I have documented my love for Jason Molina’s music all over Independent Clauses. I just got word that a memorial album has been put together to benefit Molina’s survivors. The 39 (!!) songs on the album aren’t all covers of Molina songs, but tributes of various varieties. I love that there’s this much outpouring of support for those that Molina left behind. Give what you can to “Songs:Molina.”
One of my favorite things about Independent Clauses is developing relationships with young artists and writers. Declan Ryan is both: I covered his split EP with Josh Mordecai recently, and he has written for IC in the past. His new EP Introducing Close Calls marries his singer/songwriter sensibilities to a full band with great results.
Ryan comes from the Dylan/Oberst line of singers that allows the passion of vocals to trump their technical correctness. This is best shown in “Then Don’t Hipst,” which creates a spacious, open-highway feel to the tune for his voice to ramble around in. The first line of the song is “All my lovers name’s are on highway signs/so blow a kiss to the state line,” so the unfettered feel of the vocals perfectly interprets the lyrics. That’s gold. This spacious sound reappears in sparse closer “Two and Seven,” which calls up Two Gallants–another band that uses vocals in an unusual way. Some people aren’t into this style of vocals, but Ryan does it well; if you’re a fan of this sound, Ryan will be up your alley.
His band contributes well throughout, framing Ryan’s vocals and lyrics neatly without becoming the main focus. Opener “Manhattan Square” has a full arrangement, but never cranks any part so high that you don’t know who’s the main draw. The band also doesn’t play up the twang too much, relying on clean notes, straight rhythms, and gentle tones for most of the arrangements. It’s nice to hear an alt-country offering that starts from a different point than The Jayhawks or Old 97s, as this approach has a lot more in common with indie-pop and indie-rock. Still, the end result is strongly alt-country, even if it gets there an unusual way.
Declan Ryan’s Introducing Close Calls allows Ryan to stretch his musical legs and cover some new ground. With “Then Don’t Hipst” as a starting point, fans of alt-country with distinct vocals should find much to love.
It’s finally summer! Less rain, more heat, bug bites. That means it’s time for rock and electronica. Here’s a short mixtape about it.
Some Summers’ Sum
1. “Back to the Way I Was” – Emily Bell. Vintage sass with soulful class. You rock that, Ms. Bell. You rock that.
2. “Plains” – Vundabar. Fans of The Who will find themselves inextricably drawn to the rhythmic attack and the wiry guitar melodies in this rock track.
3. “Back to Life” – Dresses. Purevolume is still a thing? Welcome back, I suppose. I’m just glad they’re bringing us this perky little acoustic-pop gem, somewhere between The Weepies and Chairlift.
4. “I Heard a Rumour” – Annette Gil. Because we can always use more synth-pop with great melodies in the world.
5. “Ghost Ditch” – Vial of Sound. When is the best time to drive on an urban highway? At 3 a.m. while you’re blasting this synth-tastic creation.
In late 2012, I asked a wide array of independent musicians about how the shift to digital music has changed their career. I got an astonishing amount of response, and I’ll be featuring these responses on the blog over the next few weeks and months. The first response comes from Aviv Cohn of The Widest Smiling Faces.
The most fascinating discussion produced by the digital era has been the one regarding the “soul” of art/music. There’s a general sense of continually moving away from authenticity. Paper books with their familiar textures, rituals of page turning, and folded corner bookmarks are being superseded by numbers and screens. (Similar to the boxes we stare into almost every waking moment of our lives.) Paintings with their gloppy textures jutting off the canvas have been replaced by flat JPEGs. Vocals are being auto-tuned, machines/software programs increasingly replace real drums, and the dynamic range of audio is being squashed and “dehumanized.” It’s hard to escape the feeling that our means of artistic expression are being quantized. My experience has been that many share these feelings, and so the resurgence of analog media comes as no surprise.
