Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Singles: Summer Music and More

April 21, 2018

1. “On the Run” – The Big Sky. A compelling mix of Asian vibes, glitchy beats, distorted synths, and sleepy vocals, this more-than-7-minute slice of indie-rock (?) is highly unusual in the best of ways.

2. “Point of Personal Privilege” – Weller. It’s not that I stopped liking punk rock, it’s that my bar for punk rock got so high that it became an incredibly hard thing to pass. Weller passes, partially because a good chunk of the song is composed of a calm, deftly-handled intricate guitar line, perfectly atypical drums, relaxed vocals, and angelic background vocals. When the full band comes charging in, it feels like a powerful payoff instead of an inevitability. If you love Transatlanticism but want the crunchy parts crunchier, jump on the bandwagon.

3. “Strange Year” – Team Picture. Big synth melodies atop an indie rock chassis create a punchy, soaring cut. Can’t say enough about the way the synths just take over this song but also manage to not turn this into an ’80s revival piece.

4. “3 AM Lullaby” – Hotel Mira. If you like listening to the Fratellis or Tokyo Police Club or the Strokes before bed, this chipper, weird indie-pop-rock tune will put you right to sleep. (In the good way.) For the rest of us wind down with mellow piano music or whatever, this is a great jam full of enthusiasm and falsetto that will fit excellently in your summer party playlist.

5. “100 Years or More” – Violet Delancey. I know this sounds fairly incredible, but if you add Shakira, Enya, and Celtic Folk together, you’d end up with this track. I know! It sounds crazy! But it’s really good!

6. “Pull Through” – Remember Sports. I’m not sure what this video is trying to say (are your band members just terrible people? Is this video in reverse? Is this about the psycho-dynamics of inter-band relationships? Is this … I could go on.), but the song is a great piece of pop music. The kitschy percussion and insistent acoustic guitar strumming provide a neat backdrop for cooing, ooo-ing indie-pop melodies. The rest of the arrangement is perfectly done to create some tidy-yet-slacker-sounding work. It’s the sort of thing where I hear it and say, “Yeah, that’s what it’s supposed to sound like, right there.”

7. “Paying Off the Happiness” – illuminati hotties. If you love bright, shiny, singable, self-deprecating power-pop, this song will be your jam. The vocal performance here is spot-on, balancing perky enthusiasm and droll self-concern.

8. “XO” – The Elation. A fun pop-rock tune with speedy vocal delivery, head-bobbing rhythms, and a great dance-oriented music video.

8. “Outside Saskatoon” –  Espanola. What do we call Americana that comes from Canada? Anyway, this is a great Americana-infused rock song (that organ!) that reminds me of Glossary and The Weakerthans. “Hey! Come on!” is the way that the guitar solo kicks off, which you know is right. Just great stuff.

10. “Buzz Off” – Little Junior. A big, stomping power-pop tune that manages to sound enthusiastic and “totally over it” at the same time. Fans of old-school Weezer will have a lot of fun with this one, especially the tongue-in-cheek ’80s-style guitar solo.

11. “Who Will I Be For You” – Pale Houses. Speaking of the ’80s, this tune brings ’80s ballad vibes to bear on contemporary singer/songwriter work and creates a neat hybrid form out of the two. Aaron Robinson’s somewhat-anguished vocal performance is spot-on, nailing the vocal leaps and the pathos perfectly. Fans of ’80s pop will find themselves transported back to an earlier time, but this is no vintage copycat job–Robinson and crew do a great job of melding styles to find their own sound.

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Singles: Instrumental

April 20, 2018

1. “Growing Up” – Moon Hooch. I am a big fan of sci-fi in addition to being a big indie music fan, and so I was thoroughly interested in the high-concept animated video that Moon Hooch put together for their latest single. It’s got a lot of concepts that I love: the possibility of time repeating itself, unusual alien/fantasy beings (or humans dressed as them), magic/superpowers, and more. Totally rad. The song itself is classic Moon Hooch: two saxophones dueling it out over dance-rock-oriented drums. The melodies are clever, thoughtful, and fun. It’s hard for me to listen to Moon Hooch without getting totally amped up, because these guys are distilled adrenaline.

