Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Singles: More Indie-pop

May 25, 2018

1. “Superficial Feeling” – Written Years. This song covers all the bases, stealing bits of electro-indie-pop, big-moment indie-rock and M83-style indie-dance. The song also does pretty much everything right: The arrangement is a slow-burner that heats up to maximum, the vocals are right-on, and the overall effect is perfect.

2. “Future Me Hates Me” – The Beths. I love the deliciously-fuzzy guitar tone and the impressively strong vocals in this power-pop/pop-punk tune. The ascending main guitar riff is also ace.

3. “Number 5 Radio” – Fairburn Royals. In the fine tradition of breaking the fourth wall, this stellar tune is a power-pop song about how to write a power-pop song (in five simple rules). The song itself follows its own rules, and the resulting song is indeed really excellent. Highly recommended.

4. “She Calls” – Tenderfoot. I’m a sucker for a good whoa-oh-oh vocal line, and this tune has a great one. The rest of the song is a catchy, upbeat pop-rock song that’s a lot of fun.

5. “Spoil With The Rest” – Ryley Walker. Transforms from a purveyor of pastoral folk to an explosive indie-rocker with folky leanings–it’s like when The Dodos transformed themselves from frenetic mathy duo to a more dense outfit. Walker’s voice is still relaxed and relaxing, but his electric guitar does the talking here.

6. “Necessaries” – Many Voices Speak. The band here uses reverb to turn the song into an intimate experience instead of to create space; there’s lots of wobbly sounds, bouncing notes, and the like, but it all sounds like a blanket wrapped around me instead of a giant cloud. The loose, unstressed vocals create even more of that warm feel, giving this low-key dream-pop song a magnetic aura.

7. “Blue Love” – JOYNER. Sometimes a chorus pops up and just washes over me with such unavoidable confidence that it compels me to write about the song. The rest of the tune is a thoroughly fine low-key electro-influenced indie-pop tune, but that chorus is just perfect.

8. “Undone” – Greta Isaac. Chipper, friendly, and enthusiastic are all things I look for in a great indie-pop tune. This tune nails it: the arrangement is perky everywhere, the melodies are easily accessible, and there are tons of enthusiastic choral vocals in the chorus. The light electro-pop/glitchy touches make it even more exciting. Here’s one for your summer lists.

9. “Baby” – Basement Revolver. I’m not much into rock songs with heavily distorted guitars these days, but Basement Revolver infuses their songs with so much pathos and desire that it’s hard to not empathize with vocalist Chrisy Hurn. Hurn can belt with the best of them, but her quiet voice is equally as controlled and equally as devastating. The band’s ability to match Hurn’s urgency without turning into a punk rock outfit is further impressive. Just an absolutely bang-up job on this indie-rock tune. Fans of Silversun Pickups will love this.

10. “ABOP” – tunng. Have some low-slung electro-pop from this veteran outfit. There’s an X factor here that comes of having a lot of years in the game–a lot of people can make electro-pop with acoustic leanings, but not many can make it stick.

11. “Favourite Song” – Pizzagirl. The caption on this video says “For best results listen in 1987 at night,” which is spot-on self-awareness. The big synths, the gated snares, the vocal tone, the vocal melodies, it’s all pitch-perfect late ’80s synth-pop. I’m particularly fond of the vocal melodies.

12. “Never There (for bassooning and Crooning)” – Some Professional Help. This almost exactly what it says on the tin: it is a spoken-word-and-bassoon version of CAKE’s “Never There.” As a fan of CAKE and weird conceptual ideas (and how much more a weird conceptual idea involving CAKE), this is hilariously great. Some Professional Help is also a folk-punk-ish band, but this one is literally just Scott Alexander spoofing the spoofers who are CAKE. Please avail yourself of this song.

