Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Nearly Oratorio’s Beautiful Melancholy

June 13, 2016

nearlyoratorio

Out of Melbourne, Australia, Nearly Oratario–aka Simon Lam–recently released his sophomore EP Tin. Tin is a refreshing combination of melancholic singer-songwriter and the avant garde. Nearly Oratario’s unique instrumentation and modest vocals create an emotive album that is both soothing and utterly enthralling.

Nearly Oratario does not truly sound exactly like anything, yet The Dirty Projectors and Sufjan Stevens do come to mind. All three artists have created sounds very much their own; in a sense, that ties them together. I also think that Simon Lam’s voice is a softer version of David Longstreth’s, The Dirty Projectors’ lead singer. Similarly, the avant garde nature of Tin is comparable to Sufjan Steven’s later experimental work.

Nearly Oratario uses different looping techniques to arrive at the album’s sound. Lam anchors each song with a primary instrument like the piano (“I Would Not,” “Devonport”) along with the guitar (“Veracity”) and keyboard (“Tin,” “Occlude”) and then builds and loops on top of it. The looping includes other instruments, random sounds through the use of an electronic launchpad, and vocals. All of these layers come together to create a sound that gives you new discoveries at each listen. Tin is a multi-layered onion, but what do we find when we peel back the layers?

When we peel back the layers in Tin, we find melancholy. The last track, “Devonport,” is the most peeled-back song off the album, with Lam primarily using a piano and his voice as instruments. The tonal qualities of Lam’s voice are a little like what happens when you talk after having cried for a bit. Yet I wouldn’t call his voice whiny; it’s way too beautiful for that. The track’s slow pace, raw use of the piano, and emotional lyrics soldify the somber sound of the song. Over and over, “It burns,” repeats throughout the track. The song then comes toward an end with an array of eerie vocals and closes on the piano.

Tin’s soothing, emotive sound and interesting instrumentation come together to create an EP I could forever listen to on repeat.–Krisann Janowitz

Premiere: A Valley Son’s “Lights in the Sky”

June 10, 2016

Folk-rock, alt-country, and indie-rock fuse in A Valley Son’s “Lights in the Sky”: it’s got call-and-response vocals, crunchy guitar twang, and a breakdown instrumental outro. The song is such a tight marriage of the three genres that it’s not entirely productive to discuss it more than to get you interested.

Trey Powell’s baritone vocals lead the tune, giving way occasionally to bright, crunchy electric guitar work between sections. The band is really tight: the arrangement feels comfortable and assured, giving the vocals just the right amount of space without blending amorphously into the background. (And check out that rad instrumental outro, too.) The backup vocalists play a big part in the atmosphere of the song, coming in consistently as support at the end of verse lines and throughout the chorus. Their efforts contribute to the warm, collective feel of the tune.

“Lights in the Sky” is a top-shelf tune that should help put the band in the conversation with much more established bands. It’s more alt-country than The Low Anthem, but not so much as the Old ’97s; I immediately thought of the major-key alt-country of Denver’s 4H Royalty as a comparable sound. Dawes and Ivan & Alyosha also would fit as peers. If you’re into noisier folk-inspired work, this track will be right up your alley.

This song is the first single off A Valley Son’s debut release Sunset Park, which will drop late July/early August. If you’re going to be in the Northeast, you can check the band out on these dates:

June 11th, The Fire (Philly Single Release) – Philadelphia, PA
June 18th, The Waystation, Brooklyn, NY
June 24th, DROM (NYC Single Release), NY, NY
July 8th, Hometown, Brooklyn, NY
August 13th, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY

Early June MP3s: 3

June 6, 2016

1. “Take It All Back” – Sui Zhen. Who can resist a warm, relaxing ’80s throwback electro tune in the heat of summer? It’s a perfect soundtrack to lying out on the beach in the evening with friends.

2. “Holes in the Story” – Alex the Astronaut. A charming, unassuming pop song in the vein of Ingrid Michaelson, but occasionally featuring some of the more flamboyant arrangement flourishes that made Regina Spektor so popular.

