When I first heard Graceland by Paul Simon, I was originally very confused. I wondered, “This is the same guy who wrote ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘The Boxer’?” But I got used to amalgam of unusual musical stylings with Simon’s confident vocal melodies and insightful commentary on middle age. Peter Galperin‘s A Disposable Life had me thinking the same thoughts: “Bossa nova lounge music? About cell phones?” But after some adjustment to the sound, I’ve come to appreciate its uniqueness. It’s certainly not for everyone, but Galperin brings a fresh perspective to the table.
A Disposable Life consists of eight songs that wrap tightly around the theme of consumerism in American life. While the lyrics can occasionally feel jarringly specific in their references, the overall scope of the tunes is prescient and interesting. (It’s not all doom and gloom, either, which is nice.) It’s a solid group of lyrics, which is a something one should expect from an album that so clearly screams “this is a pop album”–albeit a weird one.
The songs don’t hide their lyrical content: the songs are shaped around Galperin’s vocal delivery. This is where Galperin’s idiosyncratic approach works for and against him: in true lounge style, the vocals have a casual, even smaltzy air to the delivery. This is honest to the style and also a continuation of the lyrical themes: the is-it-painfully-earnest-or-mocking veneer of the delivery fits perfectly with consumerism’s conflicted premises. This tension shown most effectively in “There’s No Future” and the title track, which are protest songs (of a sort) that poke at the problems we could cause for Earth with our consumerism in a totally straight face. The cognitive dissonance of the lyrics with the cheery bossa nova sounds forces me to think about the tunes and what they mean. That’s a win.
The music, like I noted earlier, is pretty standard lounge and bossa nova: lots of sprightly pianos, gently strummed acoustic guitar chords, and rim-clicking percussion. It’s not a very common sound for indie-pop singer/songwriters to pick up, which makes it interesting on that front. In addition to the protest songs (which skew more “serious” in their musical construction), there are some genuinely fun songs. “Bubblewrap” is an ode to the plastic poppable that sounds the most like Graceland, with a vaguely African beat and perky instrumentation. “(No One’s) Better Off Dead” punches the cheese button in aping chill ’50s and ’60s pop, even opening the track with a cascading harp. It’s a goofy track, but it’s hard to not smile knowingly. Irony is still kind of fun, you know?
A Disposable Life is a quirky, weird, interesting album. It’s not for everyone, because there are few who are going to immediately think oh snap I’ve been waiting for somewhat ironic bossa nova protest songs. But if you’ve got an adventurous listening habit, Peter Galperin is doing some fascinating work. I’d suggest checking it out.
David Ramirez is very quickly becoming one of my favorite songwriters. It’s not just his engrossing baritone voice or powerful melodies, nor is it solely his intimate production. Those are all reasons that David Ramirez is at the top of his game. The reason he’s beating out others and being at the top of the game is his willingness to take on unusual topics with a refreshing candor. The five songs of The Rooster feature touching love ballads, a breakup song, and some outlaw country remorse, but highlight “The Forgiven” talks about the struggles of being an artist in a new light.
Among his fingerpicked notes, Ramirez announces,
“They love me for be honest/they love me for being myself/but the minute I mention Jesus/they want me to go hell/And it’s hard to find the a balance/when I don’t believe in one./When you mix art with business/you’re just shooting an empty gun.”
I’d quote the rest of the song for you, because it’s beautiful, passionate, and poignant, but you should just listen for yourself. As a Christian who works primarily not in Christian arenas, this song resonated deeply with me. It is heartening to hear Ramirez struggle with the whole of himself as part of his songwriting, and that struggle is worth my highest stamp of approval.
It’s not all deep thoughts about the role of the songwriter: “Fire of Time” is a gorgeous song about the redemption that people can help each other find, while “Glory” is just a beautiful love song. Each of these are treated in the stark, riveting style I mentioned up top. In short, The Rooster is high on the list for best EP of the year, because there’s nothing here that isn’t in top form. If you like the singer/songwriter genre and haven’t heard of David Ramirez yet, you need to fix that immediately.
There’s two ways to get on my good side: put a new spin on an old genre or make that old genre work perfectly. The Naked Sun have taken the latter approach to alt-country, pulling together all the old tropes of the genre and making them sing on the four-song Space, Place and Time EP. The usual suspects are here: acoustic guitar, organ, pedal steel (or its electric guitar approximation), and earnest tenor vocals with a bit of raw timbre. The thing to celebrate in The Naked Sun is its arrangement of these tried and true parts, creating memorable moments and melodies out of a deep genre knowledge.
