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Month: December 2021

Teen Daze hits the club for a while

Teen Daze has done a lot in 12 years. Jamison Isaak’s project has been on the forefront of chillwave (All of Us, Together is a classic of the subgenre), done electro-acoustic fusions (The House on the Mountain), produced motorik techno cuts (A World Away), conducted a double-album concept record on climate change (Themes for Dying Earth and Themes for a New Earth), dropped copious singles, and generally been about as prolific as you can be while still retaining uniformly high quality. His latest record Bioluminescence was a career highlight that melded the electronic and the acoustic into warm, lithe pieces. Teen Daze makes serious music, at speed, in spades.

Interior is the latest full record from Teen Daze. (A collection of EPs called Reality Refreshes and some singles appeared between Bioluminescence and now, naturally.) It builds on previous Teen Daze successes by marshaling signature sounds toward a new goal. Instead of making big statements about the world, Interior makes dance music–even club music. “2 AM (Real Love) (feat. Cecile Believe)” is a fusion of Teen Daze’s favorite muted, warm sounds and Daft Punk vibes. The enthusiastic post-’80s vibes of “Nite Run” feel like some sort of mashup between Caribou and Maribou State. (That rhyming is completely unintentional.) If you’re in a certain type of hip club, the earthy/airy groove of “Nowhere” is going to be a major success. The insistently cheery “Swimming” is for all the people who wanted more of the bright-eyed techno of A World Away. If Death Cab once wrote You Can Play These Songs With Chords, Teen Daze has written You Can Dance These Songs With Feet. 

Even if this album is intended to be more forward than high-concept, it’s not brash, theatrical EDM. (I, uh, do love that type of music too, though.) Opener “Last Time In This Place (feat. Joseph Shabason)” tricks the listener into thinking the album is going to be something else entirely: it’s an almost post-rock terrain composed of what sound like modular synth patterns and a saxophone solo exploring the landscape. The title track includes a long, subtle build: it takes three minutes for the title track to kick in the dance beat. Until then, the slow-mo arpeggiator fits into the crevices of an arrangement of fizzy static, jazzy mellotron-esque keys, and stuttering percussion. A warped/chopped vocal sample and a kick/hi-hat make the back half a full-on dance party, though. All of the aforementioned dance tracks are soft-edged with Teen Daze’s signature feathery synths. This is not generic dance music, it’s Teen Daze’s highly specific vision on dance music.

This tension between inward gaze and outward dance is explored on a large scale in the nine-minute “Translation.” The track begins with 2:20 of a looping, loping, cloudy synth pattern–almost mid-century minimalist in its repetition. Isaak slowly layers in more elements: a rubbery bass pattern, a four-on-the-floor kick, a delicately chiming guitar (?) riff, and more. There’s a moment of respite at 5:00, before things really get hopping: ’80s trumpet synths, chopped up talk-box vocals, and snare come barreling in to make this a full-on party-down. THEN a roaring sax solo appears, going on for over two minutes. The song does slowly fade out to a close, but overall the effect is of major club vibes.

Just in case you weren’t convinced of the goal of this record, the album closes with four club-friendly edits that cut out / refashion the slower, more intimate bits of four different tracks to enable immediate dance success. Even that can’t turn this into an Avicii album, but look: this is as close as we’re going to get to that from Teen Daze.

After so many albums of careful, thoughtful, big-statement work, it’s pretty cool to hear Isaak just let it rip for a while. Interior is a fun, exciting record of good vibes. This album isn’t trying to duplicate the career highlight Bioluminescence, but it’s also not ignoring that Isaak did make that record. It ultimately is a great way to close out the year. Happy New Year to everyone, from Teen Daze.

Quick Hits: Gemma / The Ghosts of Searchlight

GemmaGemma. This Greek collective creates rock with post-rock artiness, electronic vibes, and lots of drums. The high-energy moments have the dynamic thrust of PG.Lost, while the electronic moments are full of tension a la CUTS (as on the opening track). The female vocalist adds a lot of energy to the work, whether doing melismatics for mood or delivering melodic lines. The band does a great job breaking up the tempo and vibe of the songs without compromising the overall cohesiveness of the work. The closer is a slow-burning 11 minutes long, and is worth every second of it. Dark, powerful, and deeply felt, this record is a winner. Highly recommended.

