1. “Find My Way” – Jinja Safari. The sort of exuberant, gregarious pop music that seems unavoidable and unhateable. Tropical vibes, mid ’00s MGMT-esque melodies, and overall fun had by all.
2. “Petrichor” – Light Music. This one’s the sort of indie-pop-rock tune that rides a great vocal hook, intricate-yet-fun arrangements, and sheer ebullient charm to great heights.
2. “Visions of Plumerias” – Rudy De Anda. Wistful, lazy, slow-motion days now have one more song for the soundtrack: De Anda’s vintage pop sounds just retro enough without getting tribute-band-y.
3. “Guess You Never Thought of It That Way” – Theo Berndt. Overstuffed, zinging, exuberant, vocals-and-instruments-in-the-same-melody pop songs aren’t the exclusive products of Scandinavia, but it sure seems like they have a big claim on the territory. Theo Berndt is a band from Sweden, and thus parlay their mandate into a wildly entertaining track that just keeps throwing more stuff at you.
4. “Virginians” – IOLA. It’s always fun to hear a song go in a completely different direction than I expected. This indie-pop tune goes from 0-60 and back in a most satisfying way.
5. “Trisha Please Come Home” – Advance Base. Lo-fi ideals and hi-fi production co-exist in this meandering, endearing tune from this post-Casiotone for the Painfully Alone project.
6. “Eye to Eye” – Astronauts, etc. More and more indie-rockers are coming around to how funky, soulful, and fun R&B can be. It’s working its magic on me too: I’ve not historically been huge into R&B, but this track is a sweet jam that sounds amazing.
7. “Our Bodies” – Ghost Lit Kingdom. Affectionate, big-melody ballads can eat a whole lot of elements from different genres and still be recognizable: this one pulls in some tropical vibes, R&B grooves, and indie-folk instrumental arrangements.
8. “A Dead Man’s Song” – Roger Lion. Joe Pernice and Budo (Macklemore) come together to create a head-bobbin’ down-tempo tune with ’90s Brit-pop and trip-hop influences.
9. “Gunsmoke” – Ancient Warfare. A good transition can make a song: Delicate, traditional piano taps leads smoothly into the huge, noisy, guitar-bound chorus. The moment works.
10. “Ghost Legs” – Dreamcoat. Some band names are just ways to differentiate one entity from another, but Dreamcoat’s name fits the sound of this tune perfectly: a round, warm, gently rolling indie-rock tune grounded by unobtrusive pad synths and lightly accented by slapback guitar and distant vocals. It feels like I could wrap myself up in this and go to sleep–hence Dreamcoat.
11. “Parliament” – Sunday Lane. Insistent bass notes create a pleasing tension against Lane’s gentle, patient vocals. In a parallel development, a skittering electronic beat pushes on careful piano chords. The resulting tune fits together like a puzzle, somehow turning out a surprisingly cohesive dream-pop whole from a variety of parts.
1. “Whine of the Mystic” – Nap Eyes. Major-key guitar-rock infused with so much martial tension from the drums and the wavering high guitar part that it feels like it is always about to explode–with the exception of the preternaturally calm vocalist that tethers the tune the ground. The tune never explodes in giant guitar fury. I’m impressed.
2. “Getaway” – Jaill. Bass-heavy surf-rock that eschews much of the whining treble that categorizes the genre: suddenly, it just sounds like tip-top driving pop-rock music.
3. “Be What You Are” – The Cairo Gang. The less garage-y garage rock gets, the more it sounds like ’60s rock and pop. This has Beach Boys, Beatles, Kinks, and more influences crammed into it. Rock on.
4. “Incarceration Casserole” – Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. Uncorked James Brown-esque soul/funk complete with sax meets blast-off ’50s rock in a high-energy blender of a song that’s about not knowing how to make food and eat because his wife is in jail. This is the first time you’ve heard a song like this.
5. “Creature” – It Looks Sad. Every now and then a punk song jumps out of the ether, slaps me across the face, and demands that I cover it. This one, with its towering choruses, huge-yet-not-abrasive guitars, and early ’00s/White Octave-esque emotional palette did that to me.
6. “Kashyyyk” – We Take Fire. A mind-bending genre blender of a song that combines post-rock, post-hardcore, dance-rock, and Coheed & Cambria-esque flights of fancy into one massively headturning rock song.
7. “Smokesignals” – The Feel Bad Hit. Here’s an punk-inspired instrumental rock tune that has nothing post- about it: the band just crushes it without vocals. ‘Nuff said.
8. “Love Like Crazy” – Jessica Lee Wilkes. Wilkes offers up some sax-powered, vaguely surfy vintage pop that sounds fresh as anything.
