The first way I heard of Overflow was via IC fave Zach Winters repping it on social media. There are tons of sonic connections between Winters’ work and YFN’s: both use chill electric and acoustic guitar as the starting point (but not the centerpiece) of their songs, employ dense arrangements to create hazy/cloudy/expansive soundscapes, and often draw the song’s focus from lead vocals to the arrangements (“Backroads,” “Fall in Line”). Sonic touchstones beyond Winters’ work are non-Emma Bon Iver (“Hello Mire”), a more organic James Blake (the title track), the vocal stylings of Coldplay (“Doubt”), and rainy day musicians like The Maravines (pretty much all the tracks).
The album isn’t just one long chillfest, though–YFN carefully ordered the album so that it builds in emotional and sonic intensity to the towering roar of penultimate track “II.” If you listen to “II” on its own, you could be forgiven if you thought you were listening to Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky–it is very much awash in distortion and cymbal bashing. But in the context of the record, it is the conclusion of a long crescendo that started at the very beginning of the record. It is satisfying. This sort of careful development of an individual song and the whole track order are examples of the meticulous care with which this album was created.
As if to refute a bit of its own (well-earned) grandeur, closer “Birth Mark” strips out most of the complex arrangements except for some vocal processing and lets Caleb Killian’s skill with a guitar and vocal melody shine. Listening to this track unlocks a different angle on the record; instead of being a hazy indie-rock experience, it can also be read as a indie-folk record gone huge. (It’s all in what you prioritize as you listen.)
If that last assessment sounds a bit abstract, it’s because this record inspires that sort of thinking in me–I have puzzled and pondered over this record as I’ve listened to it repeatedly, and I still feel like I’m just getting to know it. It has depth. I haven’t even begun to parse the lyrics, because there’s so much going on in the sonics. Overflow has the free-flowing soul of a poet filtered through the meticulous approach of a careful editor. In short, it’s as beautiful and mesmerizing as a ship in a bottle, and just as expertly crafted.
So now that I’ve been running Independent Clauses for more than 14 years, I’ve been following some of the same artists for years–some for the better part of a decade. As a result, I tend to feel like these artists are my friends, just by dint of hearing so much of their music. I feel the emotions they sing about more deeply. Love songs are more exciting and breakup records are harder to hear, because I like the people involved in the records (even just from hearing their records over time).
The Good Graces‘ Set Your Sights is a breakup record, and it tears me up pretty good. It’s a tough record, because the older you get, the harder the breakups get (“Too Old for This”). The Good Graces’ Close to the Sun was the very first record I ever premiered, so I feel some kinship with Kim of TGG, even though we’ve only met in person once. So if this review sounds a little different than my normal reviews, that’s because it is a little different.
This particular breakup record is unusual because it’s told from the perspective of the person doing the breaking up. Usually we hear the jilted lover, but the emotional complexities of doing the breaking up are on display here. (Moral of the story: It’s still emotionally difficult to break up, even when you’re the one doing the leaving.) “7-Year Sentence (Going to Hell)” is the centerpiece of the record, an alt-country ballad that lays out the difficult complexities of the break-up with unusual, unflinching candor. It’s pretty heavy stuff.
The song itself is way more fun than the lyrics, even if it’s a minor-key ballad; the band is in top flight (as they are throughout the record) from the booming bass lines to the zinging lead guitar to the choir singing the last chorus. The tune perfectly fuses alt-country gloom with indie-pop enthusiasm. It is not as weird as it sounds.
Elsewhere, TGG throws down pop-punk-esque burners (“Remember the Old School,” the country-punk-inflected “Take Heart”), high-quality indie-pop tunes (“Too Old For This,” “Porchlight”), the indie-folk the band has honed (“Out There,” “More Careful”), and a magnificent strings-and-voice elegy (“The Hard Way”). “The Hard Way” is another unusually candid exploration of the breakup, exploring the internal states that caused all this trouble (“I learn all my lessons the hard way / if I even learn them at all”). It is a beautiful tune melodically and instrumentally.
So, like I said. Breakups (and breakup records) get harder the older you get, and this one is no exception. But there are beautiful (and even fun!) moments amid the tough lyrics. The instrumental work here is top-notch, too. If you’re looking for a solid alt-country record, indie-pop record, or breakup record, this one will fit the bill nicely.
