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Month: May 2022

Underlined Passages fine-tunes and experiments, to equally good results

One of the great joys of running a blog for 19 years is seeing the long scope of a musician’s work. Independent Clauses started covering Michael Nestor’s work with The Seldon Plan in 2007. 15 years later, we’re covering Nestor’s fourth record as/with Underlined PassagesNeon Inoculation. It’s an honor, really.

On to the record: Don’t be fooled by the title suggesting very timely ruminations on current state of affairs and perhaps some ’80s electro vibes. The record does have some synths in it (“Drone,” “Lng Ago, Fr Away”), but put in the service of the band’s wistful, rainy-day indie-rock that is often about relationships.

“Couples Therapy” is the standout here: a sturdy kit backbeat matches a melodic, early-00s-indie acoustic guitar line and allows the vocals to soar. It’s evocative of Death Cab for Cutie’s early work and early ’00s twinkly-guitar emo. (This is a high compliment, in case there was any confusion.) “Lng Ago, Fr Away” has similar vibes to great effect. But it’s not all rain-streaked windows and winsome longing. “Lng Trm Xposure” kicks up the energy with higher tempos and some distorted guitar crunch. “I Was Wrong” introduces some ’90s Brit-rock flair via patient verse instrumentation that blossoms into churning, big-arrangement rock choruses.

Keys play a prominent role toward the end of the record. “Quaalz” is a moody, ambient-adjacent synth-and-drums track that showcases a very different side of Underlined Passages. Closer “Circles-Sand” demonstrates high drama through a pile-up of organ sounds. Nestor’s experimentation with different sounds works well here within the context of the record and the established Underlined Passages sound.

Underlined Passages’ Neon Inoculation is a welcome entry in the Underlined Passages discography. It fine-tunes the best of Underlined Passages’ core sound while pushing the band in interesting new directions. This fan of early ’00s indie rock had his ears perk up on hearing it, and I think you may as well. Especially check out “Couples Therapy.”

The Bogie Band Featuing Stuart Bogie puts on a masterclass of musical power and joy

I absolutely love the jubilant, boundary-pushing The Prophets in the City by The Bogie Band featuring Joe Russo. It’s hard to be jubilant and boundary-pushing, but the prodigious talents of Stuart Bogie (saxes, flutes), Joe Russo (drums, percussion), and the rest of the 10-member outfit do both. These songs are ostensibly some sort of jazz, but the music transcends boundaries quickly. The enthusiasm of a marching brass band, the artsy vibes of a flute-led jazz combo, a composer’s ear for contrasting multiple parts together, a rock musician’s party vibes, and more come together in sonics that sweep me away into the story.

And even though this is instrumental work, there’s a narrative here: the moods vary throughout the record, and the titles give context to the variations. 8-minute opener “The Prophets in the City (Arrival, Balance, Discipline, Joy)” sets out the emotional range and the religious context of the record. The song moves like a block party: urgent flutes lead the way, a choir of horns follows up, a sax solo emerges, all underpinned by tuba bass. (I love tubas.) It’s  a workout for the musicians and outrageously fun for the listener. Follow-up “The Witnesses” displays the frenetic response the prophets get: angry dissonance mixed with curiosity and adventure. “We Met Them By The Water” is a mellow, sonorous piece that (I imagine) shows what the curious did: sneak off to hear the Prophets more. “Walking with the Holy Fools” is an (appropriately) strutting piece with a unique emotional energy. I won’t spoil the narrative for you; it’s a worthy journey.

There are joys all throughout this amazing, impressive record, but it would be criminal to not mention the roaring, soaring, pounding “We Organize.” Another 8-minute barn-burner, this one takes the listener through a lot of different emotions before hitting the high point where everything is going at once–5 minutes in. Then there’s a coda, then another coda, then another one, then another one … it’s brilliant.

I feel bad trying to describe this record with words. It’s the rare album that makes words almost a hindrance rather than the clumsy tools they usually are. If there’s anything in here that made you think “I might not be into that,” then lookit here: my words were insufficient and you are likely into this. This is top-shelf music, no genre labels needed. The Prophets in the City is adventurous, immersive, outrageous, and all around brilliant. Listen to this one immediately. Highly recommended.

May Singles 5

1. “Please Send To J.F.” – José Medeles w/ Marisa Anderson. J.F. is John Fahey; Medeles’ project here is a tribute album to the guitar legend by way of new compositions indebted to and honoring his sound. This is one of the highlights of the record, a bright, sprightly, spontaneous-sounding jam that just feels like a sunbeam and a half.

