Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Lane 8’s Rise: Masterful control of deep house moods

July 2, 2015

Lane 8

Rise, from the San Francisco-based producer Lane 8, is a sleek, dreamy gem of a house record. From the emotion-packed pacing to several male and female vocalists to the thought-out track lengths, Lane 8 has taken into consideration every aspect of the listening experience.

The first track, “Loving You,” is a slow-building standout with dazzling, commanding cooing from vocalist Lulu James.  “Are we gonna be here forever/Wrapped up, captivated,” she sings, comparing love to suspension and treading on water as a dance-inducing techno beat escalates. “I’m a fool for love. I’m a fool for loving you,” James confidently proclaims like a man-eating ‘80s R&B/pop singer, launching an uplifting vibe that pulses throughout the album.

“Diamonds” seduces with hollow percussion that drips like wooden rain, contrasting beautifully with the breathy vocals by duo Solomon Grey. The pair is also featured on “Hot As You Want,” where jabbing synth drops in and out between their misty vocals. The lovingly honest lyrics, “You’re all I need, you’re all I need/You’re all I see, you’re all I see,” compliment the driving nature of the track.

Lane 8 incorporates just as many melodic elements as his heavy tonality. “Klara” uses the same dark, steady rhythm and metallic percussion that you’d hear playing in a Roman aperitivo bar. “Cosi” distorts like a VHS tape being rewound, breaking and pausing only to stir back up again. “Sunlight” and “Rise” are other melodic tracks, the title track blending both dreamy vocals and computer synth for an enchanting, upbeat club quality.

On “Ghost,” a galloping beat canters underneath slow piano; emotional vocals from Patrick Baker give it an Odesza feel at first. It ends up weighing in on the blissful side of deep house though, emitting such happy plucks that it could easily go tropical. “All I want is just to feel you/Everything just looks so see-through,” Baker sings like a ballad on this shorter, feel-good track.

“Undercover” also has that versatility to it. Matthew Dear’s raspy vocals, which balance the track’s high-pitched pop synth and progressive house builds, make this a throw-on-repeat song. Dear’s breathtaking vocal presence on “Undercover” shines at a perfect time on the album, reminding you that there’s a calculated journey Rise is taking you on. If a pan flute or sax was added, this could be a tropical house track ready to lick salt and squeeze limes.

The best way to describe Rise is versatile, like the multi-purpose cleaner of house records, except a lot sexier than that. Lane 8 hits on many varying aspects of deep house, all while staying loyal to his clean, heavy style and proving, once again, that the man masters mood. —Rachel Haney

Quick Hits: Young Legs / Battle Ave.

June 30, 2015

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Young LegsPromise of Winter starts off in summer with the uber-perky “Resolution” but travels through the seasons to the depth of winter by the close of the album. During the journey, Steven Donahue shows off deft control of mood and impeccable melodic skill. These tunes circle the central node of Donahue’s confident, breathy voice: whether it’s employed in a frantic, minor-key indie-rock tune [“Ring of Salt (Youth Culture Dummy Version)”], a major-key jangle-rock tune (“The Apple Stem”), a banjo-led folk tune (“Book of the Lethe”) or a complex a capella venture (“Northfield”), Donahue’s voice shines. (Wiry, quirky, zooming synthesizers appear in several well-chosen spots, giving this a friendly, unusual texture.)

Even though there are a wide variety of styles here, the core of the album is composed of Donahue’s voice and a guitar. “Goodbye, John Ryle,” “Round the Root,” and “Seasons of Giving” fall firmly within the folk camps, ranging from Nick Drake-ian lightness (“Round the Root”) to Songs: Ohia gloominess (particularly as you go farther into the album). The melodies throughout each style are compelling, showing that Donahue isn’t a one-trick pony. From whispery folk to brash indie-rock, the songwriting here never falters. It’s a charming release, through and through. Anyone who’s into acoustic-led indie music will have a field day with Promise of Winter.

