I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year writing reviews for Independent Clauses and discovering new music. The following is a list of my top five releases from what I have reviewed this year, including both full length albums and EPs. It was difficult to choose a top five since I have loved every artist I wrote about, but here are a few of my favorites.
Paul Doffing – Songs from the (quaking) Heart(Review) Paul Doffing’s heartfelt release is, simply put, beautiful. As soon as I turn the album on, I feel so deeply that it almost brings me to tears every time. Not only the lyrics but the very instrumentation of Songs from the (quaking) heart exude raw emotion. Every time I listen, the album inspires me to go out to nature and write or paint.
Jeremy Bass – New York in Spring (Review) This EP is quite a unique cup of tea, and I love it. Bass’ New York in Spring oozes the kind of whimsy that can brighten any day. My favorite track from the EP, “Work,” showcases the album’s bossa nova flair while containing a string of brilliantly crafted lyrics that sardonically comment on our relationship with the inevitable: work.
The Lowest Pair- The Sacred Heart Sessions(Review) I remember the days when anything close to country music was something I did not listen to. Now, I find myself giddy over minimalist bluegrass album The Sacred Heart Sessions. Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee might be one of the best vocal pairings I have ever heard.
Tidelands- Old Mill Park(Review) This EP also effortlessly interweaves both male and female vocals throughout. Yet, the unique mix of classical and rock instrumentation is really what makes this collection stand out. Every song has a distinctly different sound from the next. I shared a few of these tracks with my picky husband, and he loved them all.
Thayer Sarrano- Shaky(Review) Hauntingly beautiful really is the best phrase to describe this album. This is yet another album that makes me feel deeply just from the instrumentation. Sarrano’s vocals and lyrics leave me truly awed. Shaky’s southern gothic sound makes me a little bit uncomfortable in the best way; in my opinion, the best art does.–Krisann Janowitz
1. “The Itch” – Brother O’ Brother. Stripping some of the Black Keys-esque arena-rock sheen from their guitar-and-drums approach ends up with a raging, distortion-laden tune that has The White Stripes on speed-dial. Ka-pow.
2. “The Dusty Song” – Sebastian Brkic. Brkic creates a swooping, diving panorama that relies just as much on creaky-voiced MeWithoutYou-style indie-rock as it does acoustic material.
3. “Ridiculous” – Mleo. Surprising vocal and instrumental range make this an impressive rock tune.
4. “Salvo” – CFIT. Serious music that reaches for the seriousness of Radiohead, the swirling development of shoegaze, some airy aesthetics of chillwave, and an overall sense that none of those influences take away from the inventiveness of the work.
5. “What’s Pesto” – The River Fane. Ominous clicking and clacking undergird this menacing, pondering, powerful indie rock track that’s anchored by thunderous piano chords and wavering vocals a la Thom Yorke.
6. “Rubbernecking” – Frog. Fresh off their triumphant Kind of Blah, Frog re-released their debut. This track points toward the ragged enthusiasm and vocal intricacies that made the guitar rock of KOB such a charm.
7. “End of Something” – Febria. This tunes’ an omnivorous beast, as prog, math-rock, laid-back ’70s psych, jazz, and guitar heroics blend together into a mindbending stew. It’s not as hectic as The Mars Volta, but it’s maybe in the zipcode next door.
8. “Golden Threads From the Sun (excerpt)” – yndi halda. This bit of a tune from a larger post-rock work points to the scope at which yndi halda feels comfortable: massive. As such, there are some group vocals, Sigur Ros-like distortion explosions and frantic drums, strings, and generally all manner of thing going on. Here’s to maximalist post-rock.
9. “Thank You For Your Time” – Citizen Shade. Soulful and dramatic, this piano-led romp starts off quiet and ramps way up.
Instead of writing new blurbs for each of these albums, I’m going to let the reviews stand as my comments about each of them except the album of the year. Since I had so many EPs on my EPs of the year list, there are less than my standard 20 albums of the year this year.
