Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Glacier: Dark, towering post-rock with great attention to detail

September 18, 2014

Post-rock can be divided roughly into two arms: the stuff that fits easily on film scores, and the stuff that doesn’t. The former is no less artistically viable (Explosions in the Sky!) than the latter: it’s just an easy way to differentiate the priorities of the band in question. Glacier does not traffic in triumphant earworm melodies. Instead, the band creates fully realized soundscapes that include found sound, spoken word, instruments that sound like air raid sirens, and lots of empty space in addition to guitar and drums. Some post-rock accompanies the movie: Glacier‘s post-rock is the movie.

glacierBB

They’ve dropped two releases at the same time: the 18-minute Black Beacon and the 32-minute Kirtland. The entirety of Black Beacon is one ominous track that sounds perhaps like night during World War II, due to the eerie air raid sirens at the beginning of the track. They move from using the instruments as soundscape tools to a prolonged section of bleak, trudging, stomping, burdened rock that is genuinely towering by the middle. It’s post-rock for people who like post-rock for post-rock’s sake. I know that seems like a self-evident statement, but Glacier is in a whole different ballgame than (IC faves) Lights & Motion: L&M is concerned with beauty, light, and airy arpeggios, while Glacier is concerned with heavy, slow, moody, dissonant things. (Their respective names are also perfect representations of their differences.)

kirtland

Kirtland is a little peppier than Black Beacon, taking less time to get to towering walls of noise. Opener “You’ll Love It Here Forever” drones not by low-level buzz and hum, but by hammering the same riffs and rhythms for a good long while (like a certain post-metal band with a currently unfortunate name was fond of doing). In short, it’s got way more riffing than the former album. The 21-minute title track of Kirtland returns more to the moody element, dedicating the first minute to no more than four chord strums and some truly evocative wind noises and tape hiss. The careful construction of the background noise (again, like a movie would) sets up a very particular mood that Glacier expands throughout the track. It’s the sort of attention to detail that people who’ve heard a lot of post-rock will really appreciate.

If you’re into moody, dark, heavy, occasionally thundering post-rock, Glacier is ready to help you out.

Quick Hit: The Pinkerton Raid

September 17, 2014

thepinkertonraid

Is Fleetwood Mac cool? U2 is uncool, and Led Zeppelin seems permanently cool (which is funny, because they were decidedly uncool radio rock in their heyday), but Fleetwood Mac is harder to pin down. Jesse DeConto, lead singer/songwriter of The Pinkerton Raid, thinks Fleetwood Mac is very cool (or at least very influential), as A Beautiful World draws on that swirling, vocals-heavy rock sound for its songwriting.

The title track/opener sets up their basic sound: reverb-laden guitars, dramatic vocals that burst into polyvocal harmonies, tom-heavy drums, dreamy keys, and an evening vibe. It’s not dark, but it’s not sunshine and clouds; perhaps it’s a stroll at dusk through a thick forest. It’s tough to capture the idea of expansiveness and intimacy at the same time, but the marriage of the wide-open arrangement and the tight harmonies gives off a very particular vibe. It’s a great track to name the album after and open the album with; it sets up what The Pinkerton Raid is about and lets you know what you’re going to get more of.

Other highlights include the staccato rhythms and thick guitars of “Just a Boy,” and the ominous, turbulent “Giving Tree.” The latter is a rumination on the beloved Shel Silverstein tale; I’ve always been encouraged by the little tale of sacrifice, but The Pinkerton Raid interpret it way differently. They throw one of their most mood-intensive, engaging arrangements at it, including evocative female lead vocals and strong instrumental performances all around. It’s pretty heavy emotionally, but it’s also a highlight of the record. If you’re into swirling indie rock that mines heavy situations for musical and lyrical inspiration, A Beautiful World will please you.