2. “Dubai” – Royal. This slice of instrumental hip-hop employs distant spoken and sung vocals to great effect, helping set the mood effectively. The manipulation of the synths and the inclusion of the beats is also ace, as I find myself head-bobbing without thinking about it. Solid.

3. “Sharalee” – Jamison Isaak. Being a huge Teen Daze fan and a person-with-strongly-growing-interest-in-neoclassical-work, I am totally thrilled that Jamison did me a favor and combined the two. This Teen Daze side project takes all of the slowly unfolding melodies and carefully-curated atmosphere that makes his chillwave so great and applies it to classical work. The method is piano, pedal steel guitar, and pad synth–sounds very weird, but it makes perfect sonic sense when you hear it. (As you might expect, from someone who has a ton of experience with melody, arrangement and mood.) It’s pensive, winsome, and elegant. Highly recommended.

4. “Airlocks” – Floating in Space. Rarely does a band name so well describe the experience of listening to a band. Floating in Space creates major-key, wide-screen post-rock that’s reminiscent of Sigur Ros’ work in its sweep and in the vocalist’s tone. The lack of percussion and the glittering pad synths in this piece creates the truly floating feel.

5. “Disenchantment for Truth” – Sleeping Horses. Anyone tracking IC over a long period of time has seen more and more ambient work creep in around the edges of our coverage. I’ve been really enjoying the peacefulness of much ambient work, as well as the generally extended scale on which the sounds can develop. This is a perfect example of the type of thing I’ve been digging: Sleeping Horses creates a slowly-developing piece out of manipulated guitar sound, deliberate fluttering strings and lots of space. The small changes to the arrangement build up over the course of the piece to create a beautiful, emotive landscape.

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Premiere: The Pinkerton Raid’s “Jefferson Davis Highway”

April 19, 2018

Throwing down two albums in two years is no small feat. With Where the Wildest Spirits Fly, The Pinkerton Raid manages to drop a new record only 15 months after their previous effort Tolerance Ends, Love Begins. Where Tolerance Ends was a dense, dusky affair that analyzed a divorce in great detail, Wildest is heading in a different direction entirely, both lyrically and sonically.

“Jefferson Davis Highway” is the lead single off Wildest and it turns its focus directly on those who still celebrate the Confederacy. It’s a delicate, touchy subject nationally and in the South. But being from North Carolina (where the topic goes on and on), Jesse James DeConto jumps into the fray with no holds barred–his lyrical efforts leave little room for confusion about what this protest song is protesting.

Amid the lyrics protesting the continued support for Confederate history and ideals, DeConto mentions “We’re singing in God’s own country,” which is an interesting (intended or unintended) connection to U2’s The Joshua Tree. The music here is much more acoustic-oriented than previous work from TPR, but it’s still not quite Woody Guthrie’s folk. The connections are stronger to the expansive, vaulted work that U2 created on their seminal album, and not just because DeConto’s soaring, occasionally-yelping voice is reminiscent of Bono’s. The whole arrangement of the track is one that evokes gravitas without being overly somber. A marching band appears at the end of the track, lending even more grandeur.

It’s a big, bold, gutsy move to introduce an album with these lyrics and this arrangement. It’s a strong offering if you’re into protest music, U2, or folk music (writ large).