Album of the Year: Worn Out Skin – Annabelle’s Curse. (Review) This album came out of nowhere and established itself as a standard component of my listening life. It fits on the shelf right next to Josh Ritter and The Barr Brothers in terms of maturity of songwriting, lyrical depth, beauty, and overall engagement. Each of the songs here have their own charms, which is rare for an album: this one will keep you interested the whole way through. It’s a complete album in every sense of the word, and so it was the easy choice for album of the year.
1. “Mirrors” – Mos Eisley. Triumphant folk-pop that’s exciting without going over the top into cliche.
2. “Glow” – The National Parks. Big instrumental melodies, lots of instruments, charming vocal melodies, subtle-enough-to-not-be-gimmicky underlying electronic beats; this folky indie song is just a blast.
3. “Vintage – High Dive Heart. Throw technicolor girl pop, white rap, a banjo, and folk-pop harmonies in a blender and you get out this enigmatically engaging song. This song doesn’t make any sense to me in so many ways and yet I love it. It just works. Amazing.
4. “Ancient Burial Ground” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig gives us the demos of his new album before it’s released, and you can color me excited: this tune and the handful of others that come with it are chipper musically and intricate lyrically, just like his best work. Watch for Great Falls Memorial Interchange in 2016.
5. “Canada” – Nikki Gregoroff. “The people are nice cross the border,” sings Gregoroff, which is just a really nice thing to write into a Simon and Garfunkel-esque tune.
6. “Chantilly Grace” – Granville Automatic. Bell-clear female vocals lead this tune that looks back to vintage Americana (that fiddle!) and forward to modern alt-country melodies.
7. “Bliss Mill” – Matthew Carter. The laid-back chill vibe and unhurried vocals of Alexi Murdoch meets the shuffle-snare of traditional country/folk for a memorable tune.
8. “Set Sail” – Matt Monoogian. Monoogian’s calm voice leads this acoustic track with an intricate arrangement that pulls the Gregory Alan Isakov trick of feeling both comfortingly small and confidently big.
9. “Bentonville Blues” – Adam Hill. A protest song for the modern day working poor, Hill captures the everyman ethos with great delivery of relatable lyrics, simpple arrangement of singalong melodies, and a the burned-but-not-killed mentality similar to old-time protest work songs.
10. “Itasca County” – Rosa del Duca. The frontman of folk outfit hunters. releases her own album of singer/songwriter tunes that focus on her voice and lyrics, both of which are in fine form on this rolling, harmonica-splashed tune.
11. “Tongue Tied” – Oktoba. That space between soul, folk, and singer/songwriter keeps getting more populated: let in Oktoba, whose offering isn’t as overtly sensuous as some but is just as romantic (and hummable)!
12. “The Blue” – David Porteous. Canadian Porteous beautifully splits the difference between two UK singer/songwriters here by invoking Damien Rice’s sense of intense romantic intimacy and David Gray’s widescreen pop arrangements.
13. “Whirlpool Hymnal” – Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders. Squires expands his yearning, searching alt-folk to include found sounds–the lyrics are just as thought-provoking and honest as ever.
14. “Playground” – Myopic. The fragile swoon of a violin bounces off the stately plunk of melodic percussion in this thoughtful instrumental piece.
15. “Siphoning Gas” – Luke Redfield. This gentle, ambient soundscape is the sound of looking out the window when rain is coming down and you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything but cuddle up with a blanket and a book in a big bay window and enjoy it.
EPs are becoming more popular than ever, and I love the trend: there’s no room for filler on an EP. As a result, a lot of artists brought their A game to the smaller format this year. Here’s to them:
1. Thanks for All Your Patience – Brother Moses. (Review) I spun this one the most often because the easygoing, almost effortless indie-rock vibe gave rise to some seamless, indelible melodies. Clean, tight, clever, and earnest, I gravitated to this one early and often in 2015.
