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Month: June 2020

Singles, June, 2

1. “Jou-Tau” – Mong Tong 夢東. In what feels like several years ago but really was just in January and February of this year, I embarked on a project to listen to two songs from every country in the world. I learned a lot about music and the world, but I was particularly struck by the mysterious, funky, psychedelic energy of Southeastern Asian music of ’70s-’90s. It’s got a lot of vibes you would associate with American music of the same time, but featuring traditional East Asian tones, rhythms, and instruments thrown in. Taiwanese outfit Mong Tong 夢東 captures that energy brilliantly here, creating a sort of funk / soundtrack / East Asian jam. Highly recommended.

2. “Délicieux (live in Lille / tour video)” – Closet Disco Queen. I love unadorned metal/hardcore/post-hardcore guitar riffs. I trace this back to IC coverage of 2005’s “Good Business Moves” by the Felix Culpa, which has an absolutely monster riff that still blows the top off every time it thunders in. “Délicieux” is basically one long stream of riffs with acrobatic percussion running along right beside. If you need a shot of pure adrenaline, 1:14-2:44 of this track will absolutely provide that. I want to get into a mosh pit over this. I haven’t been in a mosh pit in almost 15 years. It’s that good. Highly recommended.

3. “Not Right Now” – Derrick Hodge. So far in my experiments in jazz, I’ve leaned toward the funky, the post-rock-oriented (GoGoPenguin), the conceptual (Chassol), and the electronic-crossover stuff (Jonah Parzen-Johnson, BEATMUSIC). I have not yet been yet enticed by soulful jazz work, but Hodge’s deeply emotive, evocative, squiggly work is indeed soulful. Your mileage may vary on if it works as an aphrodisiac, but I could imagine it would push some buttons for the right type of person.

4. “Praxis” – mouse on the keys. Speaking of post-rock-oriented jazz, mouse on the keys is serving up some great work in that vein. (As of this year, I’d pay a lot to see motk and GoGoPenguin on the same stage.) The piano/drums/upright bass format lends itself to intimate performances, but this tune gets expansive and exploratory in a hurry.

5. “Improvisation in D Minor (For the Right Hand Alone)” – Liam Pitcher. This piece isn’t just in D Minor, it’s in D Double Harmonic Minor. It’s technically brilliant, compositionally rewarding (especially for being an improvisation), and just wildly impressive (one hand!) I am not much for solo piano, but this jumps off the page. (Full disclosure: IC writer Lisa Whealy handles press for Liam.)

6. “楽園はない – No Paradise” – 17 Years Old and Berlin Wall. Japanese dream-pop with male/female vocals and shoegaze tendencies? Sign me up. This is impeccably written and produced. Also, that is an A+ band name right there.

7. “No Kings” – Worry Party. A hazy, windy ambient backdrop allows for sounds to meander across the stage before coalescing into a subtle formation, like Tycho at his most restrained. Beautiful.

8. “Sun Goes Down” – Joe Hawkes. I’ve listened to Paul Simon’s Graceland dozens and dozens of times in my life, and it sounds like Hawkes has as well. The perky yet subtle major-key arrangements rely more on vibe than on big moves to make their mark, although the vocal melody and percussion have plenty to commend on their own merits. It’s a worthy contribution to the Graceland vibe.

9. “Vodou Alé” by Chouk Bwa & The Ångstromers. This combines thumping electronic beats with traditional “Afro-Caribbean voodoo polyrhythms” and call-and-response vocals to create something I’ve never heard before.

10. “Always Around” – Westwego. A relaxed, back-porch folk rumination gets a hectic, manic video of puppets (or perhaps actors? or both?) that devolves into chaos in strict contradiction with the vibe of the music. Feels like quarantine: a lot of chaos but really everything is slow.

11. “Drawn” – Trevor Ransom. Starts off ambient before introducing Ransom’s gentle vocals; transitions from there to a sweeping, cinematic piece with lots of tension. A lovely composition.