9. “Crossing on a Bend” – Bourbon Street Beat. Not a big rockabilly fan? Try this track, which includes enough modern melodic sentiment to seem less uncomfortably foreign and more exotic and interesting.
10. “Port City” – I Am the Albatross. Buoyant acoustic rhythm guitar, crunchy electric guitars (complete with guitar solo!), jubilant chorus, creaky vocals, big drums: this is an old-school rock tune, y’all.
11. “Business” – The Good Field. I have an ambient understanding of what ’70s AM radio rock sounded like: warm, major-key, fuzzed out, concerned with formal songwriting tactics, and generally hooky. The Good Field fit my impressionistic ideas of what that style sounded like to a T.
12. “Aubrey” – Lake Malawi. Low-slung but still peppy, chilled-out but still energetic, this sounds like a Strokes-ian indie band accidentally getting lost in ’80s radio pop and emerging with an artifact that isn’t either genre, exactly.
13. “Young” – Kyle and the Pity Party. This song declares “I’d do anything for you/I’d even listen to Brand New/if that’s what you want me to.” Without waxing poetic about the early 2000s (Deja Entenduforever), I can confidently say that this sort of emotional rock and roll is a direct descendant of that scene (with some of the angular edges worn off).
Angelo De Augustine, a 22-year-old Los Angeles native, recently released his sophomore effort, How Past Begins. Augustine took one single (“How Past Begins”) off his debut album, Spirals of Silence, and paired it with two previously unreleased tracks that didn’t make the cut (“Most Of The Time,” “If I Could Fly”) and voila!
The raw feel of Augustine’s alt-folk music really draws the listener in and makes them feel at home. You know when you walk into someone’s house for the first time and your senses immediately feel at peace? Your nose smells your favorite warm apple pie. The temperature of the home is the perfect “not too cold, yet not too hot” middleground. You just get this feeling of being in a place that feels oddly familiar, even though you may have never even been there before. That’s how all of Angelo De Augustine’s music feels. His music feels homey and peaceful, as if you were always meant to be there.
Perhaps Augustine’s calming Bon Iver-esque voice is what really adds to the ambience. Maybe the simple instrumentation–mainly Augustine’s great guitar picking and strumming–makes all of his songs feel so comfortable. Or is it his raw, poetic lyrics that make his listeners feel at rest? Whatever it is, Angelo De Augustine really knows how to make a listener feel at home. His three-song collection, How Past Begins, is out now! —Krisann Janowitz
1. “Take a Dive” – By Day By Night. Big, friendly synth-pop that’s a mix between M83 dusky drama and Chad Valley exuberance.
2. “You’ve Got Somethin‘” – Air Bag One. I don’t know if it’s just my vantage point, but it seems like we’ve moved from big synth-centric ’80s jams to big vocal-centric ’80s jams. If so, Air Bag One is on point with this tune.
3. “Time (feat. La Petite Rouge)” – Haring. Wavering chillwave synths create a blissful mood before a neat and tidy beat comes in to give the song motion and structure. It grows from there, without ever overwhelming the initial mood. Beautiful.
4. “A Berry Bursts” – Twin Hidden. This enthusiastic, difficult-to-classify track sits somewhere between gentle indie-pop, low-key electro, and Tokyo Police Club’s giddy pop-rock attack. It’s way fun, whatever it is.
5. “Kangarang” – Casual Strangers. This psych-rock tune explores the more ambient, experimental, almost electronic vibes of the genre–eschewing huge guitars for a deep groove, this song is a burbling, thoughtful instrumental jam.
6. “Start Again (ft. Amy)” – Stefansson. I can’t resist an EDM song that is tasteful and restrained with the more stereotypically brash audio elements of the genre.
7. “Lackluster No.” – Nova Heart. A stark, sparse landscape gives way to an elegant, pristine, magnetic body of the song. It fuses electronic elements and live bass in a surprising way. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
8. “World Government” – Heptagon Heaven. Do you need six minutes of arpeggiated synths, great sound washes, and general “cool” vibe? Of course you do.
9. “Indian Summer” – Jai Wolf. The stuttering optimism of Gold Panda fused to ODESZA’s artsy, high ideals post-dub makes for a deeply impressive track.
I don’t usually do this, but I have so many videos to cover this month (a good problem to have!) that I’ve listed them like I would MP3s. Instead of commenting thoroughly on them, I’ve posted the main takeaway from each video as a description. Enjoy!
1. “Modern Man” – Brian Lopez. Intergenerational friendships are cool.
