Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Massive Video Drop Pt 1

November 8, 2013

So I don’t usually post more than four videos at a time, but I’m behind and there’s a ton of good videos sitting in my inbox. So here’s two days with 11 total (WHOA).

Way Yes’ indie/tribal/jam/whatever-rock gets treated to a suitably surreal video including two Segways, a hilarious dance circle, and reptiles.

Here’s another dance party, this one made out of beautiful, intricate paper cut-outs. It’s set to Letters to Fiesta’s “Vampires,” which is going to go over real well with fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bjork.

“Explorer” by Breathe Owl Breathe puts the dance party in outer space.

So I have no idea what’s going on in “Arctic Shark” by Quilt, but it might be a dance party. It’s mesmerizing, whatever it is.

Astonishingly, Femme’s video for “Heartbeat” includes a dance party, reptiles, and the same sort of video design as Quilt’s. Everything is so referential these days. Everything is connected. YO BUT ENOUGH OF THAT LET’S DANCE.

Singles: Keep That Summer Alive

September 11, 2013

Here’s 11 tracks of indie-rock, indie-pop and folk that I’ve been loving recently.

Keep That Summer Alive

1. “Little Lucy” – The Worriers. Somewhere between early 2000s garage rock and highly stylized Vaccines pop-rock sits The Worriers’ excellent track. Viva la indie rock.
2. “Lazer Gun Show” – Hey Geronimo. If you aren’t screaming out “LA! ZER! GUN! SHOW!” by the end of this tune, you’re doing it wrong. You may also be dead. Thank you, Hey Geronimo. Thank you so much.
3. “Who You Are” – Natural Animal. In a perfect world, this song dominates radio, wins VMAs, and is crowned song of the summer.
4. “Science of a Seizure” – Challenger. Ratatat percussion eventually gives way to the best sort of ’80s revival pop. Challenger can make even brittle beats warm and enveloping.
5. “Tell Teri On Me” – Sir Wes Al Gress. Wobbly dub plus bubblegum vocals, shimmering synths, and a walking-pace beat. It’s completely bizarre, but infectious in a strange way.
6. “Once a Servant” – Psychic Teen. In a perfect world, this song dominates… wait. (Generationals, meet your new opening band!)
7. “When He’s Down” – The Lonesome South Comfort Company. Folky, Southern, psychedelic: this band knows how to hit you hard and early. One of the best singles I’ve heard all year.
8. “Robber Barons” – Cloud Person. Celtic vibes from a big string section give this full-band folk assault an anthemic, epic quality. If you think indie-rock is a little too American-sounding.
9. “Ramble” – Rivals of the Peacemaker. The Civil Wars get a little more outlaw (as you’d expect with that excellent name). Try to get this one out of your head, I dare you.
10. “Silent Film Reel” – Breathe Owl Breathe. The orchestral folk-pop of BOB is always earnest, infectious, and delightfully off-kilter.
11. “Happiness Is a Sad Song” – Owls of the Swamp. There are a certain group of people who agree innately with this song title and therefore will be in love with this smooth, mellow tune.

Saturday tunes

November 12, 2011

With Stanford getting unexpectedly stomped, my evening plans took a turn for the boring. So, I’m breaking my usual moratorium on Saturday work by sharing these tunes with you.

Hey Geronimo is (yet another) Australian band blessing my ears with its wonderful tunes. Their gleeful single “Why Don’t We Do Something?” features enthusiastic acoustic guitars, tambourine, perky bass, maracas, a guitar solo and a guy yelling “Yeehaw!” Where do I sign up for more?

The Finger mixes modern rock guitar tone, dance-rock grooves and a female vocalist to create a memorable tune in “In a Fragment of Time.”

Starlings, TX is no stranger to tragedy, in life and in song. So it’s fitting that he was moved by the wildfire that devastated a huge section of Bastrop State Park that he wrote a beautiful alt-country tune about it. Proceeds from the pay-what-you-want download will go toward recovery efforts.