Where the Wildest Spirits Fly, which is the band’s fourth full length, will be released on Tuesday, May 1. You can pre-order it at Bandcamp. Catch the band in and around the Carolinas soon:

Saturday, April 28 – Brewgaloo – Raleigh, NC
Thursday, May 3 – North Charleston Arts Festival – North Charleston, SC
Friday, May 4 – Petra’s – Charlotte, NC
Saturday, May 5 – Cat’s Cradle (record release show) – Carrboro, NC

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Singles: Acoustic

April 18, 2018

1. “The Sky Exhaled” – Luke De-Sciscio. This 11-minute piece is remarkable in several ways. First, the piece (which has two movements) is really 11 minutes long. Second, the flowing, tumbling fingerpicking, lithe vocals, and hushed mood remind me at times of Jose Gonzalez and early Iron and Wine. Third, the piece is accompanied by an 11-minute hand-drawn video. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with careful lines and a shading style that evokes intimacy. It’s truly impressive. Highly recommended.

2. “Can’t Cut Loose” – Erin Rae. A loping, lightly country-inflected, ’70s-vintage folk tune led by Rae’s excellent vocals. Her performance is mesmerizing–it’s the whole show here for most of the song. You get high marks for a voice that can captivate an audience like that.

3. “Adelaide” – Strangers by Accident. The NPR Tiny Desk Contest has been a boon for people who love stripped-down versions of tunes and/or concerts in weird places. This particular contest application from Strangers by Accident sees the quartet plying their wares while stranded in a blizzard. You’d never know of their distress without the notes saying so, however, as their crisp, tight folk tune shows no signs of concern. The vocal harmonies are tight, the arrangement is solid, and the song comes off like a dream. The video itself, however, has humorous issues. Good times had by all!

4. “Get Your House In Order” – John Calvin Abney. Somehow manages to make the most standard country template in the country vernacular a. not sound all that country b. reflect a distinctly John Calvin Abney-ish songwriting perspective in the vocal lines c. be relaxing instead of kitschy. I’m super impressed. (Full disclosure: John once engineered part of a record I wrote.)

5. “Elephant Heart” – Elizabeth Gundersen. Gundersen elevates the singer/songwriter staples of a stripped-down piano ballad and a breakup to impressive heights–no matter how tired you are of hearing about love lost, this song is deeply compelling lyrically and vocally.

6. “Greater Charlotte” – Michael Flynn. Double whammy! This poignant, heartbroken piano tune evokes the best moments of Ben Folds Five out of nothing more than a clever piano part, some strings for emphasis, and Flynn’s utterly compelling voice. This is an impressive, mature cut that makes me very interested in the upcoming release.

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Singles: Indie Pop, etc.

1. “Sweet Potato Kisses” – Marchildon! There are not nearly enough songs of paternal love in the world. Marchildon! has set about fixing that in a small way, as this tune unabashedly celebrates the daily life of a father taking care of a child and the joy it brings (as well as the chaos, mess, and everything else). This is also a great folk-pop/indie-pop song musically–it consists entirely of acoustic guitar, shaker, and Marchildon’s great vocals. It’s simple, sweet, and very worthwhile. You keep on keepin’ on, Marchildon!.

2. “Go” – HYWAYS. Now this is an impressive piece of work. “Go” seamlessly blends country twang and harmonica, psych drone, folk fingerpicking, and indie-pop instrumental melodies effortlessly. This is masterful arranging. Highly recommended.

3. “Dance Around the Room with Me” – Ana Egge. More subtle than you might imagine for a tune of its title, this poppy, acoustic indie track reminds me of Lisa Hannigan’s work. There’s still quite a bit of joy in this track, but it’s displayed in restrained, delicate ways. The tiny synth, pizzicato strings and woodwinds that come in by the end of the track are all lovely.

4. “With You Every Day” – Anna Burch. The vocal lines here are almost hypnotic, turning a solid, low-slung, slow-paced indie-rock tune into an irresistible piece of work.

5. “The Islands” – Pale Green Things. Named after a song that I love by the Mountain Goats, this lo-fi indie-pop tune has a lot to love for fans of John Darnielle’s crew: distinctive strum patterns, a “lead bass” melody, and catchy vocal patterns. The whispery vocals and occasional ’80s synth distinguish PGL as having a lo-fi vision of its own.

