Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mid-Year pt 1

June 27, 2014

It’s the middle of the year! Independent Clauses always gets more music than it knows what to do with, so mid-year and end-of-year are a good time to clean out the files and point out all the amazing things that I missed the first time around. So here goes three days of that! These singles could have been released yesterday or months ago; these and the following posts are not time-sensitive whatsoever.

Mid-year, pt. 1: Rock, etc.

1. “A Place Called Space” – The Juan Maclean. LCD Soundsystem is gone, but The Juan Maclean is still around to fill that rubbery, propulsive dance tune-shaped space in our hearts. THE JUAN MACLEAN FOREVER.

2. “Mama Gold” – North by North. Pounding, fuzzy guitar, yelping vocals, heavy low end? Welcome to rock’n’roll, people.

3. “Blood::Muscles::Bones” – Street Eaters. This punk band is composed entirely of distorted bass guitar, drums, female vocals, and male vocals. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

4. “Everybody Pretends” – Ostrich Run. A high-drama violin riff kicks off this dark indie-rock tune. The vocals keep me going the rest of the way.

5. “Serious Things Are Stupid” – Cayetana. The rise of Cayetana in the punk scene has been fun to watch, as innate songwriters start to match the talent with the ability. Impressive tune here.

6. “Dirty Roofs” – Edmonton. Do you like The Offspring? You’ll love Edmonton, which sounds similar, but with a heart that The Offspring haven’t had for a while (/ever).

7. “You’re Cold” – The Black Tibetans. Stuff that Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) produces is starting to be as distinctive as Stuff Steve Albini or Jack White does: rifftastic, slightly scuzzy, classic-rock-inspired blues heaviness with melodies galore. The Black Tibetans deliver on that promise.

8. “Every Night, Every Day” – The Sheens. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it just sounds right. Here we have female-fronted rock with punk and new wave-y overtones, and it’s just a ton of fun.

9. “Hi-Lo” – North Elementary. Check that opening riff on this power-pop tune. The vocals and arrangement have some Arcade Fire vibes thrown in for good measure.

10. “Pack of Cards” – Wood Ear. Straightforward rock’n’roll, Glossary-style, doesn’t get enough love here on Independent Clauses. Wood Ear throws down some organ-laden rock that just feels right.

11. “Loving You Is Hard” – The Parrots. Sometimes you just want some brash, off-the-cuff, speedy, infectious surf-rock. The Parrots are here for you.

12. “We’ll Be Fine” – Action Item. So I really like big, shiny pop-rock like Hot Chelle Rae, and Action Item delivers it in spades. HAVE FUN, Y’ALL!

13. “Always” – Annabel. Jangly guitars, tom-heavy percussion, and yearning male vocals satisfy my craving for earnest, serious indie-pop-rock.

14. “House” – Thunderhank. The tension builds and builds in this electro-influenced rock song, but it resolves in ways other than you’d expect. Keep ’em guessing, Thunderhank.

15. “Whistle for My Love” – Jimmy & The Revolvers. If the Beatles had kept cranking out the pop tunes instead of going all psych, they could have ended up here. Total old-school pop bliss (with some modern rhythms, of course).

16. “Pool Guard” – Inspired and the Sleep. Sometimes the title really does tell you everything you need to know.

Cause you're a cutie and I need you in my Death Cab

September 24, 2010

Since Drake, Chiddy Bang and even Jason DeRulo (okay, not really a rapper, but hear me out) have been rhyming over indie music backing tracks, I’ve been a lot more interested in rap. While I don’t seek it out (yet), I do enjoy it when it falls in my lap. And that’s exactly what Pep Rally by Hoodie Allen did.

Awesome name aside (I love hoodies), this white boy can rap. He spits fast, and he can hold complicated rhythms and rhyme schemes together for several lines. His lyrics are quirky, fun and winning the “who can drop the most pop culture references in one album?” contest. His voice is smooth enough that you can tell what he’s saying, but not so flaccid that there’s no bite. His flow by itself is pretty impressive.

But that’s not all you get with Pep Rally. Allen’s producer, RJ Ferguson, knows indie music really well, and elevates Allen’s game substantially. When a dude’s rapping over Marina and the Diamonds, Cold War Kids, Black Keys, Death Cab for Cutie and Two Door Cinema Club (among others!), it’s pretty hard to completely dislike any track, even if the rap isn’t your favorite.

Ferguson’s beats actually work with the chosen tracks/samples to make new pieces of art (as opposed to Childish Gambino’s “turn down the track and turn up my vox” approach), and it’s incredibly impressive. My favorite instances of this are “You Are Not a Robot” and “So Much Closer,” which use “I Am Not a Robot” by Marina and the Diamonds and “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie, respectively. “You Are Not a Robot” screws with Marina’s voice and turns her into Hoodie’s personal hook singer. You will have that stuck in your head, trust me.

