Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

DoubleVee: A trippy wander of a concept album

February 6, 2017

Reinvention can be challenging: Danny Elfman’s groundbreaking band Oingo Boingo went through a variety of changes, while Berlin changed the record industry’s perception of the band when Terri Nunn re-joined the outfit. Rather than a flashback, Oklahoma City’s former Starlight Mints frontman Allan Vest and producer Barb Vest are having no issues creating magic with an incredible blend of vibes that includes touches from the best of the 1980s new wave experimental revolution. DoubleVee is set to release its debut album, The Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider, on February 10 via CEN/RED Distribution, a division of Sony Music. Not a bad way to start.

Jack the Rider was recorded and produced at their home studio in Norman, Oklahoma, with some mixing and mastering from Matt Pence at The Echo Lab and additional mixing and mastering from Wes Sharon at 115 Recording. The results are an incredibly cool, distinct concept album. The album follows the story of Jack, a traveler who descends from remnants of the Twilight Zone. The ten songs are a trippy wander, and it is easy to see how the former Starlight Mints work has been exposed to Iggy Pop and David Bowie. “‘Jack the Rider” integrates the vocal gifts of both Vests into a solid, subtle instrumentation that highlights the story. The tune transitions into “What You Deserve,” with background strings and whistles suggesting a stroll down a twisted version of Sesame Street.

“Frucus Minus (The Flycatcher)” is theatrical, the instrumentation a hip go-go grind. Somehow the music overwhelms the stench of the tale, like flowers popping out through manure in a garden. Allen’s beginnings as an adopted child seem to sing through the album: lost but found, alone but belonging–a DNA search around the time of this record found his birth father to be a music store owner in Houston area during the 1960s. “Dangerous World” delivers that feeling with Ziggy Stardust alienation. It also verifies the fact that we are who we are meant to become when the rubber meets the road. The piano-driven “Motorcade Serenade” is perfect; a march into a fuller instrumentation never feels inauthentic.

Ethereal vocals from Barb Vest drift into “Jose’s Apparition,” feeling an echo from Allen. Strings become a force in the story, a complete paradox to the feel of the song. One might think Jose is a tequila reference, especially if listeners have experienced the wrath of the morning after. The introduction of “Bumper Car Parade” definitely is hallucinatory. This is concept art, music, and theatrics worth the attention of Tim Burton. Hitting the retro stroll of “Quiz Show,” the perky feel is a TARDIS of sorts, collecting tidbits of musical history along the way. The modern mashup is impeccable.

Downtempo for the first time in Jack’s journey, “Wait In Blues” is real love. Heading out of the album, listeners are invited to be witnesses to the transformation that time and the journey made possible over another summer. Back to Oklahoma, Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider comes full circle with “Nocturnal Boy.” Bright and uptempo, often the most demanding challenges become the most rewarding paradoxes in life. Concept albums can be memorable for listeners and thrive for generations. The debut effort from doubleVee has the potential to be one of those special albums.–Lisa Whealy

Late November Singles 3: Pop

November 27, 2016

Pop

1. “Backseat Pressure (Summer Dregs Remix)” – Dirty Blonde. I don’t know what filter, patch, or setting Summer Dregs used to augment the piano here, but it sounds unique and just plain cool. The rest of the arrangement plays out with the best lessons learned from both EDM and indie-electro pop. A thoroughly satisfying jam.

2. “Time Traveler” – Emeryld. A squiggly electro-pop verse arrangement unfolds into a delicate, moving chorus. Then the post-chorus instrumental section explodes into a Postal Service-style soaring electro-indie-pop bit. It all is held together by Emeryld’s perfectly-fit vocals.

3. “On a Bus” – Baseball Gregg. Bouncy, charming, a little goofy, but grounded enough by a rattling percussion line to not float off into untethered whimsy, this indie-pop tune is the audio equivalent of a gap-toothed smile on a sunny day.

4. “Trails” – Sisters. Somehow manages to sound exactly like 1985 and 2016 at the same time: the trumpeting synths, the arpeggiator press, the way-up-front vocal mix, the whole nine yards. Is it Paul Simon? Yes? Arcade Fire? CHVRCHES? Who can say?

5. “Colors” – Honest Men. Everybody needs a bouncy electro-pop jam in their life every now and then. You can’t really roll the windows down in a lot of places right now, but if you’re still in a place where you can…

6. “Close to Be Close to Me” – Echo Ladies. My general formula on popular music 1980-1989 is “closer to the ’80s = farther from my interest.” There was just a lot going on in that era that didn’t connect with me: gated drums, giant towers of guitar reverb, icy moods, and lots of medium-speed tempos. Somehow, Echo Ladies took all those things I hated about ’80s pop and turned them into a really sharp, enjoyable electro-pop tune. The vocal melodies really pop in this one.

