Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

MP3s: Left Right Left Right

April 12, 2015

Left Right Left Right

1. “Make Me Wanna Die” – White Reaper. If Oasis had been playing at 40 bpms faster and way thrashier, you’d end up with this catchy, snarling, fun track.

2. “Hard 2 Wait” – Iji. My first thought when I get a pseudo-disco tune is not, “Oh yeah, that’s my jam.” But somehow, Iji has won me over with this charming retro nugget. It helps that the disco is fused to a San Fran indie-pop sort of sensibility.

3. “Punk Band” – Conrad. Actually a synth-pop band with some chillwave inflections and post-punk rumbling bass singing about a punk band. Joins “The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton” in the “odes to other genres” genre. It’s pretty great.

4. “Oh Josephine” – Vienna Ditto. Pulling back from their brittle ways, but not their noir drama ones, Ditto delivers a smooth, sultry indie-rock cut with a hint of trip-hop glamour to it.

5. “Bibleblack (demo)” – Autumn Owls. That sort of ominous, artsy, glitchy rock that Radiohead burst into the public consciousness is on display here. AO is following up on their debut of dark, melodic indie-rock with a new album later this year (after their lead singer recovers from–oh no!–a mugging).

6. “Asleep in the Pine” – Birds of Night. Do you remember that moment when Band of Horses was the biggest thing going? Birds of Night totally do.

7. “Aleph” – Battle Ave. The band’s raw, frantic rock has met atmosphere and jangle since we last heard it, resulting in less panic and more mumbly confidence (is that a paradox/oxymoron?). New York cool permeates this tune, even though Upstate New York is part of their story instead of the city.

8. “Singing Tower” – R. Ring. Two rock vets team up for a poignant, delicate acoustic lament. Seems like if you can write a song somewhere, you can write a song in a lot of places.

9. “Kote’w Te Ye” – Beken. Sometimes a song comes along that’s so fresh, warm, and bright that it just lifts the clouds of whatever’s going on. The raspy, gravitas-laden voice of Haitian Beken, who sings in Kreyol, is accompanied by an easygoing group of male singers, tom-heavy percussion, and a lively acoustic guitar.

June/July Singles: Loud

July 20, 2013

So I didn’t post much in June, so all of the June singles are getting posted now. This means that instead of one mix, there are two: a loud one and a quiet one. I’ll start today with the loud one.

June/July: Loud

1. “Strange Thing” – DL Rossi. Pedro the Lion has left few followers in the emotive alt-rock space, but DL Rossi is a welcome addition to the space. He also brings in Bazan’s qualms with Christianity, although Rossi seems to hold fast to the tenets of the faith while contending with some practices of Christianity. Also, he has a Mumford-ian penchant for dramatic f-bombing.
2. “Glaciers” – The Trouble Starts. Daniel G. Harmann has completed his transition from bedroom indie-pop hero to rock band by dropping his name off the front of the group. Here’s a roiling, churning example of the newly-christened group’s output. Foo Fighters’ fans will approve.
3. “All the Lights in New York” – Autumn Owls. The fractured folk of Autumn Owls casts its foggy, urban, streetlight glow on you. You smile uncertainly, and step forward into the gloom. (Grab the download here.)
4. “We Are the Dreamers” – The Stargazer Lilies. Shoegazer Lilies, maybe, plus some Portishead dread and staccato stomp. Overall, a very different dream than Teen Daze’s chillwave dreaming. But still quite engaging!
5. “Be Someone” – Post War Years. The Postal Service + Passion Pit = Post War Years. Clicky, hooky, fun, and now with 100% more xylophone!
6. “Cut Free” – The Alibis. Yo, this ’90s-style Brit-pop track is all about the excellent bass player. I look forward to more fascinating work from this band.
7. “Bystander” – Shotgun No Blitz. Shotgun No Blitz might be the best possible pop-punk name, calling up youthful games, playful but aggressive contact, friendly agreement, and speed. And the spread offense, which I just like.
8. “We’re the Kids” – Parade of Lights. New formula for massive single: use the word kids, employ that specific synth noise, and crank the bass. MONEY.

