Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

September MP3s 2: Quiet Heart

October 10, 2014

Quiet Heart

1. “New World” – Grammar. What if the Postal Service had been thought up by a woman instead of a man? Here’s a loose, flexible, smooth take on electro-pop that made me ponder the question.

2. “Gum Wrapper Rings” – Kind Cousin. I love to hear sentimental-yet-complex songwriting, and Kind Cousin delivers. Fans of Laura Stevenson will rejoice in the amalgam of wistful indie-rock guitars, ’50s girl pop vocals, and noisy drumming.

3. “Hold On Tight” – Ed Prosek. Radio-friendly, catchy folk-pop that’s a cross between Ed Sheeran and Phillip Phillips. Yes, that’s a pretty strong litmus test, I know. But it’s true.

4. “White Pine Way” – More than Skies. This impressive track falls somewhere between noisy punk/emo and slicker indie-rock bands like Interpol and Silversun Pickups. Lots of great melodies, but without hitting you over the head with them. Great work here.

5. “Black River” – Wild Leaves. Lush harmonies and ’70s-style production make Laurel Canyon the spiritual home of this track. Fleetwood Mac can come too.

6. “Tulsa Springs” – White White Wolf. Here’s an ominous, mysterious, rugged cabin-folk tune that’s high on atmosphere. (Also, +1 for anything with the name of my hometown in it.)

7. Ne Brini Za Mene – Neverdays. The Serbian response to Jason Molina, complete with mournful cello.

8. Even I – Grant Valdes. Valdes found a trove of hymns written by Haden Laas (1899-1918), an American soldier in WWI. They didn’t have scores, just words–so Valdes is setting each of the 44 hymns to music. This initial offering is a plaintive, yearning, piano-led tune. I’m super-excited to see where this goes.

SVALL, pt 2

Trebuchet’s “The End” is a magnificent song: a synthesis of everything we’ve learned from The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, and The Head and the Heart. Instead of being derivative, it feels like they’ve finally unlocked the pattern. The video is fun too.

The Wild Reeds’ “Blind and Brave” is a love letter to Los Angeles in song and video. Their female-fronted folk sound starts in pristine First Aid Kit mode, but swells to a lovely, full conclusion.

Brian Lopez’s “Persephone” video is the sort where I started watching and forgot that the song was playing. It’s a visually interesting piece that tells a good story, and also is accompanied by some great folky music.

Matthew Fowler walks down a city street, strumming and singing. He happens to come across his trumpet player. Great things ensue. His calm, composed songwriting makes me think of Damien Rice’s quietest moments or Rocky Votolato.

THE (not so timely) NEWS

October 9, 2014

I’m not very good at telling the news on this blog, but here are some things that happened and/or are happening.

  • Hi-res audio’s time seems to have come, what with Pono breaking huge. Hi Res Audio Central wants to be your one-stop shop for all things HRA. Jump on it, if applicable!
  • NWCZRadio.com is running a Kickstarter to get new gear to keep growing their indie-focused radio station. Three days left!
  • IC faves The Trouble Starts, Kye Alfred Hillig, and Cloud Person are all part of the initial offering of The Good Pack, which is a system that lets you download (excellent) albums for free, with all donations for that music going to a youth shelter in Seattle. Good music, good cause! LET’S DO IT!
  • And, finally, it’s time for fall, and that means cooler weather, and that means more running for me. That means RUNHUNDRED. See below. -Stephen Carradini

The Top 10 Workout Songs for October 2014

Fort Wayne, IN – September 30, 2014 – Pop rules in this month’s workout music recap. First off, you have the lingering effects of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Collaborations pairing Ariana Grande with Zedd and Iggy Azalea with Rita Ora both received a significant boost in popularity following performances on this year’s broadcast. Moreover, the show is where Taylor Swift debuted the first single from her new album. “Shake It Off” was the most popular, workout song in our monthly poll. Moreover, at 160 beats per minute (BPM), it’s the best song in the list for running.

Remixers also racked up three big tunes this month. Zedd makes his second appearance in the the list with an uptempo version of the summertime smash “Rude.” OneRepublic also find their latest release reworked for the club. Though both of those tracks are geared for the dancefloor, they’d be equally great for a jogging or walking. For a lower rep routine—like kettlebells or Pilates—you might check out the Surkin remix of Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap.” At 93 BPM, it’s on the slower side of things, but it’s lives up to its title with thunderous production that’ll power you through your next session.