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Battle Ave.‘s Year of Nod is the opposite of Young Legs’ wide-ranging genre fiesta: instead, it’s a laser-focused exploration of a particular sonic space. Jesse Alexander and co. have made an album that explores the whispery, sleepy, eerie spaces in-between dusk and dark, or between dark and dawn. This is the sort of thing that the phrase indie rock was built for: it’s got the underlying assumptions of rock, but it’s not taking them in a stereotypically riff-bound, v/c/v structure. Alexander’s weary, wailing voice fits perfectly with these tunes, from the perky “Summer Spear” to the intimate, quiet “Helen (This Isn’t Meant to Offend).”

Everything in between those sonic poles (“Zoa,” “In Evil Hour,” “Say Say Oh Enemy”) plays with the tension between hissing found sound, misty ambient noises, and traditional indie-rock vibes–the 7-minute “Zoa” includes both an upbeat clapping section and an arhythmic melancholy interlude that is best characterized by Alexander’s wordless sighs and vocal noises. Battle Ave. has both of these things inside themselves, and the resulting tunes are the tension between them. Year of Nod is a frequently elegant, occasionally dissonant, always interesting indie-rock album–those interested in thoughtful, careful sonic art would do well to check this out.

Ivan and Alyosha: Distinctive and Attractive

June 29, 2015

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Ivan and Alyosha‘s It’s All Just Pretend is deeply American music. The songs here take cues from straight-ahead major-key rock (“All This Wandering Around”), country (“Drifting Away”), piano-hammering ’50s pop (“Let Me Go East”), and timeless balladeering (“Tears in Your Eyes,” “Don’t Lose Your Love”) to pull together an attractive, affecting collection. The diversity of song styles and structures is held together by Tim Wilson’s inviting voice and the familial lyrical themes.

Wilson’s tenor has a uniquely magnetic quality: vocalists that are both distinctive and attractive in their tone are rare. It’s tough to describe the X factor, but it’s all over the chorus of “Bury Me Deep,” the first single and most rocking tune of the album. Wilson’s excellent delivery is one of the things that draws me back to the album over and over. The lyrics also help: the album explores the thoughts, fears, and joys of having a family and growing older. The moving expression of familial love in “Come Rain, Come Shine” slots it right near Ben Folds’ “Still Fightin’ It,” while the tender acoustic ballad “Don’t Lose Your Love” reiterates that love in pleas/advice. The title track combines the sentiment of “Don’t Lose Your Love” with a sweet guitar riff and another stellar vocal performance from Wilson. In short, It’s All Just Pretend is an album that clicks on all cylinders. Knowing that their live show is excellent (I saw them in Chapel Hill in May–the songs sound just as great live, if not better in some cases), it leaves me very excited for Ivan and Alyosha’s future.

Groenland’s The Chase: Unlike Any Other

June 26, 2015

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Canadian indie-pop band Groenland’s debut album The Chase sets this six-piece powerhouse on an island of their own. Every track delivers a different experience for the listener to take in. From deep contemplativeness to cheery exuberance and everything in between, The Chase is an emotional, instrumental, and vocal adventure.

The album does not have one consistent mood, and in that way it perhaps represents the array of emotions we all have. Take the moody, heavy “Immune”: the lyrics explore the inner back and forth occurring within the heart of someone in a passionate relationship. The line that most stands out everytime I press replay is, “I’ll shoot my brains out again if you come back around/ But I won’t suffer the blame to watch us go down.” Although the visceral image of shooting one’s brains out is very negative and dark, the lyric exposes that not only is this a pattern, but it is one that is painful to replay. So although it causes the person pain for the relationship to start up again, it causes equal pain to see it end. How many of us can relate to this masochistic/love-sick pattern that “Immune” explores?

Many of us also know the taste of desire and the hopefulness that comes with believing in something. “The Chase” encompasses the optimism that comes with believing in yourself. Whatever job, love-interest, life you’re chasing after, “The Chase” represents the playful self-assurance that comes along with the quest. The song provides a very different mood that “Immune,” with lyrics like, “You may think you are done with us/ But it’s only just begun” paired fittingly with playful, old-school Mario video game sounds playing in the background. Through lyrics and other aspects such as instrument pairing, each song on the album places the listener in a different emotional state.

