I have honestly never been a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. Although he very much came to symbolize everything that’s great about being “born in the USA,” his voice always seemed too scratchy. I felt like he was always just yelling. That is what makes Moa Holmsten’s primarily electronic reworking of Springsteen so refreshing–Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm takes Springsteen’s rich lyrics and rhythms but leaves the scratchy voice behind.
Although Holmsten does utilize some of Springsteen’s well-known rhythms, the songs of Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm sound almost unrecognizable to their originals. Growing up in Philadelphia, there was always a high probability that the next song on the radio would be a Springsteen song. And although I have already expressed my distaste for his voice, those catchy lyrics and rhythms at times have stopped me from turning to another station. Holmsten took everything that was great about Springsteen and added her own flair. For example, Holmsten weaves in the well-known rhythms of “Dancing In The Dark” and “Born To Run” to her otherwise unique accompaniment. Springsteen’s most circulated track, “Born In The USA,” sounds nothing like the original, in fact: it eventually falls apart and ends abruptly– leaving it to be only a minute long.
Even though Holmsten weaved the Springsteen rhythms into “Dancing In the Dark” and “Born To Run,” that doesn’t mean they sound very similar at all to their originals. “Dancing In The Dark” actually begins with a rather industrial electronic beat and continues to pulse throughout the song. As the track continues, more instruments join in with the beat along with added background vocals. “Dancing In The Dark” sounds similar to Springsteen’s in its rhythms but the industrial instrumentation makes the song darker than the original. With “Born To Run,” Holmsten took quite a different angle. Setting the foundation for a much lighter sound, ethereal ahh’s open up the track alongside organ accompaniment. The notable riff of “Born To Run” gets a heavenly makeover in this version as well, utilizing strings and a piano to replace the rock and roll instruments.
Holmsten’s voice is a much preferred replacement for Bruce Springsteen’s. In songs like the album’s opener “Highway 29,” Holmsten’s voice sounds sweet, subtle and even a bit raspy (soulful raspy, not at all in the abrasive Springsteen kind of way). In tracks like “Badlands,” Holmsten’s voice echos more of a jazzy, blue-eyed soul feel akin to Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. And finally, her voice transforms once more in “Born To Run” and “Soul Driver,” where she draws out her words, sounding eerily similar to Lorde. Holmsten has this uncanny ability to adapt her voice to the vibe of her Springsteen adaptations.
The overall vibe of Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm differs from song to song. Some tracks echo the industrial feel of “Dancing in the Dark,” while others are more light and whimsical like “Born To Run.” What truly ties the album together is how the tracks echo Springsteen while updating him to fit the times. Moa Holmsten accomplished a rather brilliant task with this album– she redeemed Bruce for me. –Krisann Janowitz
Canadian indie-pop band Groenland’s debut album The Chase sets this six-piece powerhouse on an island of their own. Every track delivers a different experience for the listener to take in. From deep contemplativeness to cheery exuberance and everything in between, The Chase is an emotional, instrumental, and vocal adventure.
The album does not have one consistent mood, and in that way it perhaps represents the array of emotions we all have. Take the moody, heavy “Immune”: the lyrics explore the inner back and forth occurring within the heart of someone in a passionate relationship. The line that most stands out everytime I press replay is, “I’ll shoot my brains out again if you come back around/ But I won’t suffer the blame to watch us go down.” Although the visceral image of shooting one’s brains out is very negative and dark, the lyric exposes that not only is this a pattern, but it is one that is painful to replay. So although it causes the person pain for the relationship to start up again, it causes equal pain to see it end. How many of us can relate to this masochistic/love-sick pattern that “Immune” explores?
Many of us also know the taste of desire and the hopefulness that comes with believing in something. “The Chase” encompasses the optimism that comes with believing in yourself. Whatever job, love-interest, life you’re chasing after, “The Chase” represents the playful self-assurance that comes along with the quest. The song provides a very different mood that “Immune,” with lyrics like, “You may think you are done with us/ But it’s only just begun” paired fittingly with playful, old-school Mario video game sounds playing in the background. Through lyrics and other aspects such as instrument pairing, each song on the album places the listener in a different emotional state.
