1. “Savannah, Abandoned” – Lewis Dalgliesh. Shades of Jeffrey Lewis’s lyrical specificity and rapid-fire delivery play out over delicate, fingerpicked acoustic guitar. The rsults are a wonderful, Fionn Regan-style indie-pop tune.
2. “Letter for Ty” – ALFIE. The intertwining of two female voices and the bright production on this pristine acoustic pop tune make me think of another Scandinavian folk duo: First Aid Kit. Highly recommended.
3. “So Close” – Mama Ghost. A lovely, engaging alto voice leads the way in this excellent folk/singer-songwriter tune. The guitar, lead vocals, and harmony vocals mesh perfectly into an enveloping mood.
4. “Get On Your Skates” – Sandtimer. The gravitas of the vocal tone and delivery transforms a smooth acoustic tune into a stellar tune reminiscent of Alexi Murdoch.
5. “War on the Move” – Nice Motor. Hits all the right notes for a modern folk/alt-country shuffle: great vocals, lush harmonies, traditional (but not too(/em) traditional) arrangement, and overall good vibes.
6. “Caroline” – Johnny Nobles. Those who love James Taylor will find much to love in this light, slightly sad acoustic work.
7. “Eagle” – Noel. Brimming with tension but also exuding patience, this mesmerizing ambient/neo-classical piece is built on organ-like synth drone and beautifully airy lead synth.
8. “First Dance” – Doc Yates and the Kings Evil. The vocal melodies of this romantic ballad have a timeless quality to them, as if drawn from ’50s pop, old folk tunes, and/or modern indie pop.
9. “Head Over Heels” – Finn Kleffmann. Fuses acoustic Britpop vibes from the ’90s with modern acoustic pop melodies (and folk-pop “hey!”s). It’s suave and strong.
10. “Fa Fa Fa Fired” – Ryan Oxford. Lots of songwriters want to emulate The Beach Boys, but few do it as well as Oxford does here. The production is spot-on Pet Sounds (with some modern upgrades), but it’s the charming vocal melodies and delivery that sell this one.
1. “Step into the Darkness” – Said the Whale. Sometimes an indie-pop just emerges full-formed, bursting out of the sea with sophisticated arrangements, catchy melodies, intriguing lyrics, and smooth production. Easily one of the best pop songs I’ve heard so far this year.
2. “The Worst in You” – Tyto Alba. Slow-burning track that opens up as a moody indie rock before expanding into a pounding rock conclusion.
3. “Bone Collector” – Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge. A unique acoustic guitar duo creating unique, rhythmically intriguing instrumental music.
4. “Demons” – I.am.hologram. This inventive, satisfyingly unclassifiable 9-minute journey is triangulated from points in post-rock, blues/folk guitar, and indie rock.*
5. “Smash and Grab” – Christopher Giffard. A funky, jazzy, left-hand-heavy instrumental jam that had me head-bobbing from the get-go. There’s a lot going on in this piece, so stick around for the development.
6. “Sal” – K O L T B A C H. Slinky, lithe, and deliciously low-key, this instrumental electro jam is perfectly arranged for maximum effect without hitting any cliches.
7. “Souvenir” – Oh Geronimo. If you’ve ever been in a band that broke up, you’re going to want to listen to this acoustic ballad in a dark room away from people. It nails how I felt when band members moved on; honest, raw, and heartbreaking.
8. “Fancy Footwork” – Les Bohem. Good news for people who love sad news: this is pristine sad music. Consider: this chipper-sounding tune is one of the happiest on the whole double album. If you love sad things, you need to get on this immediately.
9. “Proverba Infero” – Mouse Dog Bird. Slowcore minimalist tendencies, but with the vocals front and center instead of off in the corner somewhere.
*Full disclosure: The PR agent for I.am.hologram, Lisa Whealy, writes for Independent Clauses.
It’s been a good year of music, and these were the best I heard. With the notable exception of #7, all the quotes are pulled from my review of the record.