Sprawl – The Ghosts of Searchlight. Most post-rock has heavy guitars but isn’t actually rock. That’s kind of the point: it uses rock sounds to make non-rock. Well, The Ghosts of Searchlight is an instrumental rock band. It morphs the post-rock concept to make instrumental rock music. It also adds surf-rock, classical music, and loads of vintage TV clips to the work. As a result, this is an album that (indeed) rocks. It has riffs. It does not mess around. It also has a serious message about suburban sprawl (it’s bad, it’s a trap, it changes people, it keeps them going in circles endlessly without meaning). Still: even if you’re not here for the social criticism, show up for the rock.

Lisa’s Top 10 of 2021 

I first embraced my love of music long before attempting to translate the feelings music creates into words. As a kid in school, I started with an ear for jazz and blues, playing clarinet, flute, and saxophone. I picked up an oboe, crossing into orchestral compositions. Folk music’s simplicity became my first love, inspiring me to wholly commit to the music is life dream. 

My 2021 Top 10 list includes the music I return to when life gets weird, a little too good, or just plain chill. It includes albums, EPs, and collections. They all share just one common denominator: released in 2021. The original articles are linked here, just in case you missed ‘em! – Lisa Whealy

10. Dark Wooden Cell Undying Stories from a Fallen World. Empty, yet sublime. The discordant Undying Stories from a Fallen World haunts reality.

9. Paper AnthemThe Year You’ll Never Get Back. Joseph Hitchcock redefines the artistry of indie rock with his third release.

8. Jacob FaurholtChaotic Piano. In six songs, Faurholt’s plaintive vocal style delivers a raw, authentic commentary on humanity.

7. Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal. The 41-song, five-vinyl/three-CD collection via the Neal Casal Music Foundation included Casal’s friends in the music community in response to the songwriter’s suicide. Casal’s life dream of impacting music education, like his dad had done for him at 13 with the gift of his first guitar, is now the melody his spirit has left us with to carry on.

6. Clara Engel Dressed in Borrowed Light. Canadian creative Engel’s Light is an immersive experience, from the artwork and cover design to the music and lyrics. To be relished again and again.

5. Frozen FarmerThings to Share. This record twists Italian folk into musical artistry via genreless imagination.

4. Jody Bigfoot and TandaroDuszt. Nuanced and subtle, Jody Bigfoot’s vibes inhabit a creative universe with producer and multi-instrumentalist Tandoro as both album and film.

3. PinhdarParallel. Italian trip-hop artists Cecilia Miradoli and Max Tarenzi transformed the look of rock to embrace an era of nuanced lyricism wrapped in psychedelic soundscapes.

2. Mike DillonShoot the Moon / Suitcase Man / 1918. Producer Chad Meise’s album trilogy with Dillon is a weird, glorious musical creation born of the punkadelic-funk-psych artist literally trapped off the road he’s toured for three decades. Mentioning Dillon’s work in 900 Foot Jesus, Dead Kenny Gs, and Brave Combo really just touches on the vast body of work available to his musical reimagination.

1. Silas J. DirgeThe Poor Devil. Netherlands-based songwriter Jan Kooiker claimed a spot as one of my favorite all-time songwriters and earned top spot on this list with his brilliant work on The Poor Devil

Quick Hits: SUSS, Bremer/McCoy, Amy Reid

Night Suite – SUSS. I love ambient country, and the four people of SUSS are some of its most esteemed practitioners. This collection of five pieces is themed around the experience of night in five Western locales, three of which fall in my state of Arizona.

The pieces are suitably spacious and inviting, as they play with the theme to such an extent that these are almost soundscapes instead of songs. (“Flagstaff, AZ” is the farthest out on this front.) Yet they retain a sense of melodiousness that hangs over each of them, such as in the subtly layered guitars of “Kingman, AZ.” “Needles, CA” sounds like the heavens opening up a blanket of stars, as reported by someone reverent. A truly lovely collection.