Many fans of analog media attempt to substantiate their emotional preference for the medium by seeking to “prove” that vinyl records are of a higher fidelity than CDs. They often cite graphs showcasing the “staircasing” inherent to digital sampling alongside images of smooth analog curves as a means of reinforcing their point regarding the inaccuracy of digital audio. While it’s important to point out that this point is technically incorrect, it’s hard to deny that analog audio has a “presence” (and not the in the frequency range sense) that is missing from many digital recordings. On a technical level, this “presence” is euphonic (pleasing) distortion. But there’s nothing wrong with distortion. Distortion is good. I enjoy distortion, and you probably do as well!
However to many, the more “realistic” and “lifelike” sound of analog audio is indicative of a “superior format” with regards to accurate audio reproduction. This is based on an erroneous conflation of two terms that should be kept distinct, “fidelity” and “sound quality.” Fidelity describes the degree of accuracy to which a medium recreates a sound. Sound quality, however, is subjective. It’s not a measurement; rather it’s an indication of preference. A piece of music could be of very low fidelity, but present beautiful sound quality. For example, let’s say we’re working with a piece of music with significant harshness in the upper-mids. Converting that audio to digital and then playing it back would lead to experiencing an audio presentation showcasing extremely accurate (in fact perfect) fidelity, but the sound quality would be uncomfortable. Similarly, transferring that audio to a medium that softened the harshness in the upper-mids would result in sound that technically would be of lower fidelity, but presenting a much more pleasing sound quality.
Many experience a situation akin to the second example, but interpret it incorrectly. Because they don’t understand the difference between fidelity and sound quality, they perceive the more “musical” and “lifelike” presentation of analog audio to be indicative of a format that is “truer to the source” and thus a higher fidelity medium. This is technically incorrect, though it’s not entirely inaccurate when looked at from another perspective.
We must keep in mind that much of the audio equipment used today was developed and popularized during an era in which vinyl records were the dominant format. Engineers were well aware of the distortions presented by vinyl, and often acted to compensate for them. To help illustrate the effects of this compensation, let’s imagine a line with two poles. One pole representing “warm,” another representing “cold,” and in the middle “natural.” We can use an imaginary microphone as well. Let’s call it “Microphone A.” Suppose Microphone A, a high quality dynamic mic, was used in the recording of a popular hit in the 1970s. Not only was this song a commercial success, listeners and engineers alike marveled at its lush, natural, and realistic sound as reproduced by their turntables. Due to the distortions inherent to analog media (it has a “softening” and “warming” effect on the audio) in order to have a “natural, realistic sound” when played back on vinyl, the original sound would have to be relatively “cold” and “clinical.”
So it could be said that “Microphone A,” known for producing natural and realistic sounding albums, has a somewhat colder and more clinical sound before being softened by the vinyl pressing process. The end result of this process would be a tone that is somewhere in between (realistic).
Now suppose that due to the success of that microphone, it’s remained in use to this day. Digital music doesn’t have the softening distortions of analog media. So the same microphone that produced a natural and realistic sound when played back on vinyl now produces a sound that’s somewhat more “cold” and “clinical.” Technically, the sound of the digital recording is higher fidelity, and more accurately captures “the sound” of the microphone, but that doesn’t mean it’s presenting a more pleasing sound quality, nor does it mean it’s presenting the microphone’s sound as intended by the engineer.
Robert Deeble, whose Heart Like Feathers I very much enjoyed, has just released a deluxe version of the album that comes in a gorgeous hardback packaging and includes a bunch of awesome extras. The physical extras include photo prints and a little art book; the media extras include 5 acoustic tracks and 12 videos (which he lovingly calls “films”). I’ve transitioned almost entirely to digital music, because artists on the whole put little care into physical copies. But this? This is gorgeous, carefully made, and excellently crafted. I highly recommend picking up the limited edition of Heart Like Feathers.