7. All A Shimmer – Cindertalk. This ostenstibly-indie-pop album transcends boundaries and genre labels, creating a mind-bending world of tensions: complex/spartan arrangements; huge/tiny lyrical concerns; vulnerable/brash emotive turns; dark/light moods; gentle/forceful instrumentation; gentle/powerful vocals. Jonny Rodgers’ work with tuned glass shows through consistently, but never dominates; instead, all the pieces come together into whirling, enigmatic, satisfyingly unusual pieces. If you’re into adventurous music, there was no more an adventurous album this year than this one. (full review forthcoming)
6. Mantra – Sunjacket. “Mantra is the rare “smart” rock album that isn’t hard to get. It’s weird, it’s quirky, it’s got a unique point of view, but it’s not grueling or punishing. You can listen to it through and hear the guitars and synths and take it at face value. (And its face value is great.) But for those who want to spend more time with their albums, Sunjacket has created an album full of nooks and crannies for listeners to explore.” (full review)
4. Ghost of a King – The Gray Havens. Ghost expands “their core sound to include cinematic pop-rock, ambient art tunes, and even electro-pop. Their expansion of borders doesn’t diminish at all their continuing maturity in the folk-pop realm, as the album contains some of the best folk-pop tunes they’ve ever written. In short, Ghost of a King shows growth in every area, and that results in an incredible album.” (full review)
3. Young Mister – Young Mister. “So carefully and meticulously crafted that it doesn’t show any of the seams. An immense amount of effort went into making indie-pop-rock songs that sound effortless and natural. You can sing along with these songs, write the lyrics on your bedroom wall, or just let the experience wash over you.” (full review)
2. Great Falls Memorial Interchange – Kye Alfred Hillig. “Even though these songs deal with difficult emotions, nowhere do these songs become brittle or unrelatable–the clarity of the lyrics, the ease of the melodies and Hillig’s inviting voice make them fit like a new coat. I hadn’t heard any of these songs before, but they felt like old friends as soon as I had.” (full review)
1. Hope and Sorrow – Wilder Adkins. “An impeccable, gorgeous modern folk record that shows off the value of maturity. It’s the sort of record that stretches the limits of my writing ability, making me want to write simply: ‘Just go listen to this record. You won’t regret it.'” (full review)
This year I have 14 albums of the year. Numbers 14-8 are covered here, while numbers 7-1 will be covered in a few days. Enjoy!
14. State Center – The Hasslers. “An impressively smooth fusion of country, indie-pop and folk; they’re so adept at handling the genre mashing that it’s hard to pick out exactly where one stops and the other starts.” (full review)
12. Songs of Loss – JPH. “Songs of Loss would be hard to explain even if it weren’t so openly dealing with the loss of the artist’s father. … Imagine if LCD Soundsystem had committed to only using acoustic instruments but still wanted to make the same sort of rhythms, or if Jandek had become dancier. These are strange things to try to imagine, I am aware.” (full review)
11. Gardens – Ryan Dugre. “The solo guitar record has a zen-like focus and a clarity that make the music incredibly soothing to a harried mind. … It sounds like audio origami–complex and angular, but only when looked at up close: from afar it seems beautiful, unified, and peaceful.” (full review)
10. The Road – John John Brown. “Brilliant, drawing heavily from traditional Appalachian sounds and modern folk revivalists to create 10 songs of back-porch folk that are fully realized in scope and yet casual in mood. Brown’s dusky voice, an immaculate production job, and a deft arranging hand makes this duality possible.” (full review)
9. Crooked Orchards – Darling Valley. “Stuffed full of tunes with vocal melodies that I can’t say no to, elite instrumental performances, and enough lyrical poignancy to knock the socks off a skeptic or two. It’s the sort of album that makes you remember why folk-pop was fun in the first place.” (full review)
8. S/t – Moda Spira. “A beautiful, intriguing work that combines pensive indie-pop, thoughtful electro-pop, R&B and more into a distinctive sound. The lyrics are just as impressive, tackling the little-discussed topic of marital commitment with candor, verve, and impact.” (full review)
Here are Independent Clauses’ EPs of the year! The lead link takes you to a place where you can hear/purchase the EP. The quote is from our review, and the last link sends you to the full IC review. Enjoy!