3. “My 45” – Candy Cigarettes. This slackery, quirky indie-pop tune has a rhythmic flow and overall outlook on life that would fit with skateboarding.

4. “Do You?” – Slow Buildings. Lots going on in this bouncy indie-pop track that references a kangaroo; there’s marimbas, sharp left turns to the mood, and more.

5. “The Island” – Mairearad Green. A swooping accordion and lilting banjo carry this folk tune from humble beginnings to a tremendous finale.

6. “Black and Blue” – Maria Kelly. The pushing drums create a neat tension with the overarching strings, creating a nice space for Kelly’s layered alto vocals to live in this indie-pop tune.

7. “Suitors” – Wonky Tonk. In an age of oversaturated branding, it’s rare for me to even care about the visuals that accompany a track or artist. However, Wonky Tonk’s visual imagery expertly combines traditional country iconography with sensual imagery in a way that mirrors her sensuous take on country music.

8. “Bulletproof” – Cantina. This alt-country outfit (feat. members of Old 97s, Deathray Davies, Polyphonic Spree, etc.) plays the “bleary-eyed wisdom” card in the baritone vocals, contrasting a knowing, meandering vocal line against a peppy arrangement. Makes me think about old-school country singer/talkers. I’m into it.

9. “Feels Like Morning” – River Matthews. It’s a little more chill than I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, but it’s hard for me to not hear the influence of Bright Eyes full-band folk/alt-country on this track. Then the soul horns show up and Matthews goes all James Brown on it. Then the choir comes in. Buckle your seat belts and/or put on your dancing shoes: this one’s an adventure worthy of mixing metaphors over.

10. “Far Away (feat. Whitney Pearsall)” – Thomas Kunz. You’d never know that Kunz also plays industrial music from this beautiful, slowly-growing indie-pop tune accompanied by orchestra. Pearsall’s comfortable alto vocal performance shines here.

11. “Falling” – Tom Speight. Starts small but grows to a whirling, dense adult-alternative pop tune.

12. “The Light” – Me and the Moon. The vocal melodies in this Parachutes-era Coldplay-esque tune are magnetic and unavoidable.

13. “Lullaby” – The Coconut Kids. The trumpet, vocals, and delicate strum fit together beautifully in this quiet, laidback tune.

14. “Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight)” – The Wild Reeds. The guitar fingerpicking that opens the tune transforms into a Lady Lamb-like indie-rock tune with lots of close female harmonies. The instruments come together in a rich, evocative mood.

15. “all the love i give is in vain” – suede arrow. A lean-back, head-bob, slow-drivin’ electro jam for your summer delight.

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Early June Singles: 2

June 5, 2016

 

1. “The Plague” – Maison Hall. Distant guitar, ambient room noise, and a carefully dramatic vocal performance come together to make a uniquely intimate singer/songwriter tune. The drums that come in halfway through only add to the vibe.

2. “Talons” – He is a Pegasus. HIAP ratchets up to some impressive indie-rock crunch in the service of high drama, but don’t sleep on the opening section of this tune. It’s as devastatingly beautiful a post-Bon Iver song you can hope to hear.

3. “Traffic Lights” – Ryan David Orr. Cross the most upbeat parts of Josh Radin’s early work and Alexi Murdoch’s work, and you’ll have this tune. It’s an eyebrow-raising show of confident lyricism and brilliant acoustic-pop songwriting.

4. “First Light” – Dustin Tebbutt. There’s definitely some Bon Iver falsetto here, but the acoustic arrangement and the vocal melodies are much more than any “spot the influence” game. Feels like a warm hug on a cold day.

5. “How Many Times” – Rod Ladgrove. The many layers of guitar, vocals, and clapping here sound huge and spacious, but in an ethereal, floating-world sort of way.

6. “Birds” – Richi Jones. The tenets of slowcore minimalism form the moody, guitar-based songwriting structure, with a bit of Passenger’s vocal tone thrown in.