The instrumentation of The Chase is an adventure in and of itself. There are piano-heavy tracks (“Our Last Shot,” “Our Hearts Like Gold”), ukulele-led songs (“Don’t Fix Me Yet,” “Superhero”), and appearances of full orchestra (“La Pieuvre,” “Immune”). The varied percussion, particularly in the drums and tambourine, add flavor to many of the songs. The instrumentation found in The Chase contains depth and scope similar to Arcade Fire’s Funeral-era thick instrumentation. It’s a tough standard to be graded against, but Groenland takes it on with this album.

Groenland’s lead singer Sabrina Halde has an uncanny ability to change the feel of the song, just by how she changes her voice. Halde’s voice has depth and soul akin to soulful artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse. “26 Septembre” and “Superhero” both show off this deep, powerful side of Halde’s voice: on the bridge of “26 Septembre,” she goes up and down the scale on just one syllable. “Our Hearts Like Gold” exposes the softer side of Halde’s voice, as she is a bit whisperier for much of the song. Halde allows her voice to sound strong at moments, but she quickly returns to the softer, more delicate side of her voice. As a result, the song ends sweetly and gently, unlike the more powerfully soulful endings found on the album.

Listening to Groenland’s The Chase is certainly an adventure. The lyrics explore many delicate human emotions that we often don’t give enough time to. The diverse instrumentation gives every track a different feel, and Halde’s vocals can bring your spirits to the highest of heights. I highly recommend purchasing Groenland’s The Chase: its diversity will be sure to give you a unique, exciting listening experience. —Krisann Janowitz

HÆLOS: Beautifully euphoric / tragically sad

June 17, 2015

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Harmonic – Absorbed – Ethereal – Longing – Otherwordly – Sexy – is what I hope HÆLOS stands for, because those six words describe their debut EP Earth Not Above spot-on. The electro-pop trio has crafted four tracks that glide along a tightrope separating beautifully euphoric and tragically sad moods.

The title track sways with sensual rhythm, careful not to give too much away at the start. “Some of us need kindness,” sing male and female vocalists, their delicious, natural harmony similar to The XX’s, but fuller, more wholesome. The use of drums, like a thumping heart palpitation, creates a beautiful build of suspense as we hang on to every beat. The repeated lyric (“Ohhh, is this what we have become?”) is gripping – you want to know their story.

Things get more atmospheric on “Cloud Nine” where subtle sounds, such as running a fingertip along the wet rim of a wine glass, warp in the background. The silver, sopranic female voice contrasts exquisitely with the warm, golden male voice. The vocals overall are choppy, paralleling the concept of the song. “Why did you leave me here?” – This question they mull over…and over again while a hesitant stop-and-go pace captures vulnerability.

Pensiveness fades into desperation on “Breathe,” where lyrics like “How long will you still hold me? How long will you breathe for me?” are intermingled with techno texturing and sharp, metallic clanging. The pace gradually picks up, as the instrumentation twirls around a tornado of overlapping lyrical questions.

And finally, the tornado comes to a peaceful cessation by the fourth track, “Ethyr.” It starts with a gentle, pulling sound I can only describe as denser than listening to the inside of a seashell–you’re actually standing inside it. The final track is a strange delivery of electronic orchestra. It’s space-like, full of radar-detecting glitch and static sounds, like a TV attempting to pick up a channel. It’s so breathtaking you forget the only vocals are muffled, singing underwater. There’s nothing left to be said. It’s this presence of pure sound that brings us to the serene end of a delicate journey.

What begins as a vibe marked by desperation and constant questioning morphs into graceful acceptance. On Earth Not Above, HÆLOS uses those unsure-of gray areas to create a beautiful landscape and tender atmosphere for contemplation. Next time you’re still awake during those precious hours before sun rise, Earth Not Above could be the perfect sonic soother.–Rachel Haney

Reina del Cid’s The Cooling offers effortless acoustic tunes

June 16, 2015

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Reina del Cid‘s The Cooling sounds effortless. del Cid can meld her gentle alto voice seamlessly with a warm acoustic guitar and thrumming stand-up bass to create the sort of music that just sounds right. (She can also rock a full band arrangement, too–note the excellent “Mice and Men”).

