Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Charlie Belle: Young Musicians–Mature Pop

October 14, 2015


Charlie Belle amazes me with their second EP, I Don’t Want To Be Alone. Seventeen-year-old Jendayi Bonds leads Charlie Belle with her guitar, vocals, and songwriting skills. Her brother, fourteen-year-old Gyasi Bonds, gives their songs sonal depth through the drums. Together, the two sibling prodigies leave a lasting impression with their masterful rhythm & blues/pop fusion sound.

Ironically, mature pop is one way I would describe the sound of the EP I Don’t Want To Be Alone. At first, Charlie Belle’s sound comes off like very happy-go-lucky pop. The drums provide the songs with a driving beat while the guitar strumming adds an easygoing flair, making this EP perfect driving music. Yet, the more closely I listened, the more I noticed the mature R&B elements and poignant lyrics. Particularly when arriving at “You Don’t Know Me,” I am hit with the sassy R&B flavor that Jill Scott is known for, both in the lyrics and overall sound.

The single “Petting Zoo” is another great example of Charlie Belle exploring mature topics in a fun sounding way. The guitar strumming intro sets you up for happiness and rainbows but eventually the weight of the lyrics become apparent. Particularly when the song slows down at the chorus, Charlie Belle emphasizes the weightiness of the lyrics: “Nobody knows me like I do / But everyone is telling me what I’m supposed to do.” “Petting Zoo” depicts the reality of hitting that age where you realize that family, friends, and society are all trying to tell you how to live your life–and then having the maturity to reject parts that don’t fit with your true identity. It’s awe-inspiring that Jendayi Bonds can write such mature lyrics at such a young age.

I cannot finish a review on I Don’t Want To Be Alone without noting Jendayi Bonds’ beautiful voice. Jendayi’s voice has the sweetness of Colbie Caillat with the soul of India Arie. Some tracks emphasize more of the sweet side, such as “Petting Zoo.” Other tracks bring out more of the soulful side of her voice, particularly “You Don’t Know Me,” where she even raps mid-way through. While still maintaining her vocal flavor, Jendayi’s crisp vocals enable the lyrics to be heard clearly.

Charlie Belle’s I Don’t Want to Be Alone is a prime example of truly well-done music by musicians who haven’t even lived two full decades. Never underestimate youth. Krisann Janowitz

Premiere: “Luigi’s Waltz” by The Self Help Group

October 9, 2015

The woodsy, earthy vibes of Fleet Foxes-style alt-folk aren’t that far from the mystic, swirling vibes of Fleetwood Mac’s best-known work. The Self Help Group makes that connection for us in “Luigi’s Waltz,” where the six-piece Brighton-based outfit sounds for all the world like a much-smaller band calling California home. This deceptive trick flows from both the easy confidence of the performance and the careful arranging/mixing: nothing sounds out of place at any point in the process. An easygoing, mellowed-out tune results from their hard work: the sort of tune that feels light even while maintaining a full presence. And at 2:39, it knows how to make its point and get out of its own way. (That’s one way to make us press repeat multiple times.)

“Luigi’s Waltz” comes from the upcoming sophomore effort Dead Stars, out November 6 on Union Music Store. Pre-order it here.

September Videos, pt. 2

Here’s some videos that are more focused on “fun” than yesterday’s.

Here’s my highest praise for a pop-art video: The Elwins’ “So Down Low” looks like OK GO could have made it. It’s mindboggling, smile-inducing, and demands repeat plays to catch all the bits. That’s how it’s done, folks.

From the opening frames that compare the Space Needle to a french fry to the final shots of the band (Blimp Rock) in a blimp, this Archer-esque animation style clip is a hoot.

Do you love Wes Anderson? Prepare to love Sea of Bees’ homage to Moonrise Kingdom in the “Test Yourself” clip.

Here’s another tribute to summer camp, with the oh-so-charming Pen Pals singing a awww-inducing, 90-second indie-pop ditty about why camp is the best. The visual style makes me think of camps I never went to but can imagine perfectly in my head. (The one I went to looked nothing like this one, but I still got nostalgia anyway.)

Bellwire’s clip for “Time Out” is like the dream of the indie ’90s revisited: yards of yarn, googly eyes, people dancing through the frame, a haircut, and lots of gawky bounding about. It’s pretty much a perfect analog to the sound.