Natten Bremer/McCoy. Pianist Morton McCoy and bassist Jonathan Bremer make lithe, svelte compositions that will make as much sense to ambient enthusiasts as jazz ones. McCoy plays with light, elegant precision–the melodies ring gently with little syncopation. Bremer fills in the spaces with stately stand-up bass thrum. Openers “Natten” and “Mit Hjerte” have an expansive sweep, while “Nu og Altid” and “April” are intimate. Ultimately, the duo make timelessly beautiful music that calls to mind jazz nightclubs, rooftops, studio apartments, earnestness, and young love.

Dome Trax – Amy Reid. Ambient of the glittering, arpeggiated, spacey kind. It feels serious and light simultaneously, like it’s Reid’s job to brighten the mood of a dark space. (Titles like “Theme Song for Hope” and “Clouds Have Parted” bear this out.) The composition quality is high: Reid uses the building blocks of ambient, yet avoids tropes with subtle techniques and transformations. It’s an endearing, engaging short release.

Ninjutsu lands beautifully in every way

I’ve been covering the work of Joshua Aubrey Jackson (Fiery Crash, Summerooms, Make Sure) for the last eight years. His work has gone from alt-folk with a predilection for fuzzed-out guitars to full-fledged twinkly-guitar emo to sophisticated indie-pop. His latest record as Make SureNinjutsucements his growing reputation for being an indie-pop songwriter with a keen ear, impressive arranging skills, and an interesting pen. This record is Jackson’s most complex statement yet in every regard.

On Ninjutsu, Jackson shows off a fine-tuned melodic sense. This record is packed with memorable melodies: the line “So here’s the point / when the watchman falls asleep” on “Girl Drummer” could be a throwaway line for many bands, but it becomes an earworm (despite being only sung once) and turning point in the song. “Sometimes a Man Has Nothing to Say” has a drawn-out chorus that sticks in the mind. “Japanese Bonus Track” has a similarly powerful chorus that evokes Ben Gibbard’s vocal patterns, but also adds memorable verse structures. Yet none of these melodies are theatrical or “poppy”; they are earnest, low-key, and well-turned. They stick not through fast tricks, but through hard work in making good songs.

That intense effort extends to the arrangements: it is clear that an incredible attention to detail went into the instrumentation. Jackson’s warm, wistful vibe is present on every song on the record due to the detailed construction of each instruments’ tone. There are no hard edges on this record: acoustic guitars burble, pad synths enter slowly, percussion rattles without being brittle, and Jackson’s vocals are always just above a sigh. He even manages to make the distorted guitar of “Girl Drummer” thick without being abrasive. The guitars thud appropriately, fitting into the vibe of the record as a moment of great disappointment amid the nostalgic feelings. “Is That You Ninjutsu,” “The Day That I Moved Out,” and “Sometimes a Man Has Nothing to Say” are particularly deft on this front. “Okay Sea” stretches a mood out over a long period of time (7 minutes!) and gets special notice on that front. It’s truly a beautiful-sounding record, and for the sonics alone it should not be missed.

Yet it’s not all music: the lyrics here are notable. Jackson’s lyricism has always been long on tenderness and wistfulness. On this record, he hones that to a fine point. Opener “Is That You Nunjitsu” draws parallels to the brilliant Transatlanticism, creating a powerful homage/comparison that probably goes under the radar for all but the most dedicated Death Cab fan: the narrator remembers a lost love by finding dog hair in the backseat of a car (instead of the glove box, as on “Title and Registration”); there’s a sea between the narrator and his lost love (“Transatlanticism”), there’s a dinner party going on (perhaps “Death of an Interior Decorator”?). (Also, the guitar tone/melody seems to evoke “Transatlanticism,” but that could be me reading too much here.) From there, Jackson spreads his lyrical wings in a variety of directions. “The Day That I Moved Out” is a nostalgic yet specific rumination on the titular event; “Sometimes a Man Has Nothing to Say” is another rumination on leaving home, but this time it’s about the silence of not knowing how to respond to a lover back home. Switching gears, “Get Moving” is a gentle hymn of praise. The lyrics here are earnest and unadorned, but almost all show a pop of a unique vision: an unusual word, a specific phrase, an unusual tack, a distinctive emphasis.

