Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Last 2015 Singles, pt. 1 

January 4, 2016

1. “Hot and Bothered” – Tameca Jones. Funky female-fronted soul with a touch of disco and a whole lot of sass.

2. “Be Your Man” – Rah Rah. Despite the title and the chipper power-pop included in the song, it’s actually a break-up song from the guy doing the dumping. Ouch, but at least we can dance along.

3. “When the Day is Fresh and the Light is New” – The Wooden Sky. You want some straight-ahead power-pop that you can feel good about? Of course you do.

4. “The Move” – Michael Persall. We can keep updating that ’50s/’60s perky pop sound forever, and I hope we do. The horns, clapping, and general enthusiasm here really seal the deal.

5. “Give Up the Ghost” – Legends of Et Cetera. Synthy new wave/power-pop a la the Cars with an alto female vocalist and a roaring chorus? Sign me up.

6. “Break” – Jesse Owen Astin. Blink and you’ll miss this indie-electro empowerment jam–if you need a stomping tune to get you through a tough thing from the indie spectrum, here you are.

7. “I Feel This Place” – Goldensuns. I never get why some people put only hazy, fuzzy old-school Super 8 footage on their music videos, but if Goldensuns did that for this song it would make perfect sense and I would love it. Languid, ethereal, nostalgic, and yet right on the current waves.

8. “White Flags” – I Used to Be a Sparrow. Andrea Caccese and co. pack a lot into this tune: charging guitars, soaring vocal lines, wiry instrumental sections, memorable melodic parts, and more. I’m always excited to hear more IUtBaS music, and this song is no letdown.

9. “Ode to the Spring” – Crocodile. If Bombadil’s quirky-yet-earnest approach to songwriting collided with Pet Sounds, the results would be similar to this acoustic-led track that balances psych wandering with straightforward acoustic pop.

10. “I Could Never Say No” – Heather LaRose. Here’s a fun modern pop song with solid vocal and synthesizer melodies. LaRose knows how to write a tune that sticks.

11. “Cobwebs” – Fell Runner. This one’s got a ton of atmosphere, as the indie-rock tune gives off the vibe of a meandering trip down a dark, foggy night street.

12. “Sigil of Forgiveness” – Kaito Gigantia. Any description of this song is going to be somewhat deceptive: R&B keys, trumpet, and whispered vocals power this tune, but this deconstructed/experimental take on the genre is like no R&B track you’ve ever heard. For adventurous fans.

 

Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service releases today!

May 15, 2013

NeverGiveUp

The Postal Service’s Give Up has been hugely influential in my music-reviewing life, so it is with great pleasure that I can announce today’s release of Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of The Postal Service! It is exclusively available at the Independent Clauses Bandcamp.

This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.

The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ’em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.

Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service

Folk side
1. The Collection – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
2. Venna – “Such Great Heights
3. Seven Handle Circus – “Such Great Heights
4. Andrea Caccese (of I Used to Be a Sparrow and Songs for the Sleepwalkers) – “Sleeping In
5. The Duke of Norfolk – “Nothing Better
6. The Lion of Tallasi – “Recycled Air
7. The Parmesans – “Clark Gable
8. Jenny and Tyler – “We Will Become Silhouettes
9. Carl Hauck – “This Place is a Prison
10. The Noise Revival Orchestra – “Brand New Colony
11. The Midnight Sons – “Natural Anthem

Indie-pop side
1. Fairmont – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
2. Kris Orlowski – “Such Great Heights
3. The Lovely Few – “Sleeping In
4. Oh Look Out – “Nothing Better
5. Josh Caress (of Come On Pilgrim!) – “Recycled Air
6. Dr. Pants – “Clark Gable
7. Young Readers – “We Will Become Silhouettes
8. Western Romantic – “This Place Is a Prison
9. Decent Lovers & Seer Group – “Brand New Colony
10. Gregory Pepper & His Problems – “Natural Anthem

Top 20 albums of the year: 20-11

December 31, 2012

Independent Clauses is somewhat of an alternate universe when it comes to music reviewing. I rarely cover the hip bands, often love things no one else does, and generally attempt to be true to what I hear. If there’s a radar to be on or under, we’re hanging out on a different screen altogether. This is more by happenstance than choice: I never set out to be contrarian. And I don’t feel like a curmudgeonly naysayer of popular music, as you’ll see tomorrow. I just have a different lens than many people. Here’s the view from that lens.

20. Summer of Sam – A-Okay. Lo-fi acoustic goodness that rings honest and true.

19. Ithica – St. Anselm’s Choir. I’m consistently amazed at this band’s ability to wring heartbreaking beauty out of what is basically industrial music.

18. Chris North – Lovedream. Angelic reverie comes via a bunch of guitar pedals, acoustic guitars and arresting vocals.

17. Andrea Caccese’s collected output: Songs for the Sleepwalkers’ Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions and I Used to Be a Sparrow’s Luke. One man’s vision, applied to an ambient project and a indie-rock project that countered the ambience with an anthemic, U2-esque bent.

