1. “Jessie” – Morricone Youth. This inventive track blends lounge-y jazz saxophone with a Spaghetti western percussion backdrop and an Album Leaf-esque, dreamy digital/analog arrangement. Definitely not something you’ve heard before.
2. “Weather Spirits – Yellowhead. Zinging, ping-ponging synth bonks rattle around over a staccato percussion line and neat samples (static, as well as what sounds like someone breathing) in this instrumental hip-hop track. It’s a way fun ride.
3. “Yamakuza Sunrise” – Sky Vettel. Breakbeats percussion, dj scratching, UFO noises, and funky vocal samples: sign me up for that instrumental hip-hop throwdown.
4. “Post Mortem Muscle Memory” – London Missile. This instrumental hip-hop track skews closer to a chillwave or twee tune, as subtle beats give frame to hushed fuzz, light glitching, a mini-breakbeat section, and sun-dappled moods. Pogo would love this.
5. “Corfu Town” – Hauture. Some chillwave tunes are reverb-heavy fuzz-taculars, but Hauture takes the opposite approach here in creating a precise, pristine electro tune with dreamy atmospheres created through the tones of the synths instead of giant clouds of reverb. The results are a tight, snappy tune that will appeal to fans of Teen Daze.
6. “Lumière” – Noel. There’s so much gravitas packed into this little piano-led instrumental piece that it feels like it could suck the air right out of a room. Made me think of the visual and emotional tension of Inception (but thankfully, the giant foghorns of the soundtrack are not present).
7. “Suddenly Overcome” – Theo Alexander. Like casting stones in swiftly moving water, this piece features left hand chords dropped into a rushing, tumbling right-hand pattern that slowly fades into the background. It’s like a classical piano version of the trick LCD Soundsystem pulls in “All My Friends,” put to very different ends. It’s an emotionally satisfying piece.
8. “INSTYNKT V” – Wojtek Szczepanik. This solo piano piece manages to balance the tensions of soothing and driving, chords and individual melodies, high drama and serene emotions.
9. “Why Go To Paris?” – Alex Tiunaev. A delicate, tender, atmospheric solo piano piece that evokes romantic, mysterious, and melancholy images of the dusky urban cafes in the titular city.
10. “Stairs” – Elgin Thrower Jr. Gentle reverb and hands shifted to the right of the keyboard create an ethereal, soft, pretty piano piece that gracefully moves through space.
11. “Edinburgh” – Nick Watson. Having visited the titular city in 2016, I appreciated the subtle themes that run through this piano-and-strings composition. There’s some city noise in the background, but a gentle set of chords and melodies from the piano take the forefront. (Edinburgh is a bustling place, but there’s also quite a bit of serenity there.) When the strings come in, there’s a sense of arch elegance in the tone contrasting with some severe, serious bowing and rhythms. The city is beautiful but also Scottish: grey, wet, dark, and gloomy. My visitor’s impression of the city is well-captured in this piece.
Reinvention can be challenging: Danny Elfman’s groundbreaking band Oingo Boingo went through a variety of changes, while Berlin changed the record industry’s perception of the band when Terri Nunn re-joined the outfit. Rather than a flashback, Oklahoma City’s former Starlight Mintsfrontman Allan Vest and producer Barb Vest are having no issues creating magic withan incredible blend of vibes that includes touches from the best of the 1980s new wave experimental revolution. DoubleVee is set to release its debut album, The Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider, on February 10 via CEN/RED Distribution, a division of Sony Music. Not a bad way to start.
Jack the Rider was recorded and produced at their home studio in Norman, Oklahoma, with some mixing and mastering from Matt Pence at The Echo Lab and additional mixing and mastering from Wes Sharon at 115 Recording. The results are an incredibly cool, distinct concept album. The album follows the story of Jack, a traveler who descends from remnants of the Twilight Zone. The ten songs are a trippy wander, and it is easy to see how the former Starlight Mints work has been exposed to Iggy Pop and David Bowie. “‘Jack the Rider” integrates the vocal gifts of both Vests into a solid, subtle instrumentation that highlights the story. The tune transitions into “What You Deserve,” with background strings and whistles suggesting a stroll down a twisted version of Sesame Street.