Make Sure’s Ninjutsu is a polished, beautiful record. It’s the product of many years of learning the craft, and all the bits of effort expended over many years (and many previous releases) show. The melodies shine, the arrangements soar, and the lyrics land. It’s top-shelf indie-pop, the sort of thing that you hear once and want to hear again immediately. It’s fall / winter music (see Jackson’s project Summerooms for the spring / summer music), and I love that about it. Break out your wool sweater and your sonic sweater: Ninjutsu. Highly recommended.

Independent Clauses Best of 2021 Playlist

Part two of our end-of-year lists is a Spotify playlist of standout songs from 2021! Lisa Whealy and I compiled the list based on which tunes stuck out to us most. This is by no means a comprehensive list of songs or artists covered in IC this year; we heard so much good music that it was hard even to cut it down to this (long) list. 

The diversity of what we’ve covered this year is evident, as the list moves from peaceful piano (Ben Seretan) and ambient (Nashville Ambient Ensemble) work through upbeat indie pop (Havana Swim Club) and electro-pop (Alivenique) to rap (Jody Bigfoot and Tandaro), trip-hop (Pinhdar), and rock (Flowers 15). Unclassifiable work (Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, Voka Gentle, Sunjacket) leads up to the conclusion back at folk (Oliver Wood).

The playlist’s cover art began with a photograph by Dolo Iglesias at Unsplash. (We tried to identify the pianist, but we were unable to do so.) Lisa designed the cover from there. 

We also put out two previous Spotify lists this year! You can listen to Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 at Spotify.

We’ll be back tomorrow with Lisa’s best-ofs! –Stephen Carradini

This year, Stephen Carradini and I explored a global array of musical styles,  touching on the seemingly never-ending quest for normalcy in the face of  chaos. Launching this collection with  a taste of chaotic piano (Jacob Faurholt), when will confusion erupt into terror as the world tries to breathe? Music’s power is its flow, harnessing each beat to viscerally connect emotions. It’s the glue that brings us together. Like gritty heartbeats, the sound of our souls still feels heavy in the sonic paradise in my head (Sunjacket). The story of 2021 is filled with contrasting rhythms and voices in a discordant noise in rock (Matt C. White), Americana Charles Elsworth), and folk (Typhoon). 

Navigating our present includes coming to terms with the past. Lyrical narratives define us, painting shared experiences into the pages of our memories like the scent of wildflowers (Courtney Marie Andrews) on a winter afternoon or the scent of warm bread from our corner bakery (Oliver Wood). Together, we can be ten feet tall in the face of whatever 2022 throws at us (Marcus King, Eric Krasno). —Lisa Whealy

Stephen’s Top 10 of 2021

Since I departed from primarily-folk-pop a few years ago, every year has been an adventure. Last year’s list spanned new age, ambient, jazz, math rock, techno, and Thai funk. This year I range from folk-pop (back to roots!) to piano to Pakistani music to ambient to instrumental hip-hop to funk. Life in the IC listening space is never boring. Here’s to another year of intriguing listening in 2022!

