Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

May Singles: Indie Rock

May 4, 2016

1. “e. silver” – Roco. Noises, riffs, rhythms, and vocals collide in atypical ways, creating an exciting, “what will happen next?” environment. Sort of like The Avalanches, or weird trip-hop, or a Beck fever dream, or none of the above.

2. “Where I’ll Be Waiting” – Why We Run. This Snow Patrol-esque tune that falls between alt-rock and indie-rock rides a memorable guitar riff with an engaging guitar tone. The tune’s about a friend with a mental illness, which many of us can relate to.

3. “Permission” – Slow Falling Sun. If you’re into ’90s Britpop, you need to be listening to this bouncy track.

4. “Fatal Vision” – Brice Randall Bickford. Bickford uses his smooth baritone to turn out a vulnerable, engaging vocal performance. His voice leads the way through this almost-weightless, pristinely recorded indie rock tune that will be appreciated by fans of Spoon.

5. “The Great Attractor” – Qualms. Big, round bass and an attractive variety of synth sounds build out this midtempo tune; the vocals ride the waves nicely. Comes out like some mix between Spiritualized and Manchester Orchestra.

6. “The Blue Hour” – Brand New Moon. BNM fuses folk, slowcore electro, and trip-hop to create a unique, fascinating, imaginative track.

7. “Books for the Holidays” – Halcyon Drive. Hits you with the Antlers-style blue-eyed soul/R&B vibe that’s so popular right now, then shifts gears with a ratatat snare into a charging, Bloc Party-esque rock tune without changing vocal style. Now that’s a hook.

8. “Imaginary You (feat. Stahalamora)” – Lyfe Indoors. Ambient? Chillwave? Found sound? Whatever you want to call this, it’s got admirable movement, melody, and arrangement skills. Chill, hypnotizing, mesmerizing.

EPs: Cassorla / Haring

July 15, 2015

cassorla

Cassorla‘s The Right Way is a quirky vision of pop music that draws on ’80s radio pop, skittering lo-fi electro-pop, and early ’00s bedroom pop like Aqueduct (new album coming soon!). I’ve already compared the title track to Steve Miller Band (and found out via Twitter that indeed, SMB is an influence); similar to ’80s pop giants, Cassorla creates wide sonic spaces by playing with reverbed vocals, electronic rhythmic elements, piano (“Our Power”), and herky-jerky starts and stops.

The electronics here, though, aren’t huge synths, but low-key beats reminiscent of The Postal Service et al. This isn’t electro-pop in any modern sense: it’s pop music that happens to engulf elements of electro, along with guitar, piano, and miscellaneous bouncy noises (“Be On”).

The four-song set passes by warmly, capped off by “Start Your Engines.” The closer elevates the beats (humorously, but not entirely incorrectly, tagged as “trap”) to the prime spot of the tune, with a laconic guitar line taking a backseat. Cassorla unspools a Beck-ian speak-sing on top of the brew, giving another lens through which to read these songs. Regardless of inspiration or point of connection, those with a yen for mid-tempo, unassuming pop music will enjoy The Right Way.

haring

My love affair with chillwave is somewhat my like my continued dedication to the reverse-chronological blog form: I loved it when everyone else loved it, and then I still loved it when it wasn’t cool anymore, and then I loved it when most people had stopped talking about it either way. Haring‘s Late Night Dream almost certainly has been assigned cooler descriptors than chillwave, but it fits so squarely in the sonic center of what the genre was/is about that I can’t help but say so. From the loopy, warm synths to the gentle underlying beats to the patient melodies to the overall summery mood, this could have been right there with Washed Out in the heyday.

The title track plays with needly synth notes in a way evocative of Teen Daze; “Floating Out to Me” inserts a section of frantic rhythms before dropping back to tubular-sounding synth grounding. The opening of “All I Can Give” turns trumpeting, grainy synths from celebratory to hazy/pensive with a neat arpeggiator crescendo. It resolves into a but of a thumping beat, which is cool–this is where whatever term people are using these days may get applied. Vocals are given a turn in closer “Time (feat. La Petite Rouge),” which returns to the sonic equivalent of floating on your back in a sunny pond. All the tunes here are commendable, but this one’s layering and vocal melodies make it particularly memorable. Haring’s Late Night Dream is a luscious, relaxing EP.