“Debbie Deist” is a country waltz like I would expect to find in an old-time saloon: howling vocals over jaunty piano, a simple drumbeat, and multipart harmonies. When the emotive guitar solo kicked in, I was totally sold. That’s not virtuouso egoism, that’s heart and soul, my friends.
The gentle “Cosmic Winds” calls up comparisons to modern folkies, while the guitar hook of “Fatigue” pulls the song in a bit more artsy direction than traditional alt-country. Still, it feels comfortable within the EP and the genre, like old hands pushing the boundaries a little before settling back into the know-’em-by-heart verses. “Rough Diamond” closes out the set with a flowing, contemplative piece. It’s a strong four-song set, and one that fans of alt-country will find themselves drawn to. No flash, no frills, just strong, strong songwriting.
Winter in Alabama consists of 45 degrees and raining. Spring in Alabama consists of 65 degrees and raining. I think it’s understandable that it took far longer than usual for me to break out of my wintry folk cocoon and get back to rocking. But with Minneapolis trio Citroën around, there’s no way to not love rock. The four-song Anachronaut shows off the impressive songwriting skills of this bass-heavy outfit.
Opener “Shifting Sands” harnesses an impressive Queens of the Stone Age-type bass riff to power a wiry, propulsive groove that QOTSA so often misses these days. “Shore” amps up the groove elements of their sound, letting the bass lines drive the song; “Terminal Bliss” strips out almost everything but the bass and some minimal percussion to create an ominous, unforgettable tune. As a bass player, it’s incredibly fun to hear the low end being treated as an equal player in the sound. It gives the tunes a unique vibe that works in their favor: even if no one pointed out that the bass has an unusually important role, you’d be able to tell that something was different in this sound.
Citroën doesn’t view rock as a vehicle for electric guitar antics, but as an expression of three people all working together to create a unified sound. As obvious as that seems, it’s a rare take on the genre that deserves praise. I look forward to what they put out next.
The striking rhythms and herky-jerky guitar work of “Ghost Strokes on the Bell” hooked me on PBD‘s When Everyone Is Getting Wise. The band describes themselves as prog, but it sounds to me like Joan of Arc’s post-punk freakouts, math-rock, and post-Vampire Weekend indie rock. The duo relies heavily on drums as the foundation for the spazzy riffs, but bass guitar also plays a grounding role in keeping the sound from floating away in esoteric guitar noodling.
Male vocals provide the element that brings the whole thing together. They are occasionally melodic and beautiful (“Turn Over Your Hand”), but most often used as a rhythmic instrument that ties the divergent parts together. I like the vocals most of the time: can something that I can’t sing along with be called catchy? Or maybe just “enigmatically mentally repeatable”?
The short length of the songs (All under 4:06, most under 3:00) also helps. The bite-sized tunes still have an incredible amount going on: PBD is more interested in abrupt song shifts than smooth transitions, allowing each second to be content instead of segue. This makes for completely unpredictable song structures; add that to the unpredictable riffs, and you’ve got a unique listening experience. PBD’s When Everyone Is Getting Wise is a fascinating indie-rock album that will be thrilling for adventurous listeners.
Nathan Felix is a bit of a staple at Independent Clauses: his band The Noise Revival (sometimes The Noise Revival Orchestra) made its first appearance at IC in early 2006 and has been in its pages ever since. Most recently, TNRO contributed a fully orchestrated version of “Brand New Colony” to Never Give Up. It’s his love of orchestras that propels this latest news clip: Felix, not content with having a rock band that is also kind of an orchestra, is composing directly for orchestras now. Along these lines, he was recently invited to the Levon Manukyan Collegium Musicum Summer Program for Emerging Composers in Bourgas, Bulgaria to record a new orchestral piece.
But he needs your help to get there! You can contribute via this page. He’s currently got about $3K more to go. Here’s a local news reel documenting Felix’s new-found love of composing:
They’re using IndieGoGo for the campaign, which closes at the end of the month. So far they’ve received $21,100 of their $60,000 goal. I jumped in the first day the project was open, because I believe in this project and really want this to happen. Check it out.
“Come Thou Fount”:
“Till Kingdom Come” (originally by Coldplay):
And more of that could be in the world. Let’s help make that happen.
