Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

12 Beers for 12 Years

May 18, 2015

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Just like my bottle of Prairie Bomb! (Beer 1), Independent Clauses began its life in Oklahoma. After eight years in OK, the travels began: a summer in Austin drinking Shiner (Prickly Pear: Beer 2), two years in Alabama drinking Bell’s (Oberon: Beer 3), and now two years in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina drinking all sorts of local beer (Triangle White Ale: Beer 4).

No matter where Independent Clauses has been located, we’ve been interested in national and international music. I like to say that we like everyone else’s local music, whether that’s from Baltimore (X-10 Saison with Cantaloupe: Beer 5), Washington (Schilling Ginger Cider: Beer* 6) or the Czech Republic (Pilsner Urquell: Beer 7). I’ve made friends from Chicago (Troublesome: Beer 8), covered Oregon folk (Rogue Dead Guy: Beer 9) and discovered amazing music from Australia (Coopers Original Pale Ale: Beer 10).

It’s allowed me to do crazy things I never expected, like manage a folk band currently residing in the UK (Old Speckled Hen: Beer 11), and helped me meet a wonderful woman who became my wife. I drank Trappistes Rochefort (Beer 12) at my bachelor party this past November, reminiscing on my personal and professional past. It’s been 12 years of Independent Clauses as of May 15, and I can’t imagine my past, present, or future without it.

Thanks to all bands, readers, writers, record labels, PR people, and music business types for being a part of Independent Clauses’ past 12 years! We wouldn’t be here without you. (Special thanks to Bottle Revolution and Ridgewood Wine and Beer for making this post possible.)

Independent Clauses’ newest project: Croquet Records’ Kickstarter

May 17, 2015

So I’m on the board of directors of a brand-new non-profit called Croquet Records, which is a record label and band incubator. We help young artists get their start in the industry. It’s similar to what I’ve been doing here at Independent Clauses for the last 12 years, but it focuses more on funding and networking than on press development. (All three are necessary parts of a young band’s life.)

Our Kickstarter closes today, and it’s currently at 84%. Can you help us finish this project? We’re helping Charlotte, NC indie band Melt finish off their debut album. There are the usual rewards and such, and all donations are tax-deductible because we’re a 501(c)(3)!

More than that, you’ll be able to be part of this band incubator’s first project–we plan on growing into a non-profit that secures funds from grants and other sources like Kickstarter to help musicians. Getting in on the ground floor of this makes your donation a down payment on many future projects–by helping Croquet get through this first project, we’ll establish a track record that will help us garner more diverse sources of funding (grants, matching funds, etc., as well as crowdfunding) for future projects. It all starts with this Kickstarter.

Thank you so much for being a part of Independent Clauses over the past 12 years, and for sticking with me through a variety of projects!

Kickstarter: Jenny & Tyler

May 14, 2015

I’m pretty sparing with the Kickstarters I post–I don’t post nearly as many as get sent to me. The ones I do post, I’m behind 100%. I’ve covered Jenny & Tyler’s work since 2009 with great enthusiasm. They’re able to create heavily-orchestrated folk-pop (as shown on their cover of “We Will Become Silhouettes,” which IC commissioned as part of its 10th birthday) as well as intimate acoustic tunes that leave me misty-eyed. They’re one of my favorite bands I’ve covered here at Independent Clauses (another thing I don’t say very often).

Their $15,000 Kickstarter will fund their first-ever full-band tour and live record. That’s a pretty giant undertaking for any independent artist. They’ve got the normal rewards (digital download, physical albums, t-shirts, etc.) at the lower levels, but the upper levels have some really impressive stuff going on (handmade instruments!). So when I say, “check out their Kickstarter!” I really mean “check out their Kickstarter!!!!

Again, generally I don’t do the whole salesman thing, but Jenny & Tyler!

Jenny & Tyler!

Premiere: Joel Michael Howard’s “Something Different”

May 12, 2015

Joel Michael Howard’s clip for “Something Different” is indeed something different. I didn’t really understand it until I got to the end, when I had a sudden burst of ’90s nostalgia. I don’t know if it was the hackey sack, the Windows 95 screensavers, the goofy dancing, or Howard’s quirky entrances and exits; maybe it was all of that together. But the result is a charming, smile-inducing clip that I can’t help but like.

The song itself is an unusual breed as well: Howard combines soft-rock keys with funky bass and guitar rhythms, then layers gentle, breathy vocals on top of it. It feels like a modern person trying to recreate ’80s pop and ending up with a cross between Hall & Oates* and Graceland. I know, that sounds like a horrible mix, but Howard pulls the whole thing off with a convincing confidence. It’s just as winsomely engaging as the accompanying video. Check it.

Joel Michael Howard’s Love as First Response came out in March on the Ernest Jenning Record Company.