May MP3s: Indie-pop/acoustic

June 4, 2015

1. “Goldface” – Tussilago. This indie-pop tune just feels effortless: Tussilago slides along with a bass groove, a low-key dance vibe, and a great melody. It’s the sort of song that you forget when you heard it the first time: it seems timeless, like it’s always been there.

2. “Break the Chain” – Ultimate Painting. Classic popcraft here, hearkening back to songsmiths like McCartney, Lennon, and Nilsson.

3. “No More Hits” – The ZZips. Do you miss slacker acoustic/funk/groove Beck? Hit up the ZZips, who clearly do as well: the clattering beats and gentle acoustic guitar come together via the funky bass and chiming electric guitar.

4. “Firefly” – Jeremy Bass. The press for this says bossa nova, but all I hear is smooth, gentle acoustic pop with a genuine, earnest vocal performance. It sounds like the sun was shining when he wrote this one.

5. “A Weaker One” – The Henrys. Sometimes I just like a song, and don’t want to kill it with definition. Chill out to this calm, excellent acoustic tune.

6. “Mountain” – Crooked House Road. I know Mumford & Sons kinda killed the market on indie-rock/folk fusions, but I’m surprised that more people haven’t taken Nickel Creek’s bluegrass/indie-rock fusion route. Crooked House Road goes that direction, adding in some klezmer flair and dramatic female lead vocals as well.

7. “Austin” – Tyler Boone. There’s some sweet pedal steel action on this modern country tune, featuring (who else?) a down-and-out narrator.

8. “Eastern Time” – Runner of the Woods. Here’s a tune that appeals to all the old-school country vibes that it can: weeping pedal steel, plain vocals, and bouncy piano (with some John Denver twinkles thrown in). It comes together into a swaying, smile-inducing whole.

9. “Our Garden” by Fox Street. If Ray LaMontagne got a little more Needtobreathe Southern rock in his blood, he could have written this tune. Passionate, raspy vocals meet wailing organ in a mid-tempo ballad.

10. “Too Little Too Late” – Mi’das. I’ve been getting a ton of soulful songs thrown my way recently. Mi’das stands above the pack by deliveringĀ not just his vocals but his expressive guitar playing.

11. “Money in the Evenings” – Hermit’s Victory. This white-boy slow jam has a Iron & Wine rustic feel (just the vibe, not the arrangement), while maintaining its own flavor through the accents and Tyler Bertges’ unusual, carefree vocals.

12. “Tz, Ka” – Inner Tongue. MoreĀ soulful slow jams, but with some major synth contributions that give this also a bit of a dance vibe. It’s, at least, super re-mix ready. The head-bobbing vibe is hard to beat on this one.

13. “Sadie” – Gold Star. Slurry, emotional, and passionate, this vocals-led tune dances around the genres of country, slow-core, and singer/songwriter. Whatever you call it, it grabbed my attention immediately.

EP: Brother Moses

March 12, 2015

brothermoses

Brother MosesThanks For All Your Patience is the sound of slackers who listened to a lot of Beck and the chill parts of Modest Mouse growing up. I mean that literally and figuratively; the lyrics explain the foibles and fears of maturing (just check the titles “Older,” “Wake You Up,” “Eyes Open”), while the music is a refined take on minimalist indie rockers like Spoon.

The line “I’m tired of sleeping in” from “Wake You Up” pretty much sums up the EP lyrically, as Moses Gomez’s lyrics all have to do with that process (sometimes a single sudden moment, sometimes several years’ worth of stuff) where you realize that you’re an adult and you have responsibilities. It’s the soundtrack of the mid-to-late ’20s in 2015. The lyrics are tight and quotable; they’ll appeal to people in that process, as well as people looking back on it.