The instrumentation of The Chase is an adventure in and of itself. There are piano-heavy tracks (“Our Last Shot,” “Our Hearts Like Gold”), ukulele-led songs (“Don’t Fix Me Yet,” “Superhero”), and appearances of full orchestra (“La Pieuvre,” “Immune”). The varied percussion, particularly in the drums and tambourine, add flavor to many of the songs. The instrumentation found in The Chase contains depth and scope similar to Arcade Fire’s Funeral-era thick instrumentation. It’s a tough standard to be graded against, but Groenland takes it on with this album.
Groenland’s lead singer Sabrina Halde has an uncanny ability to change the feel of the song, just by how she changes her voice. Halde’s voice has depth and soul akin to soulful artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse. “26 Septembre” and “Superhero” both show off this deep, powerful side of Halde’s voice: on the bridge of “26 Septembre,” she goes up and down the scale on just one syllable. “Our Hearts Like Gold” exposes the softer side of Halde’s voice, as she is a bit whisperier for much of the song. Halde allows her voice to sound strong at moments, but she quickly returns to the softer, more delicate side of her voice. As a result, the song ends sweetly and gently, unlike the more powerfully soulful endings found on the album.
Listening to Groenland’s The Chase is certainly an adventure. The lyrics explore many delicate human emotions that we often don’t give enough time to. The diverse instrumentation gives every track a different feel, and Halde’s vocals can bring your spirits to the highest of heights. I highly recommend purchasing Groenland’s The Chase: its diversity will be sure to give you a unique, exciting listening experience. —Krisann Janowitz
Before you listen to this album, you must first grab your favorite bottle of wine, draw yourself a warm bath, light a candle and soak. You just created the perfect listening party for Hannah Miller’s recently released self-titled album. Hannah Miller’s soulful instrumentation and sultry voice create the ultimate arena for relaxation.
At the top of the album, “Help Me Out” sets the mood with a seductively played electric guitar. After a few measures of the solo guitar, Miller’s alto voice enters into the mix. These two elements are quite the power couple; keys and percussion add further flavor, but they in no way compare to the power of the first two. Watch the music video to see what I mean.
The soulful sound of Hannah Miller is akin to many different artists that exist within soul’s extended family. In “Falling” the keys shine, similar to neo-soul artists like Jill Scott. The prominent bass and funky guitar in “You Don’t Call” remind me of Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans.” Throughout the album, Miller’s voice and instrumentation could be compared to Adele’s blue-eyed soul music, particularly in 19. There is no denying that Miller’s sound fits at least partially into the genre of soul, but which sub-genre would be a topic up for debate.
“Soothed” begins similarly to “Help Me Out,” and its calming instrumentation provides the perfect backdrop for Miller’s beautiful voice–her pipes become the focal point of the track. Aptly titled, the instrumentation on “Soothed” is entirely made up of a soulful, beachy-sounding guitar. Miller’s voice lingers in the higher part of her register here, and the outcome is really quite relaxing. Ironically, the lyrics actually speak to her refusal to be “soothed,” while she clearly has no problem soothing others.
One interesting piece of the album is the two versions of “Promise Land.” The chronologically first version has quite a funky instrumentation with the blues-infused electric guitar, soulful keys and a rare addition of background vocals (which adds a ton of depth to the sound). This “New version” of the song has a much fuller sound than the second “Chernobyl version,” but that doesn’t mean it is superior. In the second “Promise Land,” the simple acoustic guitar accompaniment shows off the peaceful aspects in Miller’s voice that might be slightly overshadowed by the full instrumentation of the first. Both versions are beautiful; both have the same lyrics that delve into the world of spirituality, at least in the metaphorical sense.
