Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: Falcon Tower / Arwen and the Mega Reset / Liam Kyle Cahill

December 18, 2016

If you missed Falcon Arrow‘s Tower in 2014, you missed a unique post-rock treat. You should go back and jump on that. But if you want to keep up instead, you can start with their new 7″ Cities of Gold, which picks up right where Tower left off.

Falcon Arrow is a drums/bass duo, but with a twist: their bassist is armed with a variety of loop and tone pedals that dramatically modify the bass sound and create unique, patterned structures for the songs. The tunes chug along at a pretty healthy, heavy rate: they’re not afraid to distort the bass and hammer away on the drums. (They’re closer to Russian Circles than they are to Lights and Motion, let’s say.)

The biggest trick in the Falcon Arrow book is an octave pedal that allows for treble melodies to zing around over the bass-heavy backdrop; even though all the notes are created on the bass guitar, the diversity of tones, sounds, and octave range is impressive. The tunes here all have their own distinct charms, if you’ve made it past the shock of listening to Falcon Arrow for the first time; I’m particularly fond of the punk-rock charge of “Add “Project”: to Any Word.” If you’re into blasting, thundering, powerful post-rock, then Falcon Arrow will be fully in your corner.

Arwen and the Mega Reset‘s Arcadia Street Sessions Vol. II EP shows off a band that’s got a lot going for it. The quartet has an indie-rock sound that falls between the dreamy oceans of Braids and the driving alt-pop of Lake Street Dive, powered in large part by the keys and vocals of Arwen Fonzen.

Fonzen’s powerful pipes direct the mood of the songs, whether in the hazy “kid.”, the slow-building “Prophet,” or the slo-mo funk of the high-drama tune “Potholes.” She can sing even-handedly (“kid.”), roar (“Prophet”), or even go full diva (“Potholes”). I’ve covered the fantastic “kid.” before on Independent Clauses, and it’s still fantastic–it creates its own space in the indie-rock world. The latter two songs of the set are fun to listen to as well, but neither stamp their mark as firmly as “kid.” That doesn’t mean there isn’t a mark there, because there totally is. I look forward to seeing what Arwen and the Mega Reset come up with next.

Liam Kyle Cahill‘s Four Leaf Clover is a chipper, fun acoustic-based release that falls somewhere between modern folk-pop and Dave Matthews Band-style acoustic jam vibes. The folk influences come from his troubadour background (he’s constantly on the road; 150+ shows a year), while the DMB sound comes in from his backing band: tastefully, classy drumming with an emphasis on hand-drumming meets a jazzy violin and big, round bass guitar sound.

The results are playful at times (“Take the Pictures Down,” “Four Leaf Clover”) and somber at others (“Save You,” “Berney Song”). Cahill’s smooth, earnest voice leads the way through the arrangements, although he has some help from female backing vocalists to round out the sound. Fans of the Lumineers, alt-pop artists like Matt Nathanson, and the aforementioned DMB will find much to love here.

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December Videos

December 16, 2016

Luna Shadows’ clip for “Cherry” is as aesthetically gorgeous as videos get, with lush colors and carefully-employed effects playing around actors/dancers standing stock-still. (It takes a dancer to be as still as they get.) Call it the mannequin challenge or whatever, but the video’s body and resolution are magnificent, no matter the trend.

This clip has a mysterious, forest/magic/dryads feel that culminates in beautiful modern dancing. I’m pretty sure there’s a metaphor in here (especially due to the color themes going on), but I’m going to let it stay mysterious, enigmatic, and wild.

Eric Frisch’s “The Light Ahead” reminds me of the very first OK GO video, which is extremely good video company to be in. The chipper indie-pop tune only helps.

Who can resist tiny instruments? SHEL warms hearts (teeny ones and big ones) with their Christmasy joy here.

Anyone who’s spent some time in an old-fashioned bowling alley (no computers, just paper and pencil scoring) will have affection for this video and its dreamy, surrealistic celebration of spaces that persist despite the passing of time.

I’m not sure what’s happening in Aircrafting’s “Temecula” video, but it keeps me wanting to know through the whole night-shot piece.

Your song and environs have to be extraordinary to get me interested in an on-location live video, but Galapaghost hits both conditions in this version of “Salt Lake City.”

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Final December Singles: Grab Bag

December 13, 2016

1. “Juice” – Ancient Cities. Somehow out-vintages The Black Keys in recording style, guitar tone, and vocal tone. If you’re into rock with historic bonafides, you’ll be all up in this.