The music is a streamlined, bouncy, minimalist form of indie rock that relies heavily on the interplay of the easygoing baritone, wiry guitar, rubbery bass, and tasteful drums. Sometimes this takes the form of The Walkmen-esque towers of hollowed-out guitar sound (“Wake You Up”) and sometimes there’s a hectic mashup between all the parts (“Eyes Open”), but most often Brother Moses isolates one aspect of the sound and features it against a backdrop of space (“Older,” “Hopeless”). “Older” takes its cues from a warm-yet-staccato synth, rim-rapping percussion, and occasional guitar to build an infectious, enigmatically beautiful tune. The parts are all there (this isn’t totally minimalist work), but there aren’t a lot of overt rock moves here. There’s a lot more warm vibe and unique mood-building going on.

That’s the thing that sticks the most from Thanks for All Your Patience: the lyrics are memorable, the melodies are tight, and the instrumental work is solid, but the overall mood of the piece is its greatest takeaway. (Slackers trying to grow up don’t necessarily get 100% business-like, at least not all at once.) The work here is strong, high-quality work, yet it’s all read through an easygoing, relaxed perspective. You can get old and not grow up, but you can also grow up and not become stodgy. Brother Moses’ Thanks for All Your Patience is a remarkable debut EP that leaves a big impression.

Premiere: Ancient Cities’ “Werewolf”

July 29, 2014

Ancient Cities - Ancient Cities

I’m always honored when I get asked to premiere tracks, but I don’t often do it–I want to be fully behind a band before I put my seal of approval on it. But there’s a premiere today, because I am 100% behind Charlotte, North Carolina’s Ancient Cities.

Ancient Cities’ “Werewolf” is a complex tune that deceives you into thinking it’s not as difficult as it is. Songwriter Stephen Warwick deftly balances gentle acoustic guitar, walloping drums, lazy horns, reverb-washed tenor vocals, and warbly synth in a way that makes each of those disparate parts feel like a natural part of the arrangement. In lesser hands, it could be a mishmash, but Warwick’s arrangement gives each instrument space to be itself. The song comes together, and it seems obvious. Of course it’s supposed to sound like that. (But it didn’t have to–that’s the magic.)

This excellent songwriting is capped by a deft production job that keeps the “laid-back cool” vibe going throughout the entire song. Beck would be proud. “Werewolf” draws from folk, trip-hop, the Gorillaz, and heavily-arranged singer/songwriter fare to create something beyond all of that. “Werewolf” is a fascinating, memorable track that I bet you’ll want to push repeat on.

Ancient Cities’ self-titled record is out today, so jump on over to Bandcamp and check out the rest of this intriguing, complex album.

5 MP3s

March 27, 2014

Busy day: here are some MP3s to get you through it.

1. “Tom Hanks” – Their Planes Will Block Out the Sun. With new members comes a new sound: Their Planes replaced their lead singer with a guy/girl duo, and it gives the sound a warmth that was never before a priority. It’s still got some icy, spiky edges to the indie rock, but those edges are significantly ground down. Very appealing track from Their Planes.

2. “Only Your Love” – Bondage and Discipline. Mid-80s pop that gives equal time to sequencers and piano. Summertime is coming!

3. “Dograces” – Dub Thompson. Beck? Is that you? Did you eat a garage-rock band? Are you collaborating with the Beastie Boys? What is happening? Are you okay?

4. “New Wave” – Varsity. Female-fronted guitar-pop at its most infectious. Get happy, y’all.

5. “Letters” – Nick Foster. Bright, earnest pop-folk with gospel influences? Yes, please.

Alt-country + alt-rock = Man Made Sea

November 7, 2011

A quintessential staple of ’90s rock was the slacker who sounded as if the song he was singing was all that was worth getting excited about in the world. Man Made Sea takes that mentality and runs with it, adding in a liberal dose of alt-country to create a laconic yet engaging sound for the 15 minutes of Super Saver.