“Frucus Minus (The Flycatcher)” is theatrical, the instrumentation a hip go-go grind. Somehow the music overwhelms the stench of the tale, like flowers popping out through manure in a garden. Allen’s beginnings as an adopted child seem to sing through the album: lost but found, alone but belonging–a DNA search around the time of this record found his birth father to be a music store owner in Houston area during the 1960s. “Dangerous World” delivers that feeling with Ziggy Stardust alienation. It also verifies the fact that we are who we are meant to become when the rubber meets the road. The piano-driven “Motorcade Serenade” is perfect; a march into a fuller instrumentation never feels inauthentic.
Ethereal vocals from Barb Vest drift into “Jose’s Apparition,” feeling an echo from Allen. Strings become a force in the story, a complete paradox to the feel of the song. One might think Jose is a tequila reference, especially if listeners have experienced the wrath of the morning after. The introduction of “Bumper Car Parade” definitely is hallucinatory. This is concept art, music, and theatrics worth the attention of Tim Burton. Hitting the retro stroll of “Quiz Show,” the perky feel is a TARDIS of sorts, collecting tidbits of musical history along the way. The modern mashup is impeccable.
Downtempo for the first time in Jack’s journey, “Wait In Blues” is real love. Heading out of the album, listeners are invited to be witnesses to the transformation that time and the journey made possible over another summer. Back to Oklahoma, Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider comes full circle with “Nocturnal Boy.” Bright and uptempo, often the most demanding challenges become the most rewarding paradoxes in life. Concept albums can be memorable for listeners and thrive for generations. The debut effort from doubleVee has the potential to be one of those special albums.–Lisa Whealy
Nichoals Roberts’ Springbok Sessions video for “River to a Flood” sets him in nature, hanging out in the grounds behind the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando. It’s sunset, and there’s a hazy background that could be a lake, a river, or some other wide expanse. The serene conditions are a perfect match for Roberts’ delicate, almost crystalline tune; his whisper-folk voice meshes seamlessly over a gently strummed acoustic guitar. There are traces of William Fitzsimmons’ hushed intensity here, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan-era elegies. The results are magnificent; it’s a beautiful rendition of an excellent song.
1. “Me to Bleed” – Madeleine Dopico. Dopico’s powerful voice and large range are on full display here, as she just powerhouses her way through a churning, pounding indie rock tune. It sounds like an unhinged Lake Street Dive working a minor key. Wow.
2. “Pin on a Map” – Fiesta Morose. The band name is perfect here, as the high-drama dourness of Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave meets the full-band enthusiasm and stylistic precision of early Arcade Fire in a beautiful collision.
3. “Property” – Jillian Steele. Sometimes a pop song jumps out of the pack and impresses itself upon my brain. This female-empowerment anthem is a acoustic-pop jam that opens up into a big, memorable, Lilith-Fair-esque chorus.
4. “Orbit Berlin” – Evil Astronaut. This thrumming, brooding electro-pop tune has a big human heart via the vulnerable vocal performance and and expertly-employed vocal modulations, harmonies, and counterpoints. The big, heavenly-sounding synths at the end help that warm feeling along.
5. “This Mess Won’t Make Itself” – Dead Seem Old. Songs influenced by flamenco guitar are just always so jubilant and lively, even when not in a major key. This dance-inducing track includes rat-a-tat vocal rhythms, perky horns, and a great mood. Awesome.
6. “Captain’s Ship” – Sasha and the Bear. This swaying, undulating indie-pop track is woozy in the best way: there’s a sense of the unusual and unexpected hanging over this track, from the rhythms to the unique vocal tone to the mix of delicate stringed instruments and big synths. It’s infectious.