2. “Sunset” – Medicine Singers. Fuses Pow Wow singing with jazz, post-rock, and electronic flourishes to create an urgent, pounding, brilliant work. This is truly unique, and powerful. Highly recommended.

4. “Secret of the Megafauna” – Cool Maritime. Somewhere between chillwave and vaporwave, Cool Maritime is making idiosyncratically elegant pieces that turn kitsch into beauty.

5. “Walkin’” – Fresh Pepper. A low-key Ratatat tune morphs into a horns-and-bass funk tune partway through. It’s like driving across the boundary of radio stations in a car; one moment you’re chilling, the next you’re chilllllllllllinnnnnnnnnnnn.

6. “Super Lucrative” – Anna Butterss. Erratic without falling into chaos, glitchy without being abrasive, emotive without being on-the-nose; this little (1:39) electronic piece operates in a unique space and does its own thing.

7. “George the Revelator” – Revelators Sound System. Low-key jazz with tight kit work, smooth keys, and crushed-red-velvet-curtains horns. Vibes on vibes on vibes.

8. “Eight Below Zero” – Benny Bock. The keys and pedal steel here drive the piece to dance along the line between sad and happy (given that the key is only perceived by my ear as lightly minor; there are a lot of offramps toward the major partner). The liminal space offers a lot of openings for exploration, which Bock & co. take with aplomb. Could have gone on a lot longer than it did, but I’m happy for the three minutes we got!

9. “SHIVERS” – Kety Fusco. Refusing to let the harp be circumscribed, Fusco uses the harp and a pedal board to create all manner of sounds. The resulting soundscape has lead lines that will resonate with any lover of harp, placed into a sonic space that approximates electronic music. It’s an exciting, invigorating exploration of unique sonic concepts.

2. “To Catch Light I” – Mat Ball. Icy, subtle, and evocative, this piece for solo electric guitar calls to mind Low, slowcore singer/songwriters, Ryan Dugré, and other folks interested in mournful yet inviting pieces.

10. “Twin Lakes” – Blurstem and Elijah Bisbee. Tender, delicate, and friendly. This warm rumination is the sound of peaceful evenings in a hammock. Better yet: it sounds like this looks.

11. “Unmoored” – Fog Chaser. You can always get me with pizzicato strings, and Fog Chaser’s latest elegant composition pairs lithe piano with ghostly pad synths and those pizzicato plucks. It’s gorgeous.

12. “Thousands of pianos floating on the moon” – David Gómez. This is a delicate, beautiful piano-led piece that has a truly fantastic title. It sounds more like one piano floating on the moon, but that title wasn’t as evocative.

Quick Hits: Runar Blesvik / The Howard Hughes Suite / Tapani Rinne & Juha Mäki-Patola

Runar Blesvik‘s Restore is a lovely album of piano-driven compositions that melds the highly patterned work of mid-century modernism (like “Canto Ostinato”) to the intimate emotional appeals of Ólafur Arnalds. Pieces like “Home” do this explicitly, letting the piano run off ostinato patterns while acoustic guitar, effects, and keys melodies dance and spin around the central theme. Highlight “Measures” offers similar joys. Even in pieces where the tension is less foregrounded, Blesvik’s skill throughout is making formal elements and romantic elements work together excellently: the deconstructed, elegaic, strings-driven “Fade” still maintains the central tension of the work. Restore is a strong, compelling album of usually-intimate, always-effective work.

High & Lonesome by The Howard Hughes Suite is an ambient country record, heavy on the ambient. The multilayered pedal steel textures here are deeply abstracted, controlled, and sculpted. The results are free-floating, ethereal, even celestial sounds that are deeply peaceful to listen to. Pieces like “Reverie” could easily be confused for a synth-created work, as the shimmering waves of sound seem almost impossibly other (there’s no way a guitar could make this happen, right?). “Transcendental Medication” allows the pedal steel to have a little unprocessed melody that grounds the piece, but amid great clouds of sound that sound (yes) transcendental. It’s always good for ambient music when the Pillars of Creation come to mind. FFO: Suss at its absolute most abstract, Lucho Ripley, big ambient energy.