Deep Elm Records has easily been one of my favorite record labels over Independent Clauses’ decade. The good folks over there are offering 7 whole compilation albums–99 songs–for free in exchange for passing the link on. And the link’s not even that long: http://www.deepelm.com/free . So hit that up.
And, because I’m running again, it’s time for the RunHundred monthly. –Stephen Carradini
The Top 10 Workout Songs For May
This month’s top 10 highlights the return of several workout favorites. Daft Punk released their new material since the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. The Jonas Brothers and Avril Lavigne offered previews from their upcoming albums. Lastly, Paramore—whose future was uncertain after two founding members left the band—topped the Billboard chart for the first time in their career.
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. –Chris Lawhorn
All Julianna Barwick needs on “Forever” is four female vocalists and some ambient synths to create transcendent beauty. This is one of the most gorgeous tracks I’ve heard all year.
If you love James Taylor, America, and that Nashville folk sound from the ’70s, “Shed a Little Light” by Winter Mountain is going to be on your good list. You will hum and sing.
So I just found out that students from Hocking College are behind the Robbins Crossing sessions, which is A. Completely awesome and B. Completely jealousy-making for this ex-journalism undergrad. In this version, Decker (of Belle Histoire) brings her clear, emotive vocals to bear over an acoustic guitar in a historic cabin. Sweet.
This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.
The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ‘em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.
Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service
We’re moving ever closer to summer! We’ve almost emerged from the wintry doldrums! I must play as much wintry, doldrum-y music as I can before it’s June and that sort of music gets weird! The first three are sunshiny, the back five are chilly and reminiscent of snow (or at least dead leaves).
Winter Won’t Go Without A Fight Mix
1. “Dance Until Three” – Hey Anna. Just do what they say, as summer comes.
2. “Knock Yourself Out” – Slow Buildings. Guitar rock never dies, it just grows another appendage. Nice wiry, spry tune here with a surf-rock-inspired chorus.
3. “W.T.A.” – The Miners. Like The Killers, how had this name not been taken? These Philadelphians peddle story-tellin’ alt-country that makes the most of pedal-steel and six-string interactions.
4. “Hold On” – Sons of the East. Because Mumford and Sons don’t tour Australia enough.
5. “Common Year” – Thomas. I used to turn to Pedro the Lion for morose indie-rock like this, but now that’s not a thing, so I’m thrilled that Thomas is here to alleviate some of that hole in my heart.
6. “My Own” – Morgan Manifacier. Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear haven’t collaborated yet (to the best of my knowledge), but I imagine this tune would be sorta what they’d come up with. This one balances lush chamber-folk arrangements and stark moods effortlessly.
7. “Life in the Paint (Jesu Remix)” – Challenger. Like the Challenger remix we debuted, Jesu’s wide-eyed take on “Life in the Paint” strips out the original layers of synths to cut right at the heart of the tune. Cool stuff going on with these remixes.
8. “Liquid Gold” – Archie Atholl. A calming, wintry piano tune to close out the evening.
Singer/songwriters can work for a decade to find a unique voice, which is what makes it astounding when a sophomore release contains a unique perspective on things, musically or lyrically. Eoin Glackin‘s Rain Finally Came provides a fresh take on both, delivering well-penned observations in a recognizably distinct melodic idiom.
Glackin’s sound falls between the sweeping melodic excursions of Josh Ritter and the soaring yawp of latter-day Mountain Goats, as he fills his strumming with sprightly vocal and instrumental melodies. Opener “Dancing Anymore” and the title track pair tight melody-writing with arrangements that never distract from his passionate voice. Highlight track “New World Blue” is an immediately arresting tune that includes clapping, a swooning violin, and a memorable vocal hook in the chorus; you’ll be humming this one for a while. If you listen to the whole album, you’ll start to recognize his cadence and delivery: it’s the little ways he inflects his words and rhythms that make his sound distinct.
Since he showed he can strum with the best of ‘em in “New World Blue,” Glackin decided to flex his lyrical muscles on the next track, “Mrs. Campbell.” It’s a protest song that doesn’t come off as cloying or privileged: it strikes just the right balance of pathos and logos to protest an innocent bystander killed by gang fighting. “It can only happen to bad people/in bad neighborhoods/I’m sorry, Mrs. Campbell/Your son is gone for good,” Glackin sings, in a stark indictment of the rhetoric of “safe.” “Last Night in This Town” is a descriptive story-song reminiscent of Counting Crows’ first album (which is a huge compliment from over here). The quiet “What Am I to You?” is a plea for clarity from a lover. Each of these lyric sets are pulled off with surprising clarity and turn of phrase that I would not expect from someone this young.