7. “Live Like You (The Empty Vignette)” – Eli Otterholt. The lovely instrumental mood is a mix between the calm of Alexi Murdoch and the sweep of Gregory Alan Isaakov. The multi-generational lyrics spin a compelling tale of hope and love.
8. “Walk Towards the Fireworks” – Liam Paton. Ostensibly a solo piano composition, this excellent track combines gentle brushed percussion, lush strings, melodically interesting piano, and even horns to create a whirling, enveloping landscape.
9. “Rain” – Delafaye. A sleepy, reverb-laden acoustic piece that really evokes the mood of grey day. The vocal melodies in the chorus are particularly great.
10. “Sweetly” – The Show Ponies. There’s always room in my heart for a tender, unfussy love song. The warm acoustic guitar performance, earnest female vocal performance, and ear-catching vocal melodies put this tune on the top shelf.
After nearly twenty years of performing, Oklahoma’s Travis Linville has performed worldwide from dive bars to festivals to YouTube music shows to television appearances on CMT and The Tonight Show. Stepping to the front of the stage with his country-and-blues-tinged indie folk, Linville is set to release Up AheadFebruary 3, 2017.
To support his constantly evolving skill as a songwriter, Linville enlisted the help of studio musicians who have also performed with him live. David Leach (John Fullbright) joins on upright bass, Ryan Jones (Oklahoma Opry) plays keys, and two diverse percussionists round out the sound: Matt Duckworth (Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus) and Mike Meadows (Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson). Linville himself performed all vocals, guitars, lap steel, pedal steel, mandolin, and dobro. The result is a well-crafted piece of art in the form of a ten-song trip down a country lane.
Listeners can almost smell the “Flowers in Your Hair,” smelling the rain as it falls in some skilled mandolin from Linville. Working subtly, the lyricism has a folk Americana flair. Shifting to a more indie feel, “Wishes” still paints with vivid cinematic imagery: authentic and real. Linville is a skilled multi-instrumentalist who is great at pulling in other talents: Jones steps in on keys during “Two Times the Fool,” pulling the stroll into an introspection that everyone can relate to. Nearly halfway through the album, mid-tempo road trip “Finding My Way” is driven more by bass, percussion, and slide guitar.
Country influences are king on “Bar Room,” as the sly humor of Linville’s songwriting is blatantly cool here. You can almost smell the stale beer and sawdust on the floor. The birth of some great music took place in the dingy places, and this song has that East Texas drawl. A great songwriter makes the listener feel, and “Fade to Winter” is a great transition. Sequencing and an intelligent mix makes this song a stronger statement than maybe it started out as lyrically.
“Up Ahead” is the title track for a reason. It encompasses all elements of this musician, from his influences to his experiences: Okie music is influenced strongly by all genres from Texas country to the Nashville sound. This is a beautiful way to start wandering down the road out of this album. “Waltz Ahead” is a slow dance, plain and simple–and that is its beauty. It is is the only song in three quarter time on the album, making it stand out with even more emphasis. Taking that stand-out quality to the next level, “Going Down Easy” is a showcase of musicianship with a solid blues vibe. “Worried Mind” caps off this acclaimed solo release.
Rich with textures, Up Ahead is a soulful and authentic sensory journey of an everyman with a guitar. After this release, listeners will hear the beauty of his truth standing in the spotlight. Get a copy today.–Lisa Whealy
1. “Drop a Pebble” – Cálido Home. The rhythms, melodies and arresting female vocal tone create a skipping, dancing, beautifully complex acoustic tune. The melodies are particularly memorable.
2. “Take Me Home” – Nick Nash. A straight-ahead alt-country song with strong vocals is the vehicle for some working-class musings that Jason Isbell would love: “Give me a Jesus that I know, not the one you say I never will / Give me the ignorant working saints, not the enlightened rich with their fame.” The rest follows suit; really great writing here.
