Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ICYMI: MD Woods / Gregory Pepper / Tyto Alba

November 17, 2015


MD Woods‘ Young and Vain, Vol. 2 may describe the lifestyles of characters with the titular qualities, but it approaches the studies from a world-weary perspective instead of an impetuous one. The alt-country band, led by the whiskey-soaked voice of Nicholas Moore, comes off desperate and ragged in its moods, like Damien Rice on the alt-country frontier. It should be noted that these are strictly compliments: tunes like “Vomit” make being emotionally wracked seem like a noble idea, if not a desirable one. The melodies are compelling, the lyrics are tight, and the song styles are varied–there’s definitely a lot going on despite the general timbre of the lyrics.

The arrangements compliment the emotional damage by being surprisingly tight: from background vocals to swooping strings to rock-steady drums, the band provides a framework for Moore to get unhinged in. The bright, clear recording and engineering make the final product more accessible, providing a clean window to see the band through. The results are compelling mix of major key and minor key tunes that you can sing along to and enjoy in a Frightened Rabbit sort of way.


It’s easy to put Gregory Pepper‘s Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! in the ICYMI category, because if you blink you’ll miss it: Pepper blitzes through 10 songs in under 14 minutes. This uncommonly aggressive approach to the “hit it and quit it” songwriting mentality creates an album of perfect melodies that appear once or twice, lodge in your brain forever, and then disappear into the next tune. The post-Weezer pop-rock that blazes its way through your eardrums is undeniably, irresistibly pristine: “Crush On You” and “Smart Phones for Stupid People” are fuzzed-out midtempo glory; “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All​?​)” is a pseudo-metal pop-rock stomper; “Come By It Honestly” is an “Only in Dreams”-esque slow jam and the longest tune on the record, tipping the scales at 1:40.

But it’s not all Weezer-esque crunchy guitars. Pepper has an idiosyncratic vocal and melodic sensibility that delivers highly sarcastic and ironic lyrics in an earnest pop-rock style reminiscent of It’s a King Thing, only without the breathy sweetness. Pepper is singing straightforward melodies that still manage to bend my mind, as the endlessly fascinating, gymnastic opener “Welcome to the Dullhouse” shows. But it’s not enough to just create wild melodies, clever tunes and ironic lyrics: occasionally all the sarcasm drops and reveals pretty raw honesty as an extra layer to the tune (“I Wonder Whose Dick You Had to Suck?,” “There In The Meadow (Was I Not a Flower At All​?​)”). It’s a lot to ride on songs that barely (or don’t) break 60 seconds, but Pepper masterfully handles the incredible amount of things going on. It’s not easy to edit yourself down to the bare bones and still deliver a multi-layered experience that’s both fun and deep, but Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! is that rarest of albums that pulls it off. If you’re into indie-pop-rock, you need this one in your life.


I try to keep up with what’s cool in indie rock so that I’m not constantly namechecking the Hives and Death Cab for Cutie, but keeping up with what’s going on in alt-rock is way harder for me. As I was casually reading through Spin’s (biased, subjective, etc.) list of 50 best rock bands right now, I was pleasantly surprised to see Paramore up at number 9. I thought they had been lumped in with Flyleaf as lame, but I was wrong! (Is Flyleaf cool?) Which is great, because I feel totally guiltless comparing Tyto Alba’s Oh Tame One EP to a more mood-heavy Paramore. Melanie Steinway’s vocals soar and roar in front of an alt-rock backdrop that isn’t as gritty as everyone’s favorite indie grunge band Silversun Pickups (check the arpeggiated guitar on “Passenger”) but isn’t as post-rock-flavored as bands like Athletics.