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Singles: Acoustic/alt-pop

May 24, 2018

1. “In the Fields” – Simon D. James. Here’s a lush, sweeping tune that paints a whole landscape. The piano occasionally sounds like an arpeggiator (awesome), the violin swoops all over the place, and the drums hold everything together. It’s bright and folky, but also dense like Decemberists song. It is a great blend of tons of influences into a distinct whole. Highly recommended.

2. “I Won’t Sit Around and Cry” – Jon Patrick Walker. Solid fingerpicking, speedy vocal delivery (not quite Jeffrey Lewis, but similar), some country vibes in the guitar solo, and an indie-pop grin throughout the whole thing. If you’re a fan of folk/indie-pop, this is basically the instantiation of what that combo sounds like. Highly recommended.

3. “The Long Game” – Jonathan Rice. Like Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” this is an excellent pop ballad unencumbered by flashy arrangements or innovative turns. Instead, there’s an endearing lyrical set, a compelling vocal performance, unforgettable melodies, and a sense of pure songwriting craft. This is a great song written by an expert hand. Highly recommended.

4. “Hank” – Declan O’Donovan. There’s a bit of honky-tonk, a lot of Creedence, and a lot of confidence in this Southerny, folky tune. Special shout-out to the piano player, who really makes this song what it is.

5. “Time Runs Out For Narcissus” – Thomas & The Empty Orchestra. A jaunty, wholesome-sounding folk tune with swift fingerpicking, witty lyrics, and a lovely accordion. If you’re into Justin Townes Earle, Langhorne Slim, or Common Man, you’ll love this.

6. “What I Came Here For” – Luca Fogale. The delicate ease of Joshua Radin rests on this tune, what with the sprightly fingerpicking, the distant piano and the achingly beautiful melodies. The lovely layered vocal arrangements are icing on the fantastic cake. Highly recommended.

7. “Slow It Down” – Sarah Clanton. There’s a hint of Sixpence None the Richer in this dense, acoustic-focused singer-songwriter/pop song, from Clanton’s easygoing vocals to the overall taut-but-smooth atmosphere.

8. “Bare” – Rosie Carney. This one’s a quiet guitar-and-piano rumination anchored by a striking vocal performance from Carney.

9. “I Won’t Move” – Natalie Carolan. A delicate, yearning, searching piece that builds from hear-the-piano-pedals quietude to a smooth, compelling alt-pop piece.

10. “Dark Places” – Maria Kelly. Simple, quiet, and emotionally devastating, this acoustic tune is a delicate, carefully written explanation of how depression feels and acts. Kelly’s voice is alternately fragile and sturdy, underscoring the tensions in the song.

11. “Let Somebody Inside” – David Hopkins. The opening piano/synth arrangement may be a little too heavy on piano ballad conventions for some, but the vocal performance here is gripping and the chorus is just fantastic. The horn arrangement that comes in halfway through caps the song. It’s a great pop song.

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Singles: Indie-pop and such

May 23, 2018

1. “Into the Unknown” – The Lighthouse and the Whaler. Just an absolute, A+, oh-wow-2010-was-great, stomping, soaring folk-pop song. It’s like a Lord Huron and Lumineers collaboration that preserves all the best parts of both of their work. There are even “HEY”s. I’m in love.

2. “No Mamma” – Animal House (UK). This is the most infectious British guitar rock tune since Marsicans showed up. It’s got a lot of early ’00s Strokes in it, but it’s more rubbery, more bouncy, and way less preening than Casablancas and co. Yep, just a really great pop song about being young. Ace.

3. “Free Like a Broken Heart” – Birdtalker. If you like your folk/alt-country with a heavy dose of Motown soul, you’ll whip your head in the direction of Birdtalker. The dual vocals are strong, the arrangement is excellent, and the whole thing comes off like a Dawes track coming out of a historic Detroit studio.

4. “Miss Him Too” – Nate Daviau. “You miss the man you fell in love with / honey / I miss him too” is about the most alt-country sentiment I can imagine. It’s aggressive yet mopey, self-aware yet miserable. The crunchy, Jayhawks/Old ’97s-style arrangement fits perfectly with these lyrics. Daviau has a lot of swagger going on in this track.