2. “Great Apes” – Wild Pink. John Ross always sounds like he’s whispering over the clanging indie-rock of Wild Pink. The charging guitars form a nice counterpoint, though.

3. “Turn You On” – JUNEBUG SPADE. Fans of Beach Slang, YUCK, Smith Westerns, and other distortion-heavy indie-rockers will have a ball with JUNEBUG SPADE’s beachy, distorted power-pop/rock.

4. “Hindbrains” – SHOCK HUGHES. Those who are into psychedelic weirdness of the “very bright flashes of color and lots of spinning” variety will have a blast getting disoriented by this indie-pop blast of Technocolor chaos.

5. “This Explosion Within” – Lights and Motion. Synthesizing elements of The Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, and more, Lights and Motion comes up with a fuzzed-out, blissful-sounding cinematic post-rock tune.

6. “The Silver Hearts’ Theme” – The Silver Hearts. Relaxed, down-home dixieland jazz with a old-timey radio announcer covering the intro. Doesn’t get more vintage than this without being from the actual chronological period, friends.

7. “The Chipmunk Song (Live at Rose Lea)” – Lindby Feat. The Hendersons. This is easily the only non-annoying version of this song I’ve ever heard. There’s a ’50s pop sweetness to the arrangement that works perfectly with the Christmas material.

8. “Yes, It’s Hard” – Donnie Biggins. Back in the ’50s, gospel and country had a lot of connections, and this tune hearkens back to that time. There’s also some blues color thrown in the choir-laden country shuffle, making it even more appealing. The simple yet honest message (“it’s hard being the man/husband/father/friend I’m supposed to be”) resonates with me.

9. “Corn Holler” – Spitzer Space Telescope. A traditional fiddle-and-voice holler with all the enthusiasm that entails, this tune comes from an Interactive Music Album that comes as an app with multiple videos per song and no downloadable version except the app. The times, they are a’changin…

10. “Heart of Stone” – Peter Joly. Joly’s evocative, forceful tenor drives this song forward over traditional folk that includes accordion and female backup singers.

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December Singles: More Acoustic

December 11, 2016

1. “The Beginning” – Celebration Symphony Orchestra. I love the ambition of an 11-minute indie-orchestra suite, but I even more love the expertise with which it is pulled off. The piano and percussion throughout are great, and the overall arrangement doesn’t disappoint at any point in the track. Awesome.

2. “Dancer” – Sonder Saloon. The pairing of an exciting lead guitar/banjo melody with an electric chorus vocal melody make for an unusual, fantastic folk-pop song.

3. “Count On Me” – Moe Escandar. The best pop songs are ones that can be translated into different genres and still be awesome. This chipper-yet-suave acoustic-pop tune has the melodies, harmonies, rhythms and sunny vibes to be a power-pop song, an EDM song, or a punk-rock song. Instead, it’s a lovely, charming, high-quality acoustic-pop tune.

4. “Voyages” – Matt Garnese. Page France becomes a further distant memory as time goes on, but the sort of lullaby sweetness paired with an earnest exploration of religion and life that Matt Garnese conducts here is vintage Page France. For a more well-known touchstone, it’s sort of like an acoustic Weezer.

5. “Turning Leaves” – Woozles. Spartan bass guitar, low vocals, and tape hiss create a mesmerizing, hypnotic indie-pop sound. As a bassist, I love the thrumming, round sound of a solo bass guitar.

6. “Row“- Kyle Sturrock. The chorus of this folk/country tune shines like a diamond in a dusty trail. The arrangement is bright and attractive, too.

7. “Waiting in the Bliss” – Sylvette. Moves from moody to roaring and back with ease, like The National with more folk influences, Radiohead with more acoustic influences, or Muse with more ability to be restrained.

8. “Sounds Like Help” – Austin Basham. Basham is one of the rare few that could sing the phone book and it would sound deeply moving. His tenor tone is pure, his melodies are inviting, and his control over his pipes is incredible. Fans of Rocky Votolato will celebrate.

9. “17 {Demo}” – Beau Davison Turrentine. A relaxed, easygoing, expansive acoustic tune that sounds like someone musing on a front porch under a dim yellow streetlight.

10. “Holy Grail” – Zorita. Even there’s some mournful trumpets and strings floating above the guitar/vocals, this one is really all about the vocals. Carlos’ delivery of the lyrics is full of nuance and care, and his tone is the perfect mix of rough and smooth.