12. “Save Me” – Xaatu. Xaatu provides some head-bobbing, satisfying ODESZA-style post-dub. The processed female vocals make me think of Pogo, as well.

June Singles 1

1. “All Will Be Well” – Blue Water Highway. I’m entranced by this song because I myself wrote a song that had Julian of Norwich’s famous words as the chorus. It is a statement of great, almost untenably great, hope: all will be well. As America goes through another round of turmoil on account of police killing another innocent person of color, it is important to cling to this great hope: there is a peace coming. For Julian (and I), it is a religious, eschatological hope in its totality; in its partial, unfinished, earthly form, it is a hope that we can keep making progress toward the justice and equality that were promised for all but that have not yet arrived for all. Whether or not Blue Water Highways holds to the eschatological version, the reverence that this track holds within it point longingly toward better while sitting in the midst of evil. The track itself is a beautiful fusion of highway-weathered folk-rock, Springsteen-ian anthem, and subtle synthesizer touches. It’s layered and lovely, bearing the weight of hope lightly. Highly recommended.

2. “Birds and Daisies” – Racoon Racoon. Not quite sure why the name Racoon Racoon isn’t on everyone’s lips yet, as their continued run of brilliant singles is a marvel to behold. Dancing between acoustic folk, formal pop, and indie-pop, the delightful vocal melodies, delicate vocal tone, and excellent song development all come together into yet another fantastic track. Seriously: if you like any sort of guitar-based pop music at all, you need to listen to Racoon Racoon.

3. “Missing Piece” – Marika Takeuchi. This piano-led composition starts off delicate with careful piano and subtle strings, then swells to a big conclusion with electronics, a swooping string soloist, and a dense arrangement. It’s a lovely, melancholy piece that yet looks toward hope.

4. “Spiralling (Max Cooper remix)” – Alex Banks. More than seven minutes of swirling, arpeggiator-heavy techno goodness. The chronological scope is met by a sense of cinematic scope, as the remix pulls back on the freight-train techno cut this could have been, minimizing (but not eliminating) the snare and the kick in favor of texture and body.

5. “Alpha Orionis” – Juffbass. Juffbass took his bass-and-drums post-rock tune “Mountain Highs, Salty Eyes” from his most recent release and collaborated with Marton Gyorog to add electric guitar and synths to it. The result is a fuller, more spacey version of the tune that has enough of its own direction with the new additions to have a new title to the song.

6. “Crow” – Sam Carand. Organ drone morphs into a beat-heavy, piano-led instrumental track that evokes the jazz / post-rock of GoGoPenguin. It’s got groove and punch.

7. “Don’t Go” – GoGoPenguin. Speaking of GoGoPenguin, they’re still spinning singles out into the world, and they’re all still amazing. This one puts the spotlight on the bassist, giving him full room to experiment and deliver melodies over an ostinato piano line on prepared piano. As a bassist, this is just the best. GoGoPenguin continue to push the bounds of post-rock and jazz in delightful and luminous ways.

8. “Orbital” – Crowd Company (feat. Ryan Zoidis & Eric Bloom). This funk cut is a punchy, confident strut that draws in old-school spy vibes, big band jazz bravado, and moody/spacey sections. It conveys the mystery and allure of space very well. Also it’s funky as all get-out.

9. “The Romance” – Winterwood. Slowcore electric guitar paints a wind-scraped landscape, while a solo violin makes its way carefully but gracefully across that barren earth. Gentle percussion provides accents to the work. It’s like if Balmorhea got very, very sad.

10. “Finish It” – Align in Time. This is a post-rock tune with more than a little punk in its blood, from the chord-mashing guitar intro to the straightforward drums to the punk rock bass rhythms. It stops and suddenly opens up into sections of expansive post-rock to counterbalance the punk ideals, but this one’s for the people who like the “rock” part of post-rock.

11. “Amber Eyes” – Juan Torregoza. A lightly psychedelic instrumental post-rock (post-indie-pop?) track that puts a lot of space between each of the instruments, giving a woozy, expansive feel to the work.