Song after song, Hannah Miller proves to be a very soothing experience. The sound of Hannah Miller contains great depth while sounding effortless. If your life is filled with stress and you need something–anything–to help you unwind, look no further than Hannah Miller’s self-titled album, out now. —Krisann Janowitz
I promise that it’s not Double Album Week at Independent Clauses: it just happened that More than Skies and The Local Strangers‘ Take What You Can Carry saw coverage on back-to-back days. The latter, a Seattle folk/alt-country outfit, put a slight twist on the concept by releasing a full-band studio record and an live album of their core acoustic duo performing the same songs in a different order. The results are diverse, engaging tunes that highlight both their arrangement skills and raw live electricity.
In both sets, the impeccable alt-country songwriting stands out. Some alt-country gets too invested in sounding gritty, while some rushes too far into the open arms of pop. The Local Strangers walk the line between the two perfectly, incorporating both melodies that you can’t say no to and arrangements that feel fresh, tight, and sufficiently country. In the full-band set, “Red Dress” and “Up in Smoke” are adrenaline-fueled Spaghetti Westerns, complete with sordid narratives; both amp up to roaring, wild conclusions with powerful female vocals, tasteful arrangements and a delicious sense of drama. “Crown” and “Goodbye/Goodnight” take a more mid-tempo approach to alt-country, leaning hard on the Jayhawks model of acoustic guitars, drums, and general grit.
But it’s not just an alt-country outing here: “Gasoline,” “Pilot Light” and “Touchstone” take the set down a notch. All three are love songs, much in contrast to the alternately defiant and down-and-out country work that’s so attractive. “Touchstone” starts out as a gentle, soul-inspired torch song before crescendoing to a towering pop conclusion–it’s impressive in its difference from the rest of the album. “Gasoline” opens the album on a complex note: the song’s vibe is low-slung, driving, and thick in the rhythm and bass, but it opens up into a gentle, thoughtful chorus. It’s closer to Bloc Party than Drive-by Truckers, which is pretty cool.
“Pilot Light,” though, is my personal favorite. It’s a calm, optimistic tune that starts with a jauntly staccato strum, reminiscent of Josh Ritter. The tune is led by the male vocalist, and his delivery contributes to the modern/urban folk vibe. It’s a beautiful love song, perfectly arranged so as to unfold just as I wanted and expected it to. You don’t want to be able to totally predict a song, but when they let on where they’re going, you want to it to deliver as promised. The Local Strangers know how to set up that sort of anticipation without being derivative, which is a rare skill.
The live album strips out the arrangements and focuses tightly on the dual vocals. Songs like “Always Me” and “W.W.,” good tunes which aren’t among my favorites on the full album, take on new life in the acoustic setting. The power of Aubrey Zoli’s voice was present in the first setting, but it’s even more on display here. She doesn’t just know how to belt, she knows how to take control of a room. That’s something you can’t hear on a studio record.
Take What You Can Carry is a passionate, powerful record that shows off songwriting chops, vocal prowess, and arrangement skill. The tunes here are crisp, tight, intriguing and inviting. Like some cross between Adele, the Jayhawks, and Josh Ritter, the Local Strangers are doing great things.
1. “Muscle Memory” – Laura and Greg. Do you miss the Weepies? Laura and Greg’s precise, delicate picking and close harmonies are augmented by just the right amount of indie affectation to end up with a totally charming outcome. This is sort of song that sticks in your brain and doesn’t let go. I can’t wait to hear where they go from here.
2. “Promised Myself” – Kylie Odetta. There’s an “towering pop vocals” button in my soul, and it doesn’t get pushed by Adele that often (come on, 25!). Kylie Odetta writes those torchy, piano-led dramatic tunes and backs them up with soulful, belting vocals. (The video is an unusual mashup of the “’80s pop star in empty building” trope and Odetta hanging out in a coffeeshop; welcome to 2015.)
3. “The Secret” – Sam Joole. Joole’s got the old-school piano ballad down, and his tender, gentle vocals sell the tune beautifully.
4. “Memoria No. 1” – The Greatest Hoax. TGH offers up more downtempo ambient, but this time with a more electronic bent. More Album Leaf, less Ólöf Arnalds, all chill and wonderful.
5. “Stormy Grey Eyes” – Knitted Cap Club. Meagan Zahora of KCC pushes the “dusky, cabaret dramatic vocals” button, which is right next to the “towering pop vocals” button. This could have been written in the 1920s, which I feel is a major compliment if you’re going to be in this genre.
