Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mix 3: Pensive Mix

September 12, 2014

Pensive mix

1. “Animals” – In-Flight Safety. Here’s a slick, Brit-pop-influenced pop-rock track. That’s one of the most enjoyable pieces of guitar-led work I’ve heard in a while.

2. “Seascape” – Upperfields. Genre labels are kinda useless here, as some mix of indie-rock, indie-pop, synths, artsy landscape-y work, and straight up ’80s jams come together to make this irresistible track.

3. “Bird of Prey” – Natalie Prass. Perky soprano vocals dance over an old-school, chilled-out soul/motown backdrop. I think of 1970s New York neighborhoods, kids on the front steps.

4. “Mirrors (I)” – Sister Speak. There was that time in the ’80s where pop-rock females could be really introspective and deep while still maintaining a connection to groove. Sister Speak is all about that time period. Not that this sounds like the ’80s. But it could live there, maybe.

5. “Deepend” – Mister Lies. Lush, emotive, swishy bedroom electro? SIGN ME UP BRO.

In Memoriam

September 11, 2014

It is often easy to lose the remembrance somewhere between the 10th and the 25th anniversary of things. Today is the 13th anniversary of a deeply painful day that launched many difficult days. I think a fitting memorial would be to examine our own prejudices and see why we hold them; if we all do this, hopefully we can move toward discussion and away from violence on hard things such as those that caused the tragedy.

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Mix 2: Pop and Rock

September 10, 2014

Mix 2: Pop and Rock

1. “Growing Mould” – Ha the Unclear. I’m a big fan of yelpy vocalists that can find a foil for their tones. Ha the Unclear’s eccentric mix of throw-back pop crossed with mid -’00s indie-pop is a perfect fusion of instrument and voice.

2. “Repetition” – Kobadelta. If you’re a fan of the Doors or any band that has tried to emulate the Doors, you’ll be interested in Kobadelta’s bass-heavy psych-rock with a baritone vocalist and spot-on production. Check that sweet half-time breakdown.

3. “Coulda Been” – Sallie Ford. Get back to your ’60s and ’70s rock roots. Nod at your Grace Slick poster. Remember that the congas are a legitimate instrument. You’re fully ready to get sassed by Ms. Ford in this impressively rhythmic and cool track.

4. “Cellophane” – Adventure Set. Some synth-pop is really indie-pop with a synth. I actually think that Adventure Set wrote every part of this song except the vocals on synths. It’s simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic, wistful and giddy.

5. “Flederlaus” – Magnetfisch. Instrumental synth-pop? Why not? With its chirpy synth line and sassy guitar solo, this particular track feels like it should be the soundtrack to an old-school platformer video game. Sonic the Hedgehog was awesome, y’all.

6. “Adam’s Head” – Adam Rich. This bluesy, goofy, fun track closes Rich’s new album Streetlight Smile.

Mint 400’s Patchwork shows its diversity of sounds

September 9, 2014

patchwork

I’ve covered digital label Mint 400 Records before, because I think they do great work in the lo-fi indie/lo-fi folk realm and because they have an interesting business model. The label’s latest compilation Patchwork shows off 17 of their bands, giving a pretty good snapshot of what they’re doing. (Disclosure: I’m the manager of The Duke of Norfolk, who is signed to Mint 400.)

The lo-fi work doesn’t disappoint: Sink Tapes, Fairmont, and The Maravines all have compelling offerings near the beginning of the album. The Multi-Purpose Solution and The Mai 68s hold down the end of the record, making sure you didn’t forget about the indie-rock. The acoustic-based work is also exciting, as newcomer Murzik adds an attention-grabbing piano-and-voice entry. Dave Charles sings a chill song that references Star Wars and sounds like some sort of early Jason Mraz tune. Cropduster provides another standout, with a gravelly, creaking voice over an acoustic guitar until it explodes into a grungy sort of thing for a bit.