From opener “Sweet Annie” to “The Fall” to “Morse Code” to closer “Death Cap,” she pulls elements of singer/songwriter, indie-pop, folk, country, and even blues together. The result is an infectious, engaging sound that gives her room to set up her mature, composed vocal and instrumental melodies. There’s a balance between joie de vivre and earthy certainty that results in tunes that feel close to her heart but also not weepy and introspective.

I want to sing along to the tunes, but I also want to sit back and let them hit me. It’s “Morse Code” where this hits hardest: it’s a break-up song with a sort of spurned-lover disaffection (famous of female country tunes) poured into a gentle guitar strum that falls somewhere between folk and indie-pop. Her voice has some gentle reverb on it that give it some depth, but the earnest melody could have carried it on its own. The lyrics shine as well, taking a different tack on the tried-and-true subject material.

The Cooling is one of the most enjoyable records I’ve heard all year: you can love it at multiple levels, and that makes for great listening. If you’re interested in Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor, or other innovative singer/songwriters, you need Reina del Cid in your ear.

Constance: It was all a dream

June 10, 2015

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Imagine you are asleep and in that sleep, you have a dream. The dream takes place most likely in space and it feels all jumbled, yet makes total sense in the same moment. This is what it feels like to listen to Quebec mastermind Guillaume Guilbault and his band Constance. Their latest EP One will leave you floating on a cloud in the land of space-like dreams, and you will never want to come down.

As I continue to replay the instrument-packed four-track EP over and over again, I realize that One puts its listeners in such a trance that it’s as if it is impossible to stop pressing repeat. The first song “Trinity, NL” opens into a mystic trance accomplished through space-like synthetic beats, acoustic guitar and the awe-inspiring hand saw. Harmonica adds another layer to the intro; after Guilbault’s voice enters, the piano quickly follows up. Soon enough, the cello and soft drums round out the instrumentation. “Trinity, NL” is clearly instrument-driven, allowing many of the instruments to shine with their own solos. Yet Guilbault uses his voice as yet another part of the instrumentation. His voice adds to the mystic feel via its calming effects, similar to the way Bon Iver uses his soothing voice. At the end of the track, many of the instruments drop off–only Guilbault’s voice, the cello, and hand-saw are left to gently close out the song.

“Chambre Noir” continues on with the dreamy feel, with the addition of French lyrics. Although less complex than the previous song, a driving percussive beat along with gentle guitar strumming and appearances from the hand-saw make up the meat of this track. What this track lacks in number of instruments, it makes up in beautiful French words. Although not every listener may understand the lyrics (myself included), they certainly add to the surreal nature of the EP. I mean, what woman doesn’t want a man singing french words to her on top of beautiful instrumentation? Only the stuff of dreams.

Continuing with the theme of surreal love, “Argentina” is an adorable love song with lyrics like, “I carry this feeling/I will never be near you enough/but to make our time truly matter to us/why don’t we go to Argentina?” The choice of primarily guitar and piano accompaniment add to the sweet feel of the song and allow Guilbault’s voice to stand out so that the lyrics are very audible. A harmonica solo serves as an echo of Guilbault’s voice and brings the song to a gentle close. What lingers the last few seconds is pure synth transition, entering smoothly into the fourth and final track.

“Lilac” begins with electronic plumes of relaxation. Gentle drums and soothing strings quickly enter into the instrumentation and continue on in calming repetition. One unique way that this track adds to the dream is through vocal echoing, making the listener feel as though voices are coming at you from all sides. You might think that this would make the track sound confusing and jumbled, but it is carried out in such a well-done way that it feels much more surreal than jumbled.