On the whole, Top 40 tracks dominate this month’s list. But, there should also be enough alternate versions—plus some crossover hits from upstarts like Kongos and Echosmith—to keep things interesting. So, if you’re looking for something new to freshen up your gym playlist, you’ll find 10 great places to start below.

Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.

Echosmith – Cool Kids – 130 BPM

Magic – Rude (Zedd Remix) – 130 BPM

Kiesza – Hideaway – 123 BPM

Demi Lovato & Cher Lloyd – Really Don’t Care – 121 BPM

Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora – Black Widow – 82 BPM

Charli XCX – Boom Clap (Surkin Remix) – 93 BPM

Kongos – Come With Me Now – 104 BPM

Ariana Grande & Zedd – Break Free – 130 BPM

OneRepublic – Love Runs Out (Grabbitz Remix) – 124 BPM

Taylor Swift – Shake It Off – 160 BPM

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

September MP3s 1: Shining Eyes

The next four MP3 posts are going to have impressionistic names, because I’m out of descriptive words after writing this many song reviews.

Shining Eyes

1. “Comin’ for Ya North Georgia Blues” – Eliot Bronson. Upbeat in a way that isn’t cloying, folky in that old-school Bob Dylan way, hooky as if it were folk pop (but it’s not). “Comin’ for Ya” is one of my favorite singles in a while. Bronson, it should go without saying, should be on your watch list.

2. “White Circles” – Stephen Ward. Got that traveling itch? The insistent acoustic strumming and yearning vocals here will make you want to hit the open road.

3. “Scaffolding” – Emilyn Brodsky. I can’t resist ukulele-led indie-pop, especially when sung with such disarmingly mature and comforting lyrics as these. Even though the ukulele leads, this never devolves into cuteness for cute’s sake.

4. “Said and Done” – Joe Con. Joe Con has a quiet assuredness in his vocal tone that gives his back-porch acoustic-pop/hip-hop (a la Mat Kearney, G. Love, and early Mraz) an immediately undeniable quality. This is a slick, slick tune.

5. “Ride It Out” – Elijah Ocean. There’s just something about an acoustic guitar, a piano, and a brush-hit snare that snags my heartstrings. Ocean’s world-weary yet hopeful voice just seals the deal.

6. “Lecimy” – Tara Fuki. Two women’s voices and two cellos comprise the base of this track. It’s a fresh, light, and unique track.

7. “Tapes” – Andrew St. James. The ragged passion of Joe Pug, the vocal swagger of Justin Townes Earle, and an x factor all his own.

8. “In Our Galaxy” – Andrew Foster. Like a Lovely Few song, Foster builds this song from a delicate guitar melody to a fully-realized tune that sings of the mystic, beautiful qualities of outer space.

9. “Balloon” – ErelPilo. Remember the twee, romantic charms of Chairlift? ErelPilo have that sort of doe-eyed, guy/girl romantic pop going on, but with an acoustic guitar instead of a synthesizer. The quirk is still there, though!

September videos, a little late, pt 1

I didn’t post hardly any MP3s or videos in September, so a slew of them are about to come down the pipe. For the next few days, there could be up to three IC posts a day. I know, crazy. We’re turning into a content mill. (Just a joke. Seriously a joke.)

Sometimes modern dance strikes me as garish, but performances like those in Una Lux’s “Simon” remind me how evocative and moving it can be.

Starina’s clip for “This I Know” is the sort of surrealism that hooks me: I have only a vague impression of what’s happening, but I want to keep watching.

The Midnight Faces marry modern dance and surrealism into one clip that kept me watching in a bit of confusion until the very end.

Dear Blanca / Koria Kitten Riot / Bishop Allen

September 24, 2014

dearblanca

The mix of an album can tell you a lot about the priorities of its creators. Dylan Dickerson’s frantic, fractured voice is cranked about as high in the mix of Dear Blanca‘s Pobrecito as possible, which tells me that they care about the raw, ragged, real aspects of performance. Look no farther than the wordless, anguished roar that is the chorus of “Showplace” for proof. The intense alt-country songwriting behind the pipes matches Dickerson’s careening, manic vocal quality. In other words, Conor Oberst and Dickerson would have plenty to talk about.