7. “Half a Billion Miles” – Vagabond Specter. Space-rock was always kind of hanging out just off-screen. Sure, David Bowie did his thing, and yeah, there was that early ’00s moment where space-rock got real serious, but in a lot of ways we haven’t mined all we can of space-rock. (There’s also The Lovely Few, who are holding it down.) Vagabond Specter gives us a version of space-rock that sounds like what a spacefaring roadtrip song might sound like. It’s all burbling synths, headbobbing percussion, and soothing vocals. Rad.

8. “Red Roses” – Leisure Tank. This female-fronted indie-rock track has ominous overtones all over it, from the powerful vocal performance to the charging full-band coda. Sounds like an early Elbow track on steroids.

9. “Manta Ray” – Sam Brockington. Lightly funky, rhythmically interesting, and blessed with a bouncy bass line, this indie-rock tune rattles, dances, and sways its way through the three-minute runtime.

10. “Cupid’s Drunk” – Danny Starr. Fans of Oasis will find much to love in this acoustic-rock tune, especially Starr’s vocal melodies in the chorus.

11. “Staying Together” – ATTU. Combines mopey bedroom pop with unassuming dance-rock to create something that’s not either thing. It’s friendly but not exactly warm; it’s approachable but not saccharine; it’s fun but not giddy. It floats, but it’s not wispy. I could go on.

12. “By the Ocean” – Kid Indigo. Chipper acoustic melodies, a refreshingly earnest mood, and a subtle cool make this song into a smile-inducing charmer that’s reminiscent of early Jason Mraz work. (Remember when he was the coolest? I do.)

13. “Dreamers” – Delafaye. The mood Delafaye sets fits the title perfectly in this one, as the soft reverb and carefully-selected instrumental tones give this acoustic-led track a dreamy indie-pop feel. It’s a little more alt-country than Grandaddy, but it’s in the ballpark.

14. “Boulders” – Lucas Laufen. Pop in the way that Damien Rice and Jose Gonzalez are pop–not exactly folk, not adult alternative, but distinctly drawing on formal pop traditions in an acoustic vein. The “Quiet is the New Loud” folks would be all into this for sure. Laufen’s vocals fit excellently with the arrangement.

February 2016: Pop!

February 3, 2016

1. “Hero” – Starlight Girls. If you mashed up Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac with modern indie-pop sensibilities, you’d have this powerhouse of a pop song. This is the most infectious, irresistible groove of 2016 so far.

2. “Hang On To Yourself (David Bowie Cover)” – Ancient Cities.  Bowie didn’t play much of a role in my personal musical development (I was introduced to him in my 20s), but his shadow looms large over many musicians. Ancient Cities drops a worthy tribute to Ziggy here.

3. “Boys That Sing” – Viola Beach. Sometimes the melody, the lyrics, and the vibe just come together for a great pop tune. Puts a smile on my face.

4. “Crazy Eyes” – Brother Moses. BroMo returns with a breezy, peppy tune that builds on their slacker-rock foundation with some scrambling drums, driving bass and twirling guitars. The compelling vocal tone and delivery are as powerful as ever.

5. “Youth Dies Young” – Til We Have Faces. Well here’s something interesting: A major key indie-rock song that thinks it’s an arpeggiator-heavy electro-jam which builds at the speed of a post-rock tune. By the end it’s almost a Here We Go Magic tune. Totally rad.

6. “Fundamental Ground” – TW Walsh. I don’t use the term “floating” that often, but this indie-pop tune has a lot of the elements that you might associate with floating: lazy rhythms, slightly washed-out vibe, hazy elements chilling out in the background of the tune, a vocal line that seems distant-yet-close. It’s beautiful, in a weird way.

7. “Sometimes (One Night)” – The Golden Peppers. Here’s a tight soul arrangement, blanketed with horns and infused with indie-pop vocal melodic flair. Just can’t get enough Nathaniel Rateliff?

8. “Lucky One” – Why We Love. It seems that the major-key, jangly pop-rock tune is not only immortal, but thriving. Everything about this is fun.

9. “Unicorns Get More Bacon” – Marc with a C. The giddy, funny, absurd, fourth-wall-destroying power-pop of Marc with a C is in fine, fine form in this 3-and-a-half minute jam.

10. “Glad to Be Alive” – Memoir. Draws from funk, reggae, and ’90s pop without camping in any of them, this grounded-yet-bouncy tune is led by neat vocal syncopation and and a mood that just brightens a room.

