Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Late June MP3s: Acoustic

June 23, 2016

1. “County Line” – Susto. Susto is one of the very best alt-country acts working today, and if you don’t know that you haven’t heard their stuff yet. Let this nigh-on-perfect tune serve as your introduction.

2. “King” –  The Amazing Devil. This incredibly intense song wrings every last drop of emotion out of dramatic vocal performances, a cinematic lyrical set, and a churning full-band acoustic performance. Cello has rarely sounded so incredibly vibrant and necessary in folk-rock. The video that accompanies the tune is equally impassioned; it’s a rare thing that the video enhances the experience of listening to the song, but this one totally does. Highly recommended. Their album comes out Monday, so if you’re in London you should check their release show out. If it’s anything like this video, it promises to be a wild affair.

3. “Window” – Stephen Douglas Wolfe. Saxophone and French horn are not common inclusions in a woodsy folk tune, but Wolfe makes them sound totally natural. Between them and the bassist going absolutely bonkers (you go!), this sounds almost more like Anathallo than it does Bon Iver, but fans of both will find much to love in this tune.

4. “Dancing in the Dark” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. This song is infinitely coverable: I would listen to almost anyone cover this tune. The fact that Josiah and the Bonnevilles are my favorite new band of the year makes it even more excellent.

5. “Standing” – Melody Federer. This singer-songwriter/indie-pop tune has a melodic maturity that stands up against Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Watkins, and Sleeping at Last. It has gravitas while still remaining light; it’s a very rare balance that is to be celebrated.

6. “Why Don’t You Call Home” – Deni Gauthier. Sometimes all you need is a great falsetto and a tiny guitar riff to steal hearts.

7. “Sunset Road” – Kathryn Overall. Here’s a folk-pop tune about contentment, local beauty, and home played in a low-key, no-frills, earnest way. I broke into a smile, and I think you will too.

8. “Under a Rose” – Dylan Addington. Always space in my heart for a folk-pop tune with a catchy vocal melody and stomping percussion. Fans of The Lumineers should be all up on this.

9. “The Captain” – Adam Topol. Fans of the easygoing acoustic joy of Dispatch and Guster will find a lot of love in Topol’s swaying, airy, summery tune.

10. “Catch Your Fall” – The River South. The iconic shuffle-snare is employed to great effect here, providing the backbone for a delicate love song. The keyboards, bass, and dual vocals fill in the warm, comforting vibe.

11. “White Sky” – Lilla Clara. A solemn, emotionally powerful tune that sucks all the air out of the room.

12. “Between the Bars” – Andrea Silva. Elliott Smith cannot have very much added to him, but reinterpretation keeps a legacy alive. This cover features a great vocal performance, too.

13. “Once Upon a Child” – Eleanor Murray. Tape hiss, nylon strings, room reverb, and an arresting alto vocal line come together for a deeply affecting tune.

14. “Loss” – Paul Sweeney. This contemplative solo guitar piece has a consistent motion in the melodic line that makes the song both evocative and emotional.

15. “Improvisation I” – De Martenn. This solo piano piece explores a dark blue mood; it feels like the street corner late at night, when you know no one is around but it still feels like something is going to happen. It’s peaceful but not serene; there’s some undercurrent going right there under the surface. You look twice; no one is there either time. You’re a little disappointed, but but also relieved. You walk home. You sleep well.

Quick Hit: Kalispell

May 11, 2016

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Printers’s Son by Kalispell adheres to the Gregory Alan Isakov school of folk: direct, serious, modern. Kalispell’s hook is the immediate production; where Isakov likes ghostly reverb and delay, Shane Leonard presents his instruments and voice mostly unadorned.

This choice results in crisp, tight, uncluttered, and clear arrangements throughout. But the album isn’t stark: Leonard cares deeply about arrangements, including wind instruments, strings, and a full band to create wide-open panoramas of sound. (Song titles “In Chicago” and “Gary, IN” give clues to the landscapes he’s sonically describing.) These songs aren’t particularly designed to be catchy, but there are melodic thrills to be had throughout: “Beautiful Doll” features a cascading banjo melody, while “Hand” opens with a memorable acoustic guitar line and keening strings. The title track has a song structure and emotional vibe that are more attuned to singing along.

Still, the joy of this record is not audience participation, but marveling at the serene, intricate work that Leonard has put together. It’s more along the lines of S. Carey than Bon Iver in that regard, although fans of either musician will find much to love in Printer’s Son. The album drops on June 3; you can pre-order it now. 