I’ve been listening to Open by Tapani Rinne & Juha Mäki-Patola for months. It is a gracious, open-handed record: the jazz/ambient fusion offers much but does not make many demands on the listener (as much jazz, rightly and properly, can). Instead, Rinne & Mäki-Patola develop a consistent sonic space that relies on careful background layers, subtle piano, and fluttering saxophone. To wit: “Open, Pt. I” at the beginning, “Peak” in the middle, and “Hover” at the end are each exemplar demonstrations of the particular concept they explore in this record. All of them describe a landscape and then gently traverse it; the landscapes are similar but not distinctive enough to feel the subtle changes: the foregrounded piano of “Open, Pt. I”, the thicker/more prominent background layer of sound in “Peak,” and the pulsing mood and almost lyrical saxophone performance in “Hover.” Rinne and Mäki-Patola make it easy for the listener in Open, but those who listen and explore will find subtle treasures throughout.

May Singles 4 2022

1. “C’mon Armageddon” – Fantastic Cat. This is a perfect alt-country barnburner that evokes the sounds and lyrics of Bob Dylan, Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim and many more. Also, the jokes in the credits are specifically for anyone who has ever been in a band; I couldn’t stop laughing about the jokes for a half-hour. (You have to watch the whole video to get the jokes, though.) Highly recommended.

2. “All of the Women” – Allison Russell. This politically timely song from Canadian songwriter Russell’s late May 2021 release Outside Child screams in its banjo-driven roots vibe. Subtle, angry brilliance oozes from Russell’s vocals. Highly recommended. —Lisa Whealy

3. “Jenny and James” – Wes Collins. This is storytelling folk in pure form: Collins’ smooth vocal delivery spins a tale of people trying so hard. The arrangement is just about as picture-perfect as it can get, too. Highly recommended.

4. “Sirena”  – Lisa Morales. Morales celebrates her cultural heritage in this reverie, an homage to the sirens of the night. Braving the dance of love, Morales shines, letting her nimble vocal style fly. She weaves a stunning contrast to the intricate Spanish guitar work that is the foundation of her EP El Amor No Es Cobarde. —Lisa Whealy

5. “While We’re Here” – M. Lockwood Porter. Alt-country songwriter Porter returns with an earnest assessment of personal and professional meaning, in light of his father’s death. The heartbreakingly honest vocal delivery fits wonderfully atop the restrained and lovely arrangement.

6. “Dog Stay Down” – Opus Kink. Opus Kink are at their unhinged best here, throwing down a near-chaotic mix of folk-pop, funk, punk, Nick Cave, Gogol Bordello, and … wrestling. You’ve not heard anything like Opus Kink before.

7. “Flow Clasico” – Ankris. Columbian duo Ankris create the mood of true love and its dance of misplaced passions. Despite its light musicality, nuanced production choices drive the narrative here: Hot and cold, burning with spoken word desire and a Latin beat. Haven’t we all watched that special someone slip out of our lives, cold as ice? —Lisa Whealy

8. “Humble Heroes –  Demon and Lion. Demon and Lion might be known only as the Las Vegas act that sings in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. But this original song’s beauty, beyond its message, is the vocal tone that results from the blending of accents. —Lisa Whealy

9. “CHEERS” – Jordy Benattar. I love a good protest song, and this low-key acoustic-pop tune really is one (albeit an unusual one). Benattar rails against Gen Z / late Millenial ennui, taking the state of normal life to task in this surprisingly fresh and subtle tune.

10. “I Want More”  – KALEO. KALEO might have earned rock supergroup status, but they did so by ignoring conventions. Instead they sing folk songs in their native language and perform in Iceland’s Skálholt Cathedral, one of its most holy and historic places: the center of ecclesiastic power for nearly 700 years. They chose to film a stripped orchestral performance with JJ Julius Son solo.This video’s magnificence is the strings, that include violins (Sigrún Harðardóttir, Ásta Kristín Pjetursdóttir, Guðbjartur Hákonarson, Chrissie Guðmundsdóttir), violas (Karl James Pestka and Þórunn Harðardóttir) and cellos (Unnur Jónsdóttir, Hrafnhildur Marta Guðmundsdóttir, and Júlía Mogensen). —Lisa Whealy

11. “Hangover Game” – MJ Lenderman. Lenderman throws the listener right into the sordid details of an athlete’s life (and death?), set to a scuzzy indie/garage rock shuffle. Hits the spot right between Pavement and the Mountain Goats.

Premeire: Jacob Faurholt’s “Madness on the Rise”

The Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte once said that art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist. Denmark’s Jacob Faurholt invites us into the garden with his hypnotic  “Madness on the Rise” from Raw Onion Records.