11. “Touch” – Guard. A hypnotic keys melody and a head-bobbing beat make this into the chillest of remix-ready club tunes. Ibiza beaches for this version, Ibiza clubs for the inevitable reworks.

12. “Still Life” – I.W.A. Blissful chillwave, the likes of which I don’t get to hear very often. Just gorgeous stuff here.

13. “Don’t Complain/Don’t Explain” – Bare Mattress.  Like a more existential version of The Postal Service, this unassuming indie-pop-electro track sneaks its way into ears and heart.

14. “Glass” – Howard. This is like the indie-electro/post-dub version of a dystopian movie in which everything looks kind of right but is slowly revealed to actually be dystopian. In other words, the slow burn works great.

15. “I Don’t Want to Know Her Name” – Amber Quintero. Lilting, easygoing, spacious bedroom pop that finely balances lyrical intimacy and wide-open pad synth landscapes.

Start of the Autumnal Electruinox

September 28, 2015

  1. Diamond in the Rough” – Dr!ve. This weekend I was out at Kibitz Room, and the boogie-down vibe of the red-velvet-lit d!ve bar, where a 99-year-old David Bowie lookalike sat sipping bourbon, could be described with this synth-pop, funk-dr!ven jam. As light as the instrumentation is, there is soul and richness in the brown liquor-warmth of it all.

  2. Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit. The nine-piece indie band brings it on like a crop top-wearing ‘90s chick with sticky sweet vocals, an attractive string section, and sexy rock qualities.

  3. Highly Emotional” – Benjamin Verdoes. F**k. This really is strikingly emotional. Longing, pulling, swirling soundscapes paired with echoed vocals that sound like they’re galaxies away, how could it not be?

  4. Air” – Clas Tuuth. An electronic breeze of hand claps, light, feminine vocals, and a natural easiness of sound.

  5. Two Bodies” – Flight Facilities (Henri remix). All he needs is five minutes, and all I needed was a half hour to pick myself up off the floor after hearing this gorgeous remake that emphasizes suave European vocals with string, piano, and of course, that tempestuous house beat.

  6. Heart of Glass” – Korr-A. Had to give a shout out to last weekend’s Los Angeles Mad Decent Block Party with this colorful, pop-trap dance party track. Korr-A is that chick people hated on in high school because she was just so much damn cooler than they were.

  7. Groove Squared” – Ghost Lover (Steve Hope remix). Powerful piano, blubbering bass, and minimalist vocals bring Barcelona-infused vibes that make me sad to see summer go.

  8. Chicago Warehouse Party 1995” – Thee Koukouvaya. If this had a video, it would go something like this: Aliens zap you up into a multi-dimensional, techno-laced, time-barren universe and then drop you back down through the atmosphere, tumbling towards Chicago, and crash you through a stained glass warehouse ceiling onto the tranced-out, upward arms of dancing strangers.

  9. Burred Lens” – Arts & Crafts (WIN WIN remix). Burred Lens brings crispness to the Arts & Crafts original that once gets going, rhymically zigzags down an angel-white powdered vertical. Hint, hint, 2:07.

  10. Arch” – Rough Year. Bringing a raw realness that only a citizen of the City of Brotherly Love could deliver, trans artist Rough Year texturizes grit, spooky vocal snippets, and demonic percussion for over eleven minutes of an experience as deep and dark as those Philly potholes.

  11. Golden, Blinding (Feat. Galun)” – Alek Fin. James Blake-esque vocals with severe electronic sensuality it’s not hard to be magnetized to. I haven’t seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’d imagine the movie should have went something like this…

  12.  Say My Name (Fakear Remix)” – Odesza (feat. Zyra). Fakear’s fresh remake of the Odesza hit is sophisticated, adding a new filter of flyness achieved through twinkling synth, diamond-encrusted vocal bits, and subtly brilliant drops. This is a crisp remix that’s been released in appropriate unison with the autumnal equinox.

The Geminids is a fascinating and rewarding listen

June 5, 2014

thelovelyfew

Space has been an intriguing concept for musicians for an incredibly long time. (Cue David Bowie!) But rarely has it been as literal a fascination as it is with The Lovely Few, who have named five consecutive releases after heavenly bodies. The Geminids, a third in a series of releases named after meteor showers, features only one song that isn’t obviously named after something in space: opener “Les Anciens,” which is probably something awesome I’ve never heard of.

