Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

July Videos, pt. 2!

July 11, 2014

Colony House has impressed me repeatedly in the short time they’ve been around, but this takes the cake. They’ve made the studio video (which I am usually bored by) into something exciting and vibrant. It helps that “Waiting For My Time to Come” is an excellent tune that combines U2 melodies with low-slung roots-rock precision, then throws some horns and a choir of friends at it. They won’t have to wait much longer with songs like this one. Can we get NeedtoBreathe on the phone?

Amy Correia is still incredible, just in case you had forgotten. This live cut of “City Girl” is way fun. Also, note that she’s playing a tenor ukulele slung like a punk rock guitar.

Kylie Odetta has pipes similar to Adele and lyrics like Lady Gaga, making this a pretty appealing piano-and-vocals performance.

July Videos!

July 10, 2014

Strand of Oaks’ “Shut In” starts slow, but once it gets going the song and the video complement each other perfectly. I cried a little.

Frantic vocals + crunchy blues rock riffs + gender politics = gold. Brother O’ Brother will get compared to The Black Keys and the White Stripes; it should be comparison, not demeaning. Great stuff here.

Some look at the state of the world and say there are too many love story narratives. I look at the same things and say there aren’t yet enough.

Sabers know what’s up / Candysound rocks uniquely

sicsempersabers

Sabers has the rare ability to rock without stomping the fuzzbox too hard or too often. It’s a trait they share with indie legends Spoon: rock is in the attitude, not the delivery. They rely on groove, tone, and mood to do the work for them, instead of speedy tempos, massive walls of sound, or crashing drums. I mean, Sic Semper Sabers starts out with a walking pace tune called “Armchair Warriors” and follows it up a track punnily called “Money Eddie.” This is a band that knows what it is about.

Don’t confuse: Sabers has chops galore. It’s just that they approach those chops from a casual perspective, preferring a bleary-eyed, Velvet Underground take on things as opposed to a Rolling Stones style. There are some who may not even call this rock, and quote the chill “Ever Eyeing” to say it’s indie-pop or something. I rebut with the surf-rock riff and distorted vocals of follow-up “Puppet.” The production job here softens edges, to be sure, but I’m betting you that Sabers gets plenty loud live. I also bet their hooks (instrumental and vocal) are just as good live as they are on tape.

I’m a big fan of bands that have energy, songwriting skills, and restraint. It shows good taste to know you can blow the doors off and yet don’t. It leaves the listener with some mystery. Sic Semper Sabers is an impressive album that establishes Sabers as an intriguing band to watch.

candysound

Candysound also rocks in an unusual way, combining the instrumental setup of garage rock, the raw energy of folk-rock, and the production values of dream-pop. Candysound’s intricate arrangements feature staccato rhythms that never become brittle, complimented by passion that never translates to general heaviness. The songs feel light and engaging, even though they’re all going at it full force.

This is nowhere as present as in the title track of Now and Then, a 1:43 slice of exuberant Candysound style. The song opens with a humble throat clearing before gentle but swift fingerpicking and whispered vocals come in. After 30 seconds, the band arrives: thumping toms and cymbal (no cymbals), intriguing walking bass, female BGVs. After 30 more seconds, the band ratchets up: the cymbals start to blow up, the vocals turn into hollers, and the guitar distorts (but without chord mashing). After 30 more seconds, it ends with a bang and interludes to the next tune. It’s a fascinating, exciting track that establishes a solid instrumental style for the band.

Throughout the rest of the album, elements that appeared in “Now and Then” show up. Single-note riffs and toms make for great fun in “Anything”; things get positively mathy in “Turned In.” But the band never loses touch with relatable hooks and melodies: when the post-rockish “Instrumental” gets heady, there’s a companion for it in the smooth mood and charming vocals of “Keep Up.” “11:11″ gets heavy; its follow-up “Beacons” has a chill vibe.