As One comes to a close, it reminds us that all dreams must end. But that doesn’t mean you can’t press replay and experience it all over again. Constance’s One is one that you will want to hold onto and never let go. Just press play, close your eyes, and enter into his alt-folk dream world. —Krisann Janowitz

The Ever-entrancing Johanna Warren

June 3, 2015

Noiseland 12 LP Jacket

Portland singer/songwriter Johanna Warren oozes raw talent with her latest album nūmūn. Nūmūn shows off Warren’s undeniable musical talent by highlighting her soaring sopranic voice, thought-provoking lyrics and eerie psychedelic folk instrumentation. Picking up Warren’s latest album, nūmūn, will definitely get you intrigued and wanting more.

Warren’s voice is both a comforting storyteller and a soaring songbird. Beginning with the first song, “Black Moss,” Warren shows off both of these vocal qualities. In the song’s’ verses, Warren’s voice plays the role of the meek storyteller with hearty undertones that distinguishes her voice from others. Then, once she reaches the song’s bridge and chorus, her voice seamlessly soars to high notes that many of us could only dream of reaching. The only comparable voice that I can think of  is that of Jesca Hoop, whose early  albums similarly had a psychedelic folk sound. “Black Moss” also nonchalantly covers the topic of death in the lyrics with the repeated line, “but soon black moss will cover over my dead body.”

Her thought-provoking lyrics mainly center around humanity and spirituality. Covering the topic of human nature, “The Wheel” seems to be a conversation with pain, as her opening question is, “O pain, why are you here again?” In “Noise,” Warren repeatedly sings that “God has plans but I’ve got mine,” proving to be the perfect example of how Warren subtly covers both God and human nature in her lyrics. “Noise” also shows how Warren can casually throw unique twists and turns into her interesting instrumentation.

The instrumentation on nūmūn is mainly made up of the acoustic guitar, but here and there other instruments and sounds are introduced in a way that best fits with the genre of psychedelic folk. “Noise” has appearances from laughing girls, rustling wind, and what sounds like the scraping together of silverware. “The Wheel” seems to include rustling pieces of metal repeating throughout the song.

“Apogee” is a non-vocal interlude occurring at the middle of the album. It begins in a sort of trance and reintroduces the scraping of silverware and rustling metal, as well as another which seems like glasses gently colliding. The off-kilter instrumentation of “Apogee” comes together to make a very  eerie interlude. It’s a perfect fit to highlight the eerie undertones found throughout the rest of the album, through the weird sounds, ghostly harmonization, and even certain ways Warren plays her guitar. This “eerie” quality found in her instrumentation is a sure sign of psychedelic folk influence.

Johanna Warren clearly is both a talented vocalist and musician, as shown through her latest album nūmūn. If you have not yet encountered the euphoric experience of a psychedelic folk album, then look no further. Warren’s unique instrumentation, earthy lyrics, and gorgeous voice will certainly entrance you. —Krisann Janowitz

Dana Sipos: A powerful folk statement made through restraint

June 2, 2015

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The songs on Dana SiposRoll Up the Night Sky fit the album title well. Almost to a tune, these folk compositions feel like an apt accompaniment to staring up into a clear night sky, feeling the gentle sense of awe that comes from looking at great beauty. Sipos’ ability to set a mood without losing track of the song allows her to create striking individual tunes within an excellent whole.

The impact of Sipos’ sound is not that far from the mystic, hazy folk of Gregory Alan Isakov; however, where Isakov uses gentle distortion and reverb to create his sound, Sipos plays with empty space in her clear-eyed arrangements to invoke an ethereal sense. “Old Sins,” “Morningside,” “Full Moon Sinners” and more imbue stark arrangements with a sense of romance and mystery via Sipos’ engaging, controlled voice. Sipos is the opposite of a belter: she commands attention through tiny inflections here and there, specific phrase lengths, and delicate melodies. There’s drama all throughout Roll Up the Night Sky, but it’s not theatrical in the ostentatious sense of the word. The album is a thoughtful art house film, not a Michael Bay joint.