Ah, the reveries of youth: a kid finds himself as a superhero in this video for Tuff Sunshine’s “Dreamin'”.

Careening around the downstairs of a house is an unusual concept for a video, but somehow Off the Record’s clip for “Whitley” makes it work. I want to know what’s going on upstairs.

Goofy and great.

Late September MP3s: Acoustic

October 8, 2015

1. “Bugs” – Patrick James. If you can resist the mopey lyrics, catchy melodies and smooth vocals of an acoustic guitar-toting Australian, you have more strength than me. Sounds kind of like a down-under Passenger with extra indie cred in the arrangements, if you need more motivation.

10. “We Have a Hope” – Nathan Partain. Fresh off the great Jaywalker, Partain drops an intimate, careful, beautiful rumination on hope in the midst of difficulty.

4. “Push and Pull (All the Time)” – Promised Land Sound. Lush, full acoustic-folk sound that calls to mind The Head and the Heart, but with some adventurous instrumental work of their own vintage. Those vocal harmonies, though. Man.

7. “January” – Mia Rose Lynne. There’s always room in my heart for a clean guitar strum, a tender vocal melody, and a swooping violin. This tune is fresh, bright, and charming.

2. “Motion Sick” – Casey Dubie. Dubie’s voice fits perfectly in the adult-alternative space constructed around it. It’s the sort of compelling track that I hate tagging with that genre name, because it’s so tight, evocative, and lively.

5. “Wait” – Lawrence Trailer. Subtle funkiness sneaks its way into this acoustic-led adult alternative track: the bass and vocal performance give the tune a gentle swagger that separates it from the pack.

3. “Long Beach Idyll” – Chris Forsyth & Koen Holtkamp. This meandering acoustic/synth collaboration sounds like some impossible combination of the beach and the desert, with some ’70s psych vibes thrown in. Far out.

8. “Wolvering” – Maiden Radio. Come for the Appalachian folk vibes, stay for the vocals: there’s a vocal surprise early on in this all-female trio’s tune that hooked me.

6. “Solo Sin Tu Amor” – Radio Free Honduras. As Monty Python might say, “And now for something completely different.” This Spanish-language tune uses Latin rhythms, nylon-string melodies, and tropical trumpets to create a smile-inducing, dance-inspiring track. I think this is what Bishop Allen wanted “Like Castanets” to sound like.

9. “Pretty Little Life Form” – Valley Maker. A rumination on life, death, and love in a woodsy, low-slung, minor-key folk environment. It’s got an easygoing flow, amid all that.

11. “Nitetime Moths” – Des Ark. Throw a clarinet at anything in the indie realm and I’m pretty much sold. Aimée Argote’s loud/soft project features the soft side here, singing mesmerizingly over a real piano, tape hiss, and that clarinet. It’s just remarkably pretty.

Late September MP3s: Rock

1. “Psychrocker” – Honeymilk (featuring De Montevert). This is an absurdly catchy, fuzzed-out piece of psych-rock that just does it all right. Mad props.

2. “Elsewhere” – Nevasca. The good will out–sometimes it takes a partnership of seven record labels, but the good will out. Nevasca’s early ’00s emo-inspired sound sounds much more like Midwestern America than Murmansk, Russia, with dramatic guitar delivery, swooping vocals, and a highly emotional approach. Great stuff here.

3. “He Who Cried, ‘Whore!’” – The Insurrectionists. Does anybody remember Calibretto? If so, the Insurrectionist’s fusion of vaudevillian horror music tropes and crunchy alt-rock will sound wonderfully familiar: the blaring organ, the scampering bass, the high-drama timing, the oh-so-intriguing mix that lets it all be heard. To everyone else, this will sound super-fresh.

4. “I Live My Broken Dreams” – Gramma’s Boyfriend. Quirky ’80s guitar, Casio-eque drums, and Haley Bonar’s assured vocals transform this Daniel Johnston cover into something all its own.

5. “Day Off” – Ryan Dwork. Sweet bass jams and insistent drums power this groove-heavy rock tune. The distorted vocals fit oh-so-nicely over the instrumentation.

6. “Trust Me” – The Maisons. Snarling vocals and grungy guitar can’t feel fresh, can it? The Maisons beg to differ.