But like Bright Eyes, Dickerson and co. aren’t all raging fury. The (relatively) pensive “Noma” includes a musical saw that gives the tune a Neutral Milk Hotel feel (Mangum, of course, being another vocalist who celebrated the rough edges of his non-traditional voice). Dickerson can write a pop song, too: “Huff” has a great guitar riff and a (relatively) restrained vocal performance. But it’s loud, noisy alt-country rock that is his natural home, which is why even the rhythmically tight, acoustic-led “Priscilla” turns into a torrent of guitar distortion and a repeated hollering of the titular character’s name in the chorus. Closer “Cadmus” starts off quiet with acoustic guitar, organ, and female vocals before introducing pounding toms into the tune. Hey, if you’re good at a thing, do that thing.

You like the stomping work of the Drive-By Truckers? Dear Blanca is like the Drive-In-And-Stay-In-Your-Front-Yard-Yelling-Until-You-Come-Out Truckers. Pobrecito is a sweat-drenched, passionate, powerful set of noisy alt-country tunes that will occasionally give you shivers.

koriakittenriot

The mid-’00s were a good time for indie-pop music, with bands like Annuals, Decemberists, Grandaddy, and the Shins purveying a very particular type of giddy, instrument-stuffed pop music that wasn’t being well-represented on the radio. Koria Kitten Riot picks up that torch of shiny, acoustic-led, maximalist indie-pop on Rich Men Poor Men Good Men. It’s the sort of album that includes coconuts imitating horse clip-clops in a way that sounds totally natural (“The Lovers That You’ve Never Had”). It’s twee without being overly cute in the vocals, or serious vocals with a whimsical touch to the arrangements.

“A Last Waltz” stands out as one of the highlight tracks not because it’s particularly more charming that the rest of the tunes here, but because it’s a touch darker. The rest of the album can flow together as one wonderful experience, but track three points itself out as a great track by showing the diversity the band is able to deliver (while still not damaging the flow of the record). “Today’s Been a Beautiful Day” nicks not only the sound but the joyful irony of the era, pairing one of the most chipper melodies and arrangements on the record with a song about a person who gets hit by a car and dies. (Oops, spoilers.) Follow-up “Carpathia” sounds a bit like a brit-pop tune, what with the wistful reverb, processed strings, and discrete acoustic strumming; it’s a nice change of mood that stands out as a highlight.

If you’re into cheerful, instrument-stuffed indie-pop, you’ll find a ton to love in Koria Kitten Riot. You can listen to the whole album and let it wash over your mood, or you can listen to individual tunes; it matters not. It will make you smile either way.

bishop-allen

Bishop Allen was also doing quirky indie-pop in the mid ’00s, and they’ve since gotten a bit noisier than their indie-pop masterpiece The Broken String. I think they still count as indie-pop on Lights Out, but they’re certainly creeping closer to power-pop.

They make it clear with opener “Start Again,” which is all buzzy synths, classy dance-rock guitars, and propulsive percussion. “Bread Crumbs” makes the dance-rock vibes even more explicit, putting together a wicked bass groove, a protoypical piano hook, and a minimum of lyrics. (And, because this is Bishop Allen, there’s also a bass-heavy horn section.) “Crows” involves some of their traditional quirky rhythms (Latin/island, a la “Like Castanets”), chill melodies, and pristine arrangements, but with a funky bass line. It’s way fun. “Skeleton Key” is another funky tune that’s worth remembering.

The overall sound of Lights Out is more matured, even with the dance-rock tendencies: it’s a poised, refined musicality that runs through the record. The lyrics reflect that aging as well; there are more references to hard times, the existential crises of adulthood (“No Conditions”), and that most adult of rituals: leaving the party early (“Why I Had To Go”). But they never get heavy-handed, morose, or grumpy. It’s a band that grew up, but kept their pop song skills with them. Mazel tov! Here’s to Bishop Allen: long may you write.

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.

thegoodgraces

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.

kimware

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

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