Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Loyal Wife throws down passionate riffs and pensive emotions

April 5, 2012

One of my favorite albums is Before Braille‘s 2004 EP Cattle Punching on a Jackrabbit, which features masterful rock tunes like “New Vein/Proventil” and “Well as Well.” It was one of the first albums I covered for Independent Clauses that I truly loved, with the other being Novi Split’s Keep Moving. I still listen to both frequently.

Before Braille met its demise in 2006, but frontman David Jensen moved on to other projects. I missed two albums under the name Art for Starters, but I’m back on board for his project Loyal Wife. Faux Light is the debut album for that project, and it doesn’t disappoint. The main elements of Before Braille’s sound are present, as well as growth.

Before Braille was an emo/rock band comparable to a thinking man’s Jimmy Eat World. The guitars were riff-heavy, and Jensen howled with a righteous fury against the ills and travails of the world. But lyrical, rhythmic and textural complexity set them apart from the pack. And so it is with Loyal Wife; there are riffing guitars, and there are some howling vocals—but there’s a lot more going on than just that.

A lot happens to mellow a man in eight years, and so tunes such as “Hold Up,” “GodSlight,” and “In Trouble” show a pensive side to Jensen that wasn’t on display in the frenzied Cattle Punching. “Hold Up” is one of the high points of the record, a stark acoustic tune that nails that rare space where honesty and tunefulness mix. It’s raw, but it’s not weepy or overdramatic; there’s a dignity that remains as Jensen sings “If I hold up,” and that’s powerful.

“GodSlight” includes bells into the acoustic mix, resulting in a nice mix between indie sensibility and plaintive emotion. “In Trouble” is the best moment for Ashley Taylor, the female vocalist who provides another critical difference from Before Braille and Loyal Wife. Her vocals mesh perfectly with the arrangement, a sparse rock tune that relies on the space between instruments and interactions between the male and female vocals. Jensen and Taylor harmonize excellently together, and “In Trouble” is the overall highlight of the record due to its spotlighting of the duo.

The rock tunes here are solid as well. The doggedly rhythmic closer “Light Off” recalling the most brittle, brutal moments of Before Braille in the best way, while “Ivory” sets Taylor as the frontwoman against a pounding rock track (Jensen handles the vocals in the great breakdown riff). It’s passionate rock with a dark timbre but not a dark tone; it’s a rare middle-ground that Loyal Wife strikes, and I like that a great deal.

Loyal Wife’s Faux Light is an album of slowly-unfolding charms. After the immediate hit of “Hold Up” and “In Trouble,” the rest of the tunes here grew on me. It’s a definite progression, and one worth checking out. If you want passion in your rock and quiet tunes, Loyal Wife should be on your radar.

Only you can prevent Spotify from destroying music

August 2, 2011

I am not very often a commentator on “the music industry,” and it is even rarer that I dedicate space to negative trends. However, Spotify is an incredibly dangerous program that has distressing potential impact on not just independent music, but music in general.

For ten bucks a month, you can essentially stream any music, anywhere, anywhen. Spotify has 15 million tracks at its disposal, both new releases and old: it pretty much dumps all the popular music that’s ever existed into one big jukebox. (Remember EMF? Falco? Smalltown Poets? Before Braille?)

But because it’s streaming, it’s a pay-for-play system and not a purchasing system. Bands get paid $0.00029 per track streamed, or approximately 1/34th of a cent (based on 2010’s British information, because they’re hiding the new info). If Before Braille somehow managed to get 34,000 plays, (maybe) they’d get ten bucks. Before Braille’s “Red Tape” is 3:00; to get ten bucks off the song, it would have to be played for 102,000 minutes/1700 hours/70.8 days/10 weeks/2.5 months. I could put a song on repeat and leave it for almost a quarter of a year continuously before the band makes the same amount it can make selling one CD at a show.

Even the 12-second “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have to be played on repeat for 6800 minutes/113.33 hours/4.7 days before gaining $10. It’s not even worth it to game the system.