Mid-April MP3s: Acoustic, Pt. 2

April 17, 2016

1. “Audubon” – Jon Solo. Here’s a gentle yet expansive sonic soundscape dedicated to the famous naturalist. The arrangement here is simple-sounding yet complex in its construction, which makes for great work.

2. “Taller” – Silas William Alexander. An intimate folk tune that has the gravitas of the best folk singers, an earnest vocal performance that reminds me of my long-lost Page France, and a wistful sweetness that’s irresistible. Alexander is one to watch.

3. “Young Romance” – Redvers Bailey. Makes me think of Juno, The Life Aquatic, Beirut, Belle and Sebastian, honest quirkiness (“I don’t try to do this, this is just how I sing”), and lots of good songs. Mile-a-minute lyrics, chunky chords, humble melodies–what more can you ask for in an indie-pop tune?

4. “Going Home” – Jesse Rowlands. We don’t write real folk tunes that much anymore, but here’s one about a Southern deserter (I’m guessing from the Civil War) who tries to get back to his home. The voice-and-guitar songwriting sounds way more full than just those two pieces. It’s an engaging, beautiful tune.

5. “Little Moment” – Luke Rathborne. Delicate guitar work always gets me; so does the confidence to create small, quiet pop songs. This tune just makes me smile.

6. “Someone to Love Me” – Jont and the Infinite Possibility. Do you miss early-eras Coldplay? Rush of Blood to the HeadParachutes, etc.? You’ll love the full-band, wide-screen, acoustic-grounded pop-rock here.

7. “Strangers” – Brad Fillatre. The vocal performances in this alt-country tune are deeply affecting, all the more so because of the unexpected nature of the clear, yearning chorus melody in relation to Fillatre’s gritty, rough verse performances.

8. “Hymns” – Grado. A subtle but strong opening guitar line leads into a unique combination of rainy-day indie-pop, modern folk music, and upbeat indie-pop enthusiasm. There’s quite a lot going on here in what seems like a simple, confident tune.

9. “Gentle Giant” – Yankee & the Foreigners. Charming, woodsy, full-band folk for fans of Fleet Foxes, The Fox and the Bird, new-school Decemberists, and Beirut’s vocalist.

10. “Anchor Up” – Eric George. Walking-speed folk troubadour work with great vocals, a stellar production job, and a remarkably chill vibe.

11. “Anchor (Argentum Remix)” – Novo Amor. A For Emma-style Bon Iver vocal performance over fingerpicked guitar and piano chords gets an ’90s techno beat backdrop; to my surprise, it sounds totally rad.

12. “Believe in Me” – Jason P. Krug. A tender keys line (maybe kalimba?) and a swooning cello accompany Krug’s smooth voice and lyrics of Eastern mysticism; reminds me of the quieter Dan Mangan songs, in that there’s a lot of emotion but not a lot of melodrama.

13. “Fire Engine Red” – Robert Francis. Francis sounds completely assured and at home in this minimalist songwriting environment: with a few rim clicks, distant synths, and a rubbery bass line, Francis creates a distinct, careful mood. It gets even better when he layers his acoustic guitar over it.

14. “The Haunted Song” – Maiah Wynne. Wynne wrote a solo vocal piece, then performed it in a big empty space accompanied by claps, stomps, and creepy background vocals. At just over 1:19, it’s intriguing and unconventional.

15. “Fork End Road” – Ark Royal. Big harmonies, swift picking, and great strings–this song hits you with a lot right up front. Gotta love a track that captures you from the get-go. Things get better from there, too.

Mid-April MP3s: Acoustic, pt. 1

April 14, 2016

1. “Who Are You” – The March Divide. Jared Putnam turns to formal popcraft, creating a splendid little perky acoustic pop tune. Somewhere between “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and a Shins song, this tune is a lovely surprise.

2. “I’ll Be True” – Crockett Hall. Standing in front of a big Stax Records sign, a raw, rough-throated reverie with soulful, mournful horns in the background.

3. “Low Hymnal” – Told Slant. The dark flipside of twee shows its sleepy, anxious head here. This song is somehow both tiny and expansive in how it sounds.

4. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. Like a less hyperactive version of Dan Mangan, Smith has a bouncy, chipper flair to his troubadour folk.