Candysound has a sophisticated, mature sound: they know what they want to accomplish, and they’re very good at it. I haven’t stated any RIYL bands, because Candysound makes it easy to explain what the songs sound like. Each element of the sound is developed and clear. It’s a really fun album to listen to, and an commendable achievement. Here’s to more from Candysound!

Quick Hit: Ships Have Sailed

July 9, 2014

shipshavesailed

Ships Have Sailed tries to accomplish a lot with its Someday EP: pop-rock, alt-rock, and acoustic pop. Of those three, the pop-rock is admirable, and the acoustic pop is solid.

Opener “Midnight” is a slick, hooky, irresistible pop-rock track reminiscent of The All-American Rejects (whom I love), while “Bring You Down” is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in any genre all year. The latter benefits from a “give ‘em what they want” arrangement: it sets you up to want certain moments, then delivers in spades. Can’t ask much more from a song, really. These two tracks are worth checking the EP out on their own: they show a pop songwriting skill that I hope to hear more of.

The two acoustic pop tracks are nice as well; the male tenor vocals handle the change of pace nicely, and the songs are worthy changes of pace. Closer and title track “Someday” brings the two genres together: it starts off as an acoustic pop tune reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional before bursting into a pop-rock song reminiscent of Angels and Airwaves (although with a lower-pitched vocalist). It’s a fun tune that wraps up a fun EP. I’m really intrigued by the songs that Ships Have Sailed has put out there on the Someday EP; three of them are really polished, tight, and memorable. I look forward to hearing more!

Quick Hits: The Main Chance / Arctic Tern / Bill Scorzari

July 8, 2014

themainchance

The Main Chance‘s album Lunagraphy is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been listening to it for weeks, and it’s been hard to describe it other than that. Will Gosner’s singer/songwriter tunes have the unassuming confidence that marked the earliest Iron and Wine recordings: they’re beautiful, moving, and memorable with seemingly little effort. His low, comforting voice tumbles from his throat gracefully, and his gentle fingerpicking flows without tension or difficulty.

“The Thinnest Ice,” “In My Young Life” and “The End is Sweet and Near” calm me no matter what mood I’m in, which is a bold statement from over here. Gosner augments the staples of acoustic guitar and voice with occasional gentle arrangements, and he scores whenever he does. Lunagraphy is the sort of record that comes out of nowhere, bowls you over, and keeps you coming back for more. Gosner’s collection of songs here shows off an enormous talent that should take him places. I was astonished and thrilled by Lunagraphy; I think you will be too.

arctictern

Arctic Tern‘s Hopeful Heart is a wonder to listen to as well. Songwriter Chris Campbell goes for the David Gray style of singer/songwriter tunes: writing deeply romantic tunes with delicate yet full arrangements. There’s also some Bon Iver drama, both in lyric and arrangement (but not too much).

Campbell’s trembling tenor leads the way, setting a mood of vulnerability for these songs. They’re heavily reliant on acoustic guitar and piano, but the ethereal background vocals of “Wax,” the delicate piano of “The Break & the Fall,” and the swooning violin of “In the Cold White” are all subtle touches that take these songs from good to wonderful. The five tunes of Hopeful Heart aim to be beautiful, and they all are; there’s not a slacker in the bunch. If you like romantic, beautiful songs from the likes of Sleeping at Last, Trent Dabbs, and similar artists, you’ll be in love with Arctic Tern. Hopeful Heart is one of the best EPs I’ve heard so far this year.

billscorzari

Having a gravelly voice gets you compared to Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits, depending on the amount of roughness. It’s not necessarily a fair comparison all the time. Bill Scorzari‘s Just the Same relies on his gravelly voice to power his folk/country tunes, but he uses it differently than the aforementioned fellows.

