Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Premiere: Jennell’s “Long Way from Home”

August 13, 2015

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The folk-pop of Jennell‘s “Long Way From Home” draws equally from the stomp-clap hoedowns of The Lumineers and the polished country-pop of Taylor Swift, creating a point of connection between the two social worlds that could sit comfortably next to Phillip Phillips’ work. (It even talks about home!)

Fans of folk pop will notice the vocal melodies in the prechorus and bridge, while fans of T-Swift will recognize the chorus vibes immediately. The result is a tune that will get at least one melody stuck in your head (but it depends on which one). The lyrics address the uncertainty of travel and discomforts that come from a lack of community, something that anyone who’s ever been traveling a lot can relate to. Sonically, it’s a great song for the lazy end of summer; lyrically, it can keep the company of those still out there on the road.

Jennell’s EP Home comes out 8/28; you can pre-order it on iTunes now.

Quick Hits: DeQn Sue / Mueller_Roedelius

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You don’t begin a song with the sound of glass shattering, followed by the sound of its pieces clanking back together again, and it not be an epic track. And alternative pop artist DeQn Sue’s “Glass” is exactly that. The single from her latest EP Snack rocks tomboy femininity that is sudden, harsh, and genuine.

A punchy, dank beat thickens the sharp soundscape and creates a hypnotic element. DeQn Sue’s eerily at-ease vocals have the intimidating and alluring energy of Sister Sarah in Hocus Pocus (specifically the scene where she’s flying on her broomstick singing that creepy lullaby to the children of Salem). Sue’s vibe and the intensity of the instrumentals capture the theme of the song–contrasting a bold, “bad b***h” mentality with the sometimes shocking presence of feelings.

“Sturdy, I take the pressure/Fragile, behind me…Hard, I’m hard as nails/Solid, I am a dream,” Sue delivers her lyrics with a punch and realness that most street rappers can’t even seem to evoke these days. I would like to thank you, DeQn Sue, for discussing a common contradiction of human emotion, and doing so in explosive song-form.

Mueller

Instead of glass, Mueller_Roedelius’ “Time Has Come” utilizes sounds a bit more spacey, ambiguous, and ambient, like someone making continuous attempts at lighting their lighter. I almost couldn’t see through the aggressive darkness, the sudden flicker of flame, and then the returning sonic pitch-blackness of it all. But the introduction of building piano melodies adds elegance to this track, all with a downbeat trudging beneath.

Before I knew it, the master duo of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Christoph H. Müller transported me to an impressively weirder experience, warmer and rich with production work that drips. There are hints of jazziness, even some Latin influence. The whole song subtly washed over me, and gradually morphed itself into a beautifully, unconventionally tropic experience. “Time Has Come” is the elevator music of my dreams–evoking the sleek sexiness of potted palms, hotel lobbies, and too-high high heels.–Rachel Haney

Premiere: King Cardinal’s “One”

August 12, 2015

Denver’s King Cardinal plays dignified, classy folk music. In the performance video below of their original tune “One,” Brennan Mackey’s resonant, careworn voice gently leads the way while Texanna Dennie’s tender alto curls around Mackey’s with beautiful, delicate harmonies. The vocals float along over an easy-going guitar strum and acoustic bass thrum. It’s a simple, elegant tune that calls up visions of late night car rides, deep conversations over campfires, and melancholy end-of-movies credits. The cinematographer slowly pans through the room in a circle, giving a lush, cinematic air to both the track and the video.

“One” comes from their most recent release, Once a Giant. You can see them live at Higher Ground Music Festival at 1:45 p.m. August 22 on the Blue Moon Stage. They’ll also be going on a Midwest house show tour in October; you can find forthcoming info at their website.

Quick Hit: Steve Stanley and the Mercs

August 10, 2015

stevestanleyandthemercs

Steve Stanley and the MercsWhen in Roam is a pristine, idyllic, near-perfect early ’00s Christian punk-rock album with some country-punk leanings thrown in. If every new generation’s music serves a similar social purpose in helping us wind our way through the challenges of life, When in Roam is Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, But Three Do for everyone who was too young to grow up with Relient K. It’s remarkable how many of the sonic markers that Stanley checks off: pleasantly nasally vocals, yearning vocal lines, rapidfire drumming, guitars that span the distance between youthful adrenaline and earnest melodicism, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics documenting big emotions (“Ten Years Ago,” “Fear in a Handful of Dust,” “I’m a Ship,” okay pretty much every song).