7. “Hey Little Blackbird” – Elsdeer. A slight, subtle tune that relies on Elsdeer’s clear vocals, a pensive guitar performance, and amplifier hum to create a distinct mood.

8. “See Through” – Suzy Callahan. “Tenderly” is the repeated word in the chorus here, and it’s a fitting description of the pretty acoustic singer/songwriter tune as a whole.

9. “A Day Like Today” – Xavier William. William’s work is also intimate, with his vocals and major key acoustic guitar right up close to the microphone. The easygoing forward motion of a traditional folk strum is complemented by a neat whistling solo.

10. “The Wind” – John John Brown. Brown shows a deft arranging hand here, expertly creating a wide-open folk mood that’s as complex as those made by any more famous musician. The lyrics of the tune are equally expert, adding their literary heft into the already-high level of gravitas in this remarkable folk tune.

11. “West Cozy” – Creature People. By chance, I stumbled upon this text-based adventure game while I was listening to the song. Creature People’s mysterious, woodsy folk was the perfect accompaniment to a game that slowly unfolds itself as an adventure.

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Cadence Kid’s “Hold on Me”

June 3, 2016

Cadence Kid‘s “Hold on Me” is a rare gem: it’s a summery tune with memorable instrumentation, breezy vibe, and a video that actually represents the mood of the clip. The indie-pop of “Hold on Me” falls somewhere between the easygoing flow of Vacationer and the slightly-more staccato pop of Generationals. Bass, tambourine, and vocals interlock neatly, as in a Generationals tune; the disparate parts come together to create a full piece. The satisfying, rattling kit drumming holds all the pieces together into a slinky mood, just as a Vacationer tune might. The overall effect is effortlessly sunny, a slice of summer carved right off the ocean breeze.

What’s even more remarkable about “Hold on Me” is that the video captures this mood. Jason Turbin and Ryan Houchin take the oft-used video clip montage idea and spin it to perfection: the clip weaves in shots of skateboarding, rollerskating, parkour, cliff jumping, gleeful dancing, hiking, and more. It’s basically a compendium of why summer is great, mostly shot in a warm, slightly fuzzy way that evokes the experience of good memories. It’s a wonderful video that perfectly complements the sound of the tune, which is a rarity. I almost never say this for video, but here it is: highly recommended.

Early June MP3s: 1

June 1, 2016

1. “The Road” – John John Brown. It’s an impressive skill to breathe fresh vitality into musical staples. John John Brown makes a beautiful concoction out of folk fingerpicking, sawing fiddle, and gentle tenor vocals.

2. “Does She” – Caroline Lazar. Someday I’ll get tired of a thumping kick drum under a fingerpicked acoustic guitar line, but not today: Lazar’s folk pop is bright, charming, and fun (handclaps!).

3. “Offering” – Mischief Night. The recording style on this acoustic track makes it feel both cavernous and intimate; the vocals soar in the near distance, while the drums and casio tones are close at hand. The lyrics are intriguing, as well.

4. “I’m Not the Good One” – Ossayol. The delicate fingerpicking is perfectly counterpointed by a violin throughout. The chorus here just nailed me to the wall with its emotive power.

5. “Christine” – Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls. An ode to beautiful young women who grow old that balances rueful, pensive concern with an internal energy which pushes the track forward.

6. “Lucid Dreams” – Ego Death. A trembling, quiet performance that evokes solitude.

7. “We Both Know” – Andrew Butler. The pristine, precise arrangements of Andrew Bird, but now with significantly more emotions in the lyrics and vocal delivery.

7. “No God in Mexico” – Danny Whitecotton. Danny Whitecotton is continuing the long tradition of windswept, wide-screen folk troubadour storytelling with political undertones admirably. The sound itself is along the lines of Isbell’s quieter stuff instead of being a folk strumfest.

8. “Liars” – Gregory Alan Isakov. Isakov has expanded from his intimate, cryptic tunes of yore to being back by the Colorado Symphony on this tour-de-force. (The lyrics are still enigmatic in an evocative way.)