If Quentin Tarantino brewed his morning coffee while playing Last Transmission From Sector 7, I would not be surprised. The 12-track album from Houston native Arc Rev One blends psychedelic, experimental, lo-fi, and alternative electronic into a record that sounds like an acid trip in the Wild West.
To get an idea of opener “Silent Rage,” just imagine RHCP’s “Suck My Kiss” video. The track’s gritty defiance and anarchy-in-the-desert feel are complimented by muffled, southern-accented vocals. Bluesy tones reveal hot Houston influence on one of the more alternative electronic tracks on the album.
“Stage 3 Exp” and “Great Galactic Central Sun” also have alternative distinctions, but with a flair for the psychedelic. “Stage 3 Exp” melts right into the rock elements of “Great Galactic Central Sun,” whose atmospheric guitar riffs confirm this record has a vintage instrumental appeal to it, despite varying electronic soundscapes.
“DON’T TRIP (nothing is real)” is a perfect example of those soundscapes – it begins with laser beams zapping their way into syncopated dance beats. Then, bits of carnival ride synth drop in unexpectedly to prove that, were there ever a song that could deliver a sonic hallucinogen, this would be it. It dips and weaves into so many different energies that “chaotically colorful” is an understatement.
For balance, ambient tracks like “Drift,” “Event of the Orbit,” “Orbit of the Event,” and “Dissolve” give the record a lonesome quality. Despite the name, “Drift” has a stranded-in-the-desert vibe – there’s no beachy groove here. It seems lost in time through repetitive, somber guitar riffs and vocals that are mirages on the horizon, so light you’re not sure they’re present. On “Event of the Orbit,” piano offers a beautiful, classical side to the rather glitch-filled album; throughout its seven-minute duration, “Dissolve” hypnotizes you at each utterance of its repeated phrase (“You can dissolve”).
“Ecstatic Data” most intrigued me, though. It has chiptune elements that take you on a synthesized space odyssey and legitimately sound like R2D2 having a conversation with himself. It’s awesome.
Through its psychedelic compounds, galaxy-like glitch, and lo-fi electronic coated with a good ‘ole smokey grime to it, Last Transmission From Sector 7 puts a whole new meaning to Cowboys vs. Aliens. If rustic and trippy all at once is a category, Arc Rev One has nailed it. —Rachel Haney
I love sonic blankets: songs and records that encourage you to grab a quilt, find a comfy spot, and rest a while. We Are the West‘s Regards is a sonic blanket of the finest order: their relaxing folk tunes create soundscapes similar to those of The Low Anthem at their prettiest. The three songs of this all-too-short release don’t waste time, as opener “Hold On” gives the listener gentle fingerpicking, stand-up bass, a wistful accordion, and sounds of the rain outside the performer’s doors. By the time that distant back-up vocals come in, the idyllic scene has already been fully realized. Everything else is icing.
The rain continues gently in the background of the two following tracks, creating a pleasant through-line that ties the work together. “The Thin Red Line” adds the sounds of frogs croaking in the distance and changes the focus a bit: Brett Hool’s velvety tenor is the central character, with guitar and stand-up bass providing the grounding. More BGVs and a fiddle come in toward the end, but nothing takes the spotlight from Hool. The lead in the closer and title track could be Hool’s voice or guitar, but in my mind it’s the pump organ: there are few instruments more heartbreaking when employed to their best effect, and the pump organ is treated expertly here. The fragile certainty of the pump organ echoes the tensions in Hool’s voice, as he offers up his most dramatic performance. It’s still not what one might consider theatrical, but he emotes.
Regards is just a bit under 15 minutes, but I could stand for much more. The careful construction of sounds here results in songs that hit all the right emotional chords in me. If you’ve got a summer storm headed your way, get Regards, a blanket, and a big window ready. (This is especially grand if you’re in some sort of countryside, but urban spaces work too.) Now that I mention it, I can’t think of much more I want to do right now. Here’s to We Are the West–check them out.
Billy Shaddox‘s I Melt, I Howl contains sounds as fresh-faced as a Generationals pop song, as gently quirky as a Backyard Tire Fire jam, and as easily evocative as an Iron & Wine tune. To put it another way: Shaddox’s work lives in space created by drawing a triangle with points at good-natured AM radio rock, unpretentious folk, and earnest indie pop. His songwriting prowess shows through not in complexity, but in making simplicity sound just the way I want it to sound.