When you throw in a production job that’s a spot-on re-creation of the sonic space that Relient K mined in the early ’00s, you have an album that is a deeply enjoyable nostalgic trip for late 20s pop-punk fans and (I hope) a thrilling experience for young pop-punk fans. I don’t know if people are still into FM Static, but they’re another sonic touchstone here. The first time I heard the sonic, emotional, and religious crescendo crest in closer “Death and Nostalgia,” I got shivers: with “It is Well” as the main line and a counterpoint of Stanley’s own creation layering on top of it, I could hear the brilliant songwriter emerging (just like I could with Relient K’s Matt Thiessen, all those years ago–and then we got the masterpiece mmhmm and “Deathbed”). I expect great things for Steve Stanley and the Mercs.

July MP3s: Acoustic

August 6, 2015

July MP3s: Acoustic

1. “I Touch My Face in Hyperspace Oh Yeah” – Devin James Fry. You shouldn’t need my encouragement to listen to a song with a title so enigmatic and intriguing, but if you do, the fiery, wild-eyed psych-folk-rock is just as immediately engaging and mind-expanding as the title.

2. “Cheap Shades” – Chris Staples. Staples tosses off lyrics in this gentle, walking-speed acoustic tune as if they were easy to come by, as if they weren’t complex and unique and deeply thoughtful. This doesn’t sound like the Mountain Goats at all, but fans of John Darnielle will hear the lyrical kinship (even if the music is closer to Sufjan’s Michigan than anything TMG has put out, except maybe Get Lonely). If you’re of the age and vintage that 238’s “Modern Day Prayer” is tattooed on your consciousness, get prepared to have your mind blown: this is that Chris Staples.

3. “Can’t Undo This” – Heather Bond. It’s tough to do a dramatic, introspective ballad without getting formalist or maudlin. Bond balances gravitas and vulnerability to come up with a searing, poignant, piano-driven tune.

4. “Take You Away” – The National Parks. Handclaps, pizzicato violin, punchy horns, and bright-eyed guy/girl vocals buoy this cross between orchestral-folk-pop, party-friendly indie-pop-rock, and even some disco vibes (!). Weighty genre labels aside, this is a cheery, thoughtful tune that does more than bash out chords on a well-trod road.

5. “Ida” – El Tryptophan. Was Pet Sounds an orchestral explosion of the Phil Spector sound? If so, “Ida” could fit in the chronological and sonic space right between ’60s girl-pop arrangements and Brian Wilson’s masterpiece (with some Velvet Underground thrown in for good measure).

6. “Pink Lemonade” – Monogold. Sometimes the title is all you need to know.

7. “Cross My Broken Heart” – Sherman Ewing. Sometimes the chorus is all you need to hear.

8. “Kids” – Dara Sisterhen. Somehow manages to blend country, ’50s pop, and folk-pop into one breezy, carefree tune perfect for your next road trip.

9. “The Script” – The Treacherous French. Almost any accordion-laden acoustic tune is going to come off like a sea shanty; the washboard percussion, enthusiastic high-tenor vocal performance, and “whoa-ohs” solidify the notion.

10. “Willingham” – Echo Bloom. Somehow combines the murky sounds of a forest, high-drama noir vocals, indie-rock slinkiness, and ghostly aura. Wildly inventive.

11. “Little Dreamer” – Charlotte & Magon. Delicate electric guitar, gently dramatic vocals, and an overall sense of lazy Saturday mornings.

12. “Gotta Wanna” – Gun Outfit. I turn the key and the engine hums. I turn out of the gas station and back onto an empty Arizona highway, headed back toward California. The insistent drumming underscores my sense of motion, but the vocals and guitar lean back to make sure that everyone knows it’s not all that urgent. We’re gonna hang out and enjoy ourselves when we get there; we’ll enjoy it on the way, too.