Record labels have been brought on board as part owners in the company in addition to royalty owners, most likely in an attempt to get them pushing the service too. If Spotify tries hard enough, they may shore up their own finances as well as the record labels’ – all while totally ignoring the finances of the people playing the instruments. And if you think major labels compensate artists fairly, apparently you haven’t been paying attention over the past twenty years.

But even more distressing than the fact that Spotify is very nearly legal piracy is the effect it will have on consumers of music. With Spotify set up to automatically withdraw money from subscribing users and considering how Americans carelessly spend money, people will not even realize they are paying for Spotify, and by extension, music. People will become accustomed to logging in to their computer and getting whatever music they want, guiltlessly, for “free.” I wouldn’t want to buy what’s available for free, either.

Even if Spotify crashes due to its unsustainable business plan, they may have fundamentally changed how people view music. People may have moved from seeing artists as creators that should be fairly compensated for their work to “MUSIC EXISTS EVERYWHERE OH WOW OH WOW IT’S FREE LET’S DAAAAANCE!!!”

So let’s recap. Spotify undermines artists on two levels: first by making sure that they can’t get paid fairly for streams of their music, and second by disinclining listeners to buy physical music instead of streaming. Artists only have two main streams of revenue: selling music and playing shows. If they make no money selling music, then the cost of shows will go up, because the costs associated with touring will be the same and artists will have to bankroll their next album off the tour money, because they can’t make money off their CD sales (ask a member of a low-level touring band how much money they make off the merch that isn’t CDs).

This is already taking into account that most artists have day jobs when they’re not on tour.

So if the cost of shows goes up (say, from $7 to $15, from $15 to $25, all the way up), that’s equals out to a cutting of the number of concerts that the average person can go to almost in half, without changing a budget. Even if a person still wants to support music, they’re going to have to be more stingy with the concerts they see. I shelled out $70 to go see Coldplay and then $10 to go see three local shows in one month; if the Coldplay ticket would have been $100, I would have either not bought the Coldplay ticket or not gone to three local shows. Either way, artists lose that fight.

Then it’s just a race to the finish at that point; as less people go to shows, ticket prices have to increase to keep bands on tour, making even fewer shows a reality for people. And with people listening to more music for free, how will they have a connection with anything enough to want to go to a show? Investing money in something causes a deeper appreciation for it; something that’s free and disposable isn’t treasured or valued as much as something we spend $10 or $20 to purchase.

I know this sounds dire, but how many albums have you listened to this year more than ten times? More than twenty? If people decrease their attachment level to bands because they’re getting the music for free, plus it’s expensive to go to shows, people will be very sparing with the shows on which they spend cash.

It’s already difficult for bands that aren’t huge to tour; this could kill mid-level touring (somewhere, the ghost of Black Flag is cursing loudly and punching things). And if bands can’t go on tour, how will they get discovered? Through the Internet?

If you place even more of a premium on blogs and other tastemaker discovery devices, yet don’t pay people who work them (RIP Paste magazine), you can’t count on good music to be discovered. I can attest that as a blogger, I get around a dozen of e-mails a day from bands seeking coverage. That’s already more than one man can listen to and analyze, and that number would only go up. It would be harder for me to find good music to tell people about because it would take more time to get through everything. Also, my real life would suffer if I committed that much time to a non-money-making entity. Most likely the blog would suffer from the overload, not my social life.

So Spotify has the potential to crush music sales, create even worse slumlords out of record labels, raise ticket prices at concerts, make it even harder to tour, overwork blogs and make it harder to build up a fan base (the modern-day equivalent of ‘getting discovered’). And while the absolutely brilliant Kickstarter (and similar projects Feed the Muse and Fiverr) is the antidote to many of these problems (need to record an album? Run a campaign! Need to go on tour? Run a campaign! Need to buy a van? Run a campaign!), you need a fan base to make those campaigns work.

If Spotify makes it impossible to get a fan base, because no one’s heard of you, because you can’t get covered in blogs, because they’re overworked, because they’re being depended on even more highly to help create a fan base, because no one will spend money on bands they haven’t heard of live, because the cost of attending live music is prohibitive, because the ticket has to be that high to offset the fact that no one buys music anymore, the music world is going to have a really rough time.