  1. Forever Only Idaho – Harrison Lemke. Easily the most ambitious record I heard this year, Lemke’s deeply felt alt-folk/indie-folk/indie-pop record is a brilliant tribute to the places we’re from. It  investigates and interrogates the invisible forces that push us toward or away from “home.” Standout: “Only Idaho, Forever.” Review.
  2. The Trouble With Wilderness – Ben Cosgrove. A complex yet approachable set of piano compositions with intense presence and voice. Cosgrove’s compositions and performances are by turnings searing, tender, and raucous. Standout: “This Rush of Beauty and This Sense of Order.” Review.
  3. Vulture Prince – Arooj Aftab. Intriguing, beguiling, unclassifiable beauty that draws from Pakistani, neo-classical, folk, meditative, and jazz traditions. There’s nothing quite like this that I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t stop listening to this for weeks after I heard it. Standout: “Mohabbat.”
  4. Crépuscule – Rêves Sonores. The ambient work of Nick Schofield and Stefan Christoff starts off with the thrillingly whirling “Mondial” before settling into a delicate exploration of space, patience, and eerie calm. Standout: “Mondial.” Review.
  5. Ninjutsu – Make Sure. Josh A. Jackson’s outfit has matured from an alt-folk outfit into a full-fledged indie-pop band (with a pit stop as an early ’00s twinkly-guitar emo band in the middle). This album shows off Jackson’s rich compositions (“Is That You Nunjitsu”), evocative lyrical approach (“The Day That I Moved Out”), and powerful control of mood (“Okay Sea”). Wistful, nostalgic, and truly memorable. Standout: “Japanese Bonus Track.”
  6. Shadow Falls – The Paper Sea. The Paper Sea deftly melds the genres of ambient, meditative, solo piano composition, neo-classical work, post-rock, and lo-fi electronica into a transcendently (perhaps transcendentally) beautiful collection. Standout: “Shadow Falls.” Review.
  7. I Told You So – Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. I Told You So was the most fun I had listening to an album this year. This instrumental, organ-led funk was the smile-inducing pop of sunshine I needed this year. Standout: “Hole In One,” but also don’t miss “Careless Whisper.” Review.
  8. Cerulean – Nashville Ambient Ensemble. These lush, rich, full-band tracks bend closer to Andreas Vollenweider-style new age sounds than Brian Eno-style ambient. Regardless of labels, these expansive tracks convey a sense of wonder, reverence, and elegance. Standout: “Breve.” Review.
  9. Departure Tapes – Giancarlo Erra. It was a year for grief, and these ambient pieces feel admirably weighty and grief-laden. They were a companion in hard times. Standout: “A Blues for My Father.” Review.
  10. Water Diary – Good Lee. This lo-fi instrumental hip-hop album snuck up on me; I liked it the first time I heard it, and then I just kept listening to it for months. Its subtlety is its glory. Standout: “Time to Rebuild.” Review.

Amazon Palm Scanning Is Not OK

In my day job, I am an assistant professor of technical communication at Arizona State University. My specialties are social media and digital ethics. In keeping with that research and teaching focus, Independent Clauses has signed on to a letter to Red Rocks Amphitheater that calls for the venue to stop using Amazon’s palm scanning as a method of ticketless entry. That letter is available here, along with a list of other organizations and artists who have signed it.

There are multiple reasons that I have included Independent Clauses on this letter. The overarching concerns are that technologies of this type are potentially ineffective and dangerous.

First, technologies that promise this sort of unique identification are often not able to actually provide it. Pre-existing biometric identification technologies such as facial recognition have very bad success rates.They often make suggestions based on very low expectation of accuracy that are taken as facts by readers. These technologies are also particularly bad at ‘correctly’ identifying people of color, as Simone Browne notes in chapter three of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. This can lead to false positives, false negatives, or non-identifications, all of which can become a serious problem for the person involved. Any biometric identification technology is susceptible to failures of this type and related types. Even proponents of this technology are worried about the abuses it enables.

Secondly, identification technologies of this type often enact and enable databases of biometric information long after the information has been used. This is prima facie unethical; unless a person consents to longterm storage, information should be deleted when it is no longer needed for the purpose it was collected for. When information is not deleted, it can be requisitioned by the government for purposes that the person did not expect. It should not be possible for a person going to a concert to find their biometric data (originally gathered for concert entry purposes but transferred to other companies or the government) used against them in governmental, civil, or judicial proceedings.

Thirdly, palm scanning, retinal scanning, and other biometric markers are distinctive and unique identifiers. Data breaches are becoming an inevitable part of life; that which is collected will be breached at some point. This has already begun to occur: 28 million records of biometric data were breached in 2019. Breaches of distinctive identifiers (such as a palm print) would result in personal information being compromised to an extreme and perhaps unfixable degree.

In short, this particularly ineffective type of technology is often employed in ways that harm people who are subject to this technology, with communities of color and marginalized communities being particularly at risk. If you would like to hear me talk more about this issue via Simone Browne’s work, I did so in two podcast episodes in 2020, here and here.