The Geminids, however, falls in the category of “things I have heard that are awesome.” The Lovely Few’s previous work drew some easy comparison to the bleep-bloop electronic pop of The Postal Service, but Mike Mewbourne and co. have opened up the sonic palette on this one to incorporate a lot more moods. The basic sound is still electronic-based pop, but prog, ambient, acoustic pop, Sufjan Stevens (especially The Age of Adz), and “space-rock” are all equal contributors to the album.

“Les Anciens” shows off this diversity of influences well, opening with a proggy, spacey keyboard line before adding in the signature clicks and pops of twee electronic beats. But all that gets wiped off the board as some tribal-esque beats come in. From there, Mewbourne and his collaborators start to layer sounds and vocals. Mewbourne’s voice is a perfect fit for this environment; it’s evocative but not theatrical, calm but not placid. It holds mystery in it. There are spaces to be explored and pondered in both his vocal delivery and songwriting.

The lyrical elements have a very Bowie-esque feel to them: are they metaphors, stories, or both? Tunes like “Venus” and “Castor and Pollux” beg me to read the whole album as a concept piece about a relationship; “Tyndarids” and “Mars” seem to be just about things in space, with some religious overtones. I don’t think it’s an either/or thing–I think there are levels of content here.

The Geminids is an intriguing album that requires investment. You can just listen to it once to play “spot-the-references” and take in the nice mood, but its true treasures are unveiled after multiple listens. The sleigh bells in “Gemini,” the rhythmic tension in “Prelude,” the pacing of “Phaethon 2”–these are all joys that aren’t immediately apparent. This isn’t an album with singles, really; the thing comes together as a whole. If you’re going on a late-night road trip, or perhaps watching the stars, The Geminids would be a fascinating and rewarding companion.

Stellar Vector's debut full length exudes a high quality, post-modern vibe

April 11, 2010

The five-piece, self-proclaimed “post-modern rock band” Stellar Vector are set to release their debut full-length album, A Flock of Cowards, in April and it would be well worth your time check it out.  While the Minneapolis-based group claims to be creatively influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel, I can’t help but feel that fans of  more recent bands like Of Montreal, Muse and the Cold War Kids will all find something they like in the sound of A Flock of Cowards.  The album has a playfulness similar to Of Montreal but also a raw vibe similar to Death Cab’s “Meet Me at the Equinox.”

The synthesizer-infused, 12-track album starts out blasting “Buffalo Jump” with clean, ear-tingling guitar riffs that channel classic rock yet combine strong, edgy vocals that add a modern tweak.  The second track,”Lacking Self-Control,” is a fantastic example of a musical narrative.  One moment you are tapping your foot to a near reggae beat; then the chorus hits, picking up the pace and lending to a more commercially-appealing alternative rock sound.  In a sense, the instrumental work really allows you to “feel” the story behind the sound as the song progresses.

The band is very upfront about their narrative-driven, lyrical styling.  I could almost hear a hint of Ben Folds in their upfront and at times sarcastic lyrics. There is an especially strong lyrical resemblance on “E.D.” with lines like, “No I don’t wanna be your friend/but I know that I can’t pretend/I’m a pretty damn good actor baby.”

A favorite surprise on the record was the incorporation of a few keyboard-driven melodies on songs such as “Titanic Work Ethic” and the fun little album-ending tune, “The Not So Hidden Song.”  Clearly the song titles alone should be enough to get the potential listener a little intrigued as to what this group is really about.

As you listen to the record, you can’t help but feel your ears smoothly move in and out of the different decades of rock.  They have mastered the art of taking the best from the past while looking to the future. They embody a post modern success.

Overall, Stellar Vector has succeeded in achieving a truly high-quality independent album.  A clean and polished recording is already putting them miles ahead.  They have the kind of sound that could really get a film music supervisor excited, as great soundtrack music.  Keep an eye out for these guys. I have a feeling they won’t be staying in the Midwest for long.

Citizen 5's Circles: Super Globalized Yet Super Indie

April 26, 2009

Citizen 5, out of Norman, OK, is a band of many roots, musically and geographically. Musically, they range from pop country of the lead singer Jimmilea Manley to the Latin influences of keyboardist Ricardo Sasaki to the heavy rock of guitarist Scott Sunderman to the indie influences of bassist Jason Long.

They come from many places, from Bolivia to Mexico to just local homegrown Oklahomans. Citizen 5 is unique in that they are a globalized band, which ties into their name, connected with the fact that they are five citizens of the world. This is where they are talented, and even the title of the album plays on the interconnection of everyone.

