Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

August Singles

August 7, 2018

1. “Dancing” – Young Readers. This beautiful whisper-folk tune comes with a huge history: this song was originally written years ago, before a Kickstarter campaign, a cancer diagnosis, a cancer recovery, and a return to music. Jordan Herrera’s fragile voice and subtle determination are beautiful on their own, but they have a lot more gravitas when you know the story attached. As a long-time fan of Young Readers (and one of the funders of that cancer-battered Kickstarter), I’m thrilled to hear Young Readers back in the game.

2. “About” – Another Michael. Anyone who starts off their track with found sound and a blaring organ is going somewhere unusual. This Topshelf Records crew demonstrates that they leans toward the quiet end of that label’s spectrum with this artsy, clever, propulsive indie-pop tune. Fans of mid-era Death Cab for Cutie (Transatlanticism, especially), the Shins, and other early ’00s indie-pop will love this. 

3. “Go With You” – Mike Edel. Absorbs the best vibes of ’80s synth pop and ’00s indie-pop to come up with a smooth, soft, charming, contemporary indie-pop jam. There’s a lot to love: Edel’s voice and vocal lines, the clanging ’80s guitar, the delicate piano, the wispy female echo/harmony, the punchy drums, just all of it. 

4. “Prism” – Small Leaks Sink Ships. If you’re into high-drama pop of any era, you’ll be way into this. This track falls right in the chronology of The Moody Blues to Styx to Queen to all of ’80s synth-pop to My Chemical Romance and the like. Synths! Big drums! Dramatic, soaring vocals! Quiet/loud transitions! It’s all here for you. 

5. “Synesthesia” – Polychrome. This electro-pop jam is full of twinkly synths, breathy vocals, triumphant piano, and charging guitar. Yet the breathy vocals are really the star–the rest of the mix is turned down for space, and the result is a dreamy track that could have been a blaster with a different mix. It’s a testament to the vision of the artist that this version won out when another one easily could have–this one is immensely satisfying.

6. “Morning is Made” – Hush Kids. Weepies fans, rejoice! This has a little more mature gravitas to it, but at its core this is a softly-fingerpicked acoustic-pop song with a heartwarming female/male duet. The softly rising horns in the arrangement seal the deal for me. There’s going to be a lot of fans of Hush Kids very soon.

7. “Hometown Honey” – The Herbert Bail Orchestra. If you manage to effectively use a theremin and a bevy of mournful trumpets in the same alt-country tune, you’re going to end up on Independent Clauses. Bail’s vocals are engaging and the songwriting is strong, but it’s the stuff around the main thrust of the tune that really sells the song. 

8. “Poor Stuart” – Ben Somers. It takes a really compelling instrumental folk performance to snag my ear, because I’m not just looking for a solid traditional tune. I want to hear something that’s trad but also contemporary; something that sets the song apart. This tune has a lot of vintage in it, but there’s modern elements and approaches in the melodic lines that give it a fresh voice–Somers is not just recreating an era, he’s updating it for the modern ear. The touches and flourishes are subtle, but they’re there. Strong work.

9. “Through the Atmosphere” – Dusty Stray. Here’s a walking-speed, wide-eyed, low-key folk tune the likes of which Bonnie Prince Billy is great at. Stray settles some subtle instrumental touches around the edges of the calm vocals and fingerpicking–clunking bass hand on the piano, fluttering treble hand, delicate auxiliary keys, etc. But basically I imagine a guy walking by a river and serenading whoever he passes by. 

10. “Eleanora” – baeilou. Adventurous, experimental, dramatic, ominous, and groove-heavy, this cello-and-voice excursion is a wild journey. baeilou has crooning, speak-singing, semi-beatboxing, and more in her diverse vocal performance; the cello is used as treble, bass and percussion. The moods swoop and shift and change without warning. It’s an experience. The sheer inventiveness of this track is worth a listen. Do not expect anything like “Eleanor Rigby.”

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Culture Wars’ s/t EP

August 6, 2018

Culture Wars’ S/t EP

Alex Dugan, Mic Vredenburgh, and David Grayson have something to say, and the guys known collectively as Culture Wars are using a self-titled debut EP to do it. The Austin-based trio has been dropped into turbulent times, using that background to make a surrealist splash in five tracks coupled with cinematic visuals.

Each song is topically relevant to the world today. The lyrical subject matter covers greed, dishonesty, vanity, narcissism, and the beat goes on. Tapping Alan Moulder (Arctic Monkeys, The Killers) as producer brings an edge to the music which gives the topics a sonic surge. Completed with mixing by Manny Marroquin (Imagine Dragons, Kanye West), Culture Wars has found a vibe. With Dugan on vocals and electronics, Vrendenburgh on guitar and cello, and Grayson covering drums, this minimalist approach defies the sonic depth produced here. Many of the music videos are directed by Jeremi Mattern and Alex Dugan in the the DIY spirit. Not to be overlooked is the surrealist cover art from Gary Dorsey at Pixel Peach Studios, twisting each lyrical concept into mind blowing graphics. The stage is set to let the music rip.

Culture Wars breathes haunting echoes that flash back to early sounds from The All American Rejects. AAR’s rock was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma, less than twelve hours from Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, where Culture Wars tracked their debut. Great music comes out of unexpected places sometimes. Dugan seems to mirror the vocal delivery style of the Vans Warped Tour headliner and frontman Tyson Ritter from AAR.

“Lies” is a great kick-off to the EP. The song struts, inviting listeners unfamiliar with the boys in the band to join the party. The lyrics seems to fit the current world culture. Dugan, Vredenburgh, and Grayson deliver heavy pop vibes with “Bones” flowing into “Money (Gimme, Gimme)”; each track drives a gritty relevance with current cultural chaos. It’s an electro-music microscope on society–did bands like Talking Heads influence the refrain?

Each song of the EP has been represented in a video, so you can absorb the EP thru Youtube. Visuals play a big part in telling the story of songs like “Hideaway.” That tune peels another layer away of how communication has changed in today’s age of social media. Ending the EP with “Delilah (Tear Me Away)” Culture Wars hits a dance club groove that would make Bowie proud; fun, easy groove flows out here, making a statement with skilled musicianship.

Great music is often born in Austin, Texas, because of the influences of music born nearby. Such is the case with Culture Wars, whose debut self-titled EP was produced by the man who helped give an extra edge to The Killers and Arctic Monkeys. That’s a big deal, but more important is the fact that this trio has talent to match the opportunities that are coming their way. This trio delivers some fresh new pop-rock crackling with echoes of past greats like Bowie blurred in a blender with the best of Warped Tour greats. Poised and ready, Culture Wars has earned a unique spot as an indie pop rock voice today.–Lisa Whealy

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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