Builder of the House‘s Ornaments is way more Christmas in July than actually a December record. The acoustic album is warm, sunny, mellow, and happy. The tunes unspool at an easy pace, unhurried and unworried. If you’re in a bad mood and want to slowly rise out of it, I can’t think of a better record for it. The standout title track has a bit of Lord Huron in the melodic structure, while “When No One Is Here” feels like a mood-inverted Rocky Votolato song. Smooth, elegant, and yet crisp in its arrangements, this album just hits the spot for lazy summer days and aspirational winter ones. Highly recommended.
As jittery and frenetic as that last one was calm and relaxing, Emperor X‘s Oversleepers International is a feast for fans of that spot where pop-punk, alt-folk, indie-pop, literary studies, political science, and psychology intersect. In other terms, it’s as if late ’90s John Darnielle joined the Weakerthans instead of being compared to them.
“Wasted on the Senate Floor” is a verbal blitzkrieg married to a frantic acoustic-punk band; “Schopenhauer in Berlin” slows down the pace enough for the lyrics to be understandable but still requires you to look up who Schopenhauer is. Elsewhere, Emperor X goes all wacky Ben Folds (“Riot for Descendant Command”), references Anonymous and North Korea in a song called “Low Orbit Ion Cannon” (!!), and creates one of the weirdest travel journals ever (that also doubles as a breakup tune of sorts; it’s the title track, because of course).
Also there’s a techno-dance song and an ambient tune. The English town of Dorset and Vilnius, Lithuania are involved. The songs are crazy and memorable, musically and lyrically–what else could you ask for? Highly recommended.
Zach Winters‘ latest folk records were delicate-yet-intense constructions of great seriousness and import. On To Have You Around, Winters sounds downright loose. “Sometimes I Wonder” starts off in his traditionally ghostly acoustic vein, but turns into a more-than-subtly funky pop song by chorus. It is rad. “If the Sun is Shining” doubles down and gets a funky bass line on a stand-up bass and snazzily jazzy horns involved.
“Do You Really” starts off with the line “taking a shower with a known carcinogen” and proceeds to be a “chill out, stop worrying” song. “Love My Woman” is exactly what you would expect from the title and previous descriptions. Even the instrumental “Buffalo” has a chipper vibe. It’s a new look for Winters, and it’s a great one. If you’re looking for some acoustic-fronted, low-key-funky pop songs, look no further for a great time. Highly recommended.
Illustrated Manual‘s Wives’ Talesdraws on a deep well of gravitas to create an album of great dignity, calm, and (yet) emotional impact. The pieces that Jon Cooke used to make this deeply moving album are no more than what could be called spartan arrangements, a baritone voice, and incisive lyrical sets.
Cooke’s voice is in especially fine form here: he can sing a dramatic line with great gusto, but he can also inflect lines and syllables with subtle touches that are ultimately just as powerful. The gentle arrangements here surround an acoustic guitar and a mandolin, but this isn’t folk or bluegrass; this is singer/songwriter work with influences from those genres. Where much singer/songwriter goes astray into bland verse/chorus/verse monotony or generic emotionalism, Cooke’s vocal and instrumental melodies are crafted with a careful hand. Cooke’s willing to let things be spare instead of going for the big move; the results are single-set gems, with nothing to distract from the shine.
The lyrics here are huge: “Negatives,” “Stump,” “Boy in a China Shop,” “The Lumberjack” and “Ant on a Rubber Rope” are each incredible in their own ways. They tell stories of tragedy (“Stump” and “Boy in a China Shop” are deeply sad), change (“Negatives,” “The Lumberjack”) and religious imagery (“Ant on a Rubber Rope”). That’s basically the whole first half of record; the back half of the record is compelling as well.
If you’re into calm, mature, finely crafted acoustic music, you need to check out Illustrated Manual’s Wives’ Tales. Highly recommended.
It sounds like if frantic vocals of early Bright Eyes were thrown into a folk orchestra (like The Collection) with some folk-punk acoustic strumming keeping the beat and some LCD Soundsystem thrown in for good measure. It is probably more chaotic and exciting than even that description, though.