13. “Hold Hands for Dry Land” – Oryx and Crake. The gleeful community feel of Funeral was part of what made it so engaging: Oryx and Crake develop that same sort of group vibe in this punchy-yet-thoughtful melodic indie-rock track. Anyone named after a Margaret Atwood novel is asking for your full attention–they reward, both musically and lyrically.

Devereaux: Hot-pink-grit good

Pineapple Flex

Devereaux’s LP Pineapple Flex gives off the same vibes as French action cinema, whose elements derive from Kung Fu flicks, Hollywood stunts, comedy, and Parisian crime shows. Picture a sonic retelling of La Femme Nikita, or even better, a badass electronic take on the Spice Girls minus the vocals, but with all of the spunky, flirty sexiness.

“Ponytails” begins with bells ringing, like the warning of an incoming locomotive. Then, drops a house beat that double-dutches into a line of a catchy vocals. The lyric “Whip your ponytail” summarizes the album’s party-twerking theme.

Bikini

To evolve the Spice Girl metaphor even more, “Bikini” would be Baby Spice sucking on a lollipop wearing a tight blue mini-skirt. Funky, dreamy ambiance oozes an island-love groove, but it’s the Phil Collins-inspired percussion that swirls in an 80’s retroness.

Overall, there is a mix of glitchy, ambient, and flat-out fun tracks that seal the deal in terms of an eclectic record. “CoastsaoC” is the crunchiest, creepiest song, while the emotive guitar riffs, twinkling texturizing, and lucid vocals create a groovy soundscape on “Sell the Rose.” “Xenodehuir” is infused with piano, an escalating bouncy house rhythm, trumpets, and chiming guitar that had me feeling funky fresh. “Next to Neon” pulls it all together with a flirty, retro beat that screams Prince influence.

And please ignore the cliche, but it’s the little things that count. The drops Devereaux employs are bricks of gold; At 1:40, “Azúcar” drops with the sound of a trigger being pulled, and at 2:30 “Fashion for Sharks” drops into a grittiness that sounds…exactly like sharks chomping down on your expectations for a drop.

The vocals and lyrics, spritzed like confetti, are also what form Devereaux’s precise sound. While not featured on every song, the vocals that do appear are a pleasant combination of both male and female, with the female vocals often singing French phrases. The easy, deep breathiness of the female vocalist on “Hatchets” has a Lana Del Ray flair, and the snippets of conversation recorded on “Costarricense” highlight the subtle humor Devereaux slips into these tracks.

So the next time I go on a fast motorcycle ride along a winding, mountainous highway or decide to fight neighborhood crime wearing nothing but a bikini and brass knuckles, I’m listening to this. Full of bold energy, Pineapple Flex is an animatedly euphoric, at times violent, assault on epic electronic music. It’s hot-pink-grit good. —Rachel Haney

The Talent of Jeremy Bass, Part 2

August 5, 2015

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Jeremy Bass and his many talents never cease to surprise me. In his first eight-song release of the year, Winter Bare, we witnessed poetic lyrics shine with simple, mainly acoustic accompaniment and a sound that echoes ‘60s folk music.This second collection (released two months later) strikes quite a different note. New York in Spring is a collection of eight equally poetic songs, yet with Spanish inspiration and an easy listening sound.

On first listen, the aspect that most catches my ear is Bass’ talent as a classically-trained guitarist. The guitars in Winter Bare had a much more relaxed folk sound, while the guitar parts get a little more complicated on New York in Spring. Although “Firefly” maintains more of the former’s folk sound, the rest of the album does not. Bass was trained in classical and flamenco guitar, and it shows. Particularly in the guitar-only tracks “Berimbau” and “Theme from El Decamaron Negro,” Bass shows off his classically trained roots. In fact, the latter is Bass’ version of a composition for classical guitar by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. From extensive finger picking to fast-paced Bossa Nova rhythms that make you want to do the samba, Bass shows off a side of himself that was modestly veiled in Winter Bare. Bass’ classical Spanish inspiration shines bright and clear in New York in Spring.