16. Elijah Wyman/Jason Rozen’s collective output: Tiny Mtns/The Seer Group/Decent Lovers. What started out as the artsy electro-pop project Tiny Mtns split into a heavily artsy electro project (The Seer Group) and a heavily artsy pop project (Decent Lovers), with the two splitting the tracks between them. Except when both kept a track and reworked it to their likings. Did I mention that this one time, one of these guys gave the other a kidney? Now you see why they get one mention.

15. Superstar Runner – Heritage/Lineage/Hand-Me Downs/Scars (Your Birthmarks Do Not Bother Me). Songwriters that forge their own path get remembered by someone. The size of that group determines their popularity, and I hope that this incredibly titled record has gotten Superstar Runner remembered by a lot more people for his unusual arrangements and song structures.

14. 4H Royalty – Where UFOs Go To Die. Hands down, the best lyrics of the year are here in this country/rock album.

13. Autumn Owls – Between Buildings, Toward the Sea. Radiohead? Is that you? No? Hey, whoa, I meant it as a compliment! But seriously, this band is thoughtful in composition and lyric, for a head-spinning, enveloping release.

12. The Parmesans – Uncle Dad’s Cabin EP. One of my favorite new bands of the year, this bluegrass outfit has serious chops to go along with its goofy demeanor.

11. Young Readers – Family Trees EP. I haven’t been floored as hard by an opening track all year as I was by “All I Have.” Beautiful whisper-folk in the vein of old-school Iron and Wine.

I Used to Be a Sparrow combines post-rock, dream-pop and indie-rock to great result

June 10, 2012

I’m showing up late to The Naked and the Famous’ album Passive Me Aggressive You because I agreed with the naysayers who thought “Young Blood” sounded like second-rate Passion Pit. But since I ran across the much more subtle and interesting “Girls Like You” and “Punching In,” I’ve been hooked on the band’s sound. I even like “Young Blood” more, because I know that it’s backed up with nuance, as opposed to cash-in, rip-off glee. Official apology complete.

Bands that can pull off glee and nuance with equal passion are of deep interest to me, which is why TNATF and I Used to Be a Sparrow both have been piquing my interest recently. The duo named I Used to Be a Sparrow hails from Sweden, composed of IC fave Andrea Caccese (Songs for the Sleepwalkers) and Dick Pettersson. Caccese brings thoughtful post-rock/dream-pop influences from his previous work to their debut Luke, while Pettersson contributes an upbeat indie-rock aesthetic reminiscent of Frightened Rabbit. The result is an optimistic, energetic, beautiful album with plenty of room to grow.

The album has a lot of musical touchpoints: the churning post-rock of Sigur Ros has some pull on the sound, while the heavily rhythmic beauty of their lead singer Jonsi’s work figures in (“Lovers on the Moon”). The optimistic mysticism of ’80s U2 (optimysticism?) influences some of the guitar work (“Cambodia,” especially), while the passionate charge of Scott Hutchison’s Frightened Rabbit is unavoidable to mention (“Cambodia,” again). Their more anthemic turns call up Kings of Leon and U2 again.

So is this a derivative mess? No, not at all. The touchstones never devolve into aping another’s sound, because the dream-pop, post-rock and indie-rock ideas are all pulling on each other at the same time. The best example of this is the title track: “Luke” starts off with a wall of squalling guitars and feedback before fading the noise into a dreamy, patterned electronic rhythm and four-part vocal chorus. The background drops out, leaving just the transcendent vocals. It’s an odd tune, but an endearing one, because the vocals are just so good. The song ends, seguing into “Give It Up,” which is an acoustic track of sorts.

The best of the tunes here are idiosyncratic like “Luke.” “Smoke” starts off with a chiming mellophone, introduces some interesting rhythmic patterns, and then augments the construction with a stomping, four-on-the-floor drumbeat. “Lovers on the Moon” builds from an acoustic guitar and distant “ooo” into a unique tune complete with shakers, toms, and screaming guitar. “Give It Up” builds an acoustic track out into a darker mood, again with fitting drumming and evocative guitar.

When I Used to Be a Sparrow pushes the “anthemic” button too often, though, things start to get less easily discernable from each other. “Copenhagen” and “Life is Good” sound a lot like each other; “Hawaii” is not that far off. The songs aren’t bad, but they’re repetitive. (Of the three, “Life is Good” sounds like the original, and the other two the copies.) “Moby Dick,” one of the more memorable vocal melodies on the album, owes a debt to the Passion Pit/The Naked and the Famous school. (Which, I suppose, is a good or bad thing, depending.)

Caccese is starting a habit of doing one-off projects, but I hope this is one that he sticks with. The things that he and Pettersson bring to the table make for a unique blend of nuance, passion and enthusiasm. With some more songwriting under their collective belt, I Used to Be a Sparrow could be something really great. Tunes like “Luke” and “Lovers on the Moon” already prove that their vision is an interesting and unique one. Here’s to hoping they refine and mature it, because I would love to hear more of this.

Birds walking, and a gorilla

February 27, 2012

Here are three poignant videos from bands with bird names, and one awesome one from a band with a gorilla name.