While we’re on the topic of physical things that are incredibly awesome, I’d like to announce that Post-Echo (you know, the record label that I said yesterday “has my attention”?) is releasing what they call “future-proof records,” which are on-demand 10″ vinyl records made of songs from the Post-Echo catalog chosen by you, for you. This is astoundingly wonderful. Someday soon I’ll be able to get Pan songs backed by Dear Blanca songs, and all will be right in my little music-y corner of the world. If you’re into vinyl, this is something that you’ve probably never had (unless you’ve been to Third Man Records recently). Totally thumbs up over here. Pick up your own future-proof here.
I do this thing I call circling when I’m avoiding a particular piece of writing: I’ll think about it for a bit, then purposefully think about something else; I’ll do a tiny bit, then walk away; I’ll talk about it with someone, then change the subject. I count these as part of the writing process, a sort of evidence-gathering for the work about to be done. It helps me feel less unproductive and get rid of writer guilt, being able to say honestly that I’ve already started to work on a piece even if no words are on a page anywhere. With that logic in mind, I’m here to say that checking RunHundred every month is now part of my running process. –Stephen Carradini
The Top 10 Workout Songs For June
With summer approaching, the mood–both on the radio and in the gym–has changed. While winter brought with it an eclectic bunch of workout tracks, this new batch is all about fun. As evidence, consider David Guetta’s latest (“Play Hard”), Fergie’s contribution to The Great Gatsby (“A Little Party Never Killed Nobody”), and the collaboration that J. Lo and Mr. 305 debuted on the finale of American Idol (“Live It Up”).
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. –Chris Lawhorn
I’ve never been a huge Say Anything fan, but from the songs I’ve heard, an indelible print has been made of Max Bemis’ voice. His way of melding singing, yelling, screaming, and talking into an idiosyncratic vocal style has stuck in my mind. The Truth Hz and Driftwood Miracle both incorporate elements of Bemis’ style into their music, so I thought I’d bring them to your attention in the same post.
The Truth Hz is a pop-punk band that musically hails back to the early 2000s, when chunky, low-end-heavy guitars were the ideal type. None of those airtight, treble-heavy six-strings that are so common in current pop-rock are included on Get Over It. This one is loud and proud. Layered on top of this beefy backdrop is Ryan Stoll’s voice, which incorporates the muscly singing-to-screaming section of Max Bemis’ voice.
Stoll puts a lot of emphasis on the tone and delivery of his words, which is another element that points toward Bemis’ work. Note how in the end of “The Truth Is…” Stoll modifies the tone and volume of voice to get the desired effect out of the words; it’s a strong tactic, and one that made this stand out to me. Stoll is a storyteller on top of being a songwriter, which is something that a lot of pop-punk bands miss. Even if the “plot” is loose, Stoll guides the listener through the song with the contortions and distortions of his voice. It’s just a ton of fun to listen to. And in pop-punk, where any minor tweak on the sound can be the difference between catching my ear and sound like everything else, having a confident, mature vocalist fronting the outfit helps a lot. Fans of summer music, you should be checking this out.
North Carolina’s Drift Wood Miracle does not play pop-punk; they play piano-led indie-rock. The band just released “Mountain,” the single off their upcoming album The 21st. Lead singer/pianist Bryan Diver leads the tune from near-silence to loud to near-silence again, before exploding into a roaring coda that sees him hurling his voice around in a very Max Bemis-ian, angsty sort of way. The lyrics are a cryptic but relatable story of personal struggle and failure, couched in metaphors reminiscent of Brand New’s work. I’m a huge fan of Jesse Lacey and co.’s early work, so I’m totally on board with a little bit of obscurantism in the lyrics. The tune is a fascinating one, and I look forward to hearing what the rest of the album turns out to be.
James Younger’s video for “Monday Morning” is a tribute to VHS culture in the ’80s and early ’90s. As a kid who grew up in that era, I am all about this, from the goofy subtitles to the white noise that intermittently drops in, to the overall fuzz of the video. Thank you, James Younger.
While we’re on the topic of media cultures, here’s a video from The Gorgeous Hands about cell phone culture. It’s less a tribute and more a critique of said culture, but it’s still pretty fun. Also, “Generator” the song is pretty awesome if you’re into Spoon but have approximately twice as much give-a-rip as Britt Daniel.