*I can’t pinpoint why it reminds me of Hall & Oates, but it totally does. The production quality? The oohs? The bass tone? Whatever it is, the gut says yes, so it goes in the article.

Maribou State: A dewy electronic prodigy

May 11, 2015

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Maribou State’s Portraits is just as much a bird’s-eye view of the British landscape as it is an album. The two U.K. producers have composed a dewy electronic prodigy, complete with a fearless combination of techno, idyllic instrumentation and gripping vocals. Just look to the album art to get a sense of what I mean: a blurred forest and streaks of earthy colors resonate with the natural, raw emotion this album bravely confesses.

“Home” starts off Portraits with a surprising dose of clean, irresistible electric guitar and alluring techno beat that instantly gets you swaying. It incorporates Bondax-like glitch through vinyl record hiss and muffled, soft vocals. You can almost hear laidback beach groove, but “Home” never actually goes there, or any place that carefree, just as the album never offers anything less serious than sultry sadness.

Tracks such as “The Clown” and “Rituals” are anchored by dark, dramatic elements. “The Clown” includes Sam Smith-sounding melodies, piano, and powerful string sections that build theatrical, Victorian tone. It all culminates in James Blake eeriness. The repeated lyric of “Rituals” (“sell me your soul”) mingles with guitar builds and emerging techno roar before erupting into irresistible rhythm. When combined with sensational string drop-ins, this track transforms into a dazed, slow motion club banger. As if it’s not operatic enough, it ends with a crashing of token horror movie sounds.

“Wallflower” and “Raincoats” emphasize grim soundscapes, like the gloominess of walking along a cobblestone street during a light drizzle. On “Raincoats,” the breathy vocals have a unique walkie-talkie filter to them–just one instance of Maribou State’s deft ability at combining digital distortions with diverse instrumentation.

“Steal” smooths out the wrinkles of glitch through Holly Walker’s sorrowful lyrics and celestial voice. “Now, I need somebody that could ease my mind,” she sings gently, gliding over stop-and-go rhythm. While Walker sings despair on “Steal,” her vocals on tracks like “Midas” balance Portraits with a blanket of affection. When paired with piano and pulling on the more soulful strands of her range, there is an ooey-gooey, honey-colored groove on this track. By the end of “Midas,” Walker’s wordless up-and-down vocals evoke gospel qualities.

But I was most blown away by “Natural Fool,” which uses startling bass guitar to create one of the most hauntingly beautiful tracks on this album. Perhaps it is the fascinating finish of twinkling bells that make it stand out and add to the current of sultriness riding through the songs.

Nothing about Portraits is inconsequential; every sound and texture is loaded with rich, resolute purpose. It stops short of jovialness, but echoes its possibility through arrhythmic rhythms and touching vocals. It’s intoxicatingly complex and carries effortless dynamism. Join the rapture June 1st.–Rachel Haney

Bits and Bobs: Misc.

Bits and Bobs: Misc.

1. “We Are on the Hill” – Montoya. A fist-pumping indie-dance-rock anthem, complete with anthemic slogan to yell (which makes no sense out of context). I love the piano in this track.

2. “My Fortune” – Sameblod. I tried writing about this sunshiny dance-pop track, but it ended up with this anyway: Ah, what do I know. Just turn it up in your car.

3. “Ran Ran Run” – Pavo Pavo. Half languid, swirly San Fran indie-pop, half unassuming four-on-the-floor Mates of State-style indie-dance thumper. It works surprisingly well for the diversity.

4. “Por Cima” – Flavia Coelho. I don’t know, man, sometimes I just need some Brazilian bossa nova/rap funkiness in my life. I also enjoy not being able to understand the words or the subtitles on this track. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and not worry about it.

5. “We Will Be Palm” – Panda Kid. If you’re into Burger Records’ lo-fi, upbeat rock, you’ll love Panda Kid’s fuzzed-out, reverb-heavy, surf-influenced pop-rock.

6. “Nervous Breakthrough” – Bloodplums. Neuroses! Anti-authoritarianism! Politics! Religion! Big guitars! Snarling vocals! Does it get more pop-punk than this? Come and get it.

7. “High” – Puzzlecuts. Here’s some fun Post-Pavement slacker rock that combines relaxed melodies, laid-back arrangements and noisy guitars. It rambles and shambles along, cheerfully rocking.

8. “Golden Rat” – Cusses. I dare you to listen to that open guitar riff and not be totally sucked into this stomping rock song. That’s not even including the frantic, wild vocals of their female lead singer. Dynamite in a bottle. (Band is not to be confused with CURXES or Swearin’ despite (one definition of) their name–but man wouldn’t that make a great trio tour?)

9. “Eyes Lie” – Sebastian Brkic. I don’t know what to call minor-key rock that isn’t aggressive. Brkic’s new tune isn’t chill, but it’s also not aggro–it lives somewhere between cerebral and dreamy, somewhere between marching and swaying.