But “So Much Closer” is the best track here, as Ferguson and Allen transform the glacially-paced anthem into a pep rally-worthy anthem without making it feel like sacrilege. The song also namechecks Death Cab (see title) and Hype Machine, which made me smile. That’s totally where I heard the album first. Things just got meta.

If you’re into the whole indie-rock + rap = yesyesyes fad that’s been going on, Hoodie Allen’s Pep Rally is for you. I like the whole album more than Chiddy Bang’s The Swelly Express (my previous standard for this genre), although Allen has not yet produced any song as solid gold as Chiddy’s “The Opposite of Adults.” This is more of RJ Ferguson’s coming out party than Hoodie Allen’s, as I’m far more impressed with his half of the work than Allen’s. But I suppose that’s because I’m still getting in to this whole rap thing.

In mixtape fashion, you can get the whole eleven-song album for free right here. Go! Go get it. Go, Go, Go get it.

Black Bone Child have got the blues(-rock) down.

May 26, 2009

Black Bone Child of Austin, TX, the self-proclaimed “Music Capital of the World,” have crafted an extremely fine piece of pure, unwavering blues-rock with their self-titled and self-released album.

To sum it up, Black Bone Child sounds like the Black Keys amped into a testosterone-fueled rage and channeling it into an acoustic/electric blend that evokes the classic blues style of greats like Muddy Waters and B.B. King, while presenting a hard rock edge that gives the band a genuinely unique sound.

The album is solely the work of the two key members of Black Bone Child: Donny James on guitars and vocals, and Kenneth M. on bass, drums, and harmonica. These two men are extremely talented, from songwriting to performance. James’ guitar riffs play like a fusion of blues, metal, and alt rock all melted into one. There’s not a single song on the album that the guitars don’t come off as impressive at least. Even though guitar, bass, drums and harmonica are the only instruments used in the album, the sound is incredibly rich and tightly composed. No use of instrumentation, from the background licks of acoustic guitar in some tracks to the constant chug of (what sounds to me like) the distorted acoustic bass, sounds superfluous in any way, and none of it falls flat.

The best way to describe the music is adrenaline pumping. I dare anyone who listens to this album to not start tapping his/her toes, bobbing his/her head or to simply start dancing. I found the album to be a particularly good companion to my workout this morning. This is just pure sonic fun.

There is a slight problem in the brevity of the songs, and the similar styles and similar lyrics in some of them can make the album sort of run together. However, this doesn’t really distract from the album, because it’s only at selected points, like the tracks “Light Up the Sky” and “Watch It Burn,” which may have been meant to flow into one another anyway. But since this is the only real complaint I could find in eleven tracks, I’d go ahead and say it doesn’t really matter all that much.

Now, I can only say that I hope Black Bone Child find their way up to Oklahoma at some point, because this album has definitely made me want to see them live. Well, I can also say that you should listen to this album.

Fear of the Cat-Girl

March 13, 2009

Blag’ard – Bobcat

I have to admit something. In the stack of CDs Stephen gave me to review over the last several weeks, I put Bobcat by Blag’ard toward the bottom of the stack. Why? Because the girl in the cat-ish costume on the front and back gave me the heebie-jeebies.

That being said, I finally gave the disc a spin and not just so that I could remove the creepy cat-girl from my desk. It’s a good release, though ultimately not particularly understanding.

Blag’ard is a duo made up of Joe Taylor on guitar and Adam Brinson on drums. Perhaps I’m biased because I started out playing bass, but I’ve always found guitar/drum duos to be precarious and hard to pull off. The White Stripes and The Black Keys manage it, but without that low-end provided by the bass, a guitar/drum duo can often feel very incomplete. Unfortunately, Blag’ard falls victim to that in several places.

Luckily, Taylor’s guitar work is compelling enough the majority of the time to propel the music and make it sound more complete. He hits the mark much better on some songs than he does on others. In the second and third tracks, “Shame” and “REM Show,” Taylor plays the higher frets frequently, and the two songs even have similar riffs. With “Shame” clocking in at nearly five minutes and “REM Show” at just shy of three minutes, it makes for a painfully exhausting series of guitar wailing and high vocals.

From there, though, the balance is found again and persists well throughout the album. But, from here Blag’ard falls victim to a common problem: the songs all start to blend together. Even after repeat listens, there isn’t a single song that really stood out from the others. It becomes hard to tell where one song ends and another begins and ultimately it’s hard to really get into the album.

There’s some strong musicianship here, but the songwriting needs a little less monotony.

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

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