Opener “Eight of Nine (Just the Same)” shows how he fits his vocal tone into acoustic-led arrangements that also feature mandolin, organ, and shakers. The vocal melody is catchy, showing off a surprising and stereotype-breaking range. His lyrics are of the first-person storytelling persuasion, spinning yarns of life and loss and drinking. The album is quite long, giving fans plenty to hear; about half of the 13 songs are over four minutes or more. If you’re into storytellin’ folk, you’ll be into Bill Scorzari.

Jake McKelvie and The Countertops sing a million words at breakneck speed

July 7, 2014

jakemckelvie

What we listen to says less about us than it used to, given the Internet’s ability to erode consistent listening patterns. But if what we listen to still says something about a person, then it should be noted that I am all about helter-skelter acoustic strumming with the most possible amount of words sung or spoken over it. If you throw down some la-la-las for a chorus, it’s all over. In other words, I’m all about literate folk-punk/indie-pop-rock like Jake McKelvie and the CountertopsSolid Chunks of Energy because so much is going on all the time.

McKelvie opens the appropriately titled 10-song salvo with “Mini Monster,” which sees the frontman singing as many words as possible over a pretty clean electric guitar, bass, and drum kit running at breakneck speed. Spitting everything from non-sequitur to Dylan-esque metaphor to puns to self-deprecating truth before bursting into a passionately jubilant “la” section for the chorus, McKelvie is either the motor or the sail. He’s the motor if you’re a fan of the “auteur with a backing band” theory, but he’s the one being pushed along if you’re of the “bands with band names are bands” school of thought. Doesn’t really matter which school you’re in, though–everyone can dance along to “Mini Monster” and feel good about themselves.

Elsewhere, McKelvie and co. get their Bright Eyes on, treating audiences to a quieter version of melodic machine gun vocal delivery. “Aside From Your Hair” is impressive not only for the number of words that are included, but for the fact that the band manages to wring a melody out of the delivery. The rhythm is possessing of its own, but the fact that you can sing along to certain parts is even more fun. “Woke Awake” has similar RIYLs, and is one of the most tender-sounding of the tunes. “Flock Hard, Lockhart” is a power-pop tune that relies more on gone-wild bass work and guitar riffing; “Time Is a Chew Toy” is beachy and kinda ’50s-ish, while still maintaining a brain-bending set of lyrics. “Lots and Lots and Lots of Money” is a straight-up punk song, ’cause why not close out the album that way?

Solid Chunks of Energy is a wildly entertaining album for lyric nerds and pop fans. McKelvie very clearly knows how to write a pop song and has decided to fill his with all sorts of unexpected magic. It just so happens that the magic happens with a very small set of instruments. Guy’s gotta tour somehow, you know? Fans of The Mountain Goats, Attica! Attica!, Bright Eyes, or other “wordy” singers of the indie-pop/alt-folk/folk-punk persuasion will have a new band to watch in Jake McKelvie and the Countertops.

James Apollo’s distinct musical vision pays off in spades

June 30, 2014

angelorum

This is Independent Clauses’ 2000th post! Thanks to everyone for sticking with us for 11 years!

Some of the best records are growers: stuff that doesn’t strike you immediately, but works its way into your ears and heart. On the other hand, some grab your attention immediately and don’t let go. James Apollo‘s Angelorum smacked me across the face and demanded that I pay attention. It’s the rarest of rare: a record that has immediate appeals and slowly unfurling charms past that first look.

Apollo commands attention by perfectly executing his distinct and unique vision. Angelorum is a subtle, complex record made from Motown horns, slinky cabaret vibes, Kinks-esque garage rock and unassuming instrumentals. Yet this mix never sounds uncomfortable: Apollo’s identity is strong, clear, and focused. For example, “Two Lane” is an sexy, confident track that relies on a quiet guitar line, occasional bass hits, and Apollo’s smooth vocals. The title track follows “Two Lane,” and it’s a calm tune led by piano and bass. Thanks to Apollo’s style and an excellent production job, these two songs fit perfectly next to each other.