Premiere: The Good Graces’ Close to the Sun

September 16, 2014

Today, Independent Clauses has the distinct honor of premiering a stream of The Good GracesClose to the Sun, which comes out September 30 digitally on Potluck Foundation and October 28 on vinyl from Fort Lowell Records. (You can pre-order the vinyl, if you’d like.) But you can hear it here now! So press play and hear the excellent record as you read a review of it.

I think about musical genres a lot, since I have to make a public proclamation of a song’s genre about once a day. Genre has gotten muddied and muddled through crossovers, influences, and incorporations; people no less humongous than Bob Boilen question the usefulness of the whole endeavor. I think it matters; genres have social realities. Saying an album is a singer/songwriter release makes different people interested than if I say it’s an alt-country release. The same goes with indie-pop. But when an album comes along that ties many genres together with elements that transcend all of them, I understand why people just want to throw the whole constraint overboard.

The Good Graces’ Close to the Sun incorporates obvious tonal markers of alt-country (“Cold in California”), indie-pop (“My Own Grace”), and singer/songwriter genres (“Under the Weather”). Just to prove I’m not purposefully making things difficult, those three songs I mentioned are tracks two, three, and four on the album; songwriter Kim Ware isn’t tightly allied to any particular sound from the get-go. By track five, “Something So Beautiful” is incorporating swirling guitars, pounding toms, found sound (a Grandaddy-esque indie-pop move) and alt-country harmonica to create something incredibly attractive that sits completely outside easy classifications. Oy.

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Despite the varied genres, Close to the Sun does have an internal consistency. Ware expertly crafts a overlying mood of hard-earned, clear-eyed calm for the release. That’s not something that comes across in a specific instrument or genre: it’s an approach to songwriting, lyric writing, and vocal performance that influences whatever direction the song takes. “Curb Appeal” is a condemnation of a person who shows a false front to the world; the same lyrics and chord progression could have been used for an angry, guitar-heavy rocker or a whirring, keys-led indie-pop song. (Ware chooses the latter, resulting in a charming indie-pop tune.) There are lots of places where this album could go for dissonance and instead goes to resolve tensions, musically and lyrically.

That’s not to say that there’s no grit here; the grit is just written into unusual places, which grabs my attention. “Parts > Sum,” the most ominous and irritated of the tunes here, is a straight-up alt-country tune complete with reverb-heavy lead guitar. But instead of pouring vocal and lyrical fury into the track, it opens with Ware singing, “My God, my God, what have I done? / I have been untrue / My actions have hurt everyone / but mostly they’ve hurt you.” You have to go to the easy-going, open-road vibe of “Cold in California” to get the lyrics that might have fit with an angry alt-country track. It’s a consistent trend: the genre expectations are subverted throughout to take a gentler, even-handed tack. Even closing love song “Before You Go” starts out with a list of things that annoy her lover (a bold move, for sure). But starting there unveils a deeper, more mature love that looks past surface annoyances to the realities of relationship.

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Even though the underlying calm and the twists of genre expectations carry through the record, it’s Ware’s clear, strong alto that ties the record together. Ware’s evocative voice can display the careful inflections and intonations of singer/songwriter fare (“A Gain, Again”), sell a tricky mood (the complex emotions of “Cold in California”), or carry a rock-ish tune (“Standing in Line”). Throughout it all, her vocal tone stays warm and open, instead of closed off and bitter. That tone often balances out the disparate sounds and lyrics, deftly tying the parts together. The final effect is that her voice sounds natural in these songs, and that’s an element that will elevate any record.

Close to the Sun is a brilliant collection of acoustic-led tunes across a number of genres. It’s a calm, pleasant record in the sense that watching seas from the shore can be calm and pleasant. It doesn’t mean that things aren’t happening on the surface or below the surface; it means that the overall product comes together in a way that is emotionally impressive, intellectually rewarding, and aesthetically pleasing. Ware has done an incredible job pulling together genre-subverting arrangements and lyrics with beautiful vocals, resulting in an album that is hard to stop listening to. If you’re into acoustic-led music, Close to the Sun should very much be on your to-hear list.

testpress

You can win a test pressing of the vinyl for Close to the Sun signed by the band! You’ll be entered into the contest by signing up for Fort Lowell Records’ e-mail list. Jump on it!