7. Sunset Park – A Valley Son. “Between the distinctive, versatile vocals and the enthusiastic alt-country/roots rock instrumentation, AVS has a lot of pieces that can translate easily onto bigger and brighter stages.” (full review)
6. salt’n’long distance – Foxall. “The sort of acoustic EP that just about everyone wants to write: effortlessly catchy songs with clear, relatable lyrics that are just specific enough to be unique.” (full review)
4. S/t – Roan Yellowthorn. “Her confident alto has a unique personality and sonic profile that is the rarest of things to hear in a (chamber pop) singer. Once you’ve heard her once, you’ll know her again–and that’s rare.” (full review)
2. Cattle Ranching in the Americas, vol. 1 – Ovando. ” Nate Hegyi’s vocals seem like they tumble gracefully out of his throat, while the female harmonies are similarly unadorned. Those voices carry a song of woe about the American West (are there any other type?), floating over lithe, smooth guitar fingerpicking.” (full review)
1. Cold Blood – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. “It’s a stake in the ground that establishes the outfit as one to watch: a specific vision expertly handled within the goalposts of a genre framework that people are already familiar with. … Call it alt-country, alt-folk, whatever; you’ll know what it is when you hear it. … Cold Blood EP is a remarkable first effort that shows off unique arranging skills, intriguing vocals, and strong overall songs.” (full review)
I have an ambivalent relationship to Spotify. I do use it in free mode occasionally (maybe once a week? twice a week?), and I see value in some of its functions, like sharing playlists easily. On the other hand, I thoroughly expect it to be dead in five years, because the more people it adds the more money it loses. Not hard math there.
Eric and Happie‘s It’s Yours is a pristine example of a male/female duo folk-pop album in 2016. The eight songs of the album rarely feature more than guitar/bass/drums, which is just the way I like it. The subtle inclusions of ukulele, strings, and accordion provide great accent to the tracks. Eric and Happie are credited with vocals on every track. It’s an uncomplicated collection of tunes that works excellently.
The songs are not as high-drama as those of The Civil Wars, nor as perky as The Weepies’; it’s not as radio-curated as The Lumineers’ work (with the exception of “Falling For You,” which is a romp complete with “hey!”s). Instead, these are folk songs with pop melodies that you can sing along to with ease. There are romantic songs (the title track, “Falling for You,” “A Dream”), travel songs (“Louisiana,” “Oklahoma,” “Stranger”), and more poetic offerings (“They’ll Never Take Us Alive”).
The tunes often land in the realm of Jenny and Tyler’s early work, which was warm, friendly, and pop-oriented. It’s a pure, unadulterated sound that often doesn’t last past a few albums, as the lure of larger arrangements draws so many. (And those larger arrangements can be awesome too.) But there’s a special glow that shines off an intimate, simply-wrought album like this; that lightning in a bottle is rarely caught.
The Soldier Story‘s Flowers for Anonymous inhabits a dusky, complex space triangulated between the suave nighttime antics of Bloc Party, the howling reveries of The Walkmen, and the manic fever of MuteMath’s first record. The songs of this record absorb the best bits of each of those bands and synthesize them into something new and fresh. The trick here is that Colin Meyer has the chops to pull off frantic, mathy indie-rock, but he distills those melodic and rhythmic tendencies into tension-laden mid-tempo pieces that are just as ghostly as they are grounded.
Tunes like “Drifting Apart” have patterned guitar leads, syncopated drumbeats, whirling vocals, and more, but in the service of a subdued, push-and-pull mood. Follow-up “Talk With Our Eyes” barely contains the underlying power and passion, as it spikes up through the tension in the form of synths, drums, glitchy beats, and more. It’s a tune that carries the OK Computer torch, updating the “contemporary technological fears in sonic form” palette. (It’s not surprising that various eras of Radiohead are a touchstone for these pieces as well.)
But Meyer isn’t all chaotic rock filtered through massive restraint filters. Elsewhere Meyer turns his penchant for complex, burbling guitar lines into an indie-pop mold, creating beautiful, subtle tunes like “Life is Short” and “An Overdue Farewell.” These tunes balance Meyer’s complicated arrangements with his smooth, airy, at-times-feathery vocal melodies. He can soar with the best of them, but he can also disappear off into the distance. This tension between the chaotic and the delicate is a powerful element in making Flowers for Anonymous a big success. There aren’t many people making music like this; adventurous listeners will greatly enjoy hearing Meyer’s carefully constructed sonic landscapes.