6. “Four Sisters Part One” – Lowland Hum. This one’s a duet, but the female vocals are no less arresting for being lead by a tenor vocalist. The intimate harmonies on the phrase “use your voice” couldn’t be more perfect in this acoustic tune.
7. “In the During of a Moment” – The Lowest Pair. This duet is lead by the female alto vocalist, with the man chiming in on harmonies. It’s a stark, hushed recording that seems like it could be happening just behind you; the room reverb warms up the whole performance and fits perfectly with the tune.
8. “Hands and Feet” – Lowlands. Vintage rock’n’roll music has been getting a lot of love recently: the ’50s rock vibes here are cut by modern indie-pop melodies in the chorus. It’s an appealing mix. (And yes, I put Lowland Hum, Lowlands and The Lowest Pair in the same mix because seriously how often does that happen?)
9. “Let It Burn” – Magic Giant. MG’s new single is just as hooky, infectious, and enthusiastic as their previous rave-folk tunes. It doesn’t seem like dance music and folk-pop could come together so perfectly, but that’s why you listen to music, right? It always surprises.
For me, Feist set the standard for mature female-fronted indie-pop. Charming, interesting, and occasionally deep, Feist relies on traditional songcraft as opposed to tricks or gimmicks. (No hate: I love a good gimmick.) But there’s something classic about Feist, and anybody I can find to compare must necessarily be on top of their game. It’s incredibly impressive, then, that Grace Joyner‘s debut EP has a clarity of vision and excellence of performance that would put her in Feist’s category.
What Young Fools does best is convince me. Joyner’s songs sound mature, bright, and real. They don’t feel like ephemeral pop songs or ponderous singer/songwriter tunes; these are songs with weight and heft, but also a light touch. If Joyner didn’t apply to modern indie vocal melodies and styles, these songs could easily be confused for songs much older. Opener “Other Girls” features piano, gentle drumming, and flutes for color; “Young Thing” and “Be Good” have the pad synths and separated beats of an ’80s Police-style song. (“Holy” does sound like a Killers or Bravery track, but it’s an outlier.) Their traditional style, however, makes them endearing–not cliche. Joyner’s songs are excellent because they perfectly compliment the real star: her voice.
Joyner’s alto is awesome because it’s flexible. “Other Girls” sees her using in a near-formal capacity, full of trills, swoops, and vibrato. “Be Good” sees her adapt a speak/sing style, while “Love of Mine” shows off her poppy side. But it’s “Young Thing” that shows her voice’s versatility and unique qualities. The standout performance sees Joyner getting emotional without getting theatrical, which is an impressive feat. Using little shifts in tone and register, Joyner puts on an evocative display without going into Adele-style range. It’s impressive, and more than any other track makes me excited for Joyner’s future work.
Grace Joyner’s first step out from background vocals position is an impressive one. Young Fools is an accomplished, mature, exciting release that displays impressive songwriting skills. If you’re a fan of Wye Oak, Feist, Waxahatchie, or even She and Him, you’ll find a lot to love in Grace Joyner’s work.
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.
When I was told that M.I.A. was playing the Super Bowl, I responded with “She’s going to say ‘F*** America’ on national T.V.” And while she didn’t say it, she did flip America the bird. Who thought inviting an unrepentant firebrand to the show was a good idea?
Now we’re going to be subject to an incredibly sterilized Super Bowl halftime show next year so that NOTHING BAD HAPPENS. After the wardrobe malfunction, we were treated to Paul McCartney playing “Hey Jude,” which is about the least offensive thing rock’n’roll has to offer. Here’s IC’s picks for who The Powers That Be will front during next year’s un-stravaganza.
5. Beyonce. This is five because although everyone loves Beyonce, she has that whole sexy thing going on. There will be NONE OF THAT next year, if the McCartney redux theory is to be believed. Also, they should be saving her for a humongous 2014: The Super Bowl will be in New York City for the first time ever, meaning that we need to get a Jay-Z/Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind” performance. Jova splitting time with Beyonce would just be a blast. More on this supreme show in a minute.