Also, if you want to catch the vinyl release show, here’s the details for that. You have plenty of time to get it on your calendar:

Fort Lowell Records Showcase & Official Vinyl Release Party for The Good Graces
featuring Tracy Shedd
Steve’s Live Music
Sandy Springs, GA
9:00-11:00pm, Friday, November 21
$10.00

Mix 4: DRK N MDY

September 13, 2014

DRK N MDY

1. “Satelighter” – Telecraze. This Iranian band mashes post-punk vocals and moods with an whirring, glitchy, crunchy electro backbeat.

2. “Blauer Tag” – Mowe. I love some subtlety in my electro bangers. This one’s got it in spades, delivering the goods but also not whacking you over the head with obvious dubstep drops. Great stuff here.

3. “Meridian” – Zola Blood. A really accessible, highly stylized indie-rock tune that has major radio appeal. ZB could be a crossover.

4. “Sound the Alarm” – QVALIA. Not to be confused with the post-rock band Qualia, which I enjoy as well. QVALIA throws down (another) radio-ready tune with fuzzed out, ominous bass synths, quirky soprano synths, and rhythms some familiar rhythms to pull it all together.

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Mix 3: Pensive Mix

September 12, 2014

Pensive mix

1. “Animals” – In-Flight Safety. Here’s a slick, Brit-pop-influenced pop-rock track. That’s one of the most enjoyable pieces of guitar-led work I’ve heard in a while.

2. “Seascape” – Upperfields. Genre labels are kinda useless here, as some mix of indie-rock, indie-pop, synths, artsy landscape-y work, and straight up ’80s jams come together to make this irresistible track.

3. “Bird of Prey” – Natalie Prass. Perky soprano vocals dance over an old-school, chilled-out soul/motown backdrop. I think of 1970s New York neighborhoods, kids on the front steps.

4. “Mirrors (I)” – Sister Speak. There was that time in the ’80s where pop-rock females could be really introspective and deep while still maintaining a connection to groove. Sister Speak is all about that time period. Not that this sounds like the ’80s. But it could live there, maybe.

5. “Deepend” – Mister Lies. Lush, emotive, swishy bedroom electro? SIGN ME UP BRO.

In Memoriam

September 11, 2014

It is often easy to lose the remembrance somewhere between the 10th and the 25th anniversary of things. Today is the 13th anniversary of a deeply painful day that launched many difficult days. I think a fitting memorial would be to examine our own prejudices and see why we hold them; if we all do this, hopefully we can move toward discussion and away from violence on hard things such as those that caused the tragedy.

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Mix 2: Pop and Rock

September 10, 2014

Mix 2: Pop and Rock

1. “Growing Mould” – Ha the Unclear. I’m a big fan of yelpy vocalists that can find a foil for their tones. Ha the Unclear’s eccentric mix of throw-back pop crossed with mid -’00s indie-pop is a perfect fusion of instrument and voice.

2. “Repetition” – Kobadelta. If you’re a fan of the Doors or any band that has tried to emulate the Doors, you’ll be interested in Kobadelta’s bass-heavy psych-rock with a baritone vocalist and spot-on production. Check that sweet half-time breakdown.

3. “Coulda Been” – Sallie Ford. Get back to your ’60s and ’70s rock roots. Nod at your Grace Slick poster. Remember that the congas are a legitimate instrument. You’re fully ready to get sassed by Ms. Ford in this impressively rhythmic and cool track.

4. “Cellophane” – Adventure Set. Some synth-pop is really indie-pop with a synth. I actually think that Adventure Set wrote every part of this song except the vocals on synths. It’s simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic, wistful and giddy.