3. “Autumn Moon” – Johnny Nobles. The chorus melodies here are lovely: the lead melody dips low against a counterpoint harmony that soars gently upwards. The strings that come in right after seal the deal on this singer/songwriter tune.
5. “One Day” – Alex Hedley. Hedley’s voice is evocative and emotive over rippling, smooth acoustic guitar.
6. “Will to Abide” – Nathan Andrew Jones. A swooning fiddle and keening pedal steel are sweet counterpoint to an earnest melody and “weary love” lyric in this (alt?) country tune.
7. “Merry Margaret” – David and Brittany Farkas. The mandolin and baritone male vocal give this full-band folk tune an unusual, intriguing sound.
8. “State of Grace” – Last Builders of Empire. One section of a longer song cycle about the afterlife, this post-rock tune sets an elegant mood that reflects the title, but with a bit of distortion and grit to ground it.
9. “Baracus” – Moyamoya. The enigmatic and attractive album art for this song belies the tensions in it: The guitar riffs are really wiry and brittle for a post-rock tune, the tune has a sort of optimistic cast in the key, and the percussion keeps a lockstep beat reminiscent of krautrock. But, right when confusion reaches maximum, a wall of sound appears. So there’s something for every post-rock fan here.
10. “Idle” – Sthlm Falls. Without the searing lead melody, this would be a rolling acoustic guitar composition; without the guitar, this would be a minimalist ambient piece. Together, it’s not quite either thing, creating its own place in the world.
11. “Folds” – Nathan Shubert. The delicate, precise, rushing nature of the piano here makes the keys almost sound like pizzicato strings. The clicking of the keys as they hit and the moving of parts make this an intimate yet oddly intense piece. It’s powerful but in a restrained mood; it’s full of energy but sounds just as much like a rippling river as the rush of people in a subway station. It’s gorgeous.
1. “Seventeen” – 3D Friends. A wistful power-pop tune that kept me on the edge of my seat for a lot of the song, wondering “What’s going to come around the corner?”
2. “Damage” – TeamMate. Dance-oriented indie rock that’s somewhere between MGMT and Grouplove. In other words, it’s the audio equivalent of a confetti cannon.
3. “Walk Away” – Delta & Dawn. There’s some Bastille in this punchy pop song. The more obscure reference (but one that I can’t shake) is a distinctly Relient K-esque mesh between the chorus vocal melody and the electric guitars.
4. “Darkerside” – //AMISTAD//. Attitude-laden rap-singing leads the way through an ominous electro-pop environment; it’s not the type of thing I’m generally into, but the vocals just fit so perfectly against the synth backdrop.
5. “Quiet” – MILCK. Pulls off the neat trick of seeming more like an electro-pop tune than it actually is, as this piano-led pop tune is built on a trilling chorus vocal melody, thumping percussion, and strong female empowerment lyrics.
6. “Go There” – Small Forward. This is all the best elements of ’90s and early ’00s indie-rock thrown into one great tune: hazy guitar chimes, sweetness in the vocal melodies, punchy drums, quiet/loud/quiet dynamics, and an overall mood of slackery but good-natured chill. It’s just fantastic. Also, the band name is a basketball reference and I dig it.
7. “Faux Depart” – Cyclope Espion. I’m on a French kick recently; the rhythmic patterns of their language are different than English, which intrigues my ear. This folk-pop/pop-rock tune sounds like early Counting Crows, but with a saxophone and (yes) French language lyrics.
8. “Alcaline” – Laura Lefebvre. This French-language tune pours the rhythms into American indie rock-style melodies; if you don’t listen too closely, you can’t even tell its French. The arrangement is tight and lithe as well–particularly in the percussion–making this an impressive indie-rock tune.
9. “Pages” – Magana. Fans of Wye Oak will love this subtle, textured, serious, female-fronted, guitar-oriented indie rock.
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 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)
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.