And, honestly, it’s not just Spotify’s fault. There are many streaming music services contributing. But Spotify is the Google of them. It’s not going to be easy to avoid this catastrophe, but the answer is really simple:

Buy your music. Don’t stream it.

That’s all there is to it. Yes, it costs more. But the long-range costs are far, far worse than an extra twenty dollar billar to your local record store, iTunes or Amazon.

The top twenty quest

September 7, 2010

I blew up my computer a few weeks ago, resulting in the lack of posts. I apologize for the deathly pallor that seemed to settle over Independent Clauses. It’s been a pretty crazy few weeks. I get my new computer Friday, and we should be rolling again.

I love and hate live shows. Transcendent, life-affirming and soul-expanding are all phrases I have lavished on excellent sets; soul-crushing, abrasive and interminable are all words with which I have belittled terrible performances. A thoroughly average act skews more to the interminable side, which means the room for error is large.

Making matters even more sketchy is this all-too-common occurrence: that band with lovely recordings which smushes my expectations into the dirt with a reprehensible live show. One band that shall remain nameless suckerpunched me twice: the first set I saw was so awful that I incorrectly passed it off as “an off night” and felt optimistic going in to the second set a year later, which ended up being exponentially worse. I don’t listen to that band any more.

And yet, through all of this potential for letdown, I keep anticipating live shows (I’m resisting a comparison to love and relationships). That anticipation has translated into a new and ongoing project: I’m going on a quest to see all top twenty of my most-listened-to bands (according to my Last.FM).  Here’s the list, complete with current statuses. Bold indicates I have plans to see them before the end of the year.

1. The Mountain Goats (1,063 plays) – Seen twice, once in Norman and once in Dallas
2. Sufjan Stevens (1,010 plays)
3. Novi Split (597 plays)
4. Coldplay (490 plays) – Seen once: Ford Center, Oklahoma City.
5. Damien Jurado (487 plays) – Seen once: Opolis, Norman.
6. Joe Pug – Seen once: The Conservatory, Oklahoma City.
7. Low Anthem – Seen once: Rose State Auditorium, Midwest City.
8. Elijah Wyman
9. Death Cab for Cutie – Seen once: Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa.
10. Relient K – Seen 4-6 times, various Tulsa and Oklahoma City locations.
11. Josh Caress
12. Owl City – Seen once: McCasland Fieldhouse, University of Oklahoma, Norman.
13. Josh Ritter
14. Rocky Votolato
15. Switchfoot – Seen once: Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa.
16. Bleach – Seen 3 times: various Tulsa locations. RIP
17. Mumford and Sons
18. The Avett Brothers – Seen twice: Austin City Limits 2009; Rose State Auditorium, Midwest City.
19. The Tallest Man on Earth
20. Before Braille – RIP

And to get myself back into writing about music, I’ll be writing about each of the bands, in order.

Before Braille-Balance and Timing

February 1, 2005

beforebrailleBand Name: Before Braille
Album Name: Balance and Timing
Best element:  New Sound, Old band.
Genre: Rock/emo
Website: http://www.beforebraille.com
Label name: Sunset Alliance/Bad News Bear Records (www.sunsetalliance.net, www.badnewsbearrecords.com)
Band e-mail: info’beforebraille.com

Before Braille is ridiculously prolific. They’re constantly releasing LPs, EPs, MPs (it stands for mid-play; not short enough to be EP, not long enough to be LP), splits, and other assorted tracks- so much so that I can’t even keep their discography straight in my mind any more. Nevertheless, I’m not complaining- because whatever Before Braille is on to, it’s not fading. Their sound continually shifts, yet they always turn out quality work.

Balance and Timing contains 4 original songs (although “Merry Christmas, I’m Cheating” has two tracks dedicated to it- a rock one and an acoustic one) and two ‘bonus tracks’ from an LP that either hasn’t been released yet or has slipped through my fingers (Tired of Not Being Away From Here). These four original songs are a departure from the reckless emo charge they so fearlessly embodied with the Cattle Punching on a Jackrabbit MP, as they pick up acoustic guitars and relay an overbearing sense of remorse instead of the slashing, crunching riffs of that previous release.

