Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Collection’s Listen to the River

September 19, 2017

Listen to the River by The Collection opens with a midrash on 2 Samuel 6 that functions as a breakup letter to God: “I can no longer carry the ark / if it’s causing the death of my friends /
So I’ll trade that gold ballast for hand-laden altars / And baptize myself in the lake.” It’s a bold, thorny way to start a record, even if it is a fitting thesis statement for the following work that grapples with a seeming loss of faith amid a beautiful folk-orchestral suite.

For listeners tracking with Wimbish’s exploration of doubts in Christianity, this lyrical direction will not come as a surprise–but it might still hurt: lines like the aforementioned, the title “Siddhartha (My Light Was A Ghost),” and “I hope to break myself open / Drain this poison water / Let it flow back to its ocean / That I used to call, “Father”” (from “The Alchemy of Awe”) make no bones about the crumbling of faith. For those still in the faith, it’s always troubling to see people take their grievances and make for the doors; for those outside of the faith, this might read like someone coming to the light. For those who may be going through the same thing with Wimbish, this might be a vital touchpoint in the experience, along with David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches.

While Bazan has been very open with his atheism, Wimbish’s lyrics throughout still seem to be grappling. There are harsh words, yes, but there are also many moments where the harsh words seem to give way to resignation (“No Maps of the Past”) or disappointment (closer “The Listener”). The closer is sung directly at / to God, and Wimbish seems to be, yes, heading for the doors (“If I head south, will that be heresy? / No, I don’t think so”). But the fact that He’s still addressed leaves the door open enough to wonder where this will all go. That’s the thing with doubt: until it crystallizes into something else, it’s always a door that yet remains ajar.

In that opening salvo I mentioned earlier, it’s just Wimbish and a keyboard; the rest of the seven band members come crashing in afterwards. It’s indicative of the tensions encompassed in the record: the lyrics of this record are focused almost exclusively on Wimbish’s spiritual journey at the same time that the orchestral-folk unit sounds tighter than ever.

The Collection has really come into its own as a unit on this record, as Listen to the River replaces the fire and fury of predecessor Ars Moriendi with intricate, dense melodicism. Both are giant records stuffed full of instruments and vocals, this one is filled with subtle touches that play up the strengths of the band members.

Upbeat indie-pop tune “You Taste Like Wine” has a sweet (yet short) bass solo. Standout “Birds” has an astonishing clarinet melody–actually, anywhere Hope Baker’s clarinet appears is a great moment. The group vocals on “Sing Of The Moon” seem more like an actual choir singing than a giant group of people yelling. (Far be it from me, though, to knock group yelling: the shout-it-out conclusion of “Birds” is one of the most rousing moments on the record.) The electric guitar leads on “The Older One.” The songs are composed with a full outfit in mind, not just with the band as the finishing touch. As a result, the whole record is a touch calmer musically than former work.

There’s so much going on in a Collection record that there are nigh-on infinite angles to take in a review. I haven’t mentioned the lyrical themes of mysticism and divorce that run through this record, nor the sudden appearance of A Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay piano work. There’s the consistent mention of rivers and water, of sleep and waking, of going somewhere. There’s vibraphone and synth. It’s just a ton of stuff happening.

If you’re into folk-orchestra work, challenging lyrics, religious themes, and/or music that requires your full attention, Listen to the River will give you plenty. It’s heavy. You may not want to go where it’s going. It is not dumbed-down. It is an honest chronicle of where they were and what they had to give, lyrically and musically. Wimbish and co. poured it all in. That’s worth noting.

Late June MP3s

June 28, 2017

1. “Somethings” – Sariah Mae. This song sounds like it was blown out of a bubble wand: a round, gleaming, shimmery, light thing that lolls along in the wind. Indie pop at its shiny, bubbly best.

2. “Super Natural” – Turnover. Does the thing has emerged in my family as a term of high praise: you need to do something, you select a tool to do it, and the tool works perfectly. It does the thing. This dream-pop tune does the thing: it has reverby guitars, delicate vocals, loping bass, and enough energy from the drums to keep the “pop” part working. Just totally solid.

3. “Bright and Blue” – Tomo Nakayama. This indie-pop track feels like walking on clouds, what with the ethereal pad synths in the background, the walking-pace shuffle snare, and the friendly vocal approach. Very excited for this upcoming album.

4. “All My Faith” – The Last Dinosaur. An intimate-yet-sweeping acoustic indie track that calls to mind Michigan-era Sufjan and other lush-arrangement singer/songwriters.

5. “Altaïr” – Camel Power Club. Well, isn’t this a wild mix: synths, acoustic guitar, ’90s hip-hop beats, bongos, breathy vocals, theremin-esque sounds, and more are all wrapped up in a smooth, grooving electro-indie-pop tune. Whoa.