6. “One More Wave” – Ellie Schmidly. Has a sort of effortlessly swaying, Beirut-esque other-ness to it created through a multitude of small ideas adding up. Subtle arrangement touches like male backing vocals, pizzicato strings, legato strings, restrained percussion, and staccato rhythmic bursts create a fantastic tune that begs to be listened to multiple times.

7. “White Lights” – JOYNER. “I’ve been bad / but never this bad before” is one of the more infectious, can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head chorus lines I’ve heard in a long time. The heavily-rhythmic approach to the vocals contrasts effectively against the smoothed-out, legato arrangement. It’s got shades of hip-hop beats filtered through a dream-pop filter. Really fascinating track.

8. “France (Grands Boulevards)” – Yumi Zouma. The soft, gentle synths create a comfy blanket around the dreamy vocals. The whole thing sounds like a warm springs burbling up from the earth, inviting you to come relax and rest. It’s not quite ambient, not quite indie-pop, and all interesting.

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Mid-April Singles: 1

April 12, 2018

1. “I Love You Like a Brother” – Alex Lahey. Not a trick–this song is actually about Alex’s totally appropriate (“Just like I oughta”) fraternal affection. The lyrics are shouted above buzzing, fuzzed-out guitar and punchy drums, ultimately landing this track somewhere between pop-punk and power-pop. High praise: Alex Lahey knows how to write great guitar songs.

2. “Terribly Popular” – Marc With a C. Marc contributes a smart, funny satirical take on Taylor Swift and/or Tumblr culture via a chunky, chant-able power-pop tune. If you like power-pop, nerd culture, or satire, you probably are already hip to Marc with a C–but if not, he’s got a new record out called Obscurity that’ll be to your taste.

3. “I Like Taylor Swift” – Coach Hop. We’re equal opportunity here at IC on the T-Swift front. If you loved early ’00s pop punk and early ’90s Weezer, you’ll love the sonic aesthetics, the spot-on vocal melodies, the humorously earnest lyrics, and, oh, basically all of it.

4. “Head Down / Heart Up” – Towers and Trees. A blast of fun from the first goofy image of a pixelated arcade racing game to the final falsetto over the last crunchy power-pop chord.

5. “We Almost Failed, Brian (Epilogue II)” – Cubs Refrain. There is so much deliciously perfect melodrama in this soaring-higher-than-skyscrapers electro-pop tune that I can’t namecheck the probably-very-uncool-artist-that-I-love which it makes me think of. The bass synths provide the frame for the awesome arpeggiator and super-great vocal melodies. The message here: Just revel in a great pop song.

6. “Lydia” – The Magic Lantern. The Magic Lantern delivers a carefully considered, subtly dignified, self-assured folk tune in the great tradition of Paul Simon and followers. (Those who love Fionn Regan will also find themselves swooning.) It’s the sort of perfect vocal performance that speaks volumes without raising its volume.

7. “And Still I Question” – Chaperone Picks. Already a master of the lo-fi recording and distribution aesthetic, Chaperone Picks has one-upped himself/itself and distilled the songwriting into the essence of the songwriting and no more. This song is 63 seconds long, but it says everything it wants to say and does everything it wants to do. It leaves me wanting more, which is a compliment for anyone, no matter how long the track. RIYL: gritty ’90s lo-fi indie.

8. “Uncertain” – Robert Deeble. Deeble’s made so much music under the radar that he has fully developed his own oeuvre. This tune has all the Deeble staples: walking-speed tempos, airy arrangements, a heavy mood, subtle melodies, and Deeble’s feathery voice. The tune comes together beautifully, with a lovely set of strings in the chorus giving the tune extra oomph. This one comes from a record about a complex, difficult adoption, which gives the tune even more emotional weight.

9. “Oh Deep Water” – Great Peacock. Fans of Dawes will resonate with this spacious, well-developed Americana track. The vocal performance is surprisingly grand and very effective.