Cropduster’s rock isn’t an isolated thing: the label has developed some loud leanings. Shallows’ “Always” is aggressive, dissonant guitar rock that borders on post-hardcore; Tri-State’s tune is straight-up guitar rock; and Jack Skuller contributes some rockabilly with ’50s vocal leanings. Mint 400 has grown from a small label with a specific niche to a widely diverse roster of bands, and Patchwork shows off the best of all of them. Check it out at iTunes or Spotify.

Mix 1: Indie-pop-folk

I had so many MP3s lined up that I’m breaking them into four mini-lists over the next few days. Cool, huh?

We Love Dashes – Indie-Pop-Folk

1. “Carry Oceans” – Montoya. Sweeping, cinematic pop that uses reverb expertly to create mood. There’s some acoustic guitars, pad synths, earnest female vocals, and more. For a first track, this is an exciting start.

2. “Those Days” – Noire. Wistful verses blossom into a joyful, twinkling chorus: it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, or someone flicking open the curtains in a gloomy room. You’ll feel your hips move to this one.

3. “2004” – Sleepwalk Parade. That line between indie-rock, alt-country, and folk-punk is a thin one at times. Great melodies and vibe going on here.

4. “On the Rocks” – The Rural Alberta Advantage. RAA has always been pushed by insistent drums, but now they’ve added some churning keys to amp up the urgency. By the end of the tune it’s very nearly a dance-rock tune (albeit one with distant, delicate piano).

5. “Livin’ & Dyin (to Dream)” – Kory Quinn. This track has the x factor that the best raw, honest, clear-eyed alt-country singer/songwriters have. Is it the vocal tone? Is it the use of space in the vocal lines? Is the production? Is it all of them?

August videos (only a bit late)

September 8, 2014

The new Woman’s Hour video features six middle-schoolers who made up the dance themselves. The band and the director comment that it points out both the awkwardness of middle school and the ability of teenagers to emulate pop culture. It’s a gentle way to introduce a serious topic. Very cool video.

I love goofy concept videos, and this one is par excellence on that front. Why not get five industrial-grade digital road signs to “sing” for you? Super-fantastic. Great job, Stormcellar. (Even if it is from 2010.)

I’m firmly on-board the Andrew Judah train, and this video keeps that trend going. Simple yet entrancing.

Greylag’s “Another” is a great tune, so I’m posting their performance video of it. It’s not much to look at, but you deserve to hear “Another” again.

Quick Hit: Old Quarter

September 3, 2014

oldquarter

North Carolina’s Old Quarter is a country band giving in to the basic musician desire to play things very loudly. The five-song Gone, Not Forgotten opens with slide guitar, acoustic finger-picking, and baritone vocals that all scream “country!” But by halfway through “Gone,” a crunchy electric guitar forcefully announces its presence. “Starlight” also toes the line between crunchy riffs and country vibes, letting the dusky, perhaps even ominous, mood be enhanced by the gritty guitar work.

Closer “Kerosene,” however, amps up the rock’n’roll elements, playing out more like a psych-rock track with some rolling folk vibes than an alt-country tune. It’s no wonder the band has picked “cosmic country” as their genre of choice; they definitely start with country and rocket off in other directions. But it never feels like dabbling; the chiming, building guitars in “Kerosene” make it a great track, no matter who’s writing it or what genre they’re from. Sometimes an over-adherence to generic constraints causes us to overlook things we’d otherwise love. Here’s to some adventure in your life: check out Old Quarter’s Gone, Not Forgotten.

Quick Hits: Smoke Season / Woman’s Hour / Emily and the Complexes

August 29, 2014

smokeseason

Genres can be combined in any number of ways, as long as it makes sense to the listener. Smoke Season‘s Hot Coals Cold Souls EP mashes folk-style instrumentation and rhythms with the arch, electro-backed rock bombast of Muse. It’s not as weird as it sounds, because the duo knows how to set up the mood to make their tunes build from small beginnings to big conclusions. It’s a rare skill to be able to tip people off to things they haven’t imagined yet, but Smoke Season pulls mood-building tricks from country (the reverb and strum pattern in “Badlands”), R&B (the sultry vocals in “Badlands”), dancy indie (the rhythms of the opening guitar riff in “Simmer Down”), chillwave (the intro to “Opaque”) and more. This whole review feels kind of dumb, kind of like a reach, but I have to explain the sound somehow.