I’m pretty far behind the bandwagon on reviewing M. Lockwood Porter‘s How to Dream Again, even though I have it on vinyl. It’s been getting a ton of accolades from people like Paste and No Depression, so it’s been doing pretty well without me chiming in. But as a person who’s reviewed both Judah’s Gone and 27, I did have a few thoughts that maybe haven’t been said before. (Probably not.)
The new lyrical direction of How to Dream Again has been getting a lot of play: it’s a protest record, save for three love songs at the beginning of the record, and it’s an incisive, thoughtful turn. It pushes on both on internal problems (“Sad/Satisfied”) and external issues (every other song) in a style that’s more Woody Guthrie than Bob Dylan; there aren’t a whole lot of stacked metaphors, but there is a whole lot of direct analysis. Porter also continues to grapple with religion, this time taking God to task over the question of God’s lack of direct intervention on issues of injustice. It’s a question that has resonated through the ages, and one that fits in a protest album. Even if Porter and I come to different conclusions on the matter, the question is real and remains.
The musical direction is also different, albeit more slightly. The songs here are a synthesis of the folk of Porter’s first record and the American rock’n’roll of his second; the troubadour folk style that comes along with protest lyrics is present throughout as well. The three sounds come together to make a mature sound for Porter, one that may not be his last stop (who among us can claim to be in our final form?), but certainly indicates his direction. There are dashes of Dawes (“Sad/Satisfied”) in the rhythmic vocal delivery, rattling ’50s rock’n’roll throughout, and more things thrown in the pot. The title track, which closes the album, brings it all together into a very American amalgam. It’s Porter’s distinct voice that leads the way, adding the final element to make the sound unique. If you’re into protest music or American folk/rock/other, How to Dream Again should be on your to-hear list. It probably already is.
If you missed Falcon Arrow‘s Tower in 2014, you missed a unique post-rock treat. You should go back and jump on that. But if you want to keep up instead, you can start with their new 7″ Cities of Gold, which picks up right where Tower left off.
Falcon Arrow is a drums/bass duo, but with a twist: their bassist is armed with a variety of loop and tone pedals that dramatically modify the bass sound and create unique, patterned structures for the songs. The tunes chug along at a pretty healthy, heavy rate: they’re not afraid to distort the bass and hammer away on the drums. (They’re closer to Russian Circles than they are to Lights and Motion, let’s say.)
The biggest trick in the Falcon Arrow book is an octave pedal that allows for treble melodies to zing around over the bass-heavy backdrop; even though all the notes are created on the bass guitar, the diversity of tones, sounds, and octave range is impressive. The tunes here all have their own distinct charms, if you’ve made it past the shock of listening to Falcon Arrow for the first time; I’m particularly fond of the punk-rock charge of “Add “Project”: to Any Word.” If you’re into blasting, thundering, powerful post-rock, then Falcon Arrow will be fully in your corner.
Arwen and the Mega Reset‘s Arcadia Street Sessions Vol. II EP shows off a band that’s got a lot going for it. The quartet has an indie-rock sound that falls between the dreamy oceans of Braids and the driving alt-pop of Lake Street Dive, powered in large part by the keys and vocals of Arwen Fonzen.
Fonzen’s powerful pipes direct the mood of the songs, whether in the hazy “kid.”, the slow-building “Prophet,” or the slo-mo funk of the high-drama tune “Potholes.” She can sing even-handedly (“kid.”), roar (“Prophet”), or even go full diva (“Potholes”). I’ve covered the fantastic “kid.” before on Independent Clauses, and it’s still fantastic–it creates its own space in the indie-rock world. The latter two songs of the set are fun to listen to as well, but neither stamp their mark as firmly as “kid.” That doesn’t mean there isn’t a mark there, because there totally is. I look forward to seeing what Arwen and the Mega Reset come up with next.