4. Taylor Swift. The only way T-Swift gets controversial is if she rips another ex on live TV. Given her romantic life, this is a probable situation. This may not be the best idea, after all.
3. Bon Jovi. If we’re gonna go retro-rockin’, Bon Jovi’s the safest pick in the world. Perennially populist, working-class heroes with megahits enjoyed in their original release by people who are currently shelling out thousands for Super Bowl tix. However, they could be saving him for the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl, creating Bon Hova as a tribute to both sides of the Lincoln Tunnel. Bon. Hova. Let’s make this happen.
2. Coldplay. Older rock fans can dig it, emotive teenagers will dig it, even hipsters who were coming of age around “The Scientist” and “In My Place” would secretly dig it. Throw in a Rihanna guest spot (“Princess of China,” y’all!) and you’ve got a winner. I mean, have you ever SEEN Coldplay live? They throw down on the visual spectacle. Think of all those yellow balloons.
1. Adele (Adele). There is no more safe pick than Adele. She’s non-controversial in every way possible. If you’re looking for a Paul McCartney-esque “Sit there and play songs” pick, this girl is go-to. You can even get a choir going in the background, and Cee Lo Green Andre 3000 can lead it with a lightsaber as a baton, because one ATL figurehead in Star Wars-esque apparel is not enough.
I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.
So I’ve been getting back in shape after 1.5 years of what I will euphemistically call “productive desk-sitting.” Changed up my diet (less Taco Bell, more Shakeology), started working out again (can I get a grunt for P90X?!?!) and, most ambitiously, started running.
I used to get all my running in from playing Ultimate Frisbee, but I’ve been out of that for a couple years now. So after getting up my guts by running with some friends, I’ve set out upon a course that will hopefully take me through a half-marathon on Thanksgiving. This is probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever tried (other than that time I tried to start a magazine or whatever).
So I’ve needed some music. On the road trip that I’m still currently on, I’ve been rocking the bootleg of LCD Soundsystem’s last show at Madison Square Garden. (I don’t think it’s on Spotify, which makes me happy; but that’s a different post.) If you haven’t heard this, you’re just in the wrong. It’s almost three hours long, and LCD just goes for it on every song. “Yeah” and “Losing My Edge” together are almost twenty minutes of music, which is perfect for my two-mile runs. (The title of this post comes from “Yeah,” incidentally.)
James Murphy is probably one of the best motivators in the world: he absolutely loses his mind as he’s yelling “YEAH!” dozens of times. And in “Losing My Edge,” there’s a extra background vocal bit right when Murphy starts screaming out band names, accompanied by a drum freakout, which results in adrenaline infusion.
“Tribulations” and “Movement” are also killer run tracks, although “Movement” makes me want to run much, much faster than I can currently sustain. I’ll write a full review of the album (I’m counting it as an album) soon.
If you’re not up for LCD Soundsystem (I feel for you, truly), Chris Lawhorn of RunHundred sent over a list of ten tracks that users voted on as the best running tracks of 2011 so far. RunHundred is a running music community, and it’s pretty sweet. I’ll be hitting it up a lot in the next four months. Without further ado:
105 BPM – Adele – “Rolling In The Deep (Jamie XX Shuffle)”
122 BPM – Jason Derulo – “Don’t Wanna Go Home”
125 BPM – Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream (Kaskade Remix)”
127 BPM – Deadmau5 – “Sofi Needs A Ladder”
128 BPM – Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera – “Moves Like Jagger”
129 BPM – Cee Lo Green – “Fuck You (Le Castle Vania Remix)”
129 BPM – LMFAO – “Party Rock Anthem”
129 BPM – Pitbull, Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer – “Give Me Everything”
130 BPM – Tiesto, Diplo & Busta Rhymes – “C’mon (Catch ‘Em By Surprise)”
150 BPM – Avril Lavigne – “What The Hell”
Not super indie, but there is a Deadmau5 track! More interesting is the several remixes, proving that particular music method is becoming more and more important.
So run on, indie world. Run on.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.