May Singles, but make it June

1. “Mission Plan” – Matthew Shaw. Shaw’s electro-pop is in fine form here, relying on distorted bleeps and bloops to convey his evocative, emotive vocals. There’s a new sense of forward motion in this track, despite lyrics as frustrated with modern life as ever. There’s even a “doo-doo-dooooo” outro vocal line. Getting positively thrilled there, Matt! Highly recommended.

(Ed. note: I can think of few ways to better celebrate the 17th birthday of this humble little blog than to feature an artist that I first covered in 2004, only 18 months into the life of Independent Clauses. Thank you to everyone for the last 17 years.)

2. “Blown Up” – tg. When I learned that tg was in Harlem Shakes and helped create one of my favorite indie-rock songs of 2009, I was intrigued. When I found that tg (aka Todd Goldstein) is now purveying Steve Reich-ian electronic dance music (which is now pretty much what I want to listen to all the time), I was absolutely thrilled. “Blown Up” is a mesmerizing track full of round sounds and pitter-patter arpeggios. The bass is low in the mix, almost hidden, as the hypnotic treble lines take full focus. It’s a brilliant, immediately-charming first impression from Goldstein. I’m in love. Highly recommended.

3. “All Power for Women” – ^L_. The title is affirming and supportive. Everything else about this heavy, harsh techno cut is not. This falls in the vein of Adam X’s work with Traversable Wormhole: thumping bass hits, lots of forward motion, very little melody, very little atmosphere, lots and lots of attitude. It rips.

4. “A Sunset But Farther Away” – Yesterday and the Undoing. An acoustic guitar and wordless vocals form the entirety of this piece; the wordless vocals accentuate the yearning feel of the chord-based guitar work. In these times where so much is happening and yet I feel I have so little to helpfully say, a wordless piece expresses a great deal for me.

5. “I Drink Too Much Vermouth” – Chaperone Picks. If we’re going to be doing quarantine albums, of course there will be one from Chaperone Picks. The lo-fi wizard of Minnesota has 10 more lo-fi, four-track candies for fans of the form. The upbeat “I Drink Too Much Vermouth” opens up the record with a confident statement of CP’s style: an expert’s touch at off-the-cuff instrumental performances and tossed-off lyrics that stick, in and out of context.

6. “Distantimacy” – JPH. This 21-minute piece is somewhere between ambient, found-sound, and outsider composition. It relies heavily on loops of vocal, textural, and instrumental elements, creating a space that’s not quite as all-encompassing as a drone, more spiky and gappy than an ambient piece, and heavily ostinato (like Steve Reich, an influence of JPH’s). A true experience.

7. “Diamonds and Gold (Instrumental)” – The Gray Havens. Just like Josh Garrels went and released instrumental versions of all his records, TGH has given their catalogue the vocal-less treatment. This wordless version of my favorite TGH electro-pop jam accentuates aspects of the arrangement that are lost in the euphoric vocal performances: some intriguing guitar lines, lovely accent synth lines, and more. Way fun. Can’t wait to listen to the rest of their discography like this.

8. “Yugen” – Home Brewed Universe. Prolific musician Arka Sengupta (Home Brewed Universe, Mixtaped Monk) has made a giant leap on this track. His guitar-led post-rock meshes its many parts brilliantly here: lead guitar lines fit with drums, piano, and synths to create a dense track with a strong mood. Sengupta is growing into a strong, evocative songwriter right before our ears.

9. “Strength” – Dan Drohan. Zipping, zooming, booming, crashing sounds all merge into a semblance of a groove by the end of this experimental track from percussionist Drohan.

10. “Manhorse” – Husbands. The peppy, garage-y indie-rock here is great, but the video from Lamar+Nik is particularly cool and noteworthy. Using an old-school technique called “scanimation”, they put a unique twist on a video. It culminates in one of my favorite approaches/images: light/images being superimposed on people’s faces. Just a good all-around piece of work.