Watch the full video at Baeblemusic.com

The Wooden Birds know their sound perfectly: “Long Time to Lose It” is the second pitch-perfect music video they’ve released from their latest album Two Matchsticks. It features a woman walking calmly around in the beautiful wilderness, as well as a stop at an interesting house. It is beautiful.

“Life is Good” by I Used to Be a Sparrow is ascendant, triumphant indie-rock that recalls everyone and no one. The band features Andrea Caccese of Swedish post-rock band Songs for the Sleepwalkers, and a wintry, elegant Swedish landscape gets significant play in the clip. Despite the enthusiastic musical charge and beautiful visuals, the narrative is pretty heavy.

About “The Clearing” by Bowerbirds from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.

Keeping the heavy theme, here’s a mini-documentary from Bowerbirds. It’s about how they got back together, recorded an album and built a house. It is visually incredible, and the music is equally sonically amazing.

Great parodies sneak up on you, and the video for The Gorilla Press’s mega-fantastic “On Fire” is a great parody of music videos and Kung Fu action. I love the ending sequence.

Songs for the Sleepwalkers release beautiful, wintry tunes upon us

January 10, 2012

Here in Auburn, Ala., winter is a color and not a weather pattern. The 40-60 degree temperatures are not much colder than “fall” or “spring,” but the sky turns (and apparently stays) various shades of gray. From ivory to gunmetal, it’s all washed out, all the time. This, however, is the perfect situation to hear Songs for the SleepwalkersOur Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions.

I’m willing to bet it’s gray a lot of the time in Lake Mälaren, Sweden, where bandleader Andrea Caccese and his cohorts probably see a lot more snow than Auburn does to create the color. The de-centered, dreamy feeling that comes from not seeing the natural color of the sky is at least an analogue and perhaps a motivator to these delicate, unusual tunes.

Fellow cold-weather dreamers Sigur Ros provide a fine starting point for discussion of Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions. Beauty-minded arrangments, atypical song structures and uniquely transcendent moods are shared goals between them; while the tunes of Sigur Ros can ratchet up to an impressive roar from their starting point, the songs of SFTS often dissipate into a wispy haze. To that end, it’s probably more fair to call SFTS post-pop than post-rock; it does not appear that the members aspire to rock in any way, although people who are fond of post-rock will be quite understanding of what the band is trying to do. “Down the Line” is built off a gently strummed acoustic guitar, a shaker egg and strings; it measures its own weight by fading in and out through the song, then abruptly ending. It’s not constructed in any specifically defined way; it meanders about at its own pace, keeping its own counsel.

But where the gray winter provides a downward slope into disappointment, the songs of SFTS have a levity about them that precludes a doleful interpretation. Keeping the listener off-balance with the unique song structures is their first tactic, while creating carefully arranged moods is the second: note the use of barely-distorted electric guitar on “We Are Still Here” and the depth of field in the arrangement of standout “Tell Me How.” In an era where post-rock is defined by the dichotomies of loud/soft, fast/slow, and heavy/delicate, it’s refreshing to hear a take that blissfully ignores all pretense of what “should” be done. The wordless, cascading “Asleep” is the best example of this, and putting an acoustic guitar and voice track (“What If I Do”) at the end is certainly another tally mark under that category.

Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions does feel spontaneous, but not in the hyperactive sense of my connotation. These are tunes that feel like the audio equivalent of drawing directly from subconscious: raw, but not in a calculated way; honest, but not in a truly focused way. The meandering aspect (Caccese describes it as “like a drunk man staggering over here and there”) is the element that most surprises and delights. Here’s to hoping Songs for The Sleepwalkers’ work never sobers up, and we hear more beautiful tunes like these in the future.

Andrea Caccese's Scandinavian folk EP is a gorgeous stunner

April 10, 2011

So much of what makes it out of Scandinavia is just beautiful. Swedish musician Andrea Caccese‘s Icarus Falling/Set the World on Fire EP falls neatly in that description.

He makes gentle, stark acoustic tracks that are just gorgeous. “Set the World on Fire” is a slowly picked acoustic tune with a cello swooning throughout. Caccese’s surprisingly solid vocals follow the direction of the instruments, creating a mesmerizing piece that is perfect to fall asleep to (if you can fall asleep in just under three minutes).

But if you hadn’t fallen asleep yet, the delicate “Playing With Ghosts” gives you two extra minutes of toy piano, reverb and atmosphere. It’s not a “song” in the pure sense of the word; it’s a two minute mood experiment. It’s like a deep breath of fresh air. It just feels right.

The one slip-up here is the end of “Stars and Satellites,” which transforms from a Bon Iver/Damien Jurado depresso-folk tune into a screeching wail with an electric guitar rush. It horribly clashes with the rest of the song, and the rest of the album. I wish I could edit the distortion out of the song, actually; the rest of the tune is a highlight on the album.

But other than that one slip-up, Andrea Caccese’s debut four-song EP is a gorgeous stunner. I’m hungrily looking forward to his next release. You can stream and download the EP for free here.

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

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