5. “Vanishing Shores” – Tom West. Here’s a big, Australian indie-folk singalong with gentle, marimba-esque arpeggiator below it. Hard for me to dislike anything with that description.

6. “C’Mon and Sing” – Chaperone Picks. While we’re on the topic of singalongs, here’s a song about singing along. A rootsy, bass-laden guitar strum creates the structure and most of the arrangement for this not-quite-folk-punk tune, and the results are smile-inducing and foot-tapping.

7. “Burning Bridges” – 2/3 Goat. Led by a clear, bright, strong female vocal, this alt-country tune has a killer chorus that stuck in my mind.

8. “Francesca” – Thurdy. Sometimes you need a gentle, kind ukulele instrumental in your life.

9. “Windfall” – Kalispell. The majestic folk spaciousness of Bon Iver paired with striking, disarming, immediate tenor vocals creates a unique, deeply enjoyable atmosphere. The arranging and recording engineering here are truly remarkable.

10. “Curse the Road” – Austin Miller. The easygoing shuffle of a old-school country song meets careworn vocals to create a tune reminiscent of Rocky Votolato’s early work.

11. “Rattlesnake” – Fog Lake. An appropriate band name to fit this hazy, swaying tune. There’s some angular guitar and some abstract sounds thrown in for good measure, but other than that this is grade-A strength walking-speed bedroom pop.

12. “Everything” – Cavalry. First it made me feel like the first rays of dawn coming over the horizon, then like a gem opening up to the light for the first time, then the great expanses of wide canyons and huge mountains. It’s indie-rock that uses the same instruments you would expect, but their sense of wonder and careful restraint make this an incredible track.

13. “Ruelle (feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. Starts off in beautiful piano-based minimalism, grows to dramatic post-rock grandeur, then drops off to develop again.

 

Alek Fin’s mesmerizing Án Mynda

December 14, 2015

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Alek Fin’s latest EP, Án Mynda, is like a mesmerizing love-at-first-sight experience between Bon Iver and an electronic empress. The five tracks are equidistant between earth and atmosphere. Woodsy vocals and instrumentation that gives just enough–nothing more and nothing less–root this EP in natural, earthy undertones, while a gust of electronica lifts it off the ground.

The title track contains a jolting, animated back-and-forth chorus that resembles the sound of quickened monk chants; it is both comforting and confident in its softness. Deep reverberation eventually slips in and guides the track up a winding road of transcendental sound.

“Lift Up” is a dim dance party in slow-mo and the eventual warm, appreciated crash into your bed at the end of the night, all in four minutes and forty-four seconds. “Insight” boasts even more hauntingly beautiful vocals that hollow out, gain depth and hollow out again, like a stream of consciousness rather than lyrics.

“Golden, Blinding (Feat. Galun)” is flat-out sexy, painting an abstract picture of lovers in landscapes, with lyrics like, “I see you on the water/You gravitate to me.” It erupts into a tunneling of sound that reminds those slanting, heavenly cylinder-shaped crepuscular rays that burst through the grayness after rain. “Golden, Blinding” is like a droid gliding over land, getting a whole aerial view of the world.

Alek Fin ends Án Mynda with a track that achieves “lullaby” better than any nursery story I’ve ever heard. “Eyes Open Shut” is a sensually simple song, ruffled by big, buttery, cumulus cloud vocals and soft, jumping percussion that give this track a heart and a heartbeat.

Alek Fin has thought of the whole picture here: the script, how to shoot each scene, the healthy weight of each song. He is a meditative artist, and Án Mynda is the furthest piece of music from ersatz electronic; it’s a successful, authentic experiment of sound.–Rachel Haney

I Don’t Know If My 2006 Musical Self Would Recognize My 2015 Musical Self (Mid-month Mp3s)

July 21, 2015

I Don’t Know If My 2006 Musical Self Would Recognize my 2015 Musical Self (Mid-month Mp3s)

1. “Started a War” – My Own Ghosts. Builds from a fragile, rickety beginning to a full-on indie-rock/shoegaze stomp without losing a deep sense of pathos. Oddly beautiful.

2. “Boys in Blue” – Inner Outlaws. Bass-heavy indie-rockers Inner Outlaws bring their genre-wandering sound to a fine point here, taking all sorts of sonic turns you wouldn’t expect.

3. “White Lodge” – The Kickback. “Hey guys, let’s phase the drums on this one.” “Why? Dark, serious indie rock bands don’t do that.” “Because wouldn’t that sound rad? It would sound rad. Trust me.”