Premiere: Autumn Owls' "Spider"

March 8, 2013

Autumn Owls describe their sound as “deconstructed folk,” but their Between Buildings, Toward the Sea sounds more like Radiohead than folk. Little did I know that they were actually describing their method, not their end result: the band wrote all the songs on acoustic guitar, then transformed them into the pieces on the album. (It appears that they are even more “thoughtful in composition” than I realized when I named them to my Best of 2012 list!) They’re showing the other side of the coin now, by releasing the whole album in acoustic form under the title The Long Way Around. I am thrilled, because folk is largely what we do here.

Even more exciting is that I have the honor of debuting a free download of “Spider.” The acoustic version takes the cold, haunting, glitchy soundscape of the BBTTS version and humanizes the longing of the tune through a renewed prominence on the vocals. It’s a compelling tune in both renditions, showing off different aspects of the song.

Download “Spider (Acoustic).”

You can check out the album on iTunes or wait for the whole thing to be released via blogs (like this one!) or the forthcoming app. You can check Autumn Owls‘ website to get the skinny on the next blogs that will be hosting the free tracks. I think this is a really cool project by a great band, so I’m all for this.

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.

A new definition of post-rock

November 12, 2012

There’s already a genre called post-rock, but I think that’s not thinking big enough about the term. Post-rock implies an ideology shift, a movement past whatever “rock” meant. While the genre that includes Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Tortoise, and Mogwai definitely was one of the earliest adapters of the “after rock” mindset, their cinematic music should not be allowed to lay claim to the whole of the term.

I hope we get to a day where every band is “post-rock,” and no band subscribes to the hollow myths of “rock” as they were once sold to us. The part of the rock mythos that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is the big rock move: the idea that a big guitar riff is its own explanation. (Think of “Immigrant Song” or “Thunderstruck” for the best examples of this, or any hair metal song for average to poor examples of this idea.)

The antithesis of the big rock move is thoughtful consideration of how riffs work together with other things as part of songwriting, not necessarily to rock less, but to mean things. In a sense, thoughtful consideration of riffs may even cause them to rock more, because “meaning something” often produces a more real emotional connection with listeners than a big rock move and thereby heightens the pleasure of experiencing the riff.

Here are three bands that are thinking about how riffs combine with other things to make meaning, even though none of the three would be in the “post-rock” genre. (There are also a whole boatload of sociological ideas associated with the “rock star” that I’m thrilled to see go the way of the buffalo, but they are for another day.)

Autumn OwlsBetween Buildings, Toward the Sea is a spiritual descendant of Radiohead’s OK Computer. Radiohead’s masterpiece subverted big riff rock by making the monster guitar licks serve the moods they wanted (mindless and frantic in “Paranoid Android,” grating and brittle in “Electioneering”), and Autumn Owls do the same thing. The angular, slightly dissonant guitarwork in opener “Semaphores” fluctuates between nervous uncertainty and frightened certainty, situating the listener right in the middle of Autumn Owls’ ideas. Autumn Owls’ instrumentals and vocals have a symbiotic relationship, with the oft-deadpan vocalist coming off like Cake frontman John McCrea fronting an apocalyptic art band instead of sardonic pop one.

The music, vocals and lyrics can’t be separated: the album is full of frightened surprise (see the lyrics and heavy guitar entrance in “Unconvinced”), malaise (note the gently rolling sounds and “ignore the tension” line in standout “Kiss the Wine”), and ominous confusion (the spiky, tense “Quarantine”). When they let the guitars go, they do so for a reason; when the drums rattle, there’s a reason for that. They don’t do things simply because that’s what rock does; they’ve put thought into every last bit of this album.

Between Buildings, Toward the Sea is an incredibly constructed record, full of intricate patterns and delicate touches. Whether it’s a guitar glitching (and there’s a lot of that), a voice being modified, or deceptively pretty melodies being eerily contrasted (“The Arched Pines”), Autumn Owls know what they’re doing. This is easily one of the best albums of the year.