7. “Fold a Winning Hand” – Calico. Take a trad jazz outfit and fuse some patterned, wiry guitar and atmospheric post-rock-ish vibes on it, and you’re beginning to approximate Calico’s adventurous work.

8. “Diev” – Big Harp. I could have thrown this with the pop songs, but that would do a disservice to the garage rock that Big Harp is about. Sure, it’s not as scuzzy, abrasive, or ominous as some, but it’s still got that crunch, that attitude, and the bare-bones instrumentation. Rock on.

9. “Shrink” – Tallows. If post-rock tried to abandon the conventions of rock, Tallows is a rock band that just tries to make the conventions of rock really, really weird. Some funkiness, some melodicism, some bombastic elements, some dance-rock beats–yet all spun in an unusual way.

Late September MP3s: Pop

October 7, 2015

1. “Hopeful” – Bear Mountain. A little bit of Passion Pit, a little bit of Vampire Weekend, a little M83, and you’ve got one of the best dance-pop songs I’ve heard all year.

2. “Entomologist” – Luxxe. Shades of Jason Isbell’s evocative voice creep in here, placed in the context of a perky-yet-mature pop-rock tune. It all comes off with impressive cohesion.

3. “Buoy” – The Band and the Beat. If you wished that Mates of State used analog synths all the time, you’ll be way into TBxB’s gentle, warm, female-fronted synth-pop. The tune just wraps itself around my brain and comforts it.

4. “Understand” – Photoreal. It seems wrong to describe this pop-rock tune as “muscly,” but it feels like a streamlined, beefed-up version of Generationals’ catchy indie-pop work.

5. “Au Naturel” – Holy ’57. The frenetic blitz of a major-key sugar rush will never get old. This tune has everything I’m looking for in a pop tune.

6. “Lodestar” – Starlight Girls. The disco vibes are impeccably done and the vocals are tight, but–for my money–this song is 100% about that bass work. It’s melodic, funky, tight, and just plain irresistible. A knock-out.

7. “Storm” – Bright Whistles. Sometimes I’m concerned that I’ve abused the term “quirky,” because something always seems to come along that was quirkier than the last. Suffice it to say, “Storm” by Bright Whistles is like what The Flaming Lips could have been if they kept on the Yoshimi path, or what all genres of indie-rock sound like in a giant blender, or (stay with me on this one) what an OK GO music video would sound like if the video itself were transformed into audio that reflected the clever, enthusiastic, enigmatic visuals. In other words, it’s pretty rad.

8. “Summertime” – The High Divers. Bands are always making odes to that sunniest of seasons, but this one really nails it: a touch of Vampire Weekend, a splash of Hamilton Leithauser’s vocal gymnastics, and a whole lot of good-old-pop-music. Dare you to not smile.

9. “Two Weeks” – HIGH UP. File this powerhouse tune under “Muscle Shoals Soul/Funk,” right there next to Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

10. “Burning Candles” – Disaster Lover. It’s like I walked into a room where Disaster Lover’s vision was already fully employed: not so many songs capture and modify the aural space that they’re deployed in. The whirling/somewhat chaotic percussion and synths that are woven together to create this here/there/everywhere piece of work are wild and yet inviting.

11. “We All Decided No” – S.M. Wolf. This is, at its core, a pop-rock song. It is a very weird, arch, theatrical, blown-out take on the theme, but it’s in there. This is basically what I imagine we’re trying to capture with the idea of indie-pop: pop songs that just aren’t radio material in this universe, but only because it’s an unjust universe.

12. “Suspended in la raison d’être” – Cloud Seeding. Just a beautiful instrumental dream-pop track that’s over too soon.

Sloth: Make your own sound, nine genres at a time

October 6, 2015


Genre mash-ups are the way of the future, if Steven Hyden’s reading of music’s trajectory is to be believed. (I believe it.) But where Hyden thinks that we’re headed for “a future where all music sounds like everything at once” and nothing is distinctive, Sloth provides a counter-argument. Sloth‘s Out + Out combines alt-country, slackerish ’90s indie, gritty garage-rock and tons more to create a sound all its own. Instead of being a mishmash, the inventive results are a gripping listen.