4. “Show Some Shame” – Caustic Casanova. This is definitely the most amped up I’ve ever been while being told “we are doomed!” The innate melodicism of this riff-heavy rocker turns my head, even though I’m not that into heavy stuff anymore.

5. “Lint” – Teen Cult. I spent four years playing in a band composed of a metalhead drummer, a jazz pianist, a Radiohead-addled guitarist, and a pop-rock bassist. As a result, I am the perfect audience for Teen Cult’s sprawling, genre-mashing art-rock. It starts off in traditional Spanish guitar (and Spanish language!), then morphs into difficult-to-classify, Mars Volta-esque stuff (only slightly less heavy).

6. “Spirit of Discovery” – Have Gun, Will Travel. Sometimes I call things alt-country because it’s neither Sweet Home Alabama-style Southern Rock or hot country, even though it’s definitely not the Jayhawks. Whatever you call HGWT, there’s a sweet pedal steel and a workman-like approach and vibe to the song. It feels real, like it’s made by guys who you just want to hang out with.

7. “Next Life” – Tyler Boone. Dedicated to the victims of the Charleston shooting, this tune bridges the line between pop-rock (giant drums!) and alt-country (pedal steel!) but without dipping too deeply into hot country sounds.

8. “Belinda’s Cross” – American Elsewhere. Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov are easy touchpoints for this charming acoustic tune that rides the line between warmly nostalgic and and remorsefully wistful.

9. “Wait” – Wyland. Goes from Lumineers to chiming U2-esque work back to horns-and-group-vocals folk-pop. You know who you are, readers.

10. “The Third Light” – The Left Outsides. Sway your shoulders/hips and bob your head to this folk-tune with a touch of gypsy magic in it.

11. “Sparrows” – Scott Krokoff. I’ve been getting an unusual amount of e-mail about ’70s soft-country and indie-soul recently; Krokoff’s easygoing acoustic tune fits in the former genre as a more full-sounding James Taylor, complete with smooth, smooth vocals.

12. “Education” – Cancellieri. Ryan Hutchens continues his hot streak of brilliant songwriting with this ethereal, floating-world gem. It’s a beautiful, expansive, warm tune that seems to color everything that’s happening while it plays with a bit of a softer tint. If you’re not listening to Cancellieri, you should be.

Constance: It was all a dream

June 10, 2015

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Imagine you are asleep and in that sleep, you have a dream. The dream takes place most likely in space and it feels all jumbled, yet makes total sense in the same moment. This is what it feels like to listen to Quebec mastermind Guillaume Guilbault and his band Constance. Their latest EP One will leave you floating on a cloud in the land of space-like dreams, and you will never want to come down.

As I continue to replay the instrument-packed four-track EP over and over again, I realize that One puts its listeners in such a trance that it’s as if it is impossible to stop pressing repeat. The first song “Trinity, NL” opens into a mystic trance accomplished through space-like synthetic beats, acoustic guitar and the awe-inspiring hand saw. Harmonica adds another layer to the intro; after Guilbault’s voice enters, the piano quickly follows up. Soon enough, the cello and soft drums round out the instrumentation. “Trinity, NL” is clearly instrument-driven, allowing many of the instruments to shine with their own solos. Yet Guilbault uses his voice as yet another part of the instrumentation. His voice adds to the mystic feel via its calming effects, similar to the way Bon Iver uses his soothing voice. At the end of the track, many of the instruments drop off–only Guilbault’s voice, the cello, and hand-saw are left to gently close out the song.

“Chambre Noir” continues on with the dreamy feel, with the addition of French lyrics. Although less complex than the previous song, a driving percussive beat along with gentle guitar strumming and appearances from the hand-saw make up the meat of this track. What this track lacks in number of instruments, it makes up in beautiful French words. Although not every listener may understand the lyrics (myself included), they certainly add to the surreal nature of the EP. I mean, what woman doesn’t want a man singing french words to her on top of beautiful instrumentation? Only the stuff of dreams.

Continuing with the theme of surreal love, “Argentina” is an adorable love song with lyrics like, “I carry this feeling/I will never be near you enough/but to make our time truly matter to us/why don’t we go to Argentina?” The choice of primarily guitar and piano accompaniment add to the sweet feel of the song and allow Guilbault’s voice to stand out so that the lyrics are very audible. A harmonica solo serves as an echo of Guilbault’s voice and brings the song to a gentle close. What lingers the last few seconds is pure synth transition, entering smoothly into the fourth and final track.