By the time you get to the electronic noise washes at the end of the EP, the connection to folk seems tenuous at best. But throughout the EP, it’s there. There are only subtle differences between a folk band exploding in every direction and a rock band dabbling in folk (and what is a rock band, anyway?), so maybe the distinction is silly. However you feel about the comparison, fans of folk, indie-rock, and alt-rock will enjoy the three songs of Hot Coals Cold Souls. Just go listen to it.

womanshour

The album art for Conversations by Woman’s Hour is a perfect fit for the album. The smooth, pulsing, post-’80s electro-pop tunes here are pristine, streamlined and unified. They’re not exactly monochromatic, but they do all adhere to a very distinct sonic palette. Nothing is spiky or jagged here: everything is built on spacious, calming, warm vibes. The delicate “Two Sides of You” will especially appeal to fans of James Blake–as Woman’s Hour is (appropriately) fronted by a female singer, this provides an extra interesting hook to the sound. JB’s spaced-out post-dub melancholy/beauty is exactly what Woman’s Hour is offering here. (This is not chillwave; there’s little hazy or washed-out about this.) Conversations is a beautiful, calming, endearing chill-out record.

emilyandthecomplexes

Emily and the Complexes is a male-fronted alt-rock band that takes its cues from Pedro the Lion: even though there’s significant crunch in the guitars, the emotions invoked are sad and complicated instead of angry. “Yer Boyfriend (Is a Cheapskate)” juxtaposes slow, dejected vocals with a torrent of gritty guitars and cymbal-heavy drums; that sort of quiet/loud is a staple throughout the four songs of Dirty Southern Love.

Tyler Verhagen hasn’t gotten much happier since 2012’s Styrofoam Plate Blues, as the last line of closer “Jersey City Blues” is “Rubbing alcohol or scotch / I don’t care.” He has matured some in his subject matter, as “Joshua” is about a man with a child, a mortgage, and life outlook concerns–there’s a dignity in the depiction of normal life (complete with joys and sorrows). But no matter how tough the subject matter, Verhagen is ace at writing compelling melodic lines for guitar and voice. He’s internalized the lessons of the ’90s and integrated them with the vocal and instrumental emotionality that the ’00s brought us. If you miss the desperate crunch of an alt-rock sadness, check out Emily and the Complexes.

Quick Hits: Colony House / Americo / Brother O’ Brother

August 28, 2014

colonyhouse

I’ve been posting singles and videos from Colony House since January, because their alt-rock had that anthemic edge which usually portends great things. And while “Keep On Keepin’ On,” “Silhouettes,” and “Waiting for My Time to Come” are great by themselves, they’re amazing when crammed together and packaged with 11 other great tunes on When I Was Younger.

Moving Forward” is the sort of deep cut that bands realize is amazing late in the album’s cycle, haphazardly throw to radio, and manage to get a career-defining hit from (see “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers). It has a jubilant riff that turns into a revelatory, shiver-inducing “whoa-oh” coda; that arching melody is the sort that Coldplay at its Viva La Vida finest was putting out. It’s the type I wear out the repeat button over.

“Waiting For My Time To Come” is still great in album version–more whoa-ohs, horns, and general good vibes. In other places Colony House echoes an amped-up Black Keys (“2:20″), the Killers, U2, Imagine Dragons, ’80s new-wave (“Roll With the Punches”), and more. Those influences might read like a derivative mess, but they sound like a eye-opening wonder. I haven’t heard anything this immediately engaging and potentially career-launching since I heard .fun’s Some Nights. And we all know how that turned out. If you like fun, cheery alt-rock-pop music, you’ll love Colony House.

americoI

Americo‘s style of rock would fit neatly in with Spoon: the rhythms, melodies, and instrumental performances fit together in a very tight, almost clockwork-like way. As a result, their recent release I is a tight, polished EP instead of a frantic, shoot-from-the-hip garage-rock set of tunes. “Stylized” doesn’t mean a lot in its dictionary definition, but the music-world connotations of restless aesthetes crafting and honing sounds seems to (mostly) fit here.