Instead, they prefer to mix artsy rhythms and nuanced guitarscapes with rock song structures: “Deer” mixes a carefully patterned rhythm guitar line with a moseying lead guitar line that echoes back to The Photo Album-era Death Cab before exploding into guitar theatrics for the chorus (of sorts). The careful picking of the lead guitar line in “Divide” juxtaposes with groove-heavy bass and drums (but not as dance-tastic as in standout “New Apathy,” which is simply impressive) before building into the most memorable chorus on the EP, driven by multiple vocal melodies interacting. It’s the sort of work Tyto Alba excels at: twisting your expectations of what a rock song should do without totally overhauling the model. If you’re into thoughtfully distorted guitars with some groove-heavy elements, Oh Tame One will fit nicely in your collection.

Moa Holmsten: Redeeming Bruce

November 16, 2015


I have honestly never been a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. Although he very much came to symbolize everything that’s great about being “born in the USA,” his voice always seemed too scratchy. I felt like he was always just yelling. That is what makes Moa Holmsten’s primarily electronic reworking of Springsteen so refreshing–Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm takes Springsteen’s rich lyrics and rhythms but leaves the scratchy voice behind.

Although Holmsten does utilize some of Springsteen’s well-known rhythms, the songs of Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm sound almost unrecognizable to their originals. Growing up in Philadelphia, there was always a high probability that the next song on the radio would be a Springsteen song. And although I have already expressed my distaste for his voice, those catchy lyrics and rhythms at times have stopped me from turning to another station. Holmsten took everything that was great about Springsteen and added her own flair. For example, Holmsten weaves in the well-known rhythms of “Dancing In The Dark” and “Born To Run” to her otherwise unique accompaniment. Springsteen’s most circulated track, “Born In The USA,” sounds nothing like the original, in fact: it eventually falls apart and ends abruptly– leaving it to be only a minute long.

Even though Holmsten weaved the Springsteen rhythms into “Dancing In the Dark” and “Born To Run,” that doesn’t mean they sound very similar at all to their originals. “Dancing In The Dark” actually begins with a rather industrial electronic beat and continues to pulse throughout the song. As the track continues, more instruments join in with the beat along with added background vocals. “Dancing In The Dark” sounds similar to Springsteen’s in its rhythms but the industrial instrumentation makes the song darker than the original. With “Born To Run,” Holmsten took quite a different angle. Setting the foundation for a much lighter sound, ethereal ahh’s open up the track alongside organ accompaniment. The notable riff of “Born To Run” gets a heavenly makeover in this version as well, utilizing strings and a piano to replace the rock and roll instruments.

Holmsten’s voice is a much preferred replacement for Bruce Springsteen’s. In songs like the album’s opener “Highway 29,” Holmsten’s voice sounds sweet, subtle and even a bit raspy (soulful raspy, not at all in the abrasive Springsteen kind of way). In tracks like “Badlands,” Holmsten’s voice echos more of a jazzy, blue-eyed soul feel akin to Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. And finally, her voice transforms once more in “Born To Run” and “Soul Driver,” where she draws out her words, sounding eerily similar to Lorde. Holmsten has this uncanny ability to adapt her voice to the vibe of her Springsteen adaptations.

The overall vibe of Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm differs from song to song. Some tracks echo the industrial feel of “Dancing in the Dark,” while others are more light and whimsical like “Born To Run.” What truly ties the album together is how the tracks echo Springsteen while updating him to fit the times. Moa Holmsten accomplished a rather brilliant task with this album– she redeemed Bruce for me. –Krisann Janowitz

Red Sammy hits its stride

November 13, 2015


I’ve often compared Red Sammy to Tom Waits, as Adam Trice’s gravelly baritone and minor-key acoustic musings drew a pretty clear line between the two of them. However, the relationship is less clear on Creeps and Cheaters: Trice moves his outfit into its own territory by incorporating swampy Southern rock (“King on the Road”) and CCR-esque country-rock (“Seeds”) alongside his ominous, minor-key acoustic tunes.