9. “Single” – Frith. The walking-speed tempo and distinctive melodic percussion sound of this comfortable, easygoing pop track give it a pleasant “Someone I Used to Know” feel.

10. “Zen Jam” – Joyriot. The title works: the tension between zen and joy is in full display on this mid-’00s indie-pop-rock track. There’s some Tokyo Police Club in there, maybe some Vampire Weekend, but all filtered through a chill, maybe even Death Cab-esque lens. Totally cool.

11. “Dance With Love” – Sam Joole. Joole forgoes his usual reggae vibes for Strokesian early ’00s indie-rock, complete with tambourine, distinctive strumming pattern, and slightly distorted vocals. It’s a blast.

12. “719 Desire Street” – Palm Ghosts. Jangle rock never dies, it just fits itself into the modern paradigm and moves on right along. This one’s a fun, sway-inducing, smile-creating song.

13. “Ten Lines (The Land Below Remix)” – MISSINCAT. I kept expecting this song to do stereotypical pop song things, and it always seemed to have a different corner for me to turn. Mad props for the unexpected in electro-pop.

Kris Orlowski: Diversified, satisfying

May 19, 2016

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Kris Orlowski has come a long way since 2011, when his At the Fremont Abbey EP crossed my desk. Often in the Pause is his second LP of full-band indie rock tunes, and it is his most musically assured and confident work to date.

Opener “Something’s Missing” is a low-slung indie-rock tune with a bunch of reverb (a la The Walkmen) until it explodes satisfyingly into a Bloc Party-meets-Jimmy Eat World rocker. That interplay between the angular, dusky edges of Bloc Party and the mature, hummable pop-rock of Jimmy Eat World forms the basis of the album’s sonic palette–the acoustic guitars and pianos I love so much are thrown in for contrast and color, either within songs (“Walking In My Sleep,” “Stars and Thorns”) or as a whole song breather amid the noisier tunes (“Go,” “Lost,” “We Share the Moon”).  Lead single “Walking in My Sleep” develops the noisier sound well, showing off Orlowski’s talent for combining intriguing rhythms and textures with song structures and vocal melodies that are immediately recognizable to indie rock listeners.

“Electric Sheep” expands this dark, brooding palette with a set of lyrics that blurs the line between the androids of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and an emotionally cold human being. Orlowski’s lyrics aren’t all literary references, though; most of them are direct, affecting, and effective, working through the tensions of young adulthood in the 2010s: relationships, politics, career fears, meaning-seeking.

The standout song on the record is unity-seeking political anthem “Stars and Thorns.” Lyrically it strikes just the right balance between patriotism, criticism, and optimism; musically it features a towering chorus that gave me shivers the first time I heard it. Orlowski doesn’t try to holler above guitar-rock din–instead, he lets the stomping arrangement punctuate his enthusiasm. It’s one that I immediately pressed repeat on.

Often in the Pause is a surprisingly diverse, satisfying record of crunchy indie-rock songs, ballads, and even some folk-pop tunes. If you’re looking for a big hook and a melody that’s going to sound great in a huge group (the whoa-ohs of “Stars and Thorns” will sound awesome live), Kris Orlowski should be in your listening habits.

Mid-May MP3s: So Many Songs

May 17, 2016

(There were a ton of good songs these last two weeks, so I included a lot more than usual in this post. Here’s to a good problem to have: too many tunes!)

1. “Can You Hear It” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. A piano-led cross between mid-’00s alt-country (The New Amsterdams, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning) and contemporary indie-pop whose enthusiasm just jumps out of the speakers.

2. “Mammoth” – Brothers Among Wera. Astonishingly, this is the second song I’ve heard in the last few weeks sung from the perspective of a mammoth at the end of the Ice Age: where Rock, Paper, Cynic’s tune was played for laughs, this one’s a bit more serious in its lyrics. However, the music here is an invigorating blast of folk-pop that has arrangements similar to Of Monsters and Men but tempos more similar to Twin Forks. The horns are just excellent here.