Sonically simple, the song is the best example of production restraint to come along in some time. Emotive, controlled vocal delivery coincides with each heavy bass line that overwhelms the darkness. Faurholt’s lyrics are a descent into the mental twists of this songwriter’s genius. But that is just the start. Partnered with Trine Omø delivering ethereal backing vocals, the merging of Monty Python-esque cut-out animation and child-like wonder sets these surrealist visuals in motion.  This is the stuff of nightmares, with its own haunting soundtrack.

Faurholt’s 10th studio album When the Spiders Crawl features twelve songs written and self-produced at the artist’s home studio, often capturing the essence of his music in the wee hours between sundown and dawn. The surreal “Madness on the Rise” and its video’s visual aesthetic complement the birth of the upcoming release. 

A limited vinyl pre-order of When the Spiders Crawl is now available. —Lisa Whealy

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Premiere: “Broken Fangs” by Andrew Adkins

Usually Lisa or Stephen write a premiere on their own, but “Broken Fangs” spoke to us both in different ways. So we teamed up to do a duo premiere! 

Andrew Adkins’s “Broken Fangs” seems the perfect introduction to his upcoming album Rattlesnake Motions. A true child of Nashville (the music city), Adkins’ skill as a songwriter transforms an inner dialogue into a song displaying the reality of a self-realization’s horrific truth. 

When talking with Adkins in the past, he revealed his love of analog retro sonic textures. Stripped, this song feels like the end of a really long party. Distant, trippy synthesizers frame a constant drum beat carrying the tambourine-wielding lost soul forward. Translated into film, the perpetual victim of every horror story we know fumbles on in a haze. Andrew Adkins delivers the metaphor-rich “Broken Fangs” as a mystic badge of courage. –Lisa Whealy 

“Broken Fangs” is an unusual, almost eerie neo-soul jam. It has the soul of a Beck song in its rattling rhythms and speak-sing vocal delivery. The guitars and funky bass in the intro and chorus peg it as a soul jam. Yet the lyrics and processed vocal tone emit the ominous vibes of a latter-day Flaming Lips burner, as Adkins mentions “vampire bodies with broken fangs” before dropping into a (yes) mystical-sounding bridge featuring hand percussion prominently. It is a wild, unusual cut that is incredibly tight musically with vibes that are way out there. –Stephen Carradini

Premiere: CLIFFWALKER’s “Punching Clocks”

CLIFFWALKER is an incredibly rad name for a band. The Portland duo of Cliff Hayes (bass, keys) and A. Walker Spring (vibes, drums, keys, guitar) have more radness than just that going on, though. This instrumental outfit has some impressive vision, as displayed on “Punching Clocks.”

“Punching Clocks” is the sort of thing that the word post-rock was made for: a fuzzed-out rock guitar (and/or bass!) line duets with melodic percussion (vibes, the actual instrument) to create impressive vibes (the feelings). It rocks, but not in the way that we think that rock rocks. (It also doesn’t rock the way most post-rock does, but that’s another post.) It’s rock put in the service of other moods, and we are the better for it.

Instead, the interplay of the leads produces the experience of a spy-movie chase scene. The careful, tasteful percussion provides good guardrails: the low cymbals offer energy to the piece while the rock-solid rhythms hold the performances back from going off the rails. As it is, the piece delightfully teeters on the edge of chaos, if only because it’s rare to hear this sort of combo go at it (Garage a Trois / all Mike Dillon projects notwithstanding). It’s a distinctive entry in a fun space, and that is a great thing to celebrate.

Cliff Hayes was kind enough to give us a word on the song: “‘Punching Clocks’ draws inspiration from the daily dread of going to a job you dislike and the conditioning of human existence to the dictates of time. We partition up our lives and our identities to meet the demands set upon us by society and its concept of time.”

Painted Gray Sky EP by CLIFFWALKER lands on June 24. Catch CLIFFWALKER on Instagram.

May Singles 3: Sing-y

1. “Handles” – Half-handed Cloud. The hectic, blink-and-you-miss-it indie-pop of Half-handed Cloud is back in full form. John Ringhofer blasts through more sonic and lyrical ideas than seem possible in a tidy 122 seconds. Highly recommended.

2. “On Again” – Lightning Cult. Rare is the music video that ascends to the level of short film, but the video for this Grandaddy-esque fuzzy indie-pop cut is a whole real world in 4:19. This is easily the most evocative, thoughtful, interesting music video I’ve seen this year–and for some years before that. Highly recommended.