Wampire’s “Orchards” starts out as a piece about car culture and then becomes something, uh, completely different.
< And, rounding out our cultural journey, Post-Echo Records has commissioned a five-video project called "Passage," which celebrates the sort of culture that makes you think about what you're watching. Post-Echo, home to IC faves Pan and Dear Blanca, has my attention.
So, I allude pretty often to my pop-punk roots. I don’t cover it too much, because I mostly stick to the tried and true of my youth, but every now and then something smacks me upside the head and says, “COVER ME.” Milo’s Planes, everybody.
The British punk two-piece is a thrashy, trashy, somehow-still-melodic delight. The hooked me with melodic guitar and bass lines, then amped my interest up by bringing in hollered/distorted vocals, thrashy drums, and mega-distorted background guitars for “Blank Canvas.” By the middle of the song, it feels like the whole thing is going to dissolve into a massive trainwreck; then it resolves into a wicked bass groove … before actually dissolving into a mishmash of distortion. It is absolutely glorious. The rest of the four-song I’ve Lost My Voice Already makes tweaks to this formula, from the more recognizable song structure of “Inhalers” to the frantic pop blast of “The Day We Almost Made It Home.” This is sludgy, lo-fi, emphatic, personal, wild punk, and I love it for that. You know who you are. Go get Milo’s Planes.
And now, for something even farther outside of what I usually cover. By way of introduction and confession, I harbor a gigantic crush on Refused’s “New Noise.” I am cool with the rest of The Shape of Punk to Come, but I get shivers every time I hear Dennis Lyxzén yell, “CAN I SCREAM? YEAH!” I can’t listen to it when I run or I will injure myself by pushing myself too hard. True story. Honningbarna‘s Verden En Enkel at times sounds just like Refused, and I absolutely love it.
Honningbarna knows it’s got dues to pay: opener “Dødtid” has a similar run-up intro before the lead singer screams out “AHHHH!” and the band comes crashing in. (Honningbarna sings in Norwegian, which sets them apart from their Swedish forebears.) AFI, who inherited some of Refused’s sound, is an apt marker for Verden En Enkel as well; Honningbarna can throw down crushing guitars, but they also never saw a group-yelled chorus that they didn’t like. The band’s motives seem more to motivate than destroy eardrums, as the rocket-speed riffs of “Fritt Ord, Fritt Fram” and “Fuck Kunst (Dans Dans)” show a punk band with sonic debts rather than a purposeful recreation of 2000s-era hardcore. They also employ the punk technique of including children’s vocals at several points to make counterpoint the dark mood. At their very AFI-est, Honningbarna sounds like it should be on tour with Davey Havok and co. right now: “Offerdans” has a rapidfire vocal delivery, pounding drums, and an awesome bass solo that would fit perfectly on Sing the Sorrow.
So if you’re into dark, noisy, hardcore-inspired punk, then Honningbarna needs to be on your radar. They really know what’s up when it comes to crafting strong songs out of aggression and melody. I will be running to this album for a while.
I’ve always been a big proponent of seasonal music. If I can’t get it to stop raining here in Texas, I can at least listen to summery sounds. Hey Anna‘s Pompette EP is just the thing to tune up my rainy days. The quintet, which includes three sisters, has packed just about every upbeat, happy thing possible into these four tunes: perky high-hat percussion, bouncy bass work, zooming synths, major-key guitar chords, and twirling top guitar work. It seems to be scientifically engineered to get in your party mix. More evidence: the single is called “Dance Until Three,” and “Superglue” is about kissing. If you can’t have fun while listening to Pompette, this blog is probably not a good fit with your musical interests. I expect to hear a lot from this band in the near future, because they’re just a blast to hear. Rock on, Hey Anna.