2. On Separation – David Wimbish. (Review) Wimbish, frontman of The Collection, stripped out some of the intricate arrangements of his day job for a more intimate set of portraits that focused in on the lyrics. Elegant, haunting, and beautiful.
3. Loca EP – Valley Shine. (Review) Folk-pop can be a formula these days, but Valley Shine is all about exploding the formula with raw enthusiasm, brash melodies, and surprising pathos.
6. Regards – We are the West. (Review) A wisp of an EP that barely has time to meet you before it’s gone, but oh does it deliver: this Low Anthem-style Americana sounds like a warm blanket around my ears.
7. Joe Kaplow EP – Joe Kaplow. (Review) One of my favorite debuts of the year, as Kaplow showed off his versatility in several different acoustic-based styles. Looking forward to more from Kaplow.
8. Away, Away – B. Snipes. (Review) Another excellent debut that introduces Snipes’ low-slung troubadour singer/songwriter voice to the world, taking the lyrics of Rocky Votolato in a more Americana direction.
The story told here is visually arresting, attention-grabbing, engrossing, and deeply moving. I wanted it to go on for so much longer than it did, which is the highest praise I can give to music videos.
Former frontman of The Exquisites, Jason Clackley, shows his tender side with his solo EP Patience. The releaseis quite the departure from Clackley’s alt-punk days, as emotive lyrics and exquisite piano playing make up why I love this EP.
“Eyes” opens up the EP with its slightly brooding sound as a result of Clackley’s lyrics, voice and piano playing. Throughout the song, the dynamics of the piano performance mirror the level of passion in Clackley’s voice. My favorite aspect of this song is the pleading lyrics: the chorus repeats “Open up your eyes/ and let the things we say come true.” The ending repetition of “open up your eyes” adds a moving layer of desperation.
“Stop Now” picks up the pace a bit more from the first song. The addition of a percussive element to the piano gives the song a driving beat. The first line, “Do you remember when/ we fell apart?” exposes the very passionate nature of the song. Clackley’s voice echoes that passion in the scream-like way he sings. Clackley spends the entire song belting notes at you, similarly to when Glen Hansard hammers those higher notes. “Stop Now” oozes punk rock intensity but leaves the anarchy behind.
In “Slow Motion,” Clackley slows things down in both his piano playing and singing. Clackley’s heavy use of the sustain pedal allows all of the primarily-lower notes to linger. This lingering element is also displayed in the way Clackley draws out his vocal notes. His final cry “is there anyone else that feels the same way as I do” is sung twice for emphasis and the song ends with a beautiful piano outro. “Slow Motion” has an overall calm, meditative sound.
“You” very quickly changes the relaxed mood of the EP with its very Rachmaninov-esque opening slam on the piano. The piano’s theme is then laid out and repeated so as to lay the foundation for the rest of the song. Clackley’s first lyric–“You’re one in a million–similarly sets the tone for the rest of the poetic ode to a beloved. The unique chorus of “You”’ is comprised solely of the lyric “and you”. The dynamic way the piano is played at the chorus gives “and you” even greater emphasis. The song then closes the EP with another elegant piano outro.
Every song off Patience combines heartfelt lyrics with graceful piano playing, giving off the sound of piano concerto meets singer-songwriter work. Both the piano playing and lyrics find equal emphasis and importance. Clackley’s EP feels like a timeless classic, and it has not even been out for a half a year.–Krisann Janowitz
1. “Undercover” – Lane 8 (feat. Matthew Dear). How can one not resist the amorous Matthew Dear lyrics, “Dancing with you, undercover/Feels like there are no more lovers, lovers, lovers, left to discover”? This beautifully melodic house track embodies that magnetic energy pulsating between your mouth and the person’s lips you’re desperately trying not to kiss.