You can read more about this call to reject palm scanning here. If you feel compelled to act online in relation to this issue, here are some ways.

If you want to post on Twitter, some suggestions include:

  • Quote Evan Greer’s tweet or one of the tweets on Fight for the Future’s page, like this one. You can also link to
  • Tag @RedRocksCo, @AEGWorldwide, @AEGpresents and @AXS to ensure you’re delivering our message to the decision makers loud and clear

If you are inclined to post on Instagram, you can:   

Independent Clauses is not a policy organization; in eighteen years, we have taken stances on fewer than five issues. However, this issue is directly related to being able to enjoy concerts at one of the most iconic venues in the United States (Red Rocks) and other venues. Palm scanning is not a good idea, and it should be scrapped for the good of concert-goers’ civil rights.

Quick Hit: David Ramirez

David Ramirez‘s voice is a phone-book voice for me: he could sing the phone book, and I would still listen in rapt attention. In Backsliderhe turns his attention to classic hymns (with one song of his own). This absolutely hits me in the center of a Venn Diagram between “appreciators of good voices” and “appreciators of old hymns”. He sings all the oldies and goodies (“Come Thou Fount”! “Be Thou My Vision”! “It Is Well”!), lending his gravitas to all of them. The arrangements are appropriately spartan, letting the lyrics ring out clear. The ambient found sound of “I Surrender All” makes that particular cut a standout. It’s David Ramirez! And hymns! Who doesn’t want that? It’s amazing. Please listen to it.

December 2021 Singles 1

1. “Triptrap” – Big Space. This guitar/electric bass/drums trio fuses funk, post-rock, and jazz in a vibrant, exploratory piece. It’s the best type of improv, where the lead guitarist just seems to be playing whatever comes into his mind, and the back-line knows where it will likely go anyway. An excellent performance. Highly recommended.

2. “Afterlife” – Frances Luke Accord. There’s nothing that FLA does that I don’t love. This delicate, sun-dappled folk-pop piece on a nylon-string guitar is the epitome of warm sounds. The vocals only contribute to the feel. And there’s whistling! Highly recommended.

3. “Rock, Flag, & Eagle” – Consider the Source. A wild fusion of disparate ideas into a unique and distinctive whole: there’s flamenco, prog, folk, indie rock, and other bits throughout. Highly adventurous music.

4. “Kizanka (feat. Kazuki Arai)” – Takahiro Izumikawa. Izumikawa’s lo-fi hip-hop takes a very spacey, proggy turn. Unexpected and interesting!

5. “The Road” – David M. Stowell. Spacey prog with an undercurrent of hope that draws me in. So much prog reads as unemotional noodling to me, but this has heart.

6. “Parenthesis” – cecilia::eyes. Shoegaze is usually too abrasive for me, but this cloudy haze of guitar and vocals feels more like dream-pop than shoegaze proper. Wherever you want to put it, it’s a lush, laidback cushion of sound.

7. “Island Hopping” – Monster Rally. Tropical-inflected lo-fi hip-hop that will appeal to fans of Space Age Bachelor Pad and Clams Casino.

8. “Chapel” – Andy Aquarius. The image is evocative: garbed in chainmail headgear (a la Beowulf) and equipped with harp, Aquarius seems like a time traveler from the Middle Ages. The elegant, floating piece here combines fluttering harp patterns with female melismatics and Aquarius’ relaxed voice. It’s a compelling piece.

9. “Live @ Ääniä Festival Äänekoski Finland 2021 44​:​22 – Instrumental Trip​-​Hop Journey” – Juhani Saksikäsi. A headbob-inducing longform set of grimy, punchy trip-hop. Certain moments verge of industrial (metal clanks, water drips, and motorik beats abound), but the overall vibe is one of adventure instead of grim industry.

10. “Tina’s Song (Don’t Believe)” – Matthew Solberg. A fleet indie-folk tune about regrets, spoken from a person who’s clearly still working through things in their life. The lyrics are interesting and poignant.