Bass’ combination of classical guitar, piano, violin, trumpet, accordion and percussive elements come together to create an album that easily falls under easy listening. By easy listening, I am by no means saying that the sound is boring–it’s simply relaxing. Bossa Nova can often be classified under easy listening, and this album is a clear example of that happening. The guitar and piano pair up beautifully in tracks like “Prayer” and “Julia.” When other instruments such as the trumpet (“Work”) and violin (“New York in Spring”) enter into the mix, the spanish flavor of the tracks that make you want to dance gets heightened. Yet, the flawless blending of instruments and the smooth way they are played serve to mitigate the flavor, making the album an easy listening treasure.

I knew I could never review a Jeremy Bass album without commenting on his poetic lyrics. Having actually won poetry awards and scholarships, Bass’ lyrics in both Winter Bare and New York in Spring ooze with depth and beauty. The title track is a poetic ode to New York City, with lyrics like, “But how could you not ever have lived here and ever said you’d truly been alive/ In New York in Spring.” One brilliant thing Bass does in New York in Spring is pair his heavy lyrics with light-hearted instrumentation that makes you not realize the lyrics’ exploration of the darker aspects of humanity. The best example of this is “Work.”  

“Work” is one of the most brilliantly written set of lyrics I have ever heard. The song starts off with exuberant trumpets and continues with rapid Bossa Nova guitar rhythms. The instrumentation maintains a very fun and fast-paced sound that makes me want to dance the samba. The fun sound of the song masks the dark commentary Bass makes through the lyrics. The lyrics tell the narrative tale of hard-working farmers and constant-working businesspeople. He also has secondary characters such as himself (“Here I sit in my usual place”) and children (“In the city children play”). Through highlighting an array of human situations, Bass is able to universally draw attention to the one thing they all have in common: work. The lyrics have a slightly sardonic tone, since you can tell that all this work isn’t necessarily leading to good things: “A man tries to make his lover stay, hey they’re working.” (I could go on exploring more themes and figurative language, but I’ll spare you.) Looking past the vibrant sound of the track, “Work” has lyrics that point out one of humanity’s darkest struggles–our desire to rest overcome by our enslavement to work.

New York in Spring is certainly an album pleasing to the ear, but unlike Winter Bare, it is not for its simplicity. Instead, New York in Spring maintains a smooth easy listening sound accomplished through a complex arrangement of instruments and Brazilian-inspired rhythms. New York in Spring shows off a classically complex side of Bass that was hiding in Winter Bare. I do not discredit Winter Bare; in fact, I admire it for its more simple folk sound and equally poetic lyrics. Yet, there is no denying that New York in Spring is where Bass lets his talent truly roam free. And for that, we must thank him. —Krisann Janowitz

July Mp3s: Upbeat

July 31, 2015

Upbeat

1. “Saturday” – SPORTS. This evanescent (1:13!), earnest, perky garage-rock track hits all the right notes and touches a chord in me. It’s the perfect mix of enthusiasm and grit. Father/Daughter Records is on a roll.

2. “Vultures” – Delta Mainline. Call it Spiritualized at its most arch or acoustic-based ’90s Britpop (Oasis, The Verve) at its most early-morning woozy–this track is a memorable one.

3. “Wall Ball” – Art Contest. Any band that can make math-rock accessible and hooky is greatly to be praised. Art Contest’s impressive technical chops are only overshadowed by their incredible songwriting ones. This song is an adventure.

4. “There’s No Love” – We Are Magnetic. It’s summer, so I need a continuous stream of brash, upbeat dance-rock tunes. This one plays out like a less yelpy Passion Pit, complete with a giant chorus anchored by a soaring melody and backed with a choir. Get your dance on.

5. “Pistoletta” – North by North. Imagine My Chemical Romance had a little more rock and a little less theatrics, or think of late ’60s/early ’70s rock, right as glam was breaking out and wasn’t really there yet. Soaring vocals, rock drama, and crunchy guitars sell it.

6. “Get on the Boat” – Little Red Lung. This female-fronted outfit calls up Florence and the Machine comparisons through its adventurous arrangements (check that booming cello), minor-key vibes, and front-and-center vocals.

7. “Then Comes the Wonder” – The Landing. An ecstatic mishmash of handclaps, burbling synths, piano, and falsetto vocals creates a song that makes me think of a half-dozen disparate sonic influences (Foals, Prince, Fleet Foxes, and the Flaming Lips among them).