5. “Less Than Positive” – Michael Nau. There’s some ’50s pop mixing, some loping country-style bass, some Gregory Alan Isakov vocal performance, and bright-shiny guitars all thrown together into a great pop song. If you need a smile but don’t want to go full-on happy, there’s just enough downer here to keep it real (while still being a lot of fun).

6. “Glow” – Brooke Annibale. Power-pop that doesn’t go for the Big Crunch–more like Fountains of Wayne, or Spoon, or even the fuzzed-out elements of Spiritualized. The song keeps an even keel but stays exciting throughout.

7. “Dreaming About You” – Polychrome. Dreamy electro-pop with ODESZA-style post-dub vocal blips and twiddly melodies over a thick synth base. There’s a lot of songs that could be described like that, but this is one that nails it with an X factor, where others just sound like ODESZA.

8. “Please Don’t Let My Art Die” – Marc with a C. Uber-satirist Marc with a C turns his gaze toward the hereafter and pens a plaintive, honest look at what it means to leave behind a legacy as an artist and person. It’s couched in a jangly, punchy power-pop tune that Marc has refined to a T. The a cappella bit at the end is just lovely.

9. “Lake Erie” – Wild Pink. John Ross manages to sound vulnerable and confident at the same time–conveying the emotions of uncertain and confusion in a rock-solid performance. His gentle voice mixes excellently with the jangling indie-rock guitars. This song is full of happy-sad; the sort of sadness that makes some people just happy inside.

10. “Round but Jaded” – Dear Life,. Alternating between a delicate alt-pop tune and a stomping indie-rock one, this track has a lot of sonic diversity. I love a good arpeggiator, and their use of synth is the beating heart of this song. The vocals are also a unique touch.

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Matt C. White: Effortless, honest, and authentic Americana

May 22, 2018

Occasionally music transcends place, born from the essence of a musician and his roots to become something greater almost effortlessly. Matt C. White does that with his debut album wallow in the hollow., available via Burro Borrocho Records. Infused with a Carolina youth, the man who calls Brooklyn home packs a punch with this first effort.

White is a city man who has country oozing from his soul. Embracing Americana that emerges from deep woods country, his authentic connection to the land undoubtedly shaped production choices. He paints a landscape with instrumentation, creating rustic, back-porch ambiance. The simple instrumentation consists of guitar, mandolin, bass, and slide. Vocals are layered with claps and stomps. The occasional studio wizardry digs deep into a bag of tricks to make all this come to life on the record.

Matt C. White is a constant music-making machine, involved in projects from Charles Ellsworth and The C.O.O. to Grandpa Jack to Dead Seconds. After wallowing in the music, it is easy to hear why Alex Saltz was interested in this project. Saltz (Bruce Springsteen, Deer Tick, The Raconteurs) contributes analog mastering, which fits White’s style perfectly.

It’s apparent from the start is that this record has been a lifetime in gestation, as it is lyrically dense and sonically intelligent. Reminiscent of Australian blues musician Ash Grunwald, this is Deer Tick with a twang; strut in the best way. From the dark opener “Lie With Me” and its equally ominous sister “Can’t Get Away,” it almost feels like someone is looking over their shoulder, whistling down the street in the middle of the night. It is brilliant!

Each cut takes listener to a different space, mixing up the pace of the album. White connects people with his emotional reality by utilizing sequencing and pacing; tempo is punctuation, a memo for listeners to perk up and pay attention. “Now And Then” has an over-the-top happy feel that balances the dark of the previous track. Think Disney’s Snow White: the balance of dwarves whistling to keep from thinking about the queen. White lands a suckerpunch on “Year Of Dogs.” The darkly brilliant tune shows off the best vocal performance from White on the record.