There’s a nearly 7-minute track completely composed of shearing/shrieking metal (strangely, the title track of the album), because WotM does what it wants.
The album’s twelve tracks take roughly 70 minutes to listen to. That’s a lot of chaotic enthusiasm.
The album is roughly two parts, the wild folk-pop before the metal music and the alt-rock/dance-rock that comes after it. This latter part is no less interesting for its Modest Mouse-ian qualities, even if I’m a folk guy at heart.
The lyrics of this album are intense and complex, focused heavily on religious seeking/ questioning and the complexities of living life while going through that type of thing. They are raw, honest, and unflinching. They made my head spin.
You have almost certainly never heard anything like this in your life.
Start with the excellent I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning lost track “Holy Mountain,” the beautiful “Southwest Mercurial,” or the 12-minute journey “Lovehills in Versailles.”
It has been a while since I have been able to consistently post album reviews. I hope I will be able to get back to a more stable pattern of posting soon. Until then, here are four releases that I have been listening to for a while but haven’t had a chance to write up.
Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings – Bright Hopes!: This double album is chock full of the type of sun-dappled, hectic indie-rock that Switchfoot was great at before they turned into arena rock all-stars. The overall vibe is light and bouncy, but there’s some serious melodic and instrumental chops lurking underneath the mood. The songwriting is complex and surprising; there’s not a dull moment throughout the extensive run-time.
The centerpiece of the record is a song you may have heard before if you’re into Christian music: Crawford wrote “Be Still (Psalm 46),” which is treated to a lush version here with lazy horns and tossed-off, jazzy keys. Somehow, it doesn’t jar against the indie-dance-rock of “Balm of Gilead” and the chiptune-inflected “Grace and Peace.” Wild.
Eerie Gaits – Bridge Music: John Ross is as adept at organic, instrumental post-rock as he is at fronting electro-pop (Challenger) and punk (Wild Pink) bands. Bridge Music’s post-rock features an acoustic guitar instead of an electric guitar or keys. This means fans of Goldmund, Balmorhea, Seryn, and The Album Leaf will find much to love here.
The album is serene at heart: you can put this one on and relax effortlessly. It’s got a very autumnal sound, so it’ll be great for those of you who will soon see leaves start to turn. (I live in Phoenix now, so it’ll be a while before any temperatures shift, much less leaves fall.) Beautiful and warm.
Make Sure – Town Runner EP: Josh Jackson (Fiery Crash, Summerooms) has a new outfit. Make Sure builds on Jackson’s strengths of evocative vocals and bright arrangements by adding in even more ethos in the arrangements. The indie-rock/early ’00s emo of the four tracks here has twinkling guitars, delicate vocals, and punchy drums to spare, but it’s the subtle touches (a bass run here, relaxed keys there, an unexpected chord change now and then) that finish the puzzle.
The tight interactions between the trio of instrumentalists in “Basement Halloween” evoke the adventurous instrumental ideas of early Appleseed Cast. “If You Were Mine (Shady Glen Session)” hearkens back to Fiery Crash work, stripping out some of the instrumental gymnastics for a quiet little pop song that yet retains the mood of the whole work. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but Make Sure’s debut holds up way past 15 minutes of listening. Definitely a band to watch.
Billy Shaddox – The Record Keeper: Shaddox’s work synthesizes folk, indie-pop, AM radio rock, and even some country (“When I Hand Myself In”) into a big-hearted, good-natured sound that goes down easy. His latest work focuses on a quieter side of his oeuvre, dialing down some of the crunch and substituting mellow moments. An instantly friendly, approachable, memorable record results.
“Blame Your Eyes” is a perfect example of the approach The Record Keeper takes. Shaddox sings guilelessly over a smooth acoustic guitar line, shortly joined thereafter by strummed mandolin, shaker egg, and distant piano. A whirring organ piles in, and a brass instrument caps it off. Each of these instruments pull the arrangement in slightly different genre directions, but never get the song off track. It’s a lilting, assured piece that would fit seamlessly on unknowable numbers of chill mixtapes and playlists. “Saint Vrain” and the title track both have this sort of genre-defying act going on as well. If you’re into (such diverse acts as) Bishop Allen, David Ramirez, and Jason Isbell, you’ll find lots to enjoy here.