10. “No Justice” – Astronauts, Etc. I’ve been getting real into white-boy slow jamz recently, and this track has everything I’m looking for: a sensuous vibe created by mellow keys, smooth falsetto, unobtrusive percussion, and lithe bass. It’s not funky or aggressive, but it’s got movement and energy. It’s a tough balance to strike, but this track nails it.

11. “Good Will Rise” – Amber Edgar. This earnest acoustic tune knocked me back on my heels. The strings and trumpet in this tune don’t make the sound more expansive–they somehow make it more intimate. This is a powerful statement, musically and lyrically.

12. “Slow I Go” – Paul Doffing. This gentle, warm, optimistic fingerpicked acoustic tune calls up the kindest moments of James Taylor, which is high praise from over here.

Bits and Bobs: Pop

May 10, 2015

Pop

1. “Parking Lot Palms” – iji. This tune is a breath of fresh air: a gentle, lightly reverbed road song that fits quietly and warmly into your life. Is it the arrangement? The melody? I don’t know. But I do know that it makes me calmer and happier.

2. “California Song” – Patrick James. James might be from Australia, but he’s got his finger of the pulse of the breezy West Coast. This acoustic-led pop-rock song throws back to the ’70s and ’80s, calling up not just longing for the coast but nostalgia for the past. Doesn’t get much more sentimental than that.

3. “Comeback” – Cherokee Red. Recipe for a great beach song: Mash a surf-pop backline together with smooth, welcoming vocals and burbling melodic elements. Totally chill.

4. “Street Lights” – Mon Sai. A swift piano and cymbal-heavy drum kit create a helter-skelter pop vibe that gives way to a Pet Sounds-esque chorus: in other words, it’s a great pop song.

5. “Mind Your Manors” – The Bandicoots. Perky, summery, head-bobbin’ indie-pop-rock a la Generationals.

6. “Bracelets” – Mini Dresses. Basically a female-fronted, slow-jam version of a Generationals pop song: loping bass line, vintage guitar reverb, tabourine shake here and there. Yes, thank you, I’ll have another, waiter.

7. “Park It” – Karina Denike. Give me that ’50s girl pop (complete with honking saxes), then amp up the attitude in the lead female vocals, and you’ll be near Denike’s creation here.

8. “You Don’t Know Me” – Ghost Lit Kingdom. Everybody needs a shoot-for-the-stars, acoustic-led epic anthem, the type that Arcade Fire don’t make anymore.

9. “Right Talk” – French Cassettes. The ability to emerge from a dense section of noise into a perky, clear melody is a skill that will always be in season, from Paul Simon to The Strokes to Vampire Weekend and the Vaccines. French Cassettes put their skills to good use on this bright, confident guitar-pop track.

10. “A Single Case Study” – Palávér. Some of the most infectious guitarwork I’ve heard in an indie-rock song recently is paired up with low, swooning vocals.t’s kind of like an alternate-future Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

11. “Wasted Youth” – Friday Night Trend. If you never stopped loving Jimmy Eat World, this track will satiate all your aggressively jangly rock needs. It’s got punk elements throughout it, but there’s no avoiding the Jimmy connection.

12. “Easy” – Readership. Some power-pop is head-down, bash-it-out-and-let’s-go-home rock. Readership is the opposite: wide-open, staring-at-the-clouds style. Big guitar chords, in-your-face vocals, and an overall upbeat atmosphere.

Bits and Bobs: Electro

May 9, 2015

Bits and Bobs: Electro

1. “Too Deep in Love” – Kylie Odetta. Post-modern pop that mashes hip-hop and torch song, electro jam and walking-speed diva pop tune. It’s an infectious blend.

2. “Tide Teeth” – Night Beds. So I didn’t expect Night Beds to go all electro-soul on us, but he’s cranking out the sensuous slow jamz here.

3. “Kindred” – Red Cosmos. Smeary synths, staccato percussion, perky treble melodies and dour vocals create a unique space somewhere between dream-pop and downtempo psych-rock.

4. “Khazé” – Mune. That moment where post-punk was turning into new wave (which would soon birth synth-pop) was a hazy phaze where energy and lackadaisical dreaming seemed to coexist. Mune gets that.

5. “Aftergold” – Big Wild. Electro doesn’t always have to feature big, walloping synths: “Aftergold” relies on strings, plunky marimba, uncomplicated beats, and burbling vocals to create an energizing, impressive track.

6. “ Ghost ft. Patrick Baker” – Lane 8. Artsy electro drawing off trance and funk instead of dubstep is a welcome thing in my book. This tune never has a major drop, and that’s 100% cool with me.

