Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick hits: Jacob Furr / Soft Swells / FU

March 1, 2012

Jacob Furr‘s folk EP Farther Shores opens up with the high desert feel of “Voices on the Sea,” which he kindly allowed us to debut. Furr’s fully-realized vision gives a strategically-placed shaker equal footing with accordion and pedal steel in creating the mood, while warbling background voices conjure images of awe-inspiring ghost riders. “Set Your Mind” follows in the same Southwestern sort of mindset before giving way to the more emotional last three tunes of the set. The fingerpicked “Farewell Old Friend” is an intimate, quiet tune that sits in stark contrast to the stately, carefully-arranged tracks before it. “Sailed Away” and “Sunrise in the City” show that he can arrange for emotional effect as well as the theatrical, but the fragile beauty of “Farewell Old Friend” gets to the heart of the matter: leaving means sadness at what’s behind and wonder at what’s before. Here’s to that idea, and to one of the first truly memorable songs I’ve heard all year.

Soft Swells‘ self-titled debut has several things going for it: the duo knows how to orchestrate a mid-tempo pop song, mesh fuzzy synths and acoustic instruments together seamlessly, and use a good melody when they’ve got it. The first two qualities appear throughout the ten-song album, while the third is mostly concentrated in the first half of the order. “Every Little Thing” establishes the soft but energetic sound and sells it with a desperate white boy melody/lyric of “You look so much smarter than me!” The killer track here is “Overrated,” which kept me humming along for a few days with perky synths and vocal melodies in a narrator’s attempt to “trust this love isn’t overrated.” The acoustic-led “Say It Like You Mean It” breaks up the consistent feel that the band has established, but it doesn’t stick—the band is too enamored with its titular sound to build this into a Transatlanticism-style indie-pop adventure. Still, the early songs are a ride in and of themselves.

FU is a Japanese indie-rock band led an enthusiastic guitarist/vocalist who goes by Ubi Quitous. I mention the nationality for two reasons: A) to make the point that despite the country, there’s not that much difference in indie rock structure and B) To explain why I can’t quote most of the song titles in ON THE EARTH!!!. And that first point rings remarkably true, as the three-piece blazes through guitar-based music that calls up everything from The Appleseed Cast’s optimistically growing epics to Rage Against the Machine’s guitar noodling to the Gin Blossoms’ mid-’90s alt-countryish guitar rock. I have no idea if FU has heard of any of these bands, but American listeners will make the comparisons quickly. The fact that all of this is mashed into one sound is distinctly interesting; it’s held together by neat guitar/bass interplay and the fascinating, beautiful guitar tone. The one cultural difference: the theatrical, affected vocal style is a bit of an acquired taste, but I think it’s worth it. The 16-song album offers up interesting offerings throughout, but, admittedly, there will be some who can’t get through the element noted in the previous sentence. For those on the opposite end of the spectrum, the band will be in America later this year.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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