Some music is difficult to explain with the written word; it is an experiential thing that lives and breathes its origins. Such is the case with Cyclope Espion’s new album Friday Night Epitaph. From the very opening “Intro,” which takes audiences on a ride into the singer-songwriter’s life, this record is indie gold. Crossing from France to the United States, it is a cultural journey of an artist who creates in the language of love.
A satisfying eleven-song album, this record tells a story. The sound is born of the Lower East Side, a magic place musically. The essence of greatness is in it, as the place gave birth to scenes long dead before the songs here were conceived. Originally from France, Cyclope Espion (guitars / vocals / harmonica) was sleeping on couches, eating at food kitchens, and performing in New York City during the creation of this album. “It is also in New York that I learned how to play,” says Espion.
That connection to reality is heard in the vocal delivery of the upbeat “Faux Départ,” sung in his native French and alive with imagery of the Champs-Élysées. This transitions to the title track, which is a painful, hollow, hopeless trudge shown through rich lyricism. The title track heads into the meat of the story, from dark alleys and back door clubs in New York City where the gritty harsh reality often meets hope and reinvigorated dreams.
Nearly halfway through the record, “Wishful Thinking” is an homage to that lost relationship, a vocal delivery that brings to mind Bob Dylan with its plaintive heartbreak. Slightly off in pitch, it fits with the feelings of angst that combine with loneliness in a mind-numbing brilliance. The metaphor-rich “Snapdragon” moves with an uptempo vibe and hopeful feeling. A troubadour fingerpicking acoustic bit of beauty, “Mad Love & the Self” is definitely born out of a incredible skill of multicultural songwriting. This song has Lennon-style ambiguous lyricism that paints a vivid picture without directly saying a word. Stellar.
Produced by Nate Kohrs (guitar) and mastered by Tony Mantz (Nick Cave), the expertise in the engineering is apparent. The DIY release has a solid foundation: Espion caught the ear of Kohrs while performing around the city with the likes of Skinny Bones (wrote songs with The Ramones), The Bowery Boys, and David Reel (who himself was produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono). Photography within the album and cover art from Takako Ida adds to the imagery here, telling the story along with the music, page by page.
“Satellite” is possibly the best song of the record, bringing everything together in two minutes and forty eight seconds of greatness. Masterfully mixed, a lush instrumentation does not overwhelm the indie rock vocal delivery from Espion. This songwriter creates a multidimensional listening experience via his vivid lyrics, hollow vocals and echoes as punctuation.
Heading out of the record, “Indélébile” returns to the French language that so beautifully mixes with the instrumentation. Followed by “Outro,” the subway moves back into the language that Cyclope Espion has created by finding his voice as a songwriter. Closing this story with “Le Boa,” the story comes full circle. Elegant and simple, it is a goodbye from a talent who has transformed the grit of New York City back to a place of beauté complexe, a place that immerses the listeners.–Lisa Whealy
More than a gentle hello, Van William is set to release The Revolution EP September 8, 2017 through Fantasy Records. This highly anticipated collection of songs from the man who was part of the highly successful Port O’Brien is a lyrically vulnerable and lyrically contrary set of songs.
Already released to streaming audiences, “Revolution” (feat. First Aid Kit) sets the tone. This song is a treat, as it paints a vibrant picture with lyrics and masterful instrumentation. Musically upbeat and perky, the arrangement contrasts with the skillfully pointed lyricism. This song and “Fourth Of July” make positive vibes and tumultuous introspection hold hands.
“Never Had Enough” has that Ben Howard vibe, introspective and full of longing. One of William’s strongest talents here is the ability to juxtapose musicality with lyrical content. This song also pulls in some great guitar work that contrasts with the fingerpicking acoustic heard elsewhere. An expansive auditory experience for the listener, it breathes without limits. Closer “Cosmic Sign” is best sequenced last here. With its Simon and Garfunkel movement and soft vocal delivery, it is the song that lets everyone into the life of the narrator. “Cosmic Sign” is truly the star of the release, as piano joins the solid fingerpicking acoustic guitar.