5. “Flederlaus” – Magnetfisch. Instrumental synth-pop? Why not? With its chirpy synth line and sassy guitar solo, this particular track feels like it should be the soundtrack to an old-school platformer video game. Sonic the Hedgehog was awesome, y’all.

6. “Adam’s Head” – Adam Rich. This bluesy, goofy, fun track closes Rich’s new album Streetlight Smile.

Mint 400’s Patchwork shows its diversity of sounds

September 9, 2014

patchwork

I’ve covered digital label Mint 400 Records before, because I think they do great work in the lo-fi indie/lo-fi folk realm and because they have an interesting business model. The label’s latest compilation Patchwork shows off 17 of their bands, giving a pretty good snapshot of what they’re doing. (Disclosure: I’m the manager of The Duke of Norfolk, who is signed to Mint 400.)

The lo-fi work doesn’t disappoint: Sink Tapes, Fairmont, and The Maravines all have compelling offerings near the beginning of the album. The Multi-Purpose Solution and The Mai 68s hold down the end of the record, making sure you didn’t forget about the indie-rock. The acoustic-based work is also exciting, as newcomer Murzik adds an attention-grabbing piano-and-voice entry. Dave Charles sings a chill song that references Star Wars and sounds like some sort of early Jason Mraz tune. Cropduster provides another standout, with a gravelly, creaking voice over an acoustic guitar until it explodes into a grungy sort of thing for a bit.

Cropduster’s rock isn’t an isolated thing: the label has developed some loud leanings. Shallows’ “Always” is aggressive, dissonant guitar rock that borders on post-hardcore; Tri-State’s tune is straight-up guitar rock; and Jack Skuller contributes some rockabilly with ’50s vocal leanings. Mint 400 has grown from a small label with a specific niche to a widely diverse roster of bands, and Patchwork shows off the best of all of them. Check it out at iTunes or Spotify.

Mix 1: Indie-pop-folk

I had so many MP3s lined up that I’m breaking them into four mini-lists over the next few days. Cool, huh?

We Love Dashes – Indie-Pop-Folk

1. “Carry Oceans” – Montoya. Sweeping, cinematic pop that uses reverb expertly to create mood. There’s some acoustic guitars, pad synths, earnest female vocals, and more. For a first track, this is an exciting start.

2. “Those Days” – Noire. Wistful verses blossom into a joyful, twinkling chorus: it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, or someone flicking open the curtains in a gloomy room. You’ll feel your hips move to this one.

3. “2004” – Sleepwalk Parade. That line between indie-rock, alt-country, and folk-punk is a thin one at times. Great melodies and vibe going on here.

4. “On the Rocks” – The Rural Alberta Advantage. RAA has always been pushed by insistent drums, but now they’ve added some churning keys to amp up the urgency. By the end of the tune it’s very nearly a dance-rock tune (albeit one with distant, delicate piano).

5. “Livin’ & Dyin (to Dream)” – Kory Quinn. This track has the x factor that the best raw, honest, clear-eyed alt-country singer/songwriters have. Is it the vocal tone? Is it the use of space in the vocal lines? Is the production? Is it all of them?

August videos (only a bit late)

September 8, 2014

The new Woman’s Hour video features six middle-schoolers who made up the dance themselves. The band and the director comment that it points out both the awkwardness of middle school and the ability of teenagers to emulate pop culture. It’s a gentle way to introduce a serious topic. Very cool video.

I love goofy concept videos, and this one is par excellence on that front. Why not get five industrial-grade digital road signs to “sing” for you? Super-fantastic. Great job, Stormcellar. (Even if it is from 2010.)

I’m firmly on-board the Andrew Judah train, and this video keeps that trend going. Simple yet entrancing.

Greylag’s “Another” is a great tune, so I’m posting their performance video of it. It’s not much to look at, but you deserve to hear “Another” again.

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

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