The band opens with “Devil,” which is a walking-pace country tune that gets swallowed up by ’90s distortion. It’s an ear-catching opener, subverting expectations at every turn. The title track is a slower take on the same sound that’s short enough to get by on the ominous vocal performance and nostalgia factor. It’s “Hammer” where the band finally lets it rip: Vocal hooks galore traipse about on top of a backdrop that perfectly meshes the sweeping feel of alt-country to the slacker ideals of Weezer’s era. The song builds to all sorts of excellent at the end of the track, and it’s easily the best track here.

After a too-’90s Beck-ian tune (“Heart of a Grizzly”), the band closes up shop with the acoustic “Holmes Sweet Holmes,” which fits quite well. The song lands somewhere between Joseph Arthur and Alexi Murdoch on the chill-ometer.

Man Made Sea has an easily likable sound and songwriting chops to pull it off. You’ll be rocking out to “Devil,” humming “Hammer” and putting “Holmes Sweet Holmes” on mixtapes for girls, and as I’ve noted before, those are pretty much the three best reasons I listen to music. That’s a trifecta for Man Made Sea and a win for you, if you check the band out.

The Hotel Chronicles' unique industrial/rock vision now includes hip-hop and electronica

March 20, 2010

One of the joys of being around for almost a full seven years (secret: keep your eyes peeled for a 7-year birthday present soon!) is that I can follow artists through their careers. We’ve covered every single Felix Culpa release except for their debut three-way-split EP. We’ve covered half a dozen Fairmont releases. We’ve covered just about as many Marc with a C albums. Green Song is the fourth release that’s associated with musician E Deubner that we’ve covered – two solo albums and an album by his band Futants preceded this latest solo effort. This is his first under moniker The Hotel Chronicles.

One of the reasons it’s so fun to cover artists over the long range is that artists grow and change. It’s neat to see where an artist was, where an artist is, and where an artist is (maybe?) going. That’s what makes Green Song especially interesting to me. When I reviewed The Wasted Creator in 2006, Deubner was cranking out heavy, industrial-influenced rock tracks that had almost zero pop influence. Over the years, Deubner’s aesthetic has refined and changed, although never losing the core of dark, distorted, truly alternative rock.

Green Song is the strongest effort that Deubner has put out yet, because like Grant Valdes, Deubner has put his focus squarely on composing and not on becoming a rock star. I’m not sure what the green song that he’s singing about is, but it’s referenced at the beginning, middle and end of the album. The decision to tie the album together thematically also causes Deubner to tie the album together musically, making one of his most ambitious but most cohesive collections of songs yet. Deubner stretches his musical boundaries by including burbling ’80s-style electronica (“Intermission”), Beck-style hip-hop (“My Baby’s Coming Home”), and modern beat-making production (“Love Me, Leave Me”) in his dark, vaguely apocalyptic rock this time around.

Green Song isn’t for the unadventurous. Deubner’s aesthetic, while honed on this album, is still not within the realms recognized as modern rock. If you approach this thinking it’s a Nine Inch Nails sound-a-like, there’s a good chance you will be disappointed. You might not; there is definitely industrial influence that an open-minded NIN fan could enjoy. Songs like “Just for Fun Fun Baby, Run Run Run” and “Green Song Part II” rock out in a way that calls to mind his work with Futants, and those are two tracks that could be enjoyed by many.

But for every accessible riff (like the great opener of “A Minute to Love”), there’s two or three things that would never see the light of radio (like the simultaneous weird falsettos, quaalude guitar tempo, and old-school hip-hop beat of “Love Me, Leave Me”). For every accessible tune like “A Minute to Love,” there’s the late-night basement experimentation of title track “Green Song” and “The Final Push.” This is the way E Deubner wants it, and while not every one of his ideas succeeds (“Reborn” has an awful vocal performance that dooms it instantaneously), he is hitting with a higher level of success than on previous releases.

E Deubner’s Green Song is a solid statement from an artistic with a unique aesthetic. The rock/industrial/other presented here is the work of an artist continually refining his sound. This is a big step forward, but not his final destination. There are a lot of new elements introduced to his sound on this album that will need to see refining in future albums, just as his guitar riffs have. I can’t wait to see where he goes next. Recommended for fans of industrial, experimental rock or experimental music in general.

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

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