I was searching for this application of the term post-rock when I reviewed both of Ithica‘s previous releases. Ithica creates beautiful tunes that float amorphously between genres: industrial beats, pretty synths, and deeply emotional vocal melodies create an unnameable amalgam. It results in beautiful, haunting music with real depth. St. Anselm’s Choir comes together flawlessly, as incisive lyrics are delivered by a vocalist with astonishing control of emotive tone and inflection over a brilliant soup of vocal samples, synthesizers, and drums. The songs are set up to have impact similar to rock songs, as “riffs” come in and then leave, giving way to verses and choruses. But the sounds that compose these structures are atypical, giving the tunes the unique quality of feeling altogether new and intimately familiar at the same time. I can’t speak highly enough about these six songs. Rare is the fully-realized vision that crosses my desk, but St. Anselm’s Choir is that unusual EP.

On first glance, The Foreign Resort‘s Scattered and Buried might seem an odd place to talk about the post-rock ethos: distorted bass and dark guitars abound. On the other hand, their sound is a Joy Division-esque new wave/post-punk one; both genres have a history of sticking it to the man.

But the thing that pointed out their diffidence toward the big rock move was how closely tied the vocal tone was to the timbre of the instruments. When the arrangement surges, so do the vocals; when the vocals tremble in uncertainty during “Lost My Way (2012),” so do the instruments. The frantic tempo and tough bass rhythms of “Buried” are mimicked by the vocals–or is it the opposite? That inability to determine which element is the most important is what makes this distinctly post-rock to me; the vocals aren’t serving the guitars, and the guitars aren’t serving the vocals. The song is all, and each of the elements contributes to that. This creates a wildly enjoyable set of tunes, from the fragile beauty of “Rocky Mountains” to the club-friendly synths of “Tide.” The remixes make the release even better. Highly recommended.

Nostalgia for a little-eulogized time

October 23, 2012

I had a strange life of music in the early 2000s; my listening habits tied together the fringes of the pop-punk, emo, pop-rock and acoustic scenes. Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good covers the general sound, but I listened to stuff that never made it to the radar. So my nostalgia is not for any particular band, but a sound, and City Reign has churning, yearning, melodic yelp of a sound.

Because I was (and still am) obsessed with Appleseed Cast’s “Fishing the Sky,” Deep Elm Records was a staple of my listening in the early 2000s. They’re offering their whole catalog of releases for $5 each for the rest of the year. Top picks: Too Young to Die sampler, There Should Be More Dancing by Free Diamonds, Mare Vitalis by Appleseed Cast, We’ve Built Up to NOTHING by 500 Miles to Memphis. But there are literally dozens of gems in their catalog, so you should just go nuts.

Autumn Owls’ video for “Byways of the Lifeless” caused me to realize that by the mid-2000s, most videos stopped having their credits in the bottom left corner at the beginning. The fact that this one does was a blast from the past in the best way. Also, the hectic sense of motion is reminiscent of early 2000s videos.

Odds'n'ends jam

October 9, 2012

John Hodgman isn’t primarily a musician, although he did introduce They Might Be Giants on their tour dates for a while. Still, I thought his new paperback edition of That Is All was pretty funny, so I reviewed it here.

Lindby, who I recently wrote about, is celebrating Leif Erikson Day (today! Happy LED!) by giving away their album free. If you’re into hilarious, stream-of-consciousness pop music, you’ll be into it.

Mini-Mix:

1. “Love You the Most” – The Shams. A timeless recipe: Country music + Rock’n’roll + touring = Ramblin’ Southern rock.
2. “The Road” – Nicolette Good. Evocative vocals, intriguing lyrics, and timeless instrumentation: This is the way I imagine country music.
3. “Patterns” – Autumn Owls. Crunchy, angular indie-rock reminiscent of Radiohead’s more personable moments and Menomena’s intensely structured early work.

You know what happened 20 years ago? The ’90s. Cub Scouts thinks that means nostalgia for the decade is primed to show up right about now:

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

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