Nearly halfway through, “Black Spiral” is a lyrical masterpiece that plumbs the depths of darkness amid an unusual mix that focuses on the background vocals. Resting points are huge, and “Intermission” feels like a special place to rise to the surface. It takes a moment to remember that this a trip into the Carolina woods, and “Have It” is that reminder. Taking a slide into “Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder,” it’s easy to slip back in front of the campfire. Raw, rustic, and real, this is the best of what makes American music great; mixed with restraint and mastered with a light hand, the analog feel is perfect. With heart and soul, grit and guts, this is the track of the record here, no question.

In the home stretch, “Words To Make You Stay” is a melancholy bookend to any Muddy Waters proclamation; the joy at the end of this record comes from feeling the roots of the artist that is Matt C. White. Somehow, the revival is at the river, and “Lost On the Way” proves that there is always a way back to one’s roots. Celebrating that place where he grew up, “Nightsky” is a flashback written by a man in the city; upbeat, with a celebratory vibe, it is also a songwriter looking forward, not back. “Fare Thee Well” is a fond adieu to listeners who wallow in the hollow. with Matt C. White. A flash of a song, does it really count, or is it really a wave that suggests “until we meet again”?

Occasionally a musician releases a debut album that seems effortless, honest, and authentic with a distinct voice as a songwriter and a vivid soundscape. This is that record, oozing inspiration and life experience. Streamers, do yourself a favor: listen to wallow in the hollow. by Matt. C. White vinyl-style, start to finish. Highly recommended.–Lisa Whealy

Luke & Emily’s Short-but-strong, Sacred/Contemporary Scripture EP

May 21, 2018

Luke & Emily, Songs to Remember Vol. 1

Luke & Emily‘s Songs to Remember Vol. 1 is a short EP that crams five fully-fleshed-out tunes into 10 minutes. The acoustic-laden songs are all sonic interpretations of texts drawn literally from the Bible, with titles that reflect the passage of the lyrics. Christians will notice that these are all “greatest hits” of scripture, from the opening of the Bible (“Genesis 1:1-5”) to doctrinal pillars (“Romans 8:1-2,” “John 1:1-5”) to encouragements in living daily life (“Philippians 4:11b-13,” “Ecclesiastes 3:11a”).

Musically there’s two milieus here: a thread of sacred music that is elegant, reverent, and traditional (check that flute and cello!) contrasted against a very Welcome Wagon-esque jaunty folk-pop. The sacred tunes (“Genesis,” “Ecclesiastes,” “Romans”) are beautiful, easily ready for “special music” sections of traditional worship services. Meanwhile, “John” and “Phillipians” are 100% ready to go for the contemporary service (usually a couple hours later on Sunday morning).

Download here: John 1:1-5 by Luke & Emily

“John 1:1-5” (displayed above; we’re going old-school with an MP3 embed/download!) is particularly excellent; Luke & Emily bring their vocal duet style to bear on a chipper sing-a-long that is almost certainly the easiest way to remember and ponder the complex theological passage. The chorus (“The light shines in the darkness / and the darkness has not overcome it”) points squarely at the crux of the passage, while the intro/outro (“In the beginning was the Word / and the Word was with God / And the Word was God”) offer unvarnished theological complexity in a fun way. They also manage to make the cello and flute sound quirky and charming instead of somber. It’s great!

If you want a small-but-strong EP to fit into a mellow playlist, help you memorize scripture, whet your appetite for more Luke & Emily music, or scratch an itch for things near to The Welcome Wagon’s idiosyncratic approach, this is very worth your time.

Wall Sun Sun: An absolute must-hear

May 17, 2018

Wall Sun Sun‘s Oranges is one of the most brilliant albums I have heard all year. Their unique fusion of fiercely acoustic aesthetics, complex rhythms, extremely catchy melodies, tight harmonies, and surrealist lyrics results into a fascinating, mind-bending indie-pop album.