8. “Dust Silhouettes” – CFIT. Glitchy electro-pop noises give way to psych-influenced guitar and vocals, all stacked on top of an indie-rock backline. It’s a head-spinner in the best sort of way.

9. “Take Me Away” – Late Nite Cable. The chorus in this song is the electro-pop equivalent of the sun coming out from behind clouds after two days of rain.

10. “ONE” – Moving Panoramas. Sometimes I wonder what people are listening to when they’re walking down the street with headphones in. This feels like it could be one of those things: a walking-speed indie-pop-rock song with excellent bass work, down-to-earth vocals, and a little sense of wonder.

11. “Alien Youth” – The Albino Eyes. Calls back to the time when synth-rock meant The Cars: the zinging, charming synths over slightly-smoothed out garage-rock is nostalgic in the best of ways.

12. “Strangers” – Balaclade. Balancing guitar crunch with feathery vocals makes this an engaging post-’90s-indie-rock track.

13. “Falling” – Here We Go Magic. This warm, swirly, electronics-laden pop-rock tune calls to mind School of Seven Bells, if their sound was a little more tethered to acoustic instrumentation.

Candysound / Andrew Skeet / Vana Mazi

July 30, 2015

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Candysound‘s Past Lives is the sort of garage rock that seems born of good-natured experimentation, a genuine sense of joy in creation, and a dedication to writing catchy songs. This isn’t four-on-the-floor chord mashing–the trio makes lithe, lively, effervescent tracks full of rhythmic, melodic, and textural diversity.

I’m getting all adjective-y on it, but that’s because “Be Around” is a gleeful whirlwind, “Details” is all yelpy and groove-laden, and the title track is a mini math-rock tune. Closer “This Place” is a beautiful acoustic tune in the vein of Rocky Votolato and other even-handed tale-spinners. All of the tunes have a fresh, slightly gritty sheen about them, the sort of vibe that is confident but not super-invested in polishing every sound to its poppy ultimate. This feels like a document, not like a presentation: it’s the sort of indie-pop-rock that makes me want to hear more of it, maybe even write some myself. If you’re excited by a quirky melody and a yelpy vocal hook, Candysound should tickle your ears quite well. Here’s to that. Highly recommended.

findingtime

I knew this day was coming, both for me and for the indie-rock world. Andrew Skeet‘s Finding Time can be described as a delicate post-rock album that fits in next to The Album Leaf and the soundtrack work of Sleeping at Last or as an engaging work of post-minimalist modern classical music (it’s being put out on Sony Classical). Much alt-classical music has been made, but this is the first time it’s fit so neatly for me inside the music-listening frameworks I’ve already cultivated. My listening habits have been moving toward the classical, since my discovery of John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean and Philip Glass’s work, and now the loop has closed. It’s all one continuous line for me now.

And why shouldn’t it be? The keening repetition that opens “Passing Phase” calls to mind Philip Glass’s Glassworks, while the slow-moving elegy it morphs into is reminiscent of Sigur Ros’s work. “Reflect” is nearly ambient in its pacing; the sharp, brittle, electronic dissonance of “The Unforgiving Minute” would make Modest Mouse proud. The two worlds collide here, at least from my frame of reference. “Taking Off” and “Stop the Clock” feel more traditionally classical, with the latter’s nearly baroque flurry of keyed notes and the former’s heavy reliance on cello and violin. There are moments even in the aforementioned pieces that skew towards traditional sounds, like “The Unforgiving Minute,” but overall this is an album that can be appreciated both by the modern classical music enthusiast and the post-rock one.

Andrew Skeet’s Finding Time is an engaging, enigmatic, comforting and challenging listen. It has kept me company on long slogs of reading (particularly the electronics-laden title track) and warm afternoons. It’s just really impressive, regardless of what you call it.

vanamazi2

Like many people my age, my first introduction to the sounds of Armenian music was through the melodic structures that System of a Down fused to its already-wild metal song structures. Since then, those sounds (along with associated gypsy, Balkan, and Eastern European elements) have been floating around in my brain. Izam Anav by Vana Mazi puts those sounds squarely on the forefront on my brain once again, as the album features gypsy sounds played earnestly and enthusiastically.