3. “The Man That I’ve Become” – Night Drifting. A blast of sunshine in indie-pop form, this tune has a skittering guitar line, jubilant vocals, and a bass line that bounces all over the place. There’s just enough going to be really interesting without getting hectic.

4. “Time Goes On” – Brothers. Sometimes you don’t have to break ground, you just have to nail the best elements of the formula. Brothers’ tune here is a straightforward folk tune with round acoustic guitar tone in a fingerpicked style, shuffle-snare drumming, root-chord bass with some nice fills, and sing-along vocal melodies. It just does everything I’m looking for in a folk tune (there’s even an organ solo, which isn’t strictly necessary for a folk tune but is greatly appreciated). Keep on keepin’ on, Brothers.

5. “Rose Petals” – Kindatheart. Here’s a fun tune: “Rose Petals” has indie-pop sensibilities (delicate vocal and guitar melodies, feathery background vocals) played at power-pop tempos.

6. “Stray Cats” – Robbing Johnny. There’s more vocal attitude packed into this single infectious acoustic-pop song than into some entire albums; John Murrell has impressive charisma and presence.

7. “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” – Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. Swampy, immediate, forceful, neo-gothic gospel that raised my eyebrows. It’s recorded immaculately, arranged dramatically (whoa organ), and performed intensely. It’s a workout, and I was only listening to it.

8. “THOUGHTS” – Gabriele Miracle. This unique tune ties the theatricality of flamenco guitar and vocals to a minimalist percussion line and mesmerizing guitar lines. It’s a wild trip.

9. “One Good Night” – Candy Cigarettes. Somewhere in the corners of my mind is a picture of a forlorn individual standing outside a hotel while the camera pans backwards away to show off the bleak desolation of the parking lot, barely-lit swimming pool, and the run-down building. The shot is fuzzy around the edges, a sympathetic reading of the place that’s seen better days. I immediately thought of this image when I heard this slice-of-life, mid-tempo acoustic jam.

10. “I Do” – Meiko. I’m a sucker for an intimate singer/songwriter tune about marital bliss, and Meiko’s latest single pushes all those buttons. The strings are great as well.

11. “Single Mountain Fiddle” – Jared Hard. Hard has a country-style tone to his baritone and a bit of country structure to his vocal melodies, but the folk-style arrangement is clean, uncluttered, and engaging.

12. “Thirteen Years Astray” – Glider Pilots. Speaking of big, empty spaces, Glider Pilots plays the kind of slow-motion alt-country that Mojave 3 was so good at. This song is heartbreaking without going for any of the big moves–it simply is infused with the majestic sense of sadness that seems so fitting.

13. “Washed Away” – Katmaz. The album’s called Nautical Things, and this relaxing, easygoing acoustic tune certainly has a gentle tidal vibe to it: there’s a slow, rolling vibe evoked from the picking pattern and a hazy, fluid mood coming out of the vocals.

14. “Never Heard Nothin’” – Galapaghost. A confident vocal performance of a resigned, sad melody plays on top of an insistent ukulele strum. The tune doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaving me wanting more.

15. “passing” – Dead Skunk. Lo-fi singer/songwriter material that falls somewhere between the hazy mood of Iron & Wine’s early work and the angular guitar work of The Mountain Goats’ early phase. It’s warm and relatable.

16. “Anyhow Anyway Anyday” – Wholewheat. Lo-fi work with casio that evokes the old-school lo-fi masters: there’s a clear song structure, off-kilter pun-making, and a clear vision that includes the tape hiss as a vital part of the tune. Lo-fi fans should jump at this.

17. “We Fell Apart” – Abby Litman. Evocative singer/songwriter work that hangs on subtle, thoughtful lyrical shifts and pleasingly melancholy guitar fingerpicking.

18. “Kissing Faded (feat. Timid Soul)” – Bohkeh. If Amanaguchi tried to write a chillwave song, it might sound like this neon-colored, glitchy-yet-chill electro piece.