10. “Small Talk” – Maria Kelly. Dang–this is a knockout quiet tune. Kelly exerts total control over her affecting vocal performance, the somber arrangement, and the vulnerable mood. The results are “knock me over with a feather”-good.

11. “Time Immemorial” – The286. Shades of The Old ’97s, The Beatles, and the tender moments of the Avett Brothers color this lovely, vintage ballad. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a harpsichord hiding somewhere in this tune, but it may just me appreciating this entry in the long craft tradition of pop songwriting that could reasonably include a harpsichord.

12. “Desert Song (a lullaby)” – Swimming Bell. Layers and layers of vocals and reverb create a sonic equivalent of the aurora borealis over a delicate, spartan guitar. This is majestic.

13. “Fragment II” – boerd. Minimalist techno that’s not quite ambient, this piece skitters along with low-key beats and subtle piano to create a chill, exploratory atmosphere that makes me think of Boards of Canada.

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Quick Hit: Bon Villan

April 11, 2018

Bon Villan reeled me in with the infectious electro-pop of “Outta Cash” and kept me with the rest of their self-titled EP. “Outta Cash” has a brilliant chorus vocal hook, a bright-shiny electro arrangement, and a rock-solid “bring it down now” bridge to hype that last chorus section. It’s just a great pop tune.

“When I Came Up” packs all the attitude and insanely catchy vocal melodies and rhythms into a low-key jam, like Matt and Kim might make if they were real, real chill. I love it. The nuanced indie-pop arrangement of “How to Hurt” is basically a Generationals song, which has me totally into it. There’s some understated guitars and digital percussion, some quiet-to-loud vocals, and more. It helps that, again, the vocal melodies are just ace.

The lowslung “Love Online” has some Cobra Starship cool, a sort of unsung groove that keeps things moving without calling huge attention to “this is a dance track” (which, of course, calls huge attention from a certain section of people who love that type of track). “Feel It Out” is in the same vein, albeit with a bit more stomping percussion to get people going. But it’s still dark and groove-laden instead of hitting a big synth.

It takes a lot for me to get excited about dance-oriented electro, but Bon Villan have done it. Bon Villan has a lot of promise with this EP—if you’re into low-key electro-pop with big melodies and understated arrangements, you’ll find a lot to love here.

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Premiere: Big Little Lions’ “Do Better” video

April 10, 2018

Big Little Lions‘ “Do Better” clip is a beautiful time-lapse of a road trip through the mountains of British Columbia. The easy-going, open-hearted, aspirational bent of the folk-pop tune that accompanies the video matches perfectly with the visuals of open sky, soaring mountains, and endless forests. I love a good video of beautiful scenery, and this one hits the spot.

The song itself is a lovely folk-pop song. Lyrically, it’s a plea for us to “do better”–be more compassionate, less judgmental, and more aware of beauty all around. Sonically, it’s got gently rumbling bass and percussion, cheery handclaps, subtle accordion and piano, and suitably big melodies.

If you’re looking for a pick-me-up on a tough week/month/year/etc., this track has a lot to offer. If you crossed the Lumineers with the Low Anthem, you might end up with something like this tune. Definitely a winner.

“Do Better” comes from Alive and Well, which came out February 23 on Far Flung. You can catch Big Little Lions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify. They’re going on tour starting tomorrow, so if you’re on the East side of the country you can see them in action very soon:

4/11/2018 – Nashville, TN / Tin Roof Broadway
4/13/2018 – Roswell, GA / The BZC (info)
4/14/2018 – Birmingham, AL / The Shed Series house concert (info and info)
4/15/2018 – Orlando, FL / house concert
4/18/2018 – Palm Harbor, FL / house concert (info)
4/19/2018 – St. Petersburg, FL / house concert (info)
4/20/2018 – St. Petersburg, FL / Listening Room Festival, Palladium Theatre (info and tickets)
4/21/2018 – St. Petersburg, FL / house concert (info)
4/22/2018 – Gulfport, FL / house concert (info)
4/24/2018 – Nashville, TN / The Local
4/25/2018 – Mills River, NC / house concert (info)
4/27/2018 – Springboro, OH / house concert (for more info, email info@biglittlelions.com)
4/28/2018 – Cincinnati, OH / house concert (for more info, email info@biglittlelions.com)