The first seven songs are incredibly dense collection, while tracks 8-10 provide a bit of breather: simpler songs that don’t aspire to as much complexity melodic or lyrical complexity. But the songwriting picks back up in difficulty for the closer: the nearly-8-minute “The Hour’s Gone Too Late (For Holding Hands)” pairs a pitch-perfect vocal delivery with a weary, descriptive lyric. It reminded me of Josh Ritter’s “Thin Blue Line,” which is another lengthy tune with huge impact.
Eoin Glackin is the sort of singer that I can’t remember hearing for the first time: the first time I heard Rain Finally Came, it seems like I had already known about the music forever. It’s a rare album that delivers that level of comfort on the first listen without shamelessly ripping off another artist. There are shades of Dylan, Counting Crows, Johnny Flynn, and more in Glackin’s sound, but the resulting mix is his own. I’m vastly impressed by Rain Finally Came, and I look forward to great things for and from Eoin Glackin. If you’re into singer/songwriters, do yourself a favor and check out the album. It’s wonderful.
Bells and Hunters wastes no time announcing that they are something different. By 1:25 into the opener (which is also the title track) of Weddings and Funerals, the band has given listeners a spacey intro; a garagey, overdriven guitar riff; rapid-fire ’90s-style female speak-sing; a trumpet line; some accentuated guitar arpeggiation; and a pop-punk- inflected breakdown. This is not what you normally listen to, unless there are some No Doubt B-sides that sound like this in your catalog. This weird-but-cool garage-rock takes an even weirder turn in the next track: “73″ is a slow-paced alt-country tune whose only connection to the previous tune is the particular style of guitar picking. (They even bring in a male vocalist halfway through, mixing it up more.) Bells and Hunters are not afraid to experiment.
Those two tunes show good extremes of Bells and Hunters’ sound, as the rest of the album sees the band combining those two sounds liberally. (They do hit the distortion pedal at the end of “73,” but it still sounds like Old 97s-style alt-country instead of garage-rock.) “Bird” starts off with dainty sounds and jaunty rhythms–like an Andrew Bird piece–but incorporates some majorly Weezer-esque guitar stomp by the end of the tune. Highlight track “Mercury” starts off with some ominous guitar picking and tom beating before bringing in a spaghetti western trumpet line, fusing the intensity that they bring with their garage-rock to a quieter arrangement. (Never fear, though: they let the drums go nuts on the cymbals, dirtying up the sound almost as much as the fuzzbox would.) “Planes” is basically a finger-picked folk song blown out by a garage-rock band. It sounds awesome, if a bit foreign to ears unaccustomed to it.
Bells and Hunters’ sound is an exciting and interesting one, exploring spaces between genres. I’ve mentioned Steven Hyden’s dictum about the future of music before (“a future where all music sounds like everything at once“), and it seems that Bells and Hunters are ready for that bold future. This is a creative, inventive, interesting take on two different genres. If you’re up for something unusual, check out Weddings and Funerals.
The Old 97s are a touchstone for Time Travels‘ sound as well. Where Bells and Hunters reminded me of Rhett Miller and Co.’s louder bits, Time Travels reminds me of the band’s softer side. Secret EP puts the emotive side of alt-country on display, with opener “It is.” leaning heavily on a remorseful, emotive vocal performance. Frank McGinnis has the soaring tenor pipes for the adult alternative genre, and the sweeping crescendoes of “It is.” do swing toward the Matt Nathanson/Goo Goo Dolls/Ben Rector style. But instead of getting mushy and cloying in their more upbeat stuff (like Matt Nathanson has a tendency to do), Time Travels takes after Ben Rector by sticking to a more upbeat, staccato, rock-influenced style in the title track.
The rest of the five-song EP leans closer to the emotive power-pop of the opener, with admirable vocal turns in “The Eye” and “Wraith” (check that falsetto!). “Wraith” also has some nice bass work, which I particularly like. Time Travels have two very different directions they can head from the Secret EP, so it will be interesting to see if they veer off on a path or keeping splitting the distance. Until further information is available, I’ll enjoy the upbeat “Secret” and lullaby-esque “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”
Stephen Carradini writes far too many words about music you may or may not have heard of. Sometimes he takes pictures of aforementioned bands.