“Lilac” begins with electronic plumes of relaxation. Gentle drums and soothing strings quickly enter into the instrumentation and continue on in calming repetition. One unique way that this track adds to the dream is through vocal echoing, making the listener feel as though voices are coming at you from all sides. You might think that this would make the track sound confusing and jumbled, but it is carried out in such a well-done way that it feels much more surreal than jumbled.

As One comes to a close, it reminds us that all dreams must end. But that doesn’t mean you can’t press replay and experience it all over again. Constance’s One is one that you will want to hold onto and never let go. Just press play, close your eyes, and enter into his alt-folk dream world. —Krisann Janowitz

Chris Jamison’s complex arrangements arrive warm and relaxed

March 31, 2015

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Chris Jamison‘s Lovecraft is linked with horror via its title and album art, but the music is more relaxing than terrifying. Jamison has melded West Coast breeziness, old-school country vibes, the stark emotionalism of For Emma Bon Iver, and the melodic arrangements of modern folk into an engaging, acoustic-led album.

Jamison used to live in Austin and now lives in Arizona, which helps explain his particular mix of influences in a causal or at least correlated way; there’s a tension between sonic structures evocative of wide-open space and melodic immediacy reminiscent of Fleet Foxes in tunes like “The Mockingbird Song” and “Blue Melody.” There’s more than a little bit of old-school country kicking around in the mix as well: “Roadside Bar” evokes saloons and Crosby, Stills & Young soft country, while lead single “Juniper Blues” leans heavily on an organ and a break-up narrative for a traditional country tune. The muted trumpet there is an nice, unexpected touch that points to Jamison’s desires to work within constraints but also push the edges a bit.

“What About Tomorrow” is the most immediately impressive song on the record, combining Spaghetti western dramatic guitars, horns evocative of the desert, a breezy vocal melody, and a complex arrangement. The result is a fascinating blend of easy-going vibes, serious undertones, and instrumental chops. It’s like Jackson Browne got lost in the desert, started seeing things, and seriously reconsidered some aspects of his life.

Jamison’s warm, soft voice floats above all the arrangements, from the icy “Pedernal” to the gospel-tinged warmth of the organ-heavy “Old 81.” The variety of sounds that Jamison corrals on the record don’t ever make his voice sound out of place: instead, Jamison seems to collect the wild edges of the tunes with his gentle delivery. Whether it’s the funky “Always” or the trad-country “Waves of the Wind,” the songs hold together with a warm core. So it may have the same name as a horror author, but Jamison’s vocal warmth and skillful instrumentation make Lovecraft a lovely experience. After hearing the beautiful strings of “Waves of the Wind,” you’d be forgiven for thinking maybe it should have been Craftlove.

February Singles: Mellow

March 10, 2015

Mellow

1. “The Giving” – Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders. Squires plays the traveling troubadour here, finding “poverty and magic all around me” in a New Orleans full of found sound, delicate guitar, his signature vocal style, and fitting trumpet.

2. “Red” – Mt. Wolf. Here’s a slow-burning, tension-releasing amalgam of acoustic guitar, beats, and falsetto that sounds like Bon Iver 2.0. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

3. “Heart” – Pistol Shrimp. The falsetto-filled acoustic version of this dance-rock banger sounds somewhere between Ben Gibbard and Ben Folds, which is pretty impressive. Maybe they should do this more often.

4. “Odell” – Lowland Hum. Afflicted, pastoral, theatrical indie-folk has previously belonged in my mind only to Bowerbirds. Move on over, Bowerbirds–Lowland Hum are here with a beautiful tune in that very specific mood.

5. “Cops Don’t Care pt. II” – Fred Thomas. Thomas follows up his epic debut single with this one, which is a lot simpler musically but just as powerful lyrically.

6. “Other Suns” – Magic Giant. With mandolin, cello, and harmonica, Magic Giant is doing their best to act the folk part of their folk rave name in this mid-tempo ballad.

7. “Love or Die” – Magic Giant. I know I just put them in this list, but this Lumineers/Twin Forks stomp-along is just too much fun to pass up.

8. “If It Don’t Kill You” – Family Folk Revival. Get that outlaw alt-country feel on and enjoy this low-slung, rootsy jam.