The base sound is still there: opener “Dirty Water” situates the listener in a dark, seedy bar and delivers the gravelly rasp that I’ve come to love.  The walking-speed tempo, subtly dramatic electric guitar and lyrical images of the underbelly of society (“I’m the dog that roams the streets” / “dirty water dripping down”) are all square in the wheelhouse–until the end, where Trice jumps an octave, gets all ratcheted up and pushes the bounds of his voice. It serves to change the mood, and that shift is continued throughout the record.

“I Got Creepy When Lou Reed Died” continues the vocal shift by being more akin to Reed’s work in the Velvet Underground than a country-rock song. Trice’s voice shines as the arrangement frames his pipes in an unique way. The aforementioned “King on the Road” and “Seeds” turn out different vibes too, allowing Trice to get out some great punctuating yawps in the rock’n’roll style. “Hanging with Uncle Elvis on Christmas” sees another turn, going more traditionally country with a dobro guitar and a clean vocal delivery. Trice’s vocals are still recognizably his own, but this performance shows that he can give the listener a lot of different looks. It’s one of the prettiest songs he’s ever put to tape–mostly because Red Sammy songs aren’t shooting for “pretty” in the conventional sense most of the time.

And there are some of the back alley tunes that he’s come to specialize in: the ominous vibe of “Lawnchair” sounds just like it should, fitting like a coat that doesn’t quite keep out the cold. “Take a Ride” pulls out a similar vibe. The centerpiece of the record is the 6:31 of “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real,” which IC had the pleasure of premiering. The whole band sounds assured and tight, coming together to create a seamless tune that rolls along effortlessly, like a lazy river in fall. It distills all that this album is about into one track: starts off in his pensive style, but grows to a different mood with some excellent electric guitar work.

Creeps and Cheaters shirks genre barriers and instead makes excellent tunes. If you’re interested in any type of alt-country, you’ll be interested in Red Sammy’s take on things. The growth that this album shows points to great things in the future, but that shouldn’t minimize the great things now: Creeps and Cheaters is the sound of a band hitting its stride and not slowing down.


Jenny Ritter was Raised by Wolves

October 29, 2015


If I were to describe Jenny Ritter’s breakout album Raised by Wolves in one word, it would have to be layering. Over and over again, I kept noticing the many magnificent layers to her music–the vocal, instrumental, and lyrical layering.

Let me begin by first painting a portrait of Jenny Ritter’s voice. To begin, think of Paramore’s Hayley Williams’ voice, particularly in her more delicate tracks, such as “The Only Exception.” The strong softness of Hayley Williams’ voice in those quieter songs are much like Jenny Ritter’s voice. Now add a more motherly, storytelling quality similar to many female ‘90s country artists, minus the country twang. There you have it–a beautiful sopranic voice that maintains both sweetness and strength. Many of the songs build off her crisp voice. Others have additional harmony vocals which serve to add depth (“A History of Happiness,” “Turn Your Thoughts”).

The instrumentation of Raised by Wolves is what made me fall in love with the album. There is so much instrumental layering, I almost can’t handle how amazing it is. Take “Turn Your Thoughts,” for example. In it, Ritter provides the vocal melody, while Keenan Lawler joins in to serve as the vocal harmony. The instruments can be described in those terms as well. “Turn Your Thoughts” opens up with the drums and acoustic guitar providing the melody. The electric guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, and banjo all fill out the sound through adding harmony. Sometimes this occured in the form of awesome breakout solos such as seen with the fiddle and electric guitar. The instrumentation is so great that it can stand all on its own, as proved by the instrumental track “Slide Mountain.” “Slide Mountain” has a slightly darker sound from the rest of the album because of the addition of the double bass, which adds a lot of depth to the sound. The instrumental layering creates a very full sound for all of the tracks on the album.

Jenny Ritter’s lyrics remind me of someone I once reviewed, Paul Doffing. Both artists focus heavily on nature and mankind’s relationship with nature. Take the single “Wolf Wife”: Ritter’s lyrics speak more depth than what is on the surface. She uses this metaphor of being a “wolf wife” because she was “raised by wolves,” yet there seems to be a larger commentary about family and societal expectations underneath the nature-focused lyrics.