2. “World Away” – Kasbo. There are some songs in which the artist has injected emotion of the highest degree. Kasbo’s ambient, thrilling, intoxicating “World Away” is just that; the drops literally take your breath away, and the pulse pulls and pushes all at once.
3. “Turn Your Back” – Colder (Patrice Bäumel Remix). I imagine my alien abduction to sound like this: a nebula of disorienting static and electronic pulsing that jolts me towards a black hole of deep house, where I’ll likely never return.
4. “Claim” – Jojee. “You don’t want my heart/You just want to claim me,” Jojee sings over catchy, indie pop that automatically enlists this track in the army of college ladies’ pre-game ballads.
5. “Step 2001” – Wiley feat. Zomby. If you have yet to listen to UK-based rapping, this should be the track to take that virginity. With industrial-sounding production that pops and grinds, like gun shots in a videogame, and tarantula-like vocals that dart with alarming speed, this is grime at its finest.
6. “Baila Como Yo” – District 78. Does this belong in the opening credits of a Western spoof, or a trap-inspired, Latin dance party? “Baila Como Yo” is like a Dillon Francis moombahton track during a birthday party, but with a piñata bursting open with bass when it drops to the floor.
7. “Take Two” – Dave Eleanor feat. Marena Whitcher. If you have a fetish for ____ pauses and heavyweight bass music, you’ve found your match in the slow-mo, dim-lit rattlesnake ring with “Take Two.”
8. “Someone in the Sky” – AFFKT feat. Sutja Gutierrez. Dizzying, disco-like vocals, and lively piano over a techno beat somehow gave me the best song deja vu I’ve ever experienced. It was like I heard this in a dream before…
9. “Kimono” – Submotion Orchestra. “Kimono” sounds like droplets dripping and ricocheting within a vibrating, electronic cylinder; majestic, wind-chilled, and mysteriously exotic; an electronic rainstorm.
10. “On the Shore” – Luke Top. With brawny, retro-styled vocals similar to The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Luke Top’s dream-pop track should be served chilled with a lime.
11. “The Parade” – Band of Gold. Alternative, Norweigan duo Band Of Gold radiates supreme optimism in this catchy, ‘90s-esque anthem. With a theme about determinedly “getting to the core,” this track should accompany your drunken scribbling of New Year resolutions.
12. “Love Dies” – Club 8. From the newly-released album Pleasure, “Love Dies” glimmers with a spacey pop sound, teenage nostalgia gliding through effortless female vocals, and a lullaby beginning that, instead of building, stays elegantly reserved in high altitude.
13. “Occasional Magic” – Yppah (Ulrich Schnauss Remix). Lush, frond leaf-type music, perfect for soaking in the natural hot springs of Costa Rica or lighting up in the comfort of your back patio, “Occasional Magic” twinkles and pulses with gorgeously hydrated sounds.
14. “Magic Johnson” – Max Graef & Glenn Astro. From the recently-released Magic Johnson, this throbbing title track has a Flying Lotus vibe, with its groovy bass and stylish synth work. The track creates bounciness and a chill-out atmosphere simultaneously.–Rachel Haney
Some people can’t listen to music while they work, especially if it has words. It’s hard for me to work if I’m not listening to music, but I do still prefer slow-moving instrumental pieces while getting my job done.
Sonic Soundscapes’ “Flat Figure Eight” is just the sort of thing that fits me (and that I’ve been into lately): it’s ostensibly a drone created with an electric guitar E-bow, but it’s quite dynamic over its near-six-minute length. The tune is full, folding what could be harsh sounds–like the underlying metallic tone that provides tension–into a warm, round, comforting sound. The tune develops melodically by sending the heavily-manipulated pedal steel guitar line briefly into a minor key before joyously returning to the major, then wandering back and forth between them. The glacial movement of the melodic line against the thrumming backdrop creates a unique mood that makes me want more from Sonic Soundscapes. If you’re into instrumental, ambient music, Sonic Soundscapes should catch your ear.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.