The band is not a usual set-up. There’s an excellent tuba instead of a bass guitar. There are seven vocalists–three male and four female. The four female vocalists often sing in incredibly close harmony, sometimes even sounding like one voice. The percussion is split between two people, both of whom sound like they are standing waaaaaay at the back of the room for recording. There is no distortion on this record and very few (if any) electric guitars; most of the songs sound like they are played on a nylon-string guitar.

All of this personnel comes together into a fresh, compelling sound–sort of like the enthusiastic pop of early Bombadil meeting the dense vocals of the Polyphonic Spree in a Shins-ian acoustic setup with Vampire Weekend rhythms. Got all that?

Those complex, Vampire Weekend-style rhythms are a big element of this record; none of the tracks have a traditional four-on-the-floor approach to the drumming. The speedy rim-and-snare interplay of “You” meshes with the tropical guitar melodies and rapid-fire vocal performances to create an impressively complex song that yet sounds light and fun. That style of speedy-yet-not-invasive drumming is almost omnipresent, lending a unique vibe to the work. It even gets a turn in the spotlight: the snappy, punchy bass-and-rim percussion of “Menageries” forms the main arrangement for a great bulk of the tune. The intriguing complexity of the percussion approach lends a lot of interest to the record.

It’s a bit nerdy to focus on percussion before vocals, because this album really is about the catchy melodies and tight harmonies. The album owes a lot to doo-wop and tropicalia in its vocal approach, as the female vocalists often sing in such close harmonies that my wife wondered if the sound was a vocal effect or just incredible performing. (My wife is a vocalist. They’re that tight.) The male “lead” vocals are yelpy and fun, from the serious “Rely” to the goofy “Comedian” to the standout pop tune “Gold.” The melodies are the sort that can’t be wrenched out of my head for days: I’ve been humming “You” and “Gold” and “Menageries” and “Comedian” non-stop over the past few weeks. It’s just a great collection of songs with an indelible approach.

The songwriting itself is commendable too; there are tempo shifts, tonal changes, hard left hooks, big moments, subtle movements, and more. It’s the sort of exciting, whizbang songwriting that keeps the listener constantly on toes. The lyrics are just as fun and interesting–they’re surreal in a Bombadil sort of way, where things start off normal and slowly get weirder and weirder. “You,” “Comedian,” “Life,” and “Guessed” are all tracks that have endearing “wait, what?” moments in the lyrics.

So Oranges is the whole package: from the unique personnel to the fresh songwriting approach to the impressive vocal performances to the surreal lyrics. It even comes with a digital form of liner notes, charmingly twee press photos of the outfit all dressed in orange, and beautiful album art. There’s nothing to knock in this record: it’s simply one of the best things I’ve heard all year in all respects. If you’re a fan of indie-pop, this is an absolute must-hear. Highly recommended.

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St. Even expands his sonic palette, gets serious and/or optimistic

May 16, 2018

St. Even‘s Other Times You Die is a record that builds on the past successes of Steve Hefter (he who is St. Even) as a quiet indie-pop artist by expanding his palette in a wide array of ways. The expansion of his sonic bounds coincides with a more well-developed sense of the album as a unit, as he tells a distinct–if perhaps not exactly chronologically ordered–story about the joys and disappointments of relationship.

So, that sonic space. Hefter’s previous work relied heavily on acoustic instrumentation, spartan arrangements, and a lot of patience. On this record, he is not as patient–there are things zooming all over the place from the beginning to the end of the album. There are electric guitars!There are electronic bits! There’s found sound! All these things make it a very exciting record.

It is a bit of a departure from his previous work, although there are a couple tracks which strip everything out and leave just the core of his songwriting (“Opaquing,” “Not What You Think,” “Shittiness”). Those stripped-down songs sound remarkably like his previous work. So, this record is less of a change in his sound, and more of an expansion of what he was previously doing.