11. “John Lingers” – Fingers and Cream. Slowcore alt-country with big harmonies and a scuffling, trudging-through-the-desert atmosphere. For fans of Songs:Ohia and Calexico.

12. “Habanero Top Knot” – Lit AF. This is a fascinating, intriguing instrumental tune with some Indian melodic and percussive influences, some Album Leaf influences, and some unidentifiable connections that are Lit AF’s own. Adventurous listeners, take note.

13. “Spinning Tops” – Lena Natalia. The mix of engaging lead melodies counterpointed by deft left hand work help this solo piano work stand out.

14. “Destruction” – Raphaël Novarina. Some might call the tension between the rumbling low end and the arching right hand lines in this solo piano piece melodramatic, but the high drama of the piece is appealing and stays on the right side of overly emotional for me.

15. “Burning Bright” – Mike Vial. This tune flows like a gentle brook, burbling quietly with the occasional burst of energy. The smooth guitar and lithe vocals recall the best elements of James Taylor without being a knockoff.

December Singles 2: Pop

December 9, 2016

1. “If I Were You” – Chris Hurn. This enthusiastic, bouncy indie-pop song is just awesome: the whistling, the glockenspiel, the punchy drums, the intriguing vocal melodies, the Beach Boys references, it’s all just great. If you’re into chipper indie-pop, you need to check this out. Also you could watch the Wes Anderson-style music video, which is similarly charming.

2. “Seventeen” – Cody Crump. This formal pop songcraft owes debts to Simon and Garfunkel, Josh Radin, and more of the ilk. It’s calm, patient, and yet just as committed to a strong melody as more brash tunes.

3. “A Man in a Red Suit” – Tyler Bernhardt. This is a subtle, warm, even sweet acoustic-pop song that is as much about young love as it is Christmas–but not in a creepy way. It balances all the lyrical and musical elements perfectly.

4. “Friday Night Epitaph” – Cyclope Espion. The vocal melodies, song structure, and even fingerpicking patterns feel like pop-punk–but slowed down into indie-pop speeds. It creates a unique, intriguing vibe.

5. “Just Another Day” – Cody Crump. Here’s another side of Crump, throwing down an appealing eletro-rock vibe with some seriously overdriven guitars in the chorus. Makes me think of Digital Ash-era Bright Eyes, as well as the Killers.

6. “Break Out” – Rainbrother. This may have started its life out as an acoustic folk song, but by this version it has become so super-charged with surging bass, insistent drums, and rat-a-tat vocal delivery that it is basically an indie-rock song. It’s immediate, urgent, and compelling.

7. “Love Stuck” – Mother Mother. The staccato vocal rhythms and vocal attitude of the chorus caught my ear immediately, lifting this dance-rock/electro tune above the fray.

8. “Do Do Do” – Dansu. It’s hard to do neo-disco when Daft Punk has so thoroughly dominated the genre, but there’s an indie-pop warmth to the arrangement and an intimacy to the vocals that sets this track apart.

9. “I’ll Never Be” – Σtella. This one’s a hypnotic, loping electro-pop track with live instruments and stellar vocals.

10. “Stranger ft. Elliphant” – Peking Duk. The pop-oriented EDM is fun here, but the real gem is the music video, which is the adventures of two dogs that accidentally get high at a Peking Duk show. It’s a unique take on a music video, for sure.

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December Singles 1: Acoustic / Folk / Country

December 8, 2016

1. “These Bells Will Ring” – Bitter’s Kiss (feat. Blue Stone). It’s ostensibly a Christmas song, but the melody has an anthemic power that transcends the holiday. In this time of division throughout the world, a well-written and well-arranged plea for peace and unity is deeply appreciated. Mad props.

2. “Alibi” – Rich Stevenson. Enthusiastic, even jubilant, major-key folk with flashes of The Tallest Man on Earth, Guster, and more coming together for an infectious mood and sound.

3. “Minute Steak” – Trookers. Pretty sure no one’s ever titled a song “Minute Steak” before. Shades of Frightened Rabbit and Elbow color this precise-yet-full-throated indie/folk mashup.

4. “Came Down From the Mountain” – Matt Townsend. A full, thick folk arrangement provides the backdrop for Townsend’s high vocals, which swoop and sing with confidence. The vibe is “let’s sit around the fireplace while snow falls outside.”

5. “Hold Me” – Tors. Soaring falsetto, tight harmonies, intimate production, and delicate guitar work–what else are you looking for?