Liam Kyle Cahill‘s Four Leaf Clover is a chipper, fun acoustic-based release that falls somewhere between modern folk-pop and Dave Matthews Band-style acoustic jam vibes. The folk influences come from his troubadour background (he’s constantly on the road; 150+ shows a year), while the DMB sound comes in from his backing band: tastefully, classy drumming with an emphasis on hand-drumming meets a jazzy violin and big, round bass guitar sound.
The results are playful at times (“Take the Pictures Down,” “Four Leaf Clover”) and somber at others (“Save You,” “Berney Song”). Cahill’s smooth, earnest voice leads the way through the arrangements, although he has some help from female backing vocalists to round out the sound. Fans of the Lumineers, alt-pop artists like Matt Nathanson, and the aforementioned DMB will find much to love here.
Luna Shadows’ clip for “Cherry” is as aesthetically gorgeous as videos get, with lush colors and carefully-employed effects playing around actors/dancers standing stock-still. (It takes a dancer to be as still as they get.) Call it the mannequin challenge or whatever, but the video’s body and resolution are magnificent, no matter the trend.
This clip has a mysterious, forest/magic/dryads feel that culminates in beautiful modern dancing. I’m pretty sure there’s a metaphor in here (especially due to the color themes going on), but I’m going to let it stay mysterious, enigmatic, and wild.
Eric Frisch’s “The Light Ahead” reminds me of the very first OK GO video, which is extremely good video company to be in. The chipper indie-pop tune only helps.
Who can resist tiny instruments? SHEL warms hearts (teeny ones and big ones) with their Christmasy joy here.
Anyone who’s spent some time in an old-fashioned bowling alley (no computers, just paper and pencil scoring) will have affection for this video and its dreamy, surrealistic celebration of spaces that persist despite the passing of time.
I’m not sure what’s happening in Aircrafting’s “Temecula” video, but it keeps me wanting to know through the whole night-shot piece.
Your song and environs have to be extraordinary to get me interested in an on-location live video, but Galapaghost hits both conditions in this version of “Salt Lake City.”
1. “Juice” – Ancient Cities. Somehow out-vintages The Black Keys in recording style, guitar tone, and vocal tone. If you’re into rock with historic bonafides, you’ll be all up in this.
2. “Great Apes” – Wild Pink. John Ross always sounds like he’s whispering over the clanging indie-rock of Wild Pink. The charging guitars form a nice counterpoint, though.
3. “Turn You On” – JUNEBUG SPADE. Fans of Beach Slang, YUCK, Smith Westerns, and other distortion-heavy indie-rockers will have a ball with JUNEBUG SPADE’s beachy, distorted power-pop/rock.
4. “Hindbrains” – SHOCK HUGHES. Those who are into psychedelic weirdness of the “very bright flashes of color and lots of spinning” variety will have a blast getting disoriented by this indie-pop blast of Technocolor chaos.
5. “This Explosion Within” – Lights and Motion. Synthesizing elements of The Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, and more, Lights and Motion comes up with a fuzzed-out, blissful-sounding cinematic post-rock tune.
6. “The Silver Hearts’ Theme” – The Silver Hearts. Relaxed, down-home dixieland jazz with a old-timey radio announcer covering the intro. Doesn’t get more vintage than this without being from the actual chronological period, friends.
7. “The Chipmunk Song (Live at Rose Lea)” – Lindby Feat. The Hendersons. This is easily the only non-annoying version of this song I’ve ever heard. There’s a ’50s pop sweetness to the arrangement that works perfectly with the Christmas material.
8. “Yes, It’s Hard” – Donnie Biggins. Back in the ’50s, gospel and country had a lot of connections, and this tune hearkens back to that time. There’s also some blues color thrown in the choir-laden country shuffle, making it even more appealing. The simple yet honest message (“it’s hard being the man/husband/father/friend I’m supposed to be”) resonates with me.
9. “Corn Holler” – Spitzer Space Telescope. A traditional fiddle-and-voice holler with all the enthusiasm that entails, this tune comes from an Interactive Music Album that comes as an app with multiple videos per song and no downloadable version except the app. The times, they are a’changin…
10. “Heart of Stone” – Peter Joly. Joly’s evocative, forceful tenor drives this song forward over traditional folk that includes accordion and female backup singers.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.