The sheer number of ideas on Out + Out is head-spinning. In taking sonic elements, songwriting conventions, riff styles, and attitudes from a variety of styles, it seems that lead songwriter Seth Nathan has no end of new elements to include. Opener “Every Circle” starts off with a squalling guitars and ominous cymbal splashes before leaping into a lumbering rock guitar line counterpointed by frantic bass guitar work. A snap change to the verse ushers in a new section entirely: easygoing vocal delivery, lean-back drumming, mellowed-out background vocals. The chorus and the post-chorus instrumental section amp up the rock again. Instead of feeling disjointed, it feels like it fits in the alt-country milieu of rapid starts and stops. It’s the sort of song that sounds improbable in text but just works when you hear it. Trust me on this one.

The wild arrangements don’t let down after that first tune. “Montana” combines spidery lead guitar with alt-country backline and an artsy bridge; “Live For Beauty” has some tropical vibes thrown into the guitar along with a snare shuffle and hectic bass riffing. (Bassist Frank Cicciarello deserves mad props not just here, but everywhere on the album.) “I Wanna Move (to Portland)” marries the cascading guitars of the previous song to the laid-back indie-rock vibes at the beginning, but morphs into an even wilder experience: a brief interlude that’s nearly calypso in tone and rhythm leads into an abstract, dissonant art-rock section that reminds me of Minus the Bear in a really bad mood. Then it segues into a grumbling-yet-funky post-punk thing. It gets more and more complex from there (!). It’s a mind-bending, thought-provoking, brilliant song. Just this tune alone could merit its own review.

There are some moments of sonic breath: “Staring at the Sun” is a walking-speed ballad, while “What You See” follows up “I Wanna Move (To Portland)” with a relatively straightforward mid-tempo rock song (albeit with brittle, damaged guitar solos like something out of Tom Morello’s oeuvre). They show that while Sloth can get experimental with the best of them, they can also knock a traditional structure out of the park. Sloth packs more into the 25 minutes of Out + Out than some bands can get in twice that long. If you’re up for an adventurous, out-of-the-box listen, Sloth’s Out + Out should give you quite a trip.

Premiere: The High Divers’ “Suddenly Naked”

October 1, 2015

It seems that rock’n’roll and lust are inseparably intertwined (the term “rock’n’roll” was originally a bawdy phrase, for example). With a name like “Suddenly Naked,” it would be easy to imagine that The High Divers‘ roots rock tune was the latest in a long line of seduction tunes. Hold on to your hats: it’s actually the opposite.

Yep, this one is an anti-lust jam: “Trying to resist you / when suddenly you’re naked on the floor / begging me to kiss you / I don’t want you anymore.” Is it a relationship gone sour? Is it an uneven friendship, where the expectations have become widely disparate? Is it something even more complicated? The lyrics before the crux of the tune don’t overdetermine it, which works great in the context of the song’s intriguing sound and structure.

The High Divers’ sound is generally an energetic vintage-inflected indie-pop-rock party, but this tune sees them getting more pensive (as is appropriate to the lyrics). The song builds from mumbly, dejected quietness at the beginning to a high point of sonic outrage midway through and out through a long instrumental section that closes the tune. The walking-speed tune has some vintage guitar moments right at the high point of the song: the guitar strumming snaps to attention in a decidedly old-school way. But it never feels “retro”–it feels like The High Divers have integrated tons of sounds into their own unique brew.

To that end, there’s also some serious soul vibes going on in the vocals of the central section, right in there with St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. But the rest of the tune feeds more on the roots-rock template with some gentle psych keys thrown on top of it: this is a gritty sort of vibe without getting too abrasive in the overall mood. (It helps to keep the keys high in the mix during the long instrumnetal section/outro.) It’s a subtly complex tune–there’s no verse/chorus/verse structure to lead the listener. Instead, the shifting melodies are the only guide. It’s an excellent tune that begs you to play it again.

This fascinating tune comes off The High Divers‘ debut album Riverlust, which drops 10/9 on Hearts and Plugs.

Start of the Autumnal Electruinox

September 28, 2015

  1. Diamond in the Rough” – Dr!ve. This weekend I was out at Kibitz Room, and the boogie-down vibe of the red-velvet-lit d!ve bar, where a 99-year-old David Bowie lookalike sat sipping bourbon, could be described with this synth-pop, funk-dr!ven jam. As light as the instrumentation is, there is soul and richness in the brown liquor-warmth of it all.