Trading in the summery for the sultry is Jenny Dragon. The six-piece Americana band features two lead female vocalists and a serious love for 1930s-50s radio on A Fair Souvenir. The all-analog (!) recording sounds pristine in its sound quality, but that’s just the front door. Once you get into the songwriting, there’s a ton to enjoy. The band sticks with traditional songwriting styles and motifs, creating tunes that will appeal to fans of The Ditty Bops. “Be That As It May” has a perky jump in its step that makes me want to get up and dance, from the guitar strum to the attitude-filled double bass (!). The very next tune, “Slow Ride West,” shows off their ability to write a slow, sentimental tune that would be perfect for a slow-dance at a sock hop. (It also shows off the double bass, which I am thrilled about.) So if you’re into vintage-style songwriting led by classic female vocals, A Fair Souvenir by Jenny Dragon should be in your corner.
As I have written before, I loved and still love chillwave. I love the idea of optimistic, beautiful music that is unsullied by vocals. I love vocals, but the idea that we can have happy music that is also musically challenging is just wonderful. (It’s also why I love Fang Island.) Teen Daze‘s The House on the Mountain is about as good as I can imagine chillwave (or whatever we’re calling it these days) can be.
Single-named producer Jamison takes small melodies and builds them up with fluttery background synths, flowing guitar, and gentle beats to create deeply moving electronic pieces. Blissful is the word I would use to describe opener “Hidden,” but the low-end piano inclusions on “Eagles Above” puts a more pensive spin on the sound. “Classical Guitar” benefits from some great midi synths (as opposed to atmospheric pad synths), a heavier beat than usual and (yes) the titular instrument. While leaning toward the gentle euphoria of “Hidden,” it still forges its own path. (Is it heresy if I say it sounds like Owl City a bit? I swear it’s a compliment.)
The lead single and semi-title track “Morning House” combines the best elements of all three tracks, as it takes a unique rhythmic beat and melds it to atmospheric synths in an optimistic key. Fluttery synths and midi synths come in, giving a great amount of texture to the tune. It’s a beautiful, memorable tune: a star among stars.
If you’re sick of chillwave, sorry. I’m not, and The House on the Mountain is absolutely gorgeous. If you love blissing out, Teen Daze is here to help.
Kazyak used to be a groove-laden jam band of sorts, so it’s a bit surprising that they’ve reinvented as a alt-folk band. However, it’s not surprising that they’ve done it in a unique way, given that they came from another genre. This EP could bridge the gap perfectly between the forlorn For Emma, Forever Ago and lush Bon Iver, if Peter Frey were Justin Vernon. But he’s not, and we instead meet a Kazyak on See the Forest, See the Trees that tries to reunite disparate sounds that currently fall under the same name.
It’s a fitting title, then: the trees of the individual songs stand up, and the entire album fits neatly as a whole. A few tunes can be plucked from the runtime without injuring their effectiveness; others must be heard in context of the whole 26-minute piece. It’s a rare album that can pull off this trick, and it’s what makes me so excited about Kazyak.
The best combo move is opener “Pieces of My Map,” which introduces Kazyak’s love of atmospheric banjo, sweeping guitar swells, and lush arrangements. But amid the mini-symphony, the vocal melody cuts through, shining as the focus on the piece. This splits the difference between vocals-centric and arrangement-centric folk neatly.
“Part I: Rabbiting Fox” and “Part II: Pitch Thick” show off the arrangement-centric side of the sound, with dramatic melodies, intimate moods, and careful arrangements. The gorgeous opening 1;30 of “Rabbiting Fox” is some of the most engaging music on the album. The unique “Tar Baby” shows off the vocals by having the vocalist slide back and forth between falsetto and chest voice repeatedly to accentuate the lyrics. It is an unusual move that some may reject, but it definitely shows a creative mind at work.
Kazyak’s See the Forest, See the Trees is beautiful and substantial; the melodic qualities don’t get lost in the arrangements or vice versa. Instead, it stands as a strong testament to varied songwriting. I hope to hear more from Kazyak’s unique perspective in the future.