This effort was recorded in Stinson Beach, California. All of the songs on The Revolution EP were co-produced by Van William. Key contributors include drummer Griffin Goldsmith (Dawes), bassist Chris Chu (the Morning Benders), keyboardist Tam Visher, co-producer Brian Phillips, and Klara & Johanna Söderberg (First Aid Kit).
This EP hits every feeling from exuberant and smart to bittersweet and everything in between. And it all connects, which attests to the impressive talent of Van William. This highly anticipated four-song EP is a preemptive introduction to the full length album, currently in production, set to release sometime in 2018.–Lisa Whealy
This is a combination essay and music review. If you’re more interested in Jenny and Tyler’s latest music than the state of the music industry, skip to the paragraph starting with “So you may be thinking”.
I know three things about the current state of the music industry:
1. People want to hear new music.
2. Business models are changing.
3. Music bloggers haven’t stopped writing about music.
The forward-thinking indie-folk/indie-rock duo Jenny & Tyler understand all of these trends and have come up with an impressive way to respond to all three. Album One [Patreon] gives the people what they want in a way that makes monetary sense for the duo and in a format that bloggers can write about. Everybody wins!
The thing J&T use to pull this coup off is right there in the title:Album One [Patreon] is only available if you’re a patron of Jenny and Tyler’s Patreon account. (However, you can see a trailer for the album on Facebook.) For those unfamiliar with Patreon, it’s a subscription service where fans of an artist can pledge to pay money to the artist on a set schedule (per month, per piece of media, etc.) in return for a reward. Jenny and Tyler are using Patreon to record and release a new song at the incredibly prolific rate of one a week, every week. All listeners who subscribe to the Patreon get to hear and download these songs. [I pay $5 a month–roughly $1 per song, or basically iTunes rates. (Remember iTunes? Good times.)] As a result of this process, Jenny and Tyler are guaranteed some monthly income and listeners get 4-5 new Jenny and Tyler songs a month.
So that’s how Jenny and Tyler give the people more new music in a sustainable way. But Patreon music is tough to review: the music lives behind a paywall, arrives incrementally over a long period of time, and often represents the sort of work not really intended for review (such as demos, never-gonna-be-released b-sides, live takes, etc.). To compound these logistical troubles, most music reviewers don’t have enough business income to subscribe to the Patreon account of every band they want to review music from. As such, this is the first Patreon account I’ve ever covered at Independent Clauses, despite the fact that I know the service well enough to fund a non-IC project of my own.
Jenny and Tyler have so far made two savvy moves with their Patreon:
a. releasing high-quality, “real” songs and
b. packaging the first 10 songs they released on Patreon as an album.
In eschewing goofy b-sides, live recordings, listener updates, and other types of content that can all (very satisfyingly) populate a Patreon, they are experimenting with how they get paid for the main work that they do.* Making Patreon central to their work instead of peripheral to it is an important, savvy move. They are certainly not the only people doing this, but it makes the other savvy move even more smart. By packaging their songs released on Patreon as an album, it shows off that the work they are doing on the Patreon is not extraneous to their discography: if you want to be a person following J&T’s full discography, Patreon is the way they are releasing this latest era of their work. It is an important message that helps let people know that the duo is serious about Patreon and hopefully will transform more people who were initially skeptical into subscribers.
The second thing it does is show to the media and bloggers that they want this work to be considered for media in the same way as a studio album. (And I know how to review albums.) The album has credits, liner notes, lyrics, album art, and more–all the materials I would expect from a studio album. I’m picking up this review of my own accord instead of getting a pitch from J&T, but I would love to see musicians compile content from Patreon accounts as J&T have done and then take the next step of pitching it to me for review. I want this to happen because it meets this blog’s goals: it gives me more stuff to review, keeps me on the cutting edge of developments in the field, and allows me to help artists (by promoting the artist’s money-making Patreon). I have always wanted to help artists here at Independent Clauses–in an era where “go buy this” is archaic and press quotes are getting less valuable than they used to be, I’m looking to find the best ways to help artists get up and on in their careers.
So you may be thinking: “Okay, so, cool, music business, yes, neat, but I’m reading a music review blog. Is the music good? Is this just an odds-and-ends affair? Is the quality low?” To wit: yes, no, no. Album One shows off the increasingly mature songwriting and rock-solid production skills of Jenny & Tyler. The song-a-week constraints that they’re working with don’t diminish the quality of the songwriting or recording one bit: instead, these songs are sharp, well-arranged, and carefully developed.