6. “Living in Fame” – Fever Kids. The feathery vocals that provide the lead hook for this tune fit perfectly with a slightly ominous, LCD Soundsystem-esque bass line and create a sort of post-disco indie-pop track. The vibe here is unusual and exciting.

7. “Duluoz Dream” – Sal Dulu. A bleary-eyed jazz trumpet provides the entry point into this low-key indie-electro instrumental, squiggly bits, mournful piano, and other sounds come together to create a chill, head-bobbin’ piece.

8. “July” – Ellie Ford. Some jaunty flamenco rhythms on a nylon-string guitar provide the base of this song, which then expands into a carefully-coordinated minor-key indie-rock tune led by Ford’s delicate voice.

9. “If You Saw Her” – Mark Bryan. The quirky, plunk-plunk lead melody in this folk/country tune is a weirdly infectious riff. The rest of the tune is a bright, clear, folk/country tune guided to its satisfying conclusion by an assured hand and a lithe voice.

10. “Stronger than My Fears (Naked Session)” – SHEL. This acoustic folk tune rides on beautiful melodies, a subtly excellent arrangement, and impressive harmonies throughout.

11. “Watching From a Distance” – David Ramirez. Ramirez updates his country sound with burbling electronics, Simon and Garfunkel-esque percussion, and a large arrangement more reminiscent of indie-folk than stark country ventures. It’s a surprising, excellent turn. His voice is still amazing–nothing changed there.

12. “I Wanna Go Down to the Basement” – Wooden Wand. Loopy, chilled-out folk that asserts “I am no longer afraid”; despite these reassurances, James Jackson Toth’s voice has a jittery quality that gives the song energy.

13. “Take Over” – Tom Rosenthal. Fans of Greg Laswell and Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay will love this piano-driven tune, which pulses and pushes forward and yet still remains intimate.

14. “Killing Me” – Luke Sital-Singh. The emotional piano ballad is tough to pull off, but Sital-Singh here provides a master course on how to do it right. This song is emotionally devastating.

JD Eicher and the Goodnight's modern pop resists cliches

June 12, 2011

In 2002, a wise friend handed me copies of Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head and Counting Crows’ August and Everything After. Inexplicably to my pop-punk self at the time, I became obsessed with both. Thus began an interest in modern pop music that extends to an unironic enjoyment of Goo Goo Dolls and Train. Judge away.

JD Eicher and the Goodnights falls between the acoustic pop of August and Everything After and the arena-sized pathos of Goo Goo Dolls. The band’s best songs aren’t quite as navelgazing as Adam Duritz’ increasing self-defeating tunes, but stop short of going for the John Rzeznik stadium singalong. The lesser tunes fall on either side of the divide.

Eicher opens the Crows-esque “Feel The Rain” with the striking, “Seems like every couple hours, it’s six a.m.,” and its subsequent description of breakup symptoms doesn’t beg for sympathy or employ bitterness. The rest of the band employs a similarly impressive restraint, teasing the listener with a soaring chorus that never arrives. The song becomes a highlight because it doesn’t command all the modern pop tricks. Subversive!

The melodic bass work on “Distance and Space” echoes the style of “Feel the Rain,” proving the bassist’s vitally important role in the band’s best songs. The acoustic songwriting in “Love is Gonna Find You” leans in toward Goo Goo Dolls drama, but Eicher keeps the arrangement tight and low: more featured bass, no sweeping strings, no chorus pedal.

It’s not all success. Openers “The Beauty of It All” and “Two Weeks Back” do let the arrangements go electric, and the songs suffer blandness accordingly. “Crazy” is an odd acoustic-rock turn. “Fine Line” is a bit too Five for Fighting cute to pique my interest, and “Easy” flirts with that syndrome as well. But the high highs make the middling tracks easy to pass over.

That oft-maligned, major label-infested genre of modern pop is a tough bag in which to make a go of it. But JD Eicher and the Goodnights are not perturbed. It feels that Shifting came about honestly: Eicher and his band just process music this way, and the greatest honest move they can do is make these songs in this way. In a genre full of cash grabs, kitsch and knowing winks, it’s a pleasant and unusual experience to know that Eicher and his band really mean it when they rock out at the end of “Mr. Misery.” That level of honesty and real pop songwriting chops make Shifting into the success it is.

Oh, and JD: Buy your bassist a beer. And don’t let him leave the band.

Friday Mile transforms a British acoustic/piano formula into American success

March 9, 2010

FridayMileUp at Timber Carnival Records, they like Americans that aspire to be British. Yesterday’s Hello Morning found their jumping-0ff point in early Radiohead albums, while today’s Friday Mile takes their cues from early Coldplay records.