7. “Away – Reptile Youth. The Flaming Lips dabble in electronic music, but Reptile Youth puts the creaky, eccentric, cosmic vibes that the lips peddle firmly into the electro milieu. The vocals of the two outfits are particularly similar.

8. “Amalie” – Colornoise. This track has the sort of mystic, atmospheric vibes that Fleetwood Mac was able to conjure up, only with a bit more ominous, gritty vibe on one end and sweeter vocals on the other.

Bits and Bobs: Rock

May 8, 2015

Bits and Bobs: Rock

1. “Dark” – Birds of Night. Dark is the massively impressive synthesis of Springsteen’s road-readiness, Arcade Fire’s sweeping drama, and The Walkmen’s trebly guitars and keening vocals. This is an impressive rock tune.

2. “Cooler” – Sancho. Why does some Weezer-esque rock push my emotional buttons and others not? I have no idea. But I heard the guitars, the vocals, and the start-stop moment that clinches the thing in this song, and I just got all mushy inside.

3. “Warrior” – SATE. If this jet-fueled, towering-guitar rocker doesn’t get your blood moving, I don’t know what will. There’s enough soul, sass, and vocal theatrics in this track to power four or five lesser tunes.

4. “Legend” – Parlement. If the sound of summer is a big, fat Queens of the Stone Age guitar riff, Parlement has a song for you. The straightforward, stomping rhythms are about as far from that other Parliament as you can be.

5. “I’m Dying on the Square” – Break the Bans. Thrashy, hoarse-throated protest punk from a Russian national that starts out with spoken words clips (that I can only assume are political/news clips)? This is pretty much what punk is for, y’all.

6. “Modern Phenomenon” – Northern American. Big, comforting synths welded to a downtempo rock song that sounds like it’s been through the Radiohead/The National/Bloc Party school of music.

7. “Optimists” – Mittenfields. Glammy, theatrical vocals can make anything sound more glam than it is–Mittenfields is laying down the rock, though. Check that sweet guitar solo.

8. “Mirror North” – Whoop-szo. Starts out all quiet and ponderous, but it ratchets up to a brittle, abrasive post-metal roar pretty quickly. If you’re into soft/loud/soft, jump on it.

9. “Cowboy Guilt” – Torres. The clear winner of SXSW this year, Torres was unknown to me before the event and absolutely everywhere afterwards. This tune, which deftly balances a minor-key gravitas and quirky melodic capriciousness, shows why she’s the big thing in indie-rock right now.

Bits and Bobs: Acoustic April

May 7, 2015

Bits and Bobs: Acoustic April

1. “Winter is for Kierkegaard” – Tyler Lyle. There are few things that get me more than a earnest tenor singing way too many words over a folky arrangement. Lyle plays somewhere between Josh Ritter, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Gregory Alan Isakov.

2. “Resolution” – Young Legs. The world always needs more quirky, delightful indie-pop on a strummed banjo.

3. “The Fall” – Reina del Cid. Warm, fingerpicked acoustic guitar; brushed snare; stand-up bass; contented alto vocals–it sounds like all the bits and bobs of a country song, but del Cid turns it into a charming folky ballad.

4. “Forever for Sure” – Laura & Greg. The gentle, easy-going guitar and male/female vocals create an intimate vibe, while a mournful instrument in the distance creates a sense of spaciousness. The strings glue them together–the whole thing comes off beautifully. I’ve likened them to the Weepies before, but this one also has a Mates of State vibe.

5. “Touch the Ground” – The Chordaes. Dour Brit-pop verses, sky-high falsetto in the sunshiny, hooky chorus–the band’s covering all their bases on the pop spectrum. That chorus is one to hum.

6. “Inside Out” – Avalanche City. My favorite Kiwis return not with an Antlers-esque, downtempo, white-boy-soul song. It’s not exactly the chipper acoustic pop of previous, but it’s still infectiously catchy.

7. “Bad Timing” – The Phatapillars. If Jack Johnson’s muse was outdoor camping and music festivals instead of surfing, he could have ended up like this. For fans of Dispatch and old-school Guster.

8. “Tapes” – The Weather Station. Sometimes trying to describe beauty diminishes it. Let this song just drift you away.

9. “ Forest of Dreams” – Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands. The Decemberists have largely gone standard with their arrangements, but there are still people holding it down for klezmer arrangements of gypsy-influenced melodies mashed up with the occasional operatic vocal performance. It’s like a madcap Beirut or a female-fronted Gogol Bordello.

10. “Heavy Star Movin’ – The Silver Lake Chorus. Written by the Flaming Lips for the choir (which operates in a very Polyphonic Spree-like manner), it’s appropriately cosmic and trippy. Strings accompany, but nothing else–the vocals are the focus here.

11. “Emma Jean” – WolfCryer. Here’s Matt Baumann doing what he’s great at: playing the storytelling troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a world-weary baritone.

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

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