With so much cultural weight surrounding sounds of this variety, it’s refreshing to hear the Austin-based outfit play their songs without theatrical bravado (a la Gogol Bordello) or overtly ominous vibes. These tunes, instead, feel like an tasteful interpretation of a long tradition. “Jove Malaj Mome” marries a complex percussion pattern with an intricate instrumental melody from the accordion and fiddle. The male and female vocals double the melody, creating a dramatic vibe without resorting to tricks. It’s just all right there, written in. If you start to sway your hips unintentionally, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

That call to dance is another distinctive element of Vana Mazi’s work: the songs here are miles away from dance rock or electronic music, yet they very distinctly beg to be moved to. It’s hard to deny the rumbling, percussive energy of “Don Pizzica”; the sultry, inviting “Celo Skopje”; and the major key perkiness of “Tarantella Del Gargano.” This ain’t an indie-rock show–crossed arms aren’t going to cut it. The most serious of the tunes here is “Fireflies,” which heavily draws on the ominous, quixotic Armenian vibe that System of a Down mined; the rest are more like “Sandansko Horo,” whose titular element is a Bulgarian folk dance. Eastern European music buffs, adventurous musical types, or fans of interactive live shows (their press assures me of what seems to be inevitable true: these shows are a party) should rush in the direction of Izam Anav. While dancing.

The Bellfuries / Kyle and the Pity Party

July 29, 2015

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The BellfuriesWorkingman’s Bellfuries is a sonic upgrade on retro styles. The 11 tunes of this record apply hi-fi, modern production techniques to the sounds of Roy Orbison pop (“Beaumont Blues”) and early ’60s British Invasion rock–complete with a cover of a 1964 Beatles B-side (“She’s a Woman”). It avoids the retro-rock tribute trap through an assured grasp of the elements necessary in this type of songwriting, impressive arrangements, and immediately catchy melodies.

By the end of the first time that my wife and I heard “Why Do You Haunt Me,” we were both singing along almost unconsciously–the song’s structure is so natural, so deeply dedicated to the ’50s-rock palette that it passed the credibility threshold almost instantaneously. Joey Simeone’s wide singing range makes the vocals a central point in the sound: they’re passionate but still carefully controlled, dramatic without being sloppy. The fact that he can pull off the difficult vocal jumps iconic in this sound goes one more step toward showing why The Bellfuries are more than copycats or fetishists–these are musicians who’ve adopted a style and are pushing it forward. Their polished, structured, rewarding arrangements seal the deal. If you’re looking for some distinctly unique pop/rock, try out Workingman’s Bellfuries.

kyleandthepityparty

On the opposite side of the rock spectrum, Kyle & the Pity Party play early ’00s emo-rock on their EP Everything’s Bad. However, they’re just as dedicated as The Bellfuries to their genre proposition: they namecheck iconic emo band Brand New in “Young.” It’s an important reference, as a namecheck to Taking Back Sunday or Thursday would belie a different set of sonic principles. Kyle McDonough and co. play rock that has matured out of some punk brashness–while these minor key songs can get noisy, they have an atmospheric gravitas imported by the melodic commitment, the dense arrangements and the Doors-esque vocals.

McDonough’s vocals aren’t quite as low as Morrison’s, but the same sort of “brooding persona presiding over the rock proceedings” vibe prevails. His performances are attention-grabbing in the best sort of way. It’s a tribute to the vocal quality that he overshadows the instrumentals to a degree: the band’s careful attention to maintaining energy while sticking in a mid-tempo emo-rock style results in strong songwriting. From the piano that grounds opener “Spill It All” to the bass-heavy rock of “He Was / She Was” to the casio-led closer “He’ll Never Love You,” the band keeps things diverse but recognizably consistent on the six-song EP.

It’s their decision to keep melody central to their guitars and vocals (no screaming here) that sets them apart from their noisier brethren, but they haven’t gotten so quiet as to move into twinkly post-emo. Instead, they throw down their tunes in a melodic indie-rock sort of vein that probably wouldn’t get lumped in with the emo revival as a tag (although they could easily tour with bands like Football, Etc. or others). If you still listen to Deja Entendu, you should check out Kyle and the Pity Party.

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

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