The expanded songwriting takes shape in many ways. There are nigh-on rock songs like the title track and opener “Piling It On”, which features crunchy guitar and sees Hefter in a bit of a power-pop attack mode. Love song “Matchmaker” has a tropical vibe, full of steel drums and Vampire Weekend style arrangements. “Every Night” is some sort of stuttery neo-funk tune. There are multiple interludes that show off his ability to create pastiches and found sound arrangements. These are all a heck of a lot of fun.

The core of the record, though, is not about his sonic explorations. The record is really about the highs and lows of a relationship from the giddy start and the amazing highs to the not so great parts (“Little Things”). There are plenty of indications that there is trouble in paradise on this record, and they are carefully and unsparingly documented (“3/18/06”). However, this is a record about trying to keep a relationship together as opposed to a document of one falling apart. This is most clearly shown in “Shittiness,” where Hefter  attests to the need to keep perspective while things are going well; he needs to not take good times in a relationship for granted.

Closer “Happy Last New Year” is a true resolution: things are going well in the relationship. This allows Hefter to bust out a very-traditionally-St. Even melancholic tune about how he feels like the world is falling apart right as he feels like he’s getting himself together. Even though this is a closer that’s supposed to be a bummer, it’s mostly a reassuring song–you can have totally shitty moments in your relationship and yet still come out the other side. In that way, the record is a record about how to stay together as opposed to the many records about how to fall apart. This doesn’t mean that there’s not fights, even bad ones – but in the end all turns out well (or at least seems like it). That’s pretty rad.

This is an under-the-radar triumph of indie-pop songwriting. If you like St. Even’s previous work, there are a couple tracks that sound just like it here. But if you’re not a fan of quiet, moping indie-pop with indelible melodies, there’s a lot more going on this record which might interest you too. If you like unique, disjointed, unusual indie-pop arrangements, you’ll be into this. So there are a lot of people who should be liking this record, not the least of which being optimists. Also, realists who are trying to be optimistic. Long live St. Even. Highly recommended.

Vickers Vimy’s Atlas of Hearts

May 15, 2018

Vickers Vimy’s Atlas of Hearts is a strong, diverse album that excels based on the band’s crafty arrangement skills and excellent vocal performances.

Vickers Vimy can write compelling folk tunes in a variety of milieus. Opener “Bonfire of Dantes” is wrapped in the adornments of Spaghetti Westerns, with lazy trumpets and high-drama guitar work, while follow-up “Chicago” is only a touch less catchy and loads more mandolin-folky than Sufjan’s track of the same name.

“Mermaid of Luna Park” has some screamin sax, blaring organ, and ‘90s Goo Goo Dolls vibes in the guitar tone and vocal melodies. “Peg and Hammer” has the insistent urgency of The Rural Alberta Advantage, while “Keep Your Eyes on the Road” is a cross between Josh Ritter and Jack Johnson. They know how to write a great song in tons of different ways. It’s like an early Decemberists album that has 15 different things going on per album but it all sounds great together.

Their vision coalesces around the title track, where a clarinet duets with a violin playing a slightly dissonant line. The rest of the band hums along perfectly, giving the lead instruments and the vocals tons of space. Even though the arrangement here is stellar, it’s the vocals that win this tune. Ed Drea has a high tenor voice prone to soaring lines, and that tendency is put to great effect in this track. Elsewhere he controls his voice on the hushed, European, open-air cafe vibe of “Budapest” and even sneaks in some ominous spoken word on murder ballad “Red Moon Rising.” There’s not a bad performance in the record, as all of the vocals are compelling and clear.

Atlas of Hearts is a record of wide-ranging interests and ideas. The band pulls it all off admirably, and the vocals sell the whole work. If you’re into eclectic full-band folk like Beirut or The Decemberists, this will catch your interest quite a bit.