Apollo also knows how to subvert expectations: “Neverland” opens with the rock-est guitar riff of the collection, but it’s eventually buried under bass, shakers, vocals, and vibraphone. It powers the song, but not in the direction you’d expect. “Chestlodge” starts out with a dramatic piano arrangement, then decides to just stay a dramatic instrumental. “Spinnin” throws down some ragged guitar-rock drumming, then almost entirely removes the guitar to create an impressive, interesting tune.

Angelorum is a beautiful record in its tone: it’s at turns highly romantic, tender, pleading, and calm. It’s hard to compare it to much, because Apollo’s vision is very distinct. (That’s a high compliment from a person who listens to hundreds of bands a year.) It’s definitely one of my favorite albums I’ve heard so far this year. Basically, some words aren’t convincing as the music itself will be: you just need to go listen to Angelorum by James Apollo.

Mid-year, pt 3

June 28, 2014

Mid-year pt 3: Post-rock, etc.

1. “Grey Lion” – Cleanup. Remember when The Appleseed Cast was putting out astonishing post-rock records like Mare Vitalis? Cleanup is the heir to that major-key, vocal-friendly, guitar-centric, totally mind-bending post-rock throne. Cleanup is going to go far, y’all.

2. “Blowhole of Sorrow, Lend Me Your Ears; Drink From These Eyes These Salt‚Äč-‚ÄčTasting Tears” – The Speed of Sound in Seawater. Math-rock doesn’t just have the best names for everything, they are currently lapping the last place contenders by making things that would sound terrible in others’ hands totally awesome. Also, this is some wicked great math-rock, y’all.

3. “Sable” – Blood Party. Intense bass riffage, pounding drum attack, creepy atmosphere. This is heavy, heady instrumental rock.

4. “Shifting Sand Land” – Kraj. Instrumental post-rock free association: It kind of reminds me of a time traveler going back to the past and finding it pretty chill in the Mesozoic era.

5. “Thunder” – Liminal Digs. Free association: You’re sneaking through a town at dusk, looking for something that has eluded your grasp for years. You know it’s there, so the tension is both building and falling: so near, yet so far.

Mid-Year pt 2

Mid-year pt 2: Acoustic Happy / Acoustic Sad

1. “High Up” – Wonderful Humans. WH has it all together to make perfect indie-pop: energy, enthusiasm, twee instruments, percussive elements, and melodies galore. Wonderful Humans is really good.

2. “Big River” – Wonderful Humans. ANOTHER WH TUNE BECAUSE I DO WHAT I WANT AND IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. WHOA-OH-OH-OH, WHOA-OH-OH-OH.

3. “Clams” – Pepa Knight. Exuberant indie-pop filtered through a Hindi-pop lens. It’s enveloping and enthralling. I’ve been super pleased with both of Pepa Knight’s singles so far.

4. “Give Me a Drug that Works Forever” – One Finger Riot. Mid-tempo Brit-pop, burbling electro, and American indie-pop collide in an infectious, memorable tune.

5. “Girls” – Slow Magic. Chillwave meets The Album Leaf meets Pogo. I APPROVE.

6. “Run Run Run” – Jenny Scheinman. Scheinman has a strong voice and a deft Americana songwriting touch. You won’t be able to ignore Scheinman much longer.

7. “Black Crow” – Juliette Jules. A voice mature beyond her years, songwriting beautiful beyond expectations, and production of excellent quality: Jules has everything working for her on this gorgeous, tender track.

8. “Wedding Day” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat, and the folky/celebratory arrangement kept me involved. This is an impressive tune.

9. “Green Eyes” – Cancellieri. Originally by Coldplay, Cancellieri strips some of the pop sheen from this and gives it a romantic intimacy befitting the gorgeous lyrics.

10. “Is What It Is” – She Keeps Bees. This female-fronted singer/songwriter track is stately, composed, and elegant without becoming icy or distant. SKB creates great atmosphere here.