19. “twentythousand” – Exes. Slow-jam electro-indie with delicate vocals and a convincing emotional palette. The smart use of vocals throughout is a highlight.

Mid-May Videos

May 15, 2016

I love sign language, emotional dance, and “Let’s Be Happy” by Fire Chief Charlie, so this video combines three things I love in an incredible way. Just a gorgeous clip.

OSOG’s clip for “Who Who (feat. The Hazelnuts)” is a post-apocalyptic travelogue that’s heavy on mundane, pedestrian survival attempts and low on zombies. The depiction of the grinding physical difficulty, the emotional toll, and ever-present danger of being two souls on the run creates a compelling watch.

If the ambient intensity of the last clip wore you out, cleanse your emotional palate with Wanderwild’s crisply-shot, peaceful, pastoral nature images.

Many attempts at surrealism suffer from not being near enough to reality to entirely register as off-kilter. Kevin Morby’s clip for “Dorothy” starts off subtly odd, and gets incrementally weirder and weirder as it goes. The great major-key indie-pop/indie-rock tune gives the whole thing a levity that helps it be even more unusual by contrast to the weird imagery.

Bad Bad Hats are poking fun at people here, either themselves or other people. Whichever one it is, this is some of the most bizarre, engaging satire that I’ve seen in a long time.

“Love Run” by Flaunt is a video built around a talented dancer with a hoop. It’s just plain fun to watch.

Mid-May MP3s: Come on in, Summer

May 14, 2016

1. “A Laughing Heart” – Steve Benjamins. I am a sucker for steel drums and horns; Benjamins includes both in this jubilant party of a song. If you were waiting for a song to kick off your summer appropriately, let me suggest this one.

2. “I Confess” – Cody Hudock. Hudock possesses the rare skill of being able to sound dramatic and chill at the same time. His skyscraping vocals bring the theatrics (in the best of ways), while a lazy piano and moseying drummer keep the vibes relaxed. The end ratchets up to a big, satisfying conclusion, but for a while, being suspended between the two moods is quite an experience.

3. “Take Your Time” – Night Drifting. The vocal melodies and the gentle, airy synth inclusion take this slightly fuzzed-out acoustic indie-pop tune to the next level. He’s on a rolling release schedule, so hit up his Bandcamp frequently for more music.

4. “I Hope You Hear This On the Radio” – Will Bennett & The Tells. Bennett and company barely keep all their enthusiasm contained on this folk-rock blaster; and if the band is that excited, how can the listeners not get excited? Great stuff here. I love songs that sound like the drummer is about to take off into space.

5. “Completed Fool” – Hollis Brown. Soul is hot right now, and Hollis Brown has some crunchy, electric-guitar-heavy soul ready for those who are all up on the Nathaniel Rateliff train and want more. Brown and his band have a month-long residency at Berlin in NYC, so if you’re around, you should hit that up.

6. “Take That” – CRUISR. Punchy, grooving electro-pop that sounds like MGMT fused to Vacationer.

7. “Drop Your Sword” – Joy Atlas. The fact that this electro-indie-pop song works is amazing: it’s an abstract, angular sort of thing, full of claps and snaps and keys and high-neck bass notes. It’s held together by Imogen Heap-esque vocals and its own internal logic. It made me press repeat just to try to figure out what happened.

8. “Talk About Us” – The TVC ft. Jayme Dee, Connor Foley. The lyrics and the huge, rubbery bass synth give off a hugely ’80s vibe, but in a pleasant way. I feel like I’ve been transported to the montage sequence of a dramatic ’80s teen movie, the part where things have gone south but the protagonists are collecting themselves and gearing up for the final confrontation. tl;dr raaaaaaaaaad.

9. “The Fear” – Amaroun. Amaroun’s engaging vocals power this churning indie-pop/R&B tune.

10. “Elizabeth” – Stephen Hunley. Some serious adult alternative vibes going on here, augmented with some bluesy cred in the arrangement (check that wurly).

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

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