It all starts with Shaddox’s effortless tenor voice, which is often so at home it seems like he opens his mouth and notes just tumble out. They land in a comfy bed of leaves: from road-friendly, ’70s folk-rock vibes of the title track opener to the gently grooving rock of “Golden Coast” to the resplendent melodic acoustic guitar work of “Who You Were,” the arrangements here can’t be ignored. “Who You Were” in particular points out the fusion between his comforting voice and unassuming arrangements, as he takes an old chord progression and presses it into service of a nostalgic, yearning tune. With his voice, gentle keys, and some color electric guitar chiming off in the distance, old pieces feel fresh and bright again.
It’s that sense of brightness that most marks I Melt, I Howl. Even on the more downtempo songs, Shaddox makes sure that there’s light coming in around the edges. It gets its street cred not from being edgy or heavily imperiled in turmoil, but by employing traditional pop songcraft in an impressive way. This has elements of tons of American songwriting genres, as I’ve mentioned already–but it’s not a grab bag. The overall mood ties these songs together into an elegant collection. If you’re looking for the soundtrack to a charming summer trip, or a tender summer romance, you need to look into Billy Shaddox’s I Melt, I Howl (stream). It will stick with you.
Independent Clauses is a wide-ranging blog, but my home base is gentle, tender, fingerpicked folk. That’s why I’m so jumping-up-and-down excited about Austin Basham, an artist that synthesizes the best elements of David Ramirez and The Tallest Man on Earth (two acts I already love).
Basham’s five-song Linton // Oslo EP shows off a nimble, fragile fingerpicking skill similar to Kristian Matsson’s and an intimate baritone similar to Ramirez’s (“Running“). The production that captures these central elements is immediate–it sounds as if Basham is sitting next to me playing. These three elements together make this EP worth buying, but there’s a wealth of reasons beyond the initial listen.
Basham’s not just a brilliant fingerpicker–eloquent without being gaudy, endearing without being overly simplistic–he’s a solid arranger. These songs feature banjo, horns, strings, whistling and background vocals that float and flutter through the background, providing lift to Basham’s already light songs (“https://soundcloud.com/austin-basham/on-the-hunt”>On the Hunt,” “Running“). He even incorporates flutes into “Find a Way” without stereotyping them. He can’t avoid a good whoa-oh every now and then, but even these biggest of moments seem to fold seamlessly into the vibe. It’s not like a massive riff coming in to take over the song (as in a rock anthem); instead it flows directly out of the things around it. (As it well should be, I think.)
Basham’s vocal performances are another selling point; his voice has a rich quality to it, but he doesn’t just lean on the sound of his voice. He knows how to use it to best emotional effect. He jumps up to a slightly higher range to make a big point; he accents particular lyrics with clipped or drawn-out delivery. The lyrics here are kindhearted love songs, wishing well to a lover (“Lord knows I want you to be whole again,” from “On the Hunt“) and offering affection (“I put my heart in my love, my love for you,” from “Running“). The arrangements and clear-eyed recording style keep the songs from being saccharine, and instead come off as earnest.
I’m frankly blown away by Austin Basham’s Linton // Oslo EP. It’s beautifully written, thoughtfully composed, and excellently recorded. It’s the sort of release that I sort through the hundreds of releases I get yearly to find. If you like acoustic music of any variety (those of the Alexei Murdoch persuasion will be particularly thrilled), Austin Basham should be blasting onto your radar soon–if he hasn’t already. An absolutely gorgeous, knock-out release.
I’ve been reading Amanda Petrusich’s excellent book Do Not Sell At Any Price, about collectors of vintage ’78s. It’s a vastly entertaining piece of non-fiction about people who are obsessed with searching for, saving, collecting, and listening to blues, country blues, country, and world records from the early 1900s. It has me thinking about old school sounds, which is perfect for a review of The New Switcheroo‘s Heartless Sky EP. The Chicago four-piece starts with an old-timey, vocal-heavy folk style–a style which isn’t purveyed nearly as often in the 21st century as it was in the early- to mid-twentieth. From there they layer on unhinged country (“I Remember Clifford”), honky-tonk (“NMR”), and some more modern folk (“Lightning”) accompaniments.
It’s hard to stress enough how much this is a vocals-centric work. The three female vocalists take center stage, putting the spotlight firmly on the theatrical (even operatic) vocal melodies and performances. This may throw some people off-kilter. But for those who are into the style, there’s a lot of strong work here: “Lightning” culminates in a variety of vocal lines weaving and intertwining; it’s an impressive accomplishment. “I Remember Clifford” pulls the same feat, but with some impressive belting (“Pixelated, NM” also features some remarkable vocal roars). These vocalists can really holler when they want to. If you’re into old-school Americana sounds or vocal-heavy outfits, The New Switcheroo may be for you.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.