Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Moa Holmsten: Redeeming Bruce

November 16, 2015

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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

Groenland’s The Chase: Unlike Any Other

June 26, 2015

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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

Premiere Stream: M. Lockwood Porter’s 27

October 7, 2014

I have the honor of premiering 27 by M. Lockwood Porter today! You can preorder a vinyl or CD of the record at Black Mesa Records.

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The deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and more have inspired the myth that 27 is the age past which no musical youth icon can live. M. Lockwood Porter, also aged 27 but definitely alive, thoughtfully grabbed the number for the title of his sophomore alt-country/country-rock/just plain rock album. His debut Judah’s Gone focused on the past (just look at that title); 27 is a coming-of-age rumination that turns his gaze from youthful aches to the troubles of living in the adult world.

27 does not contain fluffy or stereotypical lyrics: while there are a couple jilted-lover tunes, they fit into a larger paradigm of the difficult questions Porter is asking about life. Thoughts about mortality (“Chris Bell,” about another lost 27-year-old musician), the possibility of not achieving dreams (“Restless”), religion (“Couer D’Alene”), and leaving behind a legacy (“Mountains”) paint a picture of a person standing at the edge of adulthood and grappling with what he’s found so far. I may not agree with every conclusion, but I’m deeply glad that the sentiments are expressed with enough depth and clarity that I can actually agree or disagree with them. That’s a pretty rare accomplishment in the rock world.

The album’s centerpiece is the ballad “Mountains,” which pulls all of these thoughts about life together. It starts with tom hits that sound like a heartbeat before Porter wearily sings, “When I was young my father said / that faith could move a mountain / now there’s mountains as far as I can see.” Striking piano, tasteful percussion, and an earnest guitar line fill out the raw, earnest tune. I wish I could write out all the lyrics for you, but Porter distills it all into one sweeping statement to close the tune: “And as I stare across the vast expanse / I can hear my father shouting / but mountains are all that I can see.”

Porter serves up these musings in expertly crafted alt-country/country-rock tunes. Porter’s been in a bunch of bands of various genres over the past dozen years, and he’s learned things from all of them. Opener “I Know You’re Going to Leave Me” crescendoes to a pounding, ragged, desperate, shiver-inducing rock ending; he follows it up with “Chris Bell,” which is about as perfect an alt-country song as Gram Parsons could hope to hear. “You Only Talk About Your Band” is a rollicking, impassioned ’50s rock’n’roll tune that sounds like it fell out of a time machine somewhere, while Bruce Springsteen would approve of the insistent piano and urgent vocals in “Restless.” “Secrets” sounds like a San Francisco indie-pop mosey, an influence holdover from his time in The 21st Century. “Couer D’Alene” is a delicate acoustic-and-voice tune to close out the record. All of these songs are impressive in their own right, and yet none feel out of place on the record.

Porter keeps these disparate sounds and ideas held together through a consistent vocal presence on the record. No matter what genre Porter writes, he works to make his voice inhabit the song. There are no bad vehicles here: Porter sounds completely at home in each of these tunes. Instead of sounding pristine, the opposite is true: by feeling comfortable throughout, he’s able to allow his voice some fluctuations and character without needing to edit it out. It gives the whole album a careworn, comfortable feel, similar to a Justin Townes Earle song or Josh Ritter’s The Beast In Its Tracks.

27 has the sort of musical and lyrical depth that causes me to come up with more things to say than I have space for. (Two things that got cut: 1. comparing the lyrics of “Mountains” with my favorite Ryan Adams track “Rock and Roll,” which you should do on your own time; 2. The production job is excellent.) Personally Porter is in transition, but lyrically Porter is hitting his stride to be able to describe the struggles so compellingly. Musically he’s creating work that shines as a whole and as individual tracks, which shows a rare maturity. You need to hear this one.

Fri, 10/10 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick and Mortar w/ Victor Krummenacher
Fri, 10/17 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Blue Note
Sat, 10/18 – Tulsa, OK @ Mercury Lounge
Sun, 10/19 – Lawrence, KS @ Jackpot Music Hall
Mon, 10/20 – Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s
Tues, 10/21 – Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s
Wed, 10/22 – Eaton, OH @ Taffy’s
Thurs, 10/23 – Philadelphia @ The Grape Room
Sat, 10/25 – NYC @ Wicked Willy’s at 6:30 pm (Official CMJ Showcase)
Sun, 10/26 – NYC @ Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1
Mon, 10/27 – Charlotte @ Thomas Street Tavern
Tues, 10/28 – Chapel Hill @ The Cave (I’ll be at this one)
Wed, 10/29 – Nashville, TN @ The 5 Spot
Thurs, 10/30 – Huntsville, AL @ Maggie Meyer’s Irish Pub
Fri, 10/31 – Clarksdale, MS @ Shack Up Inn
Sat, 11/1 – Lafayette, LA @ Artmosphere
Sun, 11/2 – Austin, TX @ Sahara Lounge
Mon, 11/3 – Dallas @ Opening Bell

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

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