“Remember the Life” is a beautiful song, and the lyrics are particularly majestic. At the song’s chorus, Ritter posits the first time around that “we should go out and see the stars right now.” The second time she says, “we should go out on the sea right now.” The third time she replaces the stars and sea with, “on the hill right now.” Each time the lyrics are followed up by “remember the life that we want to live.” Experiencing nature in a real way has a tendency to revitalize our life and remind us what it is really about.

In Raised by Wolves, Jenny Ritter reminds what life is all about– beauty.–Krisann Janowitz

The Band and the Beat’s analog synths create a lush, warm atmosphere

October 28, 2015


The Band and the Beat‘s two-song single is a warm, lush blast. It’s a blast in the “blast of air” sense: the analog synths and drum machine create a surprisingly different atmosphere than the harsh digital synths I’m used to. (It’s also a blast in that it’s a lot of fun.) Even when the sound turns ominous, as it does about four and half minutes through the seven-minute runtime, the tune seems comforting. I keep wanting to say “warm blanket,” but gives short shrift to the tightly constructed arrangements and song structures. Freeflowing jams these are not, which is good–I’m not usually the guy trying to sell people on lengthy noodling (be it of the synth or guitar type).

No, “21” stays tight due to thoughtful songwriting and Tracy Tritten’s pristine vocals (of Tracy Shedd). Her soft alto/mezzo-soprano floats effortlessly over the seas of synths. Her voice is more playful in b-side “Buoy,” which fits with the lighter mood of the track. “Buoy” sounds like a lost Mates of State track, if they gave up the piano altogether and went full synth. It’s a friendly, smile-inducing song that features a bit of arpeggiated bass thump to break up the legato lines. “We were never meant to settle down,” Tritten claims, “Another trip and another town.” The song fits as a road song–perfect for the bit when the adrenaline of leaving has worn off and the enjoyment of the ride has set in.

“Get ready / suit up,” Tritten offers at the conclusion of “21,” and it’s a worthy mantra for the outfit as well as the listeners. I’m intrigued to hear more from The Band and the Beat, as their synth-pop is more than just cheery melodies. The complexity of the songwriting in “21” points towards strong offerings in the future.

If you’re in the Triangle of North Carolina, you’ll have a couple chances to see them live over the next week or so:

Nov 1. Durham. Duke Coffeehouse. w/ Free Pizza (Boston)
Nov 7. Chapel Hill. The Cave. w/ Tim Lee 3

Premiere: Valley Shine’s “See You Soon” from LOCA EP

October 27, 2015


Some tunes are slow burners, and others smack you in the face with their immediacy. Valley Shine‘s “See You Soon” is the latter: the verse melody is so infectious, carefully delivered, and beautifully arranged that it gave me goosebumps on first listen.

The band marries delicate folk-pop with joyous indie-pop with such skill that it seems obvious, which is the first sign that there are a lot of non-obvious things going on. Digging into the song reveals sonic and structural complexity, from the many melodic lines the vocals deliver to the delicate balance of intimacy vs. oversharing in the lyrics (they fall on the former side, of course). The overall effect of the tune is remarkable: it’s the sort of thing that you want to play for everyone you know; that soundtracks the joyful conclusion of indie movies; that rolls your windows down almost of its own accord. It’s a powerful tune, but it’s also not trying to hard to be that. These are the sort of songs that I started this blog to cover: songs I can’t stop thinking about. Cheers, Valley Shine.

The tune comes off their upcoming Loca EP, which is just as gush-worthy as “See You Soon.” “To the Sea” presents a different side of Valley Shine’s sound: one that does reach for the epic sweep. The broad, wide-open sound evokes big emotions but stays grounded (through great banjo use!) in it all. It’s reminiscent of the Oh Hellos or Jenny and Tyler’s work. The delicate “If I Was a Bird” strips out the indie-pop affectation and reveals the oh-so-satisfying shuffle-snare country/folk roots of their sound (they even throw in some Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”-esque booms, to prove bonafides).