But let us not lose sight of her instrumentation amid her vocals and careful use of space. She knows how to intricately work an arrangement so that nothing feels cluttered or crowded: “Night Sky” includes fingerpicked mandolin, stand-up bass, percussion, and a horn. Instead of being a jubilant, full-throated blaster, it’s a regal, dignified, calm tune. It reminds me of the sorts of beautiful work that Damien Jurado and Matt the Electrician can put together in their starkest moments. It exemplifies the sorts of arrangements that exist all throughout the album; due to this consistency, Roll will reward you if you listen to it all at once.

Every song on Roll Up the Night Sky is commendable. “Road to Michigan” shows her vocals and guitar at their most Isakov-ian, while “My Beloved” is a poignant, traditional-sounding gentle bluegrass/country ballad. “Holy People” opens with a string section that counts as some of the heaviest work on the album (which points firmly to how quiet this whole work is). Further bonus: these songs are all long. Only two of 12 fall under four minutes, and five are over five minutes. And I haven’t even had time to mention the lyrics, which are shot through with astronomy and loveliness.

Roll Up the Night Sky is a powerful statement made through restraint. It’s a gorgeous, evocative, delicate folk album that shows off Dana Sipos’ formidable talents as a vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. Fans of serious music, female vocalists, or romantic-leaning folk will find themselves with a brilliant talent to enjoy and watch in the future.

Frog: Albums like this don’t come around too often

June 1, 2015

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“Enigmatic” is not usually a positive word to describe a release; I try to avoid any sort of word that conveys my confusion about things in an album. But there’s a deeply enigmatic streak that runs through Frog‘s Kind of Blah: speedy vocal rhythms bump up against hectic guitar noise, moods change on a dime, sounds come out of nowhere, and the songs generally keep their own counsel. Kind of Blah resists easy classification, making it an indie-rock album of merit that is very much worth your time.

Frog is a duo, but it makes recorded noise on a much grander scale than four arms might command at once. The general base is a sort of jangly indie-rock with bite, but the layers are really what make the sound come into its own. The most immediate element is Dan Bateman’s loopy, reedy, nasally (but not uncomfortably so), yearning vocals. Bateman always seems to be lunging for something: a high pitch, a remarkable amount of syllables in a line, a long-held note. His acrobatic, enthusiastic, idiosyncratic voice is both the price of admission and the payoff: if you’re into quirky vocalists, Bateman contends with the greats in both confidence and using what he has to the best of his ability.

The instrumental layers that fit between Bateman’s voice and Thomas White’s drums are remarkable as well. There’s all manner of guitars (electric, acoustic, and bass), analog-sounding synths (“Everything 2002″), glockenspiel, and found sound recordings. The diversity of sounds meets the diversity of moods: Bateman and White take us through frantic garage rock (“King Kong”), mid-tempo slacker rock (“Photograph”), pastoral indie-rock (“Wish Upon a Bar,” “Judy Garland”), and slow-building pensive tunes (“Irish Goodbye”). This isn’t an album that indiscriminately stomps the distortion pedal: Frog is interested in creating a lot of different textures, and they achieve that goal.

As fits with such a diverse album, my two favorite tunes from the record do very different things. “Everything 2002″ is a quiet tune that pairs a swift-moving picking pattern with gentle vocals, fragile synths, and an overall chill mood. The tension between fast and slow is expertly held together, resulting in a beautiful tune. “Judy Garland” takes the sort of rolling picking pattern that might be present in a bluegrass tune and recontextualizes it by fitting in gauzy synths and an unhinged rapid-fire Bateman vocal ramble. Then they drop in a dance-rock drumbeat, the catchiest vocal hook of the album, some glockenspiel, artsy guitar riffing, and vocal scatting. How it all holds together I can’t explain even a little bit, but I want to listen to it over and over. I’m telling you: enigmatic.

Frog’s Kind of Blah is anything but: it’s one of the most complex, “blink and you miss it” albums I’ve heard in a long time. If you’re into albums that will challenge you but also pay off at the end of the work, look up Kind of Blah. Albums like this don’t come around that often.

(Also, we debuted a Frog video earlier this year. It’s pretty cool.)

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

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