I’ve been following Jenny and Tyler’s career via reviews here at Independent Clauses for a long time. Their earliest work was light, warm, fun folk-pop, while mid-era work such as Faint Not created huge, dramatic towers of sound from folk underpinnings. Album One encompasses both of these poles: “When the Sun Shines Bright” is a beachy, sun-dappled, easygoing tune; highlight “Stars Shone Over Nashville” is about as sonically thundering as anything they’ve yet put together. The rest of the album falls somewhere between: “I Miss You” is as bass-heavy as it is emotionally heavy, opener “Wrote Us a Story” has a romantic lyric and a deftly handled piano/guitar arrangement that sounds bigger than just two instruments, and “Hills and Valleys” is a yearning solo tune with Jenny behind a guitar. The quality of these songs is very high: “Stars Shone,” “Wrote Us a Story” and “When You Awake” are some of the most emotionally moving, melodically interesting songs Jenny and Tyler have yet penned.
But what’s more amazing than the previously-proven fact that Jenny and Tyler can write great songs is that the song-a-week arrangements are often complex, layered, and dense. Patreon supporters are not getting raw demos, scratch tracks, or castoff songs. Tyler is becoming quite adept as a producer and engineer, experimenting with approaches and instruments (like the electronic beats in “Home”) in a satisfying way. The mixes are well-developed, keeping the vocals at the fore but also allowing the instruments to shine. In short, these songs are the real deal.**
This approach to Patreon (and Patreon overall) is not for every artist. Some people permanently need an editor and should not be releasing as much music as Jenny and Tyler are here. But Jenny and Tyler shine in this medium: producing lots of work in a short span of time has tightened their work instead of lessening it. Their musical muscles are trained and flexed here. I’m excited to see what the next album brings. If you’re a fan of emotionally-driven folk-pop with full arrangements, you should be supporting this Patreon and getting Album One. This album specifically is a strong continuation of themes they have developed in their career, and their overall Patreon project is a thoughtful way to develop their career. It helps Jenny and Tyler be more sustainable financially, and you’ll get a lot of Jenny and Tyler music. What isn’t great about that?
*There is a longer discussion to be had here about what the role of the album is in a Patreon world, but that is an essay for another day. Suffice it to say for now: I think that you can do things with studio albums that you can’t do with Patreon albums and vice versa. Both have a place.
**Now, there’s definitely room for “definitive versions” of these songs to appear: there’s more work in a studio that could result in something closer to the hugely coordinated song choices, lyrical themes, and sonic contours of Faint Not. This is a different take on Jenny and Tyler than the studio, and it is fantastic.
Tim de Vil and His Imaginary Friends‘ Beating Off the Loneliness is an indie pop album with vocals that skew toward the speak/sing of Say Anything or MeWithoutYou. The arrangements are deeply layered, compiled from acoustic and electronic instruments: some songs pile up found sounds and synths and drums and all sorts of stuff into a wistful, rueful amalgam that yet retains energy (“Purge-atory,” “The Patron Saint of Lost Causes”). Songs like “Who’s Afraid of Sarah Little” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You” are indie-folk ramblers instead of collages. These latter songs have occasional vocal melodies (“Say It…”), but the gold moments appear when lead singer Justin Robbins expertly controls the mood and tone of his spoken word–he can pack a lot of emotional power into individual lines.
Lyrically, this one is very much a breakup album, but it’s more in the mold of Spiritualized’s punchy Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space and Josh Ritter’s “everything that happened after the breakup” lyrical approach to The Beast in Its Tracks than a mopefest. (Not that I don’t love a good mopefest.) As is often the case with speak/sing work, the lyrics are dense and carefully constructed, despite sounding off-the-cuff; there are pop culture references (“Sleepy Hollow,” for example), emotional monologues, and word games to be had (like the title of “Hail, Mary”). The sum of all these parts is a fully-realized statement of an album that clearly shows Tim De Vil’s songwriting and lyrical skills. Fans of collage artists, spoken word ramblers, or experimental indie-pop will find much to enjoy here.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.