The post-rock of Afterlife Parade’s AWE series is achingly beautiful

February 23, 2015

Afterlife Parade started out as an artsy, experimental indie-rock group. Death & Rebirth is a wild, scattered, and often-powerful debut released in two parts. The band turned right around and dropped A Million Miles Away, which contains some of the most spot-on, adrenaline-pumping, emotion-charged pop-rock I’ve heard in years, losing some of their sweeping arrangements but amping up their melodic bonafides. Where did the tumultuous, textured, enigmatic, dramatic work go? Well, it all made its way into AWE: Volumes 1-3.

AWE is a set of three impressive five-song instrumental post-rock albums. Each of the three holds to a different theme (the passing of a day, the cycle of seasons, the span of a life), and each of the 15 songs explores a different mood of post-rock song. I know that sounds ambitious, but it’s true. What’s more impressive is that they sound seasoned in every single style. They’ve listened to a lot of post-rock, and their tunes distill a lot of post-rock ideas into (often) short spaces.

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Volume One (about the passing of a day) opens with “Dusk Whipers,” a glacially-paced but gentle tune that builds on soft keys and ambient space until it reaches its apex. It doesn’t get heavy, which leads neatly into the perky, Devotchka-esque melodies and quiet-but-insistent rhythms of “Stretching Sunlight.” Here and elsewhere, they layer individual sounds expertly to create moods.

“Mount Sol” relies heavily on pizzicato strings to give it a Balmorhea vibe, while “Day’s End” builds off tape hiss, melancholy finger-picked guitar, ephemeral keys, and ghostly voices. (It’s like a post-rock Bon Iver.) “Midnight Waltzes” closes the set with a regal, stately solo grand piano performance. It’s a gorgeous, remarkable set all on its own, and there’s still two more!

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Volume Two is a much grander affair than Volume One; where the first one was done in under 20 minutes, the follow-up is near 40 minutes long. Their interpretation of the changing of seasons is much heavier in tone than their sound of a day; Volume Two opens with the bass-heavy, ominous “Solstice” anchored by an ostinato piano line that is transformed in tone via the layers added to it (like LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”). “July’s” spends several minutes developing a complex Latin-jazz percussive beat created by electronic and human drummers before transforming the connotatively-celebratory mood into an eerie soundscape that feels like a forest closing in on you.

“Fall Euphoria” is still pretty pensive at the beginning, but it transforms the uncomfortable vibes and percussive dominance of the first two tracks into a tender, beautiful piece that’s reminiscent of the Album Leaf. It’s a remarkable, deft, expert turn to move directly from one to the other through the same piece. Its wistful overtones lead into the nine-minute “Slow Cold,” which is exactly what it says on the tin. (Post-rock fans are nodding their heads.) It closes with a dissonant solo piano piece that experiments with the way that humans hear and interpret dissonance, holding out notes that don’t necessarily go together for long periods of time before resolving them. It’s basically modern classical music, and it’s remarkable. It’s not one of my favorite pieces emotionally, but musically it’s one of the most impressive.

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Volume Three is quite different than the second; it barely covers 15 minutes. However, it’s the most emotionally evocative of the three for me. Covering the span of a life, it starts out with “Tippy Toes,” a 96-second tune with ukulele, toy piano, shaker and other small instruments that remind me of Lullatone’s twinkly, beautiful, but not pandering work. It’s a wonderfully charming start to the piece. “Hopscotch” is a perky tune built on guitars that is again reminiscent of Devotchka. It captures the freedom and uncomplicated joy of play in a surprisingly poignant way. A little growing up leads us to “Sixteen,” which combines confident ’80s-style electro beats and synths with some gently exploratory guitar work.

“Youngblood” is a more tentative work, scared even–showing the difficulties of growing up and getting out into the world. The sound is ambient, with bits of sound coming in and out at seemingly spontaneous times, but never sounding fully like a cohesive unit. The purposeful off-centering of the work tells a strong narrative, especially in the context of the pieces that came before it. A blaring organ starts off “Sage,” but it soon gets layers and layers of keys on top of it, turning it into a woozy, vaguely funereal dirge tinted with specks of joy. It’s a bold, risky conclusion to the release, and I like it.

The three releases in the AWE series are each incredibly beautiful. The fact that one band made music of this many varieties while also being able to throw down incredible pop-rock tunes points to an intimidating, towering talent. The songwriting is amazing; AWE is amazing; Afterlife Parade is amazing.

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

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