11. “Confederate Burial” – Snowblind Traveler. Snowblind Traveler matches up the icy arrangements of For Emma and the traditional melodies of old-school Americana to great effect.

12. “Blue Valentine” – Bloom. If you’re a fan of the sad but not hopeless sound that Pedro the Lion made, Bloom will scratch your itch for it with this beautiful track.

13. “Hold on to Your Breath” – Sleepy Tea. These Aussies live up to their name with a relaxing, refreshing vibe reminiscent of a slightly more energetic Parachutes-era Coldplay. Just a beautiful track.

Mid-Year pt 1

June 27, 2014

It’s the middle of the year! Independent Clauses always gets more music than it knows what to do with, so mid-year and end-of-year are a good time to clean out the files and point out all the amazing things that I missed the first time around. So here goes three days of that! These singles could have been released yesterday or months ago; these and the following posts are not time-sensitive whatsoever.

Mid-year, pt. 1: Rock, etc.

1. “A Place Called Space” – The Juan Maclean. LCD Soundsystem is gone, but The Juan Maclean is still around to fill that rubbery, propulsive dance tune-shaped space in our hearts. THE JUAN MACLEAN FOREVER.

2. “Mama Gold” – North by North. Pounding, fuzzy guitar, yelping vocals, heavy low end? Welcome to rock’n’roll, people.

3. “Blood::Muscles::Bones” – Street Eaters. This punk band is composed entirely of distorted bass guitar, drums, female vocals, and male vocals. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

4. “Everybody Pretends” – Ostrich Run. A high-drama violin riff kicks off this dark indie-rock tune. The vocals keep me going the rest of the way.

5. “Serious Things Are Stupid” – Cayetana. The rise of Cayetana in the punk scene has been fun to watch, as innate songwriters start to match the talent with the ability. Impressive tune here.

6. “Dirty Roofs” – Edmonton. Do you like The Offspring? You’ll love Edmonton, which sounds similar, but with a heart that The Offspring haven’t had for a while (/ever).

7. “You’re Cold” – The Black Tibetans. Stuff that Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) produces is starting to be as distinctive as Stuff Steve Albini or Jack White does: rifftastic, slightly scuzzy, classic-rock-inspired blues heaviness with melodies galore. The Black Tibetans deliver on that promise.

8. “Every Night, Every Day” – The Sheens. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it just sounds right. Here we have female-fronted rock with punk and new wave-y overtones, and it’s just a ton of fun.

9. “Hi-Lo” – North Elementary. Check that opening riff on this power-pop tune. The vocals and arrangement have some Arcade Fire vibes thrown in for good measure.

10. “Pack of Cards” – Wood Ear. Straightforward rock’n’roll, Glossary-style, doesn’t get enough love here on Independent Clauses. Wood Ear throws down some organ-laden rock that just feels right.

11. “Loving You Is Hard” – The Parrots. Sometimes you just want some brash, off-the-cuff, speedy, infectious surf-rock. The Parrots are here for you.

12. “We’ll Be Fine” – Action Item. So I really like big, shiny pop-rock like Hot Chelle Rae, and Action Item delivers it in spades. HAVE FUN, Y’ALL!

13. “Always” – Annabel. Jangly guitars, tom-heavy percussion, and yearning male vocals satisfy my craving for earnest, serious indie-pop-rock.

14. “House” – Thunderhank. The tension builds and builds in this electro-influenced rock song, but it resolves in ways other than you’d expect. Keep ‘em guessing, Thunderhank.

15. “Whistle for My Love” – Jimmy & The Revolvers. If the Beatles had kept cranking out the pop tunes instead of going all psych, they could have ended up here. Total old-school pop bliss (with some modern rhythms, of course).

16. “Pool Guard” – Inspired and the Sleep. Sometimes the title really does tell you everything you need to know.

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

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