Tillery is urging his listeners throughout to stop, wake up, and connect on a real plane. —Lisa Whealy

Late October Singles 2: Chill/Not Chill/Chill

November 2, 2017

1. “Holding Hands” – The Magic Lantern. Sometimes something comes along that has such a fresh perspective on things that I don’t have clear genre labels for it. Saxophones are lead players here, as well as Jamie Doe’s confident vocals. It’s sort of indie rock, I guess, or maybe indie-pop, or maybe deconstructed-acoustic-Bon Iver-type stuff. The song expands with a drum kit and grumbling bass, tying some of its beautiful meandering to a beat. But it never loses its beautiful quality. Totally wild. Highly recommended.

2. “Baltimore (Sky at Night)” – Kevin Morby. Morby is an even more expansive, good-natured, easygoing Josh Ritter. This song sounds like Morby’s sitting on the back porch and also the Silver Bullet band is somehow with him there too.

3. “Before This There Was Everything” – Big City Cough. Here’s six minutes of rolling, exploratory instrumental acoustic guitar with an occasional supplemental instrument or two. If you need a moment of zen amid the chaos of your day, here’s an option.

4. “In a Galaxy Far Away” – Mixtaped Monk. This ambient track is much less Star Wars and much more Hubble Space Telescope: a swirling aura of pad synths featuring subtle motion and development.

5. “Idea of Order at Kyson Point” – Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno. Keys tumble over keys like a babbling brook or a tiny waterfall, a cascade of pure, lovely sound that soothes and excites.

6. “Summer Is Away” – Easy Wanderlings. This delicate, gently dramatic acoustic folk tune has overtones of Joshua Radin, Billy Joel, Paul Simon and more. It’s a lovely, lilting tune.

7. “Where the Morning Glories Grow” – Dear Nora. It’s a testament to both the original songwriting and the brand-new arrangement that this 100-year-old folk tune sounds fresh, vibrant, and relevant in 2017 at the hands of Dear Nora. The vocal style and the clear respect for the subject material really make the tune what it is.

8. “Third Time” – The Flowerscents. The guitar-forward alt-country of the Old ’97s crossed with the vocals-forward approach of ’90s Brit-pop creates a thoroughly entertaining rock song.

9. “Him” – Silver Liz. The song opens with reverb-laden vocals of indie-pop layered on top of minimalist drumming and sawing synth before expanding into a ghostly-yet-towering indie-rock arrangement. Then it dramatically disappears. We barely knew ye.

10. “Cold Caller” – Julia Jacklin. The best of the ’50s revival filtered through hazy indie vocals and deeply confessional lyrics about the uncertainties of growing older and having different responsibilities. The video is oddly, endearingly intimate.

11. “December” – Yumi Zouma. Feathery, new-wave-inflected indie-rock that seems to glide along effortlessly.

12. “Infinite Space” – Young Mister. Young Mister is leaning into the pejorative term “soft rock” by titling his new EP with it. I must say, it’s not a bad term to describe YM’s music (especially if you stripped all the connotations out and just went with denotations). This particular track is a little more soft than rock, as bandleader Steven Fiore focuses the tune on an acoustic guitar and his lazy, hazy vocal performance. It’s a warm, inviting track.

13. “When January Comes” – Greta Stanley. The uplift that rushes in with the chorus makes this feel like a spring wind breaking across a wintry field. (Although, because Stanley is Australian, this sonic interpretation doesn’t fit with the lyrics–January is summer down under.) It’s an impressive, exciting folk tune that includes a big, post-rock-esque conclusion.

14. “Old Kisses” – Dan Michaelson. A lovely, sweeping, dramatic singer/songwriter tune that uses strings in a way that doesn’t feel maudlin or tired. It’s also really, really sad, but you probably guessed that from the title.

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Late October Singles: Party Time

November 1, 2017

1. “Good Advice (feat. Jeff Goldblum)” – FEVERHIGH. Come for the “what? for real? Jeff Goldblum?” (Yes, it actually is.) Stay for the female-fronted, Fatboy Slim-esque dance music.

2. “Window” – Magic Giant. The folk-pop-rave mash-ups that Magic Giant creates are just ludicrously fun. Add to this a simply ridiculous (in the best of ways) music video and you’ve got a undeniably fun experience waiting for you.

3. “Gentleman” – The Curious. Thank goodness that the UK turns out a steady stream of perky guitar-rock bands a la the Arctic Monkeys and The Vaccines. This tune has crisp, chiming guitars and soaring vocals in spades.

4. “Eliza” – Lauran Hibberd. Fans of Laura Stevenson’s blend of folk, indie-pop, and indie-rock will immediately recognize the enthusiastic songwriting of this track. Hibberd’s sensibilities are finely tuned here to pull in the best of each genre and discard the overdone elements of each. The result is a sort of super-charged Regina Spektor or a new tour mate for Stevenson.

5. “Move On” – The Brixton Riot. This punchy, high-quality guitar-rock that is carefully written, perfectly played, and expertly engineered (J. Robbins). It’s crunchy without being relying on distortion as a crutch. The vocal performance is stellar as well.

6. “Opinionated” – New Luna. Reminds me of old-school Bloc Party: frenetic vocals, carefully constructed rock arrangements reminiscent of late-night urban environs, and a healthy dose of paranoia.

7. “35 Year Olds Dancin’” – Romeo Dance Cheetah. Being closer to 35 than to 18, I appreciate this fantastic glam rock parody of the not-so-pretty transition from hipster to hip injury.

8. “Aphrodite” – Zorita. Try to create a triangulation between ska, klezmer, and indie-rock, and you’ll end up with this svelte, suave track. The low-toned vocals in the chorus are evocative and addictive.

9. “Big G” – Neosho. Here’s a really fascinating mix of spacey synths, trap-inspired beats, electro-pop vibes, lush instrumental arrangements, and rhythmic vocals. The band pulls off this unusual sound in a totally sophisticated and impressive way.

10. “For the Last Time” – Two Sets of Eyes. Mashes together the plaintive emotion of ’00s emo, the saxophone of smooth jazz, the cascading guitars of indie rock, and a few surprises I won’t spoil into an impressive, unique stew. I’m very excited for their future work.

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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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