I have been known to malign the Ohio State football team as “the national champions of Ohio” based on their Buckeye State-centric non-conference schedule. But wonder-filled indie-poppersBreathe Owl Breathe is about to become the musical national champions of Michigan, and that’s nothing but admirable. Check this touring sched with Little Wings, who will appear on all shows except the early Nov. 26 engagement:

Fri. Nov. 25 – Grand Rapids, MI @ DAAC
Sat. Nov. 26 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Wealthy Theater – 3pm
Sat. Nov. 26 – Grand Rapids, MI @ DAAC – 8pm
Tue. Nov. 29 – Evanston, IL @ SPACE
Wed. Nov. 30 – Ann Arbor, MI @ Arbor Vitae
Thu. Dec. 1 – Kalamazoo, MI @ The Strutt
Fri. Dec. 2 – Ypsilanti, MI @ Dreamland Theater
Sat. Dec. 3 – Detroit, MI @ ‘Noel Night’ at The Scarab Club
Sun. Dec. 4 – Brown Town, MI @ House Show
Tue. Dec. 6 – Marquette, MI @ Up Front & Co.
Wed. Dec. 7 – Hancock, MI @ Orpheum Theater
Fri. Dec. 9 – Traverse City, MI @ Higher Grounds
Sat. Dec. 10 – Petoskey, MI @ North Woods Studio
Sun. Dec. 11 – Bellaire, MI @ Shorts Brewery

St. Even's calming Spirit Animal soars

October 14, 2011

I had two presentations and classes to teach this week, so I spent an unusual amount of time doing mental exercises to keep myself calm and focused. One of those was “pushing play on my iPod to hear St. Even‘s Spirit Animal.” It worked almost as well as deep breaths and [nerdy Wheel of Time joke redacted].

It’s easy to chill when listening to St. Even, who longtime readers may recognize from Steve Hefter and Friends (and Friends of Friends), as Spirit Animal‘s acoustic-based folk/indie-pop combines the preternatural chill of Breathe Owl Breathe with the downtrodden theatricality of Dan Mangan. Hefter’s baritone adds to the effect, as his few moments of urgency only serve to reinforce that Spirit Animal is predominantly a leisurely stroll.

Hefter’s low, calming tone spreads from his voice to the arrangements. They are meticulously crafted, but never invasive or heavy: the violins float along in “The Piano Inflates,” while the horns in “Cocksure” are poignant instead of flamboyant. This is due in part to the fact that Hefter hits it and quits it: Most songs hover around 2:40, with some falling near or under two minutes. Nothing has time to overstay its welcome.

The resulting tunes range from the chipper “Blinding Love” and very pleasant “Dreams/My Rope” to the self-effacing “Ariel” and the wrenching sadness of “Long Distance Calls.” The major exception is the Mangan-esque, self-aware closer “This Is Not a Song,” which ends in a ten-car folk pile-up of erratic guitar strum, flutes, choirs, vocal soloists, saloon piano and cello. It’s markedly different than the rest of the album, but it feels fine as an outro.

I listen to a great deal of music, but some albums stick with me past their week. St. Even’s latest seems quite promising to end up on the list with Beirut’s The Rip Tide as most recent entries. Fans of mature, thoughtful songwriting (Mangan, Breathe Owl Breathe, Josh Ritter, Josh Radin, Damien Jurado) should get their paws on a copy of Spirit Animal.

Independent Clauses. Now With More Books!

October 8, 2011

Breathe Owl Breathe‘s perspective on the world isn’t just contagious, it’s intoxicating. The enthusiastically wide-eyed life the trio invites their listeners to join includes literally doing whatever they want, which is why they’ve handmade some bound-to-be-gorgeous kids’ books and packaged a 7″ of two new quirky little indie-pop songs inside it. It won’t come out till December, but I would pre-order it instead of sleeping on it. If I had kids, they would listen to Breathe Owl Breathe. Check this glorious tune called “The Listeners (The Mole & The Ostrich)”:

Everybody be rappin’ over indie rock these days, and I’m more than thrilled about this development. PropaneLV uses M83’s “Midnight City”  as his own personal backing track, much more in the style of Childish Gambino than Hoodie Allen. He does, however, take the original vocals out before he names it “One More Time.”

The Gromble‘s slow burn keeps burnin’ with this neat little vid. Remember VHS? Static-laden TVs? Really terrible fashion? This one’s for you, ’80s kids.

Breathe Owl Breathe lets earnestness be its guide

November 8, 2010


Good bands write songs that people like and perform them well. Great bands write songs that people love and perform them excellently. The best bands write songs and perform in such a way that when a listener has finished watching or hearing, that listener feels the only appropriate thing to do is join the band and be awesome with them or — barring that Black Flag-esque experience — form their own band that is exactly like the band in question.

Breathe Owl Breathe is one of the very best bands I’ve seen live.

To start: in them there is no guile. The three members of the band are earnest beyond anything I’ve ever seen on stage. Whether it’s playing with a werewolf hat/puppet, telling dragon stories, delicately stagediving, dressing the part, cracking jokes or (oh yeah) performing their music, all is done with an absolute belief that “this is totally cool and fun.”