Jenna Blake leads the song, with Sam Sobelman providing the harmonies. The two switch off throughout the EP, with Sobelman taking the reins for the Beatles-esque opener “Sugar Dream” and “See You Soon” and Blake taking the darker “Don’t Let It Slip Away.” “To the Sea,” naturally, has both of their vocals together in a choir-esque arrangement. It’s like if Fleet Foxes got really, really stoked about something, or maybe if they met the Polyphonic Spree.

I can’t talk about Loca without returning to the term “immediate.” Everything about the five songs here just jumps off the page and demands your attention. They have diverse arrangments, generic range, varied vocalists, and impeccable melodicism. Valley Shine sounds like a band that has been around a lot longer than it has: they’ve created the sorts of songs that can hold up for a long time. This should be the start of something big for Valley Shine. Highly recommended.

LOCA drops Nov. 3 on iTunes. If you’re in Southern California, you should check out their EP release Nov 7 at Hotel Café in Los Angeles.

Ira Lawrences Haunted Mandolin pushes the boundaries excellently

October 9, 2015


It’s always nice to hear from people again. Ira Lawrence was in a band called Even So in the mid-00s that I really loved–their EP Homecomings and Departures has some tunes that I still listen to, years later. So it’s great to hear his distinct vocal stylings in his solo project Ira Lawrences Haunted Mandolin. His six-song release Elegant Freefall showcases both his vocals and the titular mandolin to great effect.

This EP is composed entirely of mandolin sounds. But before you run for the bluegrassy hills, it’s important to note that distortion, reverb, heavy chord strumming, and pitch augmentation are the name of the game here. There are probably folk tunes buried somewhere in these songs, but with Lawrence’s voice and the remarkable arrangements considered, there’s little you can call these but indie-rock tunes. For examples of the gymnastics that the mandolin goes through, “Lucky Lucretia” sees the mandolin pitch-shifted down to sound like a distorted bass guitar. The title track layers multiple strumming lines on top of each other to create clouds of reverbed mandolin; “Babarbara” throws so many effects at it by the end of the tune that it sounds almost exactly like an electric guitar. I’m not sure how huge Lawrence’s pedal board is, but I would wager that it’s big or that he knows how to wring every last sound out of the few pieces he’s got.

“Warp Drive” is an example of a tune where the effects on the mandolin aren’t as central to the tune (well, at least at the beginning). He does put a pretty huge reverb on his own vocals, though, creating a unique vibe for the tune (similar to how Gregory Alan Isakov reverbs/gently distorts his voice). His vocals are part of the allure of this EP for me, as Lawrence’s tenor has a unique tone and timbre. There’s an edge to his voice that can’t be denied, but he uses it in a melodic way much of the time–he sounds both exasperated and under control. It’s the sort of voice that makes me think of the “dancing about architecture” quote: me trying to explain it cheapens it. Just know that his vocals are great and worth checking out for their own merits.

But it’s ultimately the songs that pull this together: they’re hooky, melodic, and unusual. With such a specific constraint (only sounds from a mandolin), the songs could start to sound similar–Lawrence avoids that pitfall. “Babarbara” is a mid-tempo pop song that could perhaps be a ’90s rock song in a different instrumental milieu. The title track is just as elegant as the title would claim, as the various mandolin lines combine with a careful vocal line to make a beautiful tune. “Jeremy Crackers” sounds like a lost Decemberists song, both in the vocal performance and the songwriting style; “Lucky Lucretia” is noisy and cool. They’re all tunes that make me want to come back to them.

Elegant Freefall by Ira Lawrences Haunted Mandolin is the rare “constraint project” that can be appreciated without knowing what the rules were. These songs stand up on their own as hummable, admirable, thoughtful pieces. I’d recommend this to anyone, but I think it would be particularly relevant for those who are interested in the type of indie-rock that pushes the rules for the sake of wondering what’s out there past them. Highly recommended.