It works on all cylinders, from the moody acoustic slush of “Limb from Limb” to the delicate arrangement of “Help is on the Way Now” to the hollow versions of “Merry Christmas, I’m Cheating”. It’s hard to tell which version is more haunting- the heartless, robotic tick of the electric version, or the hopeless, grasping-at-straws feel of the acoustic version. It feels like Brand New on downers with more credibility. The vocals, so thrashing and sneering on their emo epics of the past, create melody beautifully on these simple, tired tracks, resulting in some brilliant songs. I wish they would make more music like this, as it’s simply stunning.

The two ‘bonus tracks’ are standard Before Braille emo repertoire (much to the happiness of this reviewer). They know how to pack the emotion into a song, through manipulation of tempo, vocal tricks, and guitar antics- and it’s great to see that they’re not abandoning their excellent home base for their expanding repertoire. To their credit, the two songs do sound much more mature than the sometime misguided anger on Cattle Punching…. The second vocalist on “Camera Disdain” sticks out especially, as he infuses passion into the song through his vocal contributions.

Overall, you need to know about Before Braille. While this is a great offering by them, it’s not too indicative of their style, and if you’ve never heard of them, I’d go for Cattle Punching… instead. But, if you’ve heard Before Braille, you need to grab this EP. It’s just amazing to see what the Braille boys can do with some time in the studio and some extra song ideas.

-Stephen Carradini

Before Braille

March 21, 2004

Before Braille’s “Cattle Punching On a Jack Rabbit” is an amazing album. How amazing? Well, Before Braille has Rajiv Parel in it. If you’ve ever heard Parel’s solo work, you know how amazing this album has the possibility to be. Instead of being mellow, as in his solo work, he rocks out with the help of his bandmates. The results are truly electric.

The vocalist/lyricist here is brilliant. He’s one of the best vocalists in emo today, and that’s a big honor, seeing as there are a million bands in emo today. Every one of these songs presents emotion by the volumes in words that no one has ever used before: “You’ve signed your name and you’re stuck with us, now you’re regretting it?/You’ve got a square where a circle is, is that how your puzzle fits?/You bite the hand that is feeding you? You dumb ungrateful kids!/We’d rather starve if that’s the way it is,” from “We’re Not Paying for Anything Anymore.” As you can see, there are a lot of words there, and that’s because he spits them out at a rapid-fire pace, creating a blazing trail that will leave you raising your fist and screaming along or scratching your head, left in the dust. This is invigorating material. This is the stuff emo kids live for.

Parel’s guitars are as crazy as ever, with note-intensive riffs flying all over the place in mathy, hardcore bursts. These aren’t solos; These are hooks. You can’t even imagine what a Parel solo would be like.

The rest of the band supports in a fantastic way, providing charging rhythms and crushing backdrops. The bassist is powerful and tasteful, and the drums aren’t punk hyperactive like you’d think. They’re fast, but their drummer isn’t a lightning-snare one-trick pony.

As for the songs, they score on various levels. “Proventil” defines the emo anthem: overflowing emotion, pounding riffs with enough math in them to make your old Calculus teacher happy, fantastic yelled/sung vocals, and an energy that makes you want to move. But just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, they sprung “Well as Well” on me, where they take the emo anthem and up the ante by incorporating jazz. Yes, they have a cornet, a saxophone, a piano, and a clarinet in the climactic finale of this gem, stretching emo in ways it has never seen before.

But that’s not even the best song. In fact, it is the shortest song here that is the best: “We’re Not Paying for Anything Anymore”. This anthem is the best emo anthem I have ever heard, upping “Proventil” with better lyrics, more passion (as if anything more were possible), and a lyrical hook that will leave you breathless.

Before Braille is the new school emo. Their passionate lyrics, blazing delivery, intense guitars, and murderous way with a hook will blow your mind. This is one of the best releases I have ever heard, independent or not.

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

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