Many bands, when pulling off antics similar to BOB’s, would infuse the proceedings with a sense of irony, just as a protective device: The band still must be taken seriously, you know. Not so with these three. Their childish wonder and goofy stage antics are the serious part. And when the audience realized this on Thursday, Nov. 4, that’s when things got interesting.

“Dog Walkers of the New Age” kicked off the set, but the crowd was standoffish and confused at the fist-pumps in the otherwise mellow tune. It wasn’t until Micah donned a camail and started telling the story that precedes “Dragon” that people really got into it. Micah, Andrea and Trevor encouraged the audience to participate by giving them parts to clap and melodies to sing, which the audience (having caught on that the earnestness wasn’t a trick) enthusiastically obliged.

From then on, the audience was hooked, enjoying antics with the aforementioned werewolf hat, goofy dances and general glee. The stage show was enough to endear an attendee, but the fact that they played knockout tunes made the set impossible to not love. From “Own Stunts” to “Swimming” to “Board Games,” they blew through their tunes with perfection. The vocals were spot-on, the instruments sounded perfect, and the timing was precise. The band did not let their gleeful antics get in the way of their musicianship at all.

Instead, it seemed that the antics were an overflow of their musicianship; they just played that way. On “Board Games,” Andrea set up a tom and a snare, which she walloped with bouncy exuberance. When she played her cello, she did so with finesse and excitement. Micah, although not exuberant in his motions, played the whole set with a dry wit that kept the crowd in stitches. Trevor, unfortunately, was back in the shadows most of the time, but he did provide “ooo”s for the “spirit of the werewolf,” when it “flew” off Andrea’s head at the end of the song. I use quotation marks only because I know no other way to convey the ideas.

In short, Breathe Owl Breathe’s quiet, introspective folk songs translated into glorious, gleeful spectacles live. It was impossible to dislike the set, mostly because BOB was having so much fun doing what they were doing. Their energy was infectious, and it made for one of the most memorable sets I’ve ever seen. I’m sad I didn’t bring my camera. I’m sad I didn’t bring all my friends. These errors will be corrected next time.

You’ll never grow tired of this wonder you’re under…

November 3, 2010

I love folk music an inordinate amount for someone who’s only 22. I have no explanation for how I came into this love so early, other than burning out of punk rock early on account of overexposure and a lack of connection with the rebellious sentiment.

Explanations aside, here I am, loving Breathe Owl Breathe‘s Magic Central. The whole album can be summed up in this glorious sentence: This is what the National would sound like if they were a mellow folk band. The vocalist has a similar baritone, although his is less husky and more smooth that Matt Berninger’s croon. They have a similar penchant for dusky, hyper-romantic moods, infectious yet understated melodies, and a sense of wonder. Breathe Owl Breathe just has keyboards, occasional acoustic guitar, stringed instruments, toy pianos and female vocals making the music.

There is little distortion or dissonance here; these songs float along calmly and beautifully. Single “Swimming” includes a playful feel, as the vocals mimic a brushed snare drum for a hook. “Dog Walkers of the New Age” actually uses a brushed snare for a propulsive feel; that is, as propulsive as a song carried by ethereal keyboards and single notes plucked on a guitar. A cello swoons in and out, for effect. The whole thing sounds like a warm blanket.

It is when Breathe Owl Breathe contents itself with sitting back in their chilled out folk grooves that they score the highest marks. “Dragon” is a funky, jazzy sort of number that is good, but barely hangs with the rest of the tunes in mood. The keyboards connect the isolated pieces and save it from being a herky-jerky anomaly. When they instead kick it wistfully on “Lake Light,” it feels simultaneously like the chillest M. Ward track of all time and like a quiet day on someone’s back porch.  Those are both very good things, for the uninitiated.

“Across the Loch” is another highlight; the melody strikes quickly and remains lodged in the brain. It has a bit of a trip-hop influence; it’s just enough to make the song memorable without pushing it into a feel that doesn’t mesh with the majority of the album.

Magic Central is a chill, chill album. It is almost completely cohesive, rewarding those who listen to it in full sittings. The tunes are good by themselves, but when kept in context, my enjoyment built and built as I got progressively more calm and enjoyed the state that multiple Breathe Owl Breathe songs put me in. Highly recommended for fans of mellow folk that doesn’t necessarily need strummy guitars to be great.

Breathe Owl Breathe plays Opolis in Norman tomorrow. If their live show is anything like their albums, it will put you in a good humour. And who doesn’t want that? Go see it.

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

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