6. “Walk Away” – Lowlight Gathering. Anyone who starts out with a cappella harmonies has a lot of confidence in their vocal chops. And it pays off, as this dreamy, fluid folk song is focused on the big, thick harmonies.

7. “T.B.D.” – Hanging Valleys. This acoustic-fronted indie song is deeply moving. It sounds almost as if Bon Iver got anthemic, or if the Fleet Foxes got a bit more electronic/atmospheric. Either way, it’s lovely.

8. “Where Is Your Heart?” – The Fair Wells. High-drama folk that combines the romanticism of male/female duo folk with the emotional punch of old-timey banjo picking. It’s that happy sort of sadness. (In other words, the “sad/beautiful music” Batman signal is on.)

9. “Hold On” – Little Quirks. An all-female alt-folk trio that’s heavy on thumping percussion, pounding piano, and powerful vocals.

10. “Doing Something Right” – TAMMY. Walking-speed vintage country, complete with lazy harmonies, thrumming stand-up bass, and slo-mo drums. TAMMY’s voice is lithe, smooth, and fits perfectly.

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Cameron James Henderson: Blues-folk following the greats

December 4, 2016

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With an honours degree in classical guitar, it is not difficult to hear the talent of Sydney, Australia’s Cameron James Henderson. “This definitely influences my composition,” he says. Influenced by the obvious–Bob Dylan and Tom Waits–it is refreshing to hear echoes of Jim Campilongo, Blake Mills, Ry Cooder, and Marc Ribot coming from his guitar. There is also a vibe that comes from down under. “Definitely John Butler and Ash Grunwald were guys I looked up to heaps during high school. Saw both of them a bunch of times etc and played their songs,” says Henderson.  

The twelve-song Storm Rollin’ In is a treat for blues-folk fans worldwide. The laid back shuffle of opener “Storm Blues” feels like the salt air and beaches of Sydney. Simple, elegant storytelling follows with “Across the Water,” whose guitar work shines. “Lifeboat” features satisfying slide guitar work, while classic guitar riffs blend Stevie Ray Vaughn and John Butler Trio beautifully. The metaphor-filled “Refugee” is a bit of brilliance. Channeling Bob Dylan in vocal style, the song is a powerful testament to humanity’s weaknesses. The mix is stellar, allowing the song to breathe out the message freely.

“No One’s Here/Cares” has a Ray Wylie Hubbard vibe, throwing down a groove that rocks. Sprinkled with harmonica and songwriting nimbly mirroring songwriter Chris Gillespie (AU), this song is an incredibly fun romp. Sequencing on this album works together to create an experience; without “Stand Amazed” (the intro), “Floating” would lose the power of imagery. Stark and haunting acoustic guitarwork slides into the song gracefully. Vocals are layered in with classical guitar composition–simply beautiful musically and lyrically. “Wisest Man” is a shout in the dark, back in the folk singer-songwriter style with an essence of The Milk Carton Kids.

Things shift adeptly to “Old Man Stomp,” then abruptly jump to “Shelter,” as if one could not be there without the other. B.B. King makes his voice heard, here. There is a familiarity with the easy rolling songwriting, hearkening back to the beginning tracks of Storm Rollin’ In. “She’s Not There” brings in what sounds to be the ocean, a continuous pull of life that gives a fluid foundation to the pain of love. “Don’t Go Drifting” closes out the album in style. Soaring, J.J. Cale-style electric guitar and vocal phrasing give an extra punch to the message of the song. This follow-up to Cameron James Henderson’s 2014 debut album is a step up in songwriting dexterity and composition, showing a new depth in vocal delivery. Get yours at www.cameronjameshenderson.com/. —Lisa Whealy

Quick Hit: Jordan O’Jordan

December 3, 2016

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My favorite underutilized instrument is the harmonium, a small box that produces a gloriously warm, organ-like sound but without the sharpness. I also have loved the banjo for many years. So when Jordan O’Jordan came my way with Through Tough Thoughts boasting nothing but harmonium, banjo, and vocals, I knew I was in for a treat. Through Tough Thoughts is a warm, friendly, accessible folk album that should be in the catalog of any folk-lover.