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Jamison Isaak’s EP1 introduces a new neo-classical voice

May 14, 2018

As Teen Daze, Jamison Isaak has explored lush chillwave, krautrock-inspired techno, beautifully-orchestrated ambient work, and many other forms of low-stress electronica. Given his constant sonic explorations, his interest in acoustic instrumentation and his prolific work ethic, it’s not surprising that he would eventually turn out a fully neo-classical offering. His first effort on that front, the aptly titled EP1, is a peaceful piano and slide guitar offering. Even though there are many quiet moments in Jamison’s discography, this work as a unit is more peaceful than anything he’s done previously. Yet, the composition maintains many of the same approaches, particularly his affection for slowly unfolding ideas.

Opener “Sharalee” sets the tone for the whole EP, as piano keys tumbling gently over each other are met by a delicate, soaring, barely-even-feels-like-pedal-steel guitar. The fusion is deeply calming while still maintaining a sense of melodic motion. This is a particularly impressive feat because none of the lush arranging that marks his other work is present–it’s just piano and occasional distant guitar. This means that Isaak has to rely entirely on his ability to create indelible melodies and his well-tuned sense of space. In relying on those things, he succeeds admirably. “Sharalee” is a fantastic track that offers a wealth of re-listening value.

“Upstairs” is a quiet rumination, a sort of rainy-day-bedroom-pop version of neo-classical music. The mood is very well-suited to the pitter patter of rain that you can imagine just offscreen. It’s short and sweet and it works. In contrast, “Wind” shows off some of his compositional complexity. Isaak layers multiple piano lines together in a somewhat polyrhythmic way to create an overlapping tension that he gracefully resolves by the end of the piece.

Closer “More” is a tune that most resembles a Teen Daze song in its melodic approach. There’s a subtle tension between major and minor that is common in Jamison’s electronic work. It’s also the song that most resembles a mid-century minimalist piece, as Isaak repeats an elegant phrase many times with subtle variations in keying and pedal steel performance. It is not one of the most relaxing pieces, but it is one of the most interesting for someone who is interested in mid-century minimalism.

Ultimately, EP1 one is a welcome entrée into the world of neo-classical music from Jamison Isaak. I look forward to hearing more of his piano work, perhaps with even more orchestration, in the future. This EP is lovely, and makes me excited to see where he goes as a composer, as well as a creator of electronic music. Highly recommended.

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Joy Ike: a groove-laden, super-charged, piano-led singer/songwriter

May 7, 2018

Joy Ike‘s Bigger than Your Box is a record that supercharges piano-led singer/songwriter work with powerful grooves.

Each of the first four tracks on the 11-song record have shiver-inducing moments where the gear shifts and Ike just starts going for it. Big moments aren’t unusual singer/songwriter work (see: Adele, Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, etc.), but the way that Ike does big moments is. “Ever Stay” is a moody, ruminating track full of swooping cello and left-hand punch that gets kicked up a gear via an instrumental bridge where percussion and wordless, occasionally ululating vocals throw the song into overdrive. Ike’s vocals there and in the final chorus are strong. 

“By the Fire” starts off as a quiet singer/songwriter ballad which is again amped up by percussion, left-hand groove, and Ike’s roaring vocals. But that doesn’t hold a candle to the wild, stomping, furious 1:37 of “You Betta,” which is one of the most punchy, unexpected, excited bits of un-genre-able music I’ve heard in a while. The gospel choir involved here is ace. “Last Time” is a kiss-off song that fans of Adele and/or fans of a big pop ballad crescendo will love.

Those four songs set the tone for the rest of the record, which mixes in some of those vibes amid a collection of strong piano-pop/singer-songwriter work. “Give a Little” is a description of an icy relationship set to a Parisian cafe tune, complete with accordion; “I Don’t Know Anything” is a solid, straight-down-the-middle singer/songwriter tune. “Walk” is a moving song sonically and lyrically, featuring a reappearance of the gospel choir in a more traditional role. If you like your singer/songwriters with some groove and punch, Joy Ike’s Bigger than Your Box will give you a lot to chew on.

*Disclosure: I supported the Kickstarter for this record.

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

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