David Wimbish: Elegant voice and lyrics

October 8, 2015


David Wimbish‘s lyrics are incredible, but with so much going on in his 7-to-18-piece indie-rock orchestra The Collection, the lyrics sometimes take a backseat to the enormous amount of things going on around them. His solo EP On Separation strips away some (some) of the musicians to put the focus squarely on his voice and lyrics. The tender, gentle acoustic tunes that result will please fans of the Collection and gather new fans of quiet music under his wing.

In a nod to the solo nature of the work, Wimbish takes the time to write out some explanatory liner notes in the first person. In explaining the title, he writes, “Each song on On Separation deals with different aspects of disconnection, whether it be marital divorce experienced by my friends lately, or self-imposed loss of close friendships from the past.” To whit, standout “Circles and Lines” begins with, “Today she dropped the glass and shattered many things / and you had not yet thought of where you’d set your ring.” Yet not all of the lyrics are so literal, as Wimbish prefers to plumb the interior spaces of the involved parties and observers of the events (“A Ghost and A Scale,” “Back and Forth”). They’re complex, multi-layered lyrics, full of personal musings, places, and religious allusions: Cain and Abel make appearances in their eponymous tune, and the prodigal son makes a reappearance (from the Collection’s “Broken Tether”) in “Lost and Found.” Wimbish’s ability to turn a phrase that both sounds great and has meaning is in top form here.

These lyrics are paired with some of the most beautiful music Wimbish has yet written. “Circles and Lines” pairs the heavy lyrics against a beautiful, fingerpicked, cascading acoustic guitar line. The song builds to the loudest moment on the EP with the inclusion of strings and slapped cello for percussion, but it returns to its delicate roots for the conclusion of the tune. That underscores the approach here: while these are songs that deal with dramatic events, the overall tone and timbre of this EP is quiet and even understated at times (at least in comparison to the weightiness of the lyrics). The rhythms and string arrangement of “Back and Forth” seem a little like a Collection song with the bombast removed–the chiming autoharp of “A Ghost and a Scale” recalls his band as well. But other than those occasional flourishes, these songs do feel like a statement by Wimbish instead of stripped-out versions of full-band work. They’re elegant, not empty.

Part of the understatedness of the release is realized in the sharp focus that Wimbish puts on his voice delivering the lyrics, to the exclusion of complexity elsewhere. This is particularly true in “Cain and Abel,” which uses Wimbish’s voice as both lead and background vocals. Gentle marimba and cello occasionally show up, but this one’s about the voice. Wimbish’s tenor, so often used for roaring in The Collection’s work, is gorgeous in this quieter setting, as his range, tone, and nuances of delivery stand out. (All those are present in The Collection’s work, but as previously noted, there’s a lot more elements going on there.) His voice is soft, clear, and comforting–if you didn’t listen to the lyrics, these tunes would be the sort of thing to lull you peacefully to sleep.

David Wimbish’s On Separation is a beautiful EP that showcases a singer/songwriter with a clear sonic and lyrical vision. Fans of Damien Jurado, Josh Ritter, or Gregory Alan Isakov will find much to love in the music, while fans of the dense, thoughtful lyrics of The Mountain Goats or Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan/Illinois work will celebrate this one. Highly recommended.

Quick Hit: Wolfcryer

October 7, 2015


It’s a tricky thing to go electric: ever since Dylan pretty much mastered the art, all artists who attempt it since are necessarily living in his shadow. I’ve been a big champion of Wolfcryer‘s acoustic work, so it’s with great interest that I listened to his “Go Out and See the World” / “St. Anthony” single.