There is Danger’s Mirror Eyes: Capture a Dream

April 9, 2018

The only way to capture a dream is with art. The mediums of music and visual arts have the ability to put substance to the intangible, an unseen substance taking form before one’s eyes. Listeners can take a trip into a dream, into a mirrored existence with There is Danger. Founder Illya Riske (Reindeer Tiger Team, Whisperlights, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra), Spike, Stefan, Leah, Chelsey, Daniel, Jake, Kevin, Matt, Bryan, and Marcus create a fluid, poetic experience; a true marriage of music and lyricism that is the definition of dream pop. Mirror Eyes, via Lumberjack Records, delivers an ethereal narrative.

This sixteen-minute and fifty-nine-second neo-psychedelic journey written by There is Danger and Owen Wilson is best experienced with eyes closed, allowing the listener to fully absorb each nuanced reverberation. Attention to sonic quality is the essence of There is Danger. Mirror Eyes is a symphony that takes no form, enveloping the listener in color and beauty. Each movement is a surrealist moment that brings to mind what dreams may come. The instrumentation here is lush, featuring a depth that resonates with exotic beauty and vision. Stepping into a surrealist space with this record is necessary.

The cover art created by Davina Griego captures the essence of the lyrical dream presented here. Each brush stroke of sound is performed by There is Danger, featuring Andy Montufar on trumpet and David Moroney on backing vocals. Mirror Eyes was recorded by Adam Burd at Avast! Recording Company and mixed by Adam Burd at Burhouse.

The essence of There is Danger is an amalgamation of many moving parts coming together in a creation of color painted with notes. The finale of the work ideal: folding in instrumentation that includes horns and heavy percussion, the tune marches towards a final waking moment. The cacophony of sound and chaos that wraps the release is simply a brilliant finale to the dream.–by Lisa Whealy

The Rough and Tumble: Charms Galore in the Folk Tradition

April 8, 2018

The Rough and Tumble‘s We Made Ourselves a Home When We Didn’t Know is a giant tour of acoustic music in and around the folk tradition. While the duo puts the focus squarely on their vocals, they also support the vocals with strong, interesting arrangements.

Mallory Graham has a big, powerful voice well-suited to traditional, high-drama alt-country/folk (dramatic alt-country: “Viroqua, WI,” “Better for You”; folk: “Steel in My Blood”). Scott Tyler has a voice more suited to alt-folk/folk-pop a la Nickel Creek (“Take Me With You,” “Let’s Get the Band Back Together”), so they cover a lot of ground here in this album. When they sing together, it takes on a duet-ish alt-country feel with a bit of indie-pop thrown in (i.e. there’s a glockenspiel in “Steel in My Blood”).

The arrangements that support these vocals are always strong and clear; there are no fluffy songs and no filler instruments in the arrangements–just tight, strong folk music. “Bobby and Joanne” connects all their tendencies in one tune, with male/female vocals, alt-country roots, indie quirks, banjo strum, and folk-pop percussion stomp. The excellent “Tiny Moses” also is an examplar piece of work and a good starting place for people to enter the record. (Bonus / bummer: the intro will make you pine for The Low Anthem.)

I personally enjoyed the swift fingerpicking and glockenspiel of “Cohabitation Physics,” as the instruments made me think of Josh Ritter and Justin Towns Earle. The tune continues on into a fun folk-pop piece with accordion and mouth trumpet.

If you’re into a wide range of acoustic-oriented sounds, you’re going to have a lot of fun discovering the many surprises and gems of The Rough and Tumble’s We Made Ourselves a Home When We Didn’t Know. It has charms galore.

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

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