3. “turned engine” – Joe Rainey, Allie Bearhead. Pow Wow singer Rainey puts his and Bearhead’s vocals forefront above a fusion of elegaic strings (Alistair Sung on cello and Mayah Kadish on violin, of Stargaze Orchestra) and subtly ominous electronics. The song shifts partway through into an exciting field recording of a Pow Wow, augmented by punchy electronic hits. A lot going on in this piece, and Rainey puts it all together smoothly.

4. “Lost Room” – Hourloupe. IC fave Anar Badalov provides the eclectic, vaguely dystopic electro/acoustic soundscapes; Frank Menchaca offers the poetry on top of the nylon string guitars and ominous synths. It’s a distinctive combination.

5. “Musakayike” – Madalitso Band. This duo from Lilongwe, Malawi describe themselves as using “joyful vocals, four-string guitar, babatoni and cow-skin kick drum.” The results are truly enthusiastic tunes that make me want to dance. This one in particular gets my head bobbing and my hips shaking.

6. “Adore” – James McLeod, AARYS. A high-quality, downtempo pop love song; no more, no less.

7. “Holiday Forever” – Saint Social. The new project from IC fave Quinn Erwin hearkens back to early Afterlife Parade pop-rock, which is wonderful. There’s some Leagues-style minimalist vibes in the guitar/bass/drums instrumental approach, and the overall results are joyous and bright.

8. “Gone” – Pete Muller. “Gone” is the rare piano-pop tune that jumps up and smacks me across the face. The combination of lyrics, vocal delivery, piano performance, and the extremely attractive architecture/interior design of the video make this relationship-conflict song a winner.

9. “Other Way Home” – Meredith Lazowski. An easygoing, preternaturally chill alt-folk/alt-country tune that features Lazowski’s excellently delivered vocals. Feels like Lazowski is in the room with me.

10. “You’ll Have 2 Deal With Me” – Chaperone Picks. Another high-quality slice of 4-track acoustic work that blends the specific and the general in a somewhat surrealist vision.

May Singles 2: Peaceful

1. “Caddo Lake” – Cameron Knowler & Eli Winter. This duo makes two guitars sound like one flowing, rippling, elegant instrument. This piece by Michael Chapman is about as peaceful as I can imagine guitars being. Just lovely. Highly recommended.

2. “Altar of Tammy” – Mary Lattimore and Paul Sukeena. This harp and electric guitar duo create unusual waves of complex tension: a cave exploration teeming with potential but as yet unrealized danger; a mid-flight rumination on a space adventure of unknown time and distance; the first drops of rain from the ominous storm forming off in the distance. Highly recommended.

3. “Richness of Peace” – José Medeles w/ M. Ward. Medeles and Ward come together for slowcore Americana par excellence: guitars warble and wander, a rattling snare accompanies, a sense of distance permeates the landscape. It’s a tribute to Fahey, not by covering his work, but by invoking it. I love it. Highly recommended.

4. “Rain after Sun” – Held by Trees. Here in Phoenix, rainy days are tantamount to holidays. Thus, I’m a little obsessed with the sound of rain. That sound opens this deliciously slow-moving low-key jazz/post-rock/slowcore piece, and the feel of being encapsulated by falling water runs through the whole work.

5. “Mushroom Dance” – Modern Biology. I don’t usually quote the press release, but the genesis of this piece is so fascinating that I thought I’d let them tell you: “To create his new Earth Day single, the Vancouver-based musician and biologist brought his modular synth rig into the forest near his house and collaborated with a mushroom – using the bioelectricity of the organism to trigger note changes in the synth.” Well! The results are beautiful and surprisingly not that different from more traditionally programmed modular synth work. Nature! It knows what’s up!

6. “Temporary Shelter from the Storm” – Arthur Jeffes. The heartbeat at the center of this piano-and-strings piece grounds the work: giving it solidity while also holding the rushing piano in place. The carefully processed melodic percussion surrounding the core of the work gives it a unique, warm vibe.

7. “Moving Slowly” – Wilson Trouvé. A beautiful chamber-orchestra piece with more motion than the title would suggest. The strings, piano, and gentle percussion push this elegant work forward in a lovely way.

8. “Acceptance” – Ben Crosland. A gentle, unhurried piano rumination that reaches an almost iconically romantic mood with ease.

9. “Mm III” – Stephen Emmer. High-drama work here from pianist/composer Emmer, building out a whole scene around a roving piano approach.