Definitely Citizen 5’s melding of genres and styles helps make them unique an indie market where being unique is a prerequisite for success. The intro and outro, for example, are Latin-influenced,with a talented trumpeter from the premier mariachi band in Oklahoma playing a Latin dirge. New wave influences can be heard in much of the music, notably in “Make it Real,” where singer Jimmilea Manley’s strong and soaring vocals add a womanly, southern twang, strangely complimenting the indie and psychedelic influences already at play. Add to that their retro eighties-like chord progressions, you’d think these guys would be going overboard. But the band manages to make solid pop songs that tie all these influences together without really jumping off the experimental cliff.

I had the chance to sit down keyboardist and producer Ricardo Sasaki, who said Citizen 5 has been influenced by acts ranging from Led Zeppelin to David Bowie to Oklahoma’s greatest recent psychedelic success story, the Flaming Lips. Produced by very indie label Ares Recording (which has only been in business for about three weeks), right next door to a Starlight Mints-owned Opolis, a live act club, Citizen 5 definitely has the indie cred to make a footprint on the music world outside the local scene.

But more important than the connections that Sasaki has from his eighteen years of producing and world tromping is just the talent I heard when listening to Circles. Sometimes its buried, but I can still hear it – this is a band that has yet to realize its potential. Things I was impressed with include the way the band manages to craft very familiar lyrics and chord progressions without sounding cliché. Perhaps the influence of all the aforementioned backgrounds of the members of Citizen 5 keep things fresh, like a mango from South America or a homegrown tomato from an Oklahoma backyard.

Sasaki himself said that their next LP, currently untitled and due for release in a few months, is better than the first. I am eagerly awaiting that release, hoping that in it that the band’s voice rings stronger than the first. If I had to guess, I would say the band’s voice can be found from the melding of their different backgrounds, musical and geographical. I think that if they just somehow amplified all these influences and dared to experiment a little more, they could be scary good.

But for what it’s worth, I recommend Citizen 5 and Circles heartily. It’s a fun indie/retro listen.

And Now For Something Completely Different

April 10, 2009

What if David Bowie was from Australia instead of London, England? Maybe his glam, flashy (and let’s face it – awesome) style would be a little more acoustic and folk-focused. But I’d be willing to bet that he would have the same low and strong, yet quavering, voice, and he’d still have an undeniable streak of originality and rebellion. Also – his name might be Tom Bolton.

Australian Tom Bolton’s album When I Cross the River is awesome. Besides the fact that he really does sound like an alternate-reality version of Bowie, Bolton’s folk-rock tunes are highly original – I don’t think I’ve heard anything like them. The album opens with its title track, which couples acoustic guitar with keyboards and accordion. (The accordion pops up again later, too.) The effect is whimsical, and it’s just odd enough to be delightful instead of strange. You can catch Bolton’s accent from the beginning, too, which also gives “When I Cross the River” an air of complete uniqueness.

The acoustic in “Three Hearts” stands out because instead of sounding pretty and poetry-reading-coffeehouse-worthy, it comes across as gritty, grungy, and rockin’. The contrast is really neat, especially with Bolton belting out the chorus with his no-fuss, dead-on, Australian-accented vocals.

The ballad “Silver” matches electric lap-slide guitar with synth and violin, creating a spacey, mysterious, echoey atmosphere. It doesn’t sound out of place, though, because there is still an element of gritty folk amid the psychedelia. The extremely diverse “Whose Army” is one of the best of the album. There’s bluesy electric guitar, a backup singer providing rhythmic breathing (really! and it sounds cool!), snappy female harmonies, a head-bobbing steady tempo, and a hint of the Talking Heads in the eerie hooks before the chorus.

“Hey You, Yeah You” is hard to explain, but I’ll try. It has bits of spoken word throughout, and the narrative lyrics make it almost sound like a kid’s song at times. It’s also funny, and you’ll sing along to the “hey you, yeah, you, I’m talking to you!” after the first listen. The song is assuredly weird, but accessible at the same time, which might make it even weirder. The simplistic, sweet, country-tinged ballad “All I Can Do” is a good choice to follow “Hey You, Yeah You.”

Later on in When I Cross the River, Bolton uses the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in his song “Little Star.” He plays it with only acoustic guitar and a few backup singers, which is the sparsest instrumentation on the album, but the song doesn’t need anything else. It doesn’t even need more than its minimal lyrics: “little star, help me shine.”

Overall, Tom Bolton’s When I Cross the River is really enjoyable, and would be good for anyone who’s bored with their music collection and wants something totally new and different. I’ve never reviewed anything from Australia, or from anyone above the age of 35, but I’m really glad that I did. Check out Tom Bolton on his myspace and website.

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

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