I say “mostly” because the duo also has laidback vibes as one of the core tenets of the sound. Opener “Blastin’ Off” has a stuttering strum and a liberal use of space as its calling cards, not giant guitar antics. (You have to wait for second track “Sled” for those.) “Slingshot” has a ’90s slackerish vibe in the way the chords lazily morph into each other; “Perfect World” relies on rim-clicks and jazzy vibes. This is a band that has both chops and restraint–most bands don’t even have one of those things. (Some of my favorite bands are just fine without either one.) They can even get a little weird and experimental if you’d like (“Prizes”).

Americo’s I shows off a well-developed songwriting sensibility that will appeal to fans of thoughtful rockers. The duo has made it clear that they can rock out and a lot of other things. That versatility could blossom into a particular style down the road, or they could stick with the Swiss Army Knife approach. Either way, I is commendable.

BrotherOBrother

Depending on your interest in the genre, Brother O’ Brother is either carrying on the tradition of or thoroughly indebted to The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The guitar and drums duo rips through heavy blues rock stompers with screaming guitars, howling vocals, and basic drumming. The band’s self-titled record doesn’t let up for the 30+ minute runtime; there are no pop-friendly arena rock tunes or quirky acoustic ditties to break the mood. From the outraged opener “Without Love” to the last high-hat snap of “Mice & Men,” Chris Banta barrels, blasts, struts, strains, and powers his way through through riff-heavy tunes galore.

“Means to Be a Woman” is a highlight of the set. After its bluesy guitar intro reminiscent of the White Stripes, Banta lets his voice take most of the drama. He alternates between snarling speak-singing in the verses and outright howling in the chorus. If you’re into heavy guitars and moral indignation at how the media portrays women, you’ll be all over this tune. Throughout the album, Banta is interested in spiritual and moral themes; it gives another edge to the screaming guitars. Everyone needs some good righteous indignation over the injustices of the world now and then. If that sounds like a good time, Brother O’ Brother can hook you up.

Palm Ghosts combine multiple genres into a warm, relaxed record

August 27, 2014

palmghosts

It is hard to put together an album that holds a consistent instrumental palette, melodic thrust, and overall mood without getting repetitive. Palm Ghosts has accomplished this difficult task on their self-titled record. Palm Ghosts lives in a warm, relaxed space with just a touch of ominous haze on the horizon, carving out a space for itself next to artists like Damien Jurado.

Bandleader Joseph Lekkas takes great care in setting moods; the album opens with a tender track that uses the wordless voice as an instrument to convey a peaceful feeling. The follow-up “Seasons” begins with breathy “ahs” as well, carrying the mood over to a perkier version of his acoustic-led sound. Even though there are some drums pushing the tempo here, the dreamy piano line pulls back against the motion. The guitar and vocals sit right in the tension, not celebrating but resolving the dual issues. The result is a track that is both comforting and nimble; beautiful but sturdy. It’s a good analogy for the rest of the album.

The other five tracks on the record are varied without losing the poignant mood developed in the first two tracks. “Oh, Sleepytime!” manages to get squealing trumpets and booming electric guitar into the tune without breaking the mood of the album, which is an impressive feat. “All My Life (I’ve Been Waiting)” is an alt-country tune not unlike The Jayhawks or Mojave 3’s work. “Airplane Jane” combines indie cuteness with alt-country ominousness, which is a odd combination that Lekkas somehow pulls off seamlessly. Lekkas has very clearly written many songs before; even though this is a debut, the deft skill with which Lekkas combines disparate genres into an enjoyable fusion is impressive.

Palm Ghosts is the sort of record that you can enjoy without much thought or delve deeply into. The mood and melodies are surface joys; the intricacies of the arrangements and the subtle ways Lekkas makes various genres work together are pleasures that take a little more work to achieve. Either way you go, it’s a great album. I look forward to hearing more from Palm Ghosts.

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

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