  2. Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit. The nine-piece indie band brings it on like a crop top-wearing ‘90s chick with sticky sweet vocals, an attractive string section, and sexy rock qualities.

  3. Highly Emotional” – Benjamin Verdoes. F**k. This really is strikingly emotional. Longing, pulling, swirling soundscapes paired with echoed vocals that sound like they’re galaxies away, how could it not be?

  4. Air” – Clas Tuuth. An electronic breeze of hand claps, light, feminine vocals, and a natural easiness of sound.

  5. Two Bodies” – Flight Facilities (Henri remix). All he needs is five minutes, and all I needed was a half hour to pick myself up off the floor after hearing this gorgeous remake that emphasizes suave European vocals with string, piano, and of course, that tempestuous house beat.

  6. Heart of Glass” – Korr-A. Had to give a shout out to last weekend’s Los Angeles Mad Decent Block Party with this colorful, pop-trap dance party track. Korr-A is that chick people hated on in high school because she was just so much damn cooler than they were.

  7. Groove Squared” – Ghost Lover (Steve Hope remix). Powerful piano, blubbering bass, and minimalist vocals bring Barcelona-infused vibes that make me sad to see summer go.

  8. Chicago Warehouse Party 1995” – Thee Koukouvaya. If this had a video, it would go something like this: Aliens zap you up into a multi-dimensional, techno-laced, time-barren universe and then drop you back down through the atmosphere, tumbling towards Chicago, and crash you through a stained glass warehouse ceiling onto the tranced-out, upward arms of dancing strangers.

  9. Burred Lens” – Arts & Crafts (WIN WIN remix). Burred Lens brings crispness to the Arts & Crafts original that once gets going, rhymically zigzags down an angel-white powdered vertical. Hint, hint, 2:07.

  10. Arch” – Rough Year. Bringing a raw realness that only a citizen of the City of Brotherly Love could deliver, trans artist Rough Year texturizes grit, spooky vocal snippets, and demonic percussion for over eleven minutes of an experience as deep and dark as those Philly potholes.

  11. Golden, Blinding (Feat. Galun)” – Alek Fin. James Blake-esque vocals with severe electronic sensuality it’s not hard to be magnetized to. I haven’t seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’d imagine the movie should have went something like this…

  12.  Say My Name (Fakear Remix)” – Odesza (feat. Zyra). Fakear’s fresh remake of the Odesza hit is sophisticated, adding a new filter of flyness achieved through twinkling synth, diamond-encrusted vocal bits, and subtly brilliant drops. This is a crisp remix that’s been released in appropriate unison with the autumnal equinox.

MP3s: Dark Indie Rock (and stuff)

September 26, 2015

Dark Indie Rock (and stuff)

1. “Plastic Skateboard” – Brave Baby. It’s rare that a sound comes along that has its own internal logic and consistency. I could namecheck (Fleetwood Mac, Suburbs-era Arcade Fire, mopey mid-’00s electro, etc.), but ultimately their indie rock sound stands on its own. Impressive.

2. “Scar” – The Lonely Wild. Setting up a distinct feeling an inhabiting it is a sure way to hook me, and this rock tune gives us the sound and shape of desperation.

3. “Modern Times” – VSTRS. A killer drummer will always stand out, no matter where he or she lands: this minor-key rock track gets its propulsive energy from the frantic drumming. With the vocals, synths, and loping bass pulling the opposite direction, the drums still push this track onward relentlessly. The tension creates a great tune.

4. “Dear California” – Water District. It’s been almost twenty years since Bush and Incubus were cool (!!), so it’s time for their close-up. This chilled-out track calls up the best of those polished alt-rock slackers.

5. “Young Burns” – Fine, It’s Pink. Like a cave of wonders, this tune starts off with an icy, sparse electro intro before unveiling rooms of soaring, impressive indie-rock sound.

6. “Dirty Deli” – Creature from Dell Pond. An alternate vision of post-punk: jazz-inspired rhythms, dissonant chords, speak-sing vocals, occasional dance-rock dalliances, and a careful use of space. This tune scrambles along to its own idiosyncratic vision.

7. “Going Home” – Stomatopod. It’s a great-sounding old-school punk song. What else do you need?

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

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