The release offers a slice of his melancholy, baritone-led troubadour work backed with a rollicking folk-rock tune that gives a taste of what a louder, electric Wolfcryer would sound like. The latter starts off with a frenetic acoustic strum, then barrels on as bass, electric guitar and drums crash in. Matt Baumann’s vocals are higher and faster to fit the rock backdrop, and they sound great in that range. A wailing harmonica and a crunchy-yet-melodic guitar solo cap off the sound in great fashion. It seems like an extension of Wolfcryer’s sound instead of a total re-invention: the sound is strong, tight, and crisp without forsaking the grit and earnestness of Baumann’s A-side (and previous work). “Go Out and See the World” is the quieter of the two offerings, a tune laden with empty-room-reverb and carrying all the gravitas that Baumann’s voice can convey. It’s a beautiful tune.

It’s no small feat to keep the emotional weight and the songwriting depth that Baumann brought to his solo work while changing milieus. If Wolfcryer is able to consistently pull off that trick, one that he nailed in “St. Anthony,” then things are looking bright indeed. It never hurts to be great at loud songs and soft ones.

Mocean Worker: Something to please everyone

October 6, 2015

Mocean Worker

Gramatik has always been my quintessential god of grooviness, but Mocean Worker may be overtaking that throne after his newly-released self-titled album. With a tasteful blend of electronic, funk and jazz elements–a little house here, a sprinkle of synth there, handfuls of hunky horn over yonder–Mocean Worker stirs a pot of sizzling, spicy Electro Swing (yes, it is a thing).

Hearing “Soul Swing” was like hearing Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” for the first time–it’s fiercely upbeat, techno-textured and vibrantly optimistic, but yet there’s a goofiness riding the track the whole time; It never takes itself too seriously. Jam-packed with piano and an old timey-feel, the vibe this first track sets for the party record shows depth and off-the-charts mixing.

“I Told You Twice The First Time” has carnival-like mockery to it. Colorful electronic incorporations, repeated female vocals, Richter-scale rhythm, rollercoaster synth and subtly dense bass build a groove that wraps itself in circles.

Tracks such as “The Actual Funk (Featuring Sweetpea Atkinson),” “Savoy Strut,” and “Clap Yo Hands (Mtune)” are techno-charged and sleek. “Clap Yo Hands (Mtune)” has an especially duskier vibe to it compared to others on the album: it begins slow-paced, ping-ping-pinging until an upbeat funk unleashes and fat bass guitar strums along, ultimately creating a warehouse party feel. Dubstep elements gently tug the rope that the opposing happy-groove buzz has a firm grip on for the majority of the album.

There is a good amount of abstraction that Mocean Worker slips in casually. “Julius,Irving,Berlin” gives Mocean Worker a distorted edge, playing up distant-sounding, quick bits of piano, warped tads of techno, and female vocals that sound like chopped television recordings. The opening on “Rubberband” harps and pulses like it’s beating from below water, an undersea horn-heavy dance party for the first few seconds. The beginning of “Now That’s What I’m Talkin’ Bout” also stole my heart with its slow-to-build swing dance, finger-snapping, bass-heavy groove.

While “Ralph and Marcus” is meant for a private striptese–with all of its confident sultriness, clinking percussion and teasing instrumentals–it’s “PunkDisco (Jaco)” that got my hips swaying with wooden percussion and Latin elements. And the title of True Romantic track goes to closer “Collete Ma Belle Femme.” Serene piano adds newfound lightness to the record, making it a sleepy, beautiful surprise. This one plays like a romantic serenade or a lullaby, and I could almost picture the misty mountain ranges as the album comes to a close.

Mocean Worker is for all of those hard-to-pleasers out there; it’s got enough tasteful fun to put a smile on the faces and sway in the hips of even the most snobby listeners. Because, simply put, Mocean Worker is a natural at creating ambiance. He has done for our ears what Feng Shui has done for rich people’s living rooms–harmonized us with our souls. But instead of through our surrounding environments, he has done so via a groovy, funk-inspired, kaleidoscope lens. —Rachel Haney

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

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