Friday Mile’s Good Luck Studio is essentially what would have happened if Coldplay had written an album between Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head. Neither preoccupied with dreamy acoustic soundscapes or serious piano epics, these songs inhabit a transitionary space that allows the tunes to swing back and forth between the extremes. There’s some songs that ratchet up toward “Daylight” or “Politik”-level piano songs, and there are tunes that drop down toward a “Sparks” or “Trouble” level of melancholy. But this is no Coldplay rip-off, as Friday Mile has an ace in their sleeve that makes them different: Hannah Williams’ vocals.

Hannah Williams’ versatile voice molds itself to different moods very well; from ghostly backups to plaintive harmony to resonant lead vocals, she opens up a whole other part of the Coldplay-esque sound and transforms Friday Mile’s songwriting into an unexpected affair. These songs would still be incredible without Williams’ voice, but my attention was kept rapt, wondering when the next time Hannah Williams would sing would be.

The album blows by, taking down ten songs in 33 minutes. Each song has its own delights, from the prominent bass work of “Even I” to the acoustic pop bliss of “Lives of Strangers” to the jaunty piano and dissonant guitar of “Handle It” to the wistful keys of “Adorable Machine.” This album doesn’t repeat songs, but the songs still flow. The goals of the songs may be different, but they’re not so disparate as to disjoint the album.

This album’s mood is light but serious; it can easily be played as entertaining background music, but it stands up to close scrutiny as well. This is about as high a compliment as I can give; it’s artistically sound and entertainingly sound. I expect many more good things from Friday Mile, as their sound is just too good to pass up. Good Luck Studio is a fantastic full-length debut that will give listeners prolonged enjoyment. Look for its tracks in soundtracks of sitcoms and films near you soon.  Also, look for it in your CD player and iTunes. Cause it should and will be there too.

Run Dan Run creates solid, meaningful acoustic pop

February 15, 2010

Coldplay is the rock band to beat in the world right now. They have consistently excellent songwriting, an adventurous bent that doesn’t allow them to write the same album twice, a fantastic live show, a rabid following, a non-pretentious attitude about most things, and what seems like a genuine love for making music. Although there are bands that have more of each thing (Radiohead fans are more rabid, The Flaming Lips have a top-notch live show, the Mountain Goats have been cranking out consistently excellent songs for almost twenty years, etc), the one category in which they stand out pushes them over the top as the rock band right now. X&Y is as different from Parachutes as they come, and same for A Rush of Blood to the Head and Viva La Vida. They consistently push themselves, and it shows.

I say all this because my first thought when I heard Run Dan Run’s 27 Coming St. EP was, “Whoa. This sounds like Parachutes-era Coldplay!” And then I was struck by how Coldplay is one of the few bands in the world that I would have to specify which album a band sounds like instead of just comparing band to band.

And Run Dan Run’s songs do bear strong resemblance to their Parachutes-era brethren. The songs are a bit more ragged and wild, like Turin Brakes or the most passionate moments of Damien Rice, but the moods between the two albums are very similar. Run Dan Run features piano and acoustic guitar prominently, always having tension between the two as to who is most important. It’s a good tension that provides a neat flair to RDR’s sound.

The only downfall here are the vocals, which are more toward the Bob Dylan/Neutral Milk Hotel ragged school of indie-rock singing rather than the Ben Folds-smooth voice. In several tracks the vocals are just too much, and they detract from the song. “Wasted Love” is a very nice song dragged down by a weak vocal performance. On the other hand, the wild passion invested in the end of closer “Points of Departure” makes the song into what it is, yelling and all. The vocals are a part of listening to RDR, and if you’re not going to be able to enjoy it through the cracks, breaks, and pauses, you should look elsewhere. But if you’re down with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel or newer artists The Tallest Man on Earth or The Rural Alberta Advantage, you’ll be down with Run Dan Run and their grounded acoustic pop in the vein of Parachutes by Coldplay.

We Are The City Unleashes Exciting Indie-rock on the World

November 11, 2009

It’s hard to judge objectively something that you are intimately acquainted with. Vocalists have a tough time taking other vocalists seriously, and writers are notoriously hard on other writers. That’s why We Are the City‘s accomplishment with In a Quiet World is so astonishing. They’ve made the piano (something I play on a daily basis) incredibly exciting.

To clarify the staggering worth of this achievement, consider this: you can be the most talented pianist in the world and still not excite me with your work. I can realize it as incredibly talented and enjoyable (i.e. everything in Ben Folds’ canon), even learn to play it. But get truly excited? Rare as snow in San Francisco. Continue readingWe Are The City Unleashes Exciting Indie-rock on the World…

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

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