O’Jordan’s voice would in a previous era be called “twee”: a soft, high-pitched voice full of childlike wonder that meshes beautifully with the arrangement instead of trampling it. And by arrangement, I do mean that only harmonium and banjo appear on this album: there is nothing else. (“Miller’s Pond” does bring in some background vocals for some diversity, but other than that…) However, they are used in a variety of ways, and the album never get boring: there’s the roadtrip song (“A Lonely Road”), a harmonium ballad (“Patience is Gruesome”), a drone-y chant (“O! Benvolio!”), a quirky 22-second song (“Digital Postcard #5”), a protest song (“Polar Thoughts”), and an introspective banjo-led song (“Advice from Andre”), among others. The ability of O’Jordan to keep an album of limited instrumentation diverse and interesting is a testament to his songwriting prowess: he can write in a lot of different styles, yet still keep the album feeling cohesive.

Through Tough Thoughts is a lovely, unassuming album. The excellent songwriting is compelling without being complicated and beautiful without trying too hard. It feels like a natural outpouring of songwriting from a singer/songwriter with a vast store of skills to draw on. It’s a rewarding, remarkable record. Highly recommended.

Quick Hit: Jacob Furr

December 2, 2016

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Jacob Furr’s Sierra Madre is a wide-open, spacious alt-country/folk album that evokes fully-realized outfits like Hiss Golden Messenger, Magnolia Electric Co., and even Calexico. Furr’s weathered tenor sets the tone for the record: his sturdy yet lithe vocals mirror the music’s ability to thunder and whisper. The title track/opener is the thunder part: crunchy distorted guitars lead into a bass-led stomp that perfectly frames the opening line “Look into the darkened sky.” Closer “Easy Waves” brings more of that electric guitar fire, ratcheting up to a tremendous, towering album conclusion.

But Furr got his start as a folk troubadour, and there’s still good evidence of that here. The central songs of the album see Furr with just his voice and a fingerpicked guitar, telling stories like “The River” and “El Paso.” These are intense, minor-key works, not the major-key folk ramblers you might expect; they are almost as emotionally tumultuous as the stomping rockers are sonically tumultuous. The complexity of Furr’s voice and delivery are on full display here, showing him to be a careful, delicate performer in this vein. Sierra Madre is a complex, serious album that will be deeply enjoyed by fans of thoughtful, intense alt-country/folk.

Sunjacket: Weighty, thoughtful, inventive, unique

December 1, 2016

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For a person who came of age on OK Computer, it’s hard for me not to jump straight to Radiohead’s magnum opus when describing rock led by minor-key distorted guitars that is intended to be taken seriously by thoughtful people. Sunjacket‘s Mantra is that sort of weighty, thoughtful, inventive, unique music. Each song of Mantra packs its own punch, but the main elements of the sound remain the same: distorted guitars, electronic keys/synths, complex percussion, and Carl Hauck and Bryan Kveton’s confident voices.

Opener “Grandstanders” shows off these elements perfectly: lush synths open the track before being set to rhythm with a complex percussion line and heavily manipulated guitar sounds. The resulting landscape bears much in common with The Appleseed Cast’s excellent Peregrine. But instead of just barreling through this mood, the band plays with space and minimalism, progressively dropping everyone out all the way down to single snare hits after the chorus before pounding back in with the full band. It’s a head-turning move, the sort of thing that announces an album. And there is much to announce.

The skittering percussion and staccato synths of “Dissolve It” float a soulful vocal line from Hauck; the fusion is disorienting in the best way. “Not Enough” starts with clanging piano before being sandblasted by a wall of fuzzed-out synth. The song then pulls back into patterned, complex mid-tempo work like “Grandstanders.” “Alligator” feels something like a mix between Bon Iver’s current work, The National, and a heart-rate monitor (this is a compliment). The title track takes all the elements of this paragraph and somehow synthesizes them.

But my award for the most fascinating track goes to “Tongue,” which starts off like a lost MIA track full of digital sounds before being accosted by multitracked trumpet and thunderous bass synth. Right about the time it starts to really feel like a mid-’00s Radiohead track, a vocal line modulated down two or three octaves mourns its way through the landscape. It’s weird and fascinating and the perfect break between the icy, stomping electro of “Habit” and the punchy, catchy rock of “No One’s Around You.”

Mantra is the rare “smart” rock album that isn’t hard to get. It’s weird, it’s quirky, it’s got a unique point of view, but it’s not grueling or punishing. You can listen to it through and hear the guitars and synths and take it at face value. (And its face value is great.) But for those who want to spend more time with their albums, Sunjacket has created an album full of nooks and crannies for listeners to explore. Brilliant stuff here. Highly recommended.

Sunjacket is about to head out on tour–if you’re near them, definitely endeavor to go to a show of theirs.

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

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