Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Last 2015 Quick Hits: Living Decent / Distant Cousins / Marc Maynon / Sundaug

January 4, 2016

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The acoustic indie-pop of Living Decent‘s Do What Makes You Brave EP shows a different side of the band, which released their self-titled pop-punk EP in July 2015. Brave relies on the singer/songwriter background of Vic Alvarez, featuring his voice against an acoustic guitar and minimal arrangement around that. The minimalism ranges from nothing but voice and guitar in “Minus 10” to the bass and tambourine of the perky (but still not pop-punk perky) “Crystal Palace” and the crescendoing drums and bass of “Moving the Sun.” The four songs here each maintain a balance between punchy and melancholy–it’s unsurprising that they list “emo” as one of their tags. They could tour with Football, Etc. as part of the emo revival, making music that draws off emo’s forefather influences but sounds modern and relateable.

The standout is closer “I Could Not Be Here,” the most realized of the tunes here: Alvarez’s breathy, earnest tenor is surrounded by warm keys and gentle percussion to create a tune that almost sounds like a Plans-era Death Cab for Cutie song. Living Decent has songwriting chops that they’ve now showed off in two different realms very quickly. They’re an exciting outfit to watch for in 2016.

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Distant Cousins‘ self-titled EP finds a way to triangulate contemplative folk, folk-pop, and Imagine Dragons-style radio pop in a fun, catchy product. Opener “Taste of Tomorrow” combines all three of their elements in an enthusiastic, sax-blasted tune that reminds me of Magic Giant’s work. “Your Story” is a straight-up-and-down folk pop tune that ropes in female vocalist Jessie Payo for the back-and-forth elements. Closer “For a Moment” is a pristine folk tune buoyed by multiple-part harmonies that sticks out for its beauty. The rest of the tracks on the six-song EP turn up the pop volume and get fun–if you’re into that style of music, Distant Cousins are right on that wavelength. Their debut EP shows off that they can write a snappy tune, and there are flashes of beauty in there too. I’m interested to see where they go next.

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The four songs of Marc Maynon‘s Watch Pot have thoroughly ingested British Invasion songcraft but don’t just spit that back out. Instead, Maynon’s songwriting has a bit of a power-pop cast to it at times (“Something to Live For”) and a piano-pop flair at other times (“Sensation,” “Vintage Lens”). Maynon’s high-pitched tenor is deployed nicely throughout the EP; in “Sensation” and “Vintage Lens” his vocals pair especially well with the bright piano tone. Even though he has solid pop bonafides, this isn’t all upbeat major-key work; Maynon has a solid control of mid-tempo and minor-key work. Add in the thoughtful arrangement touches throughout, from strings to synths to trumpet, and you’ve got a solid EP of pop songwriting. Watch Pot is a good slice of sound for fans of formal pop songwriting.

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Sundaug‘s Nocturnality is a full album of instrumental compositions that primarily revolve around a fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Each of the 14 tracks is remarkably relaxing, from the gently grooving opener “Pyramid” to the moody closer “Chasing Angels.” The album is strongly cohesive, and you can listen to the album as one long tune if you wish. (It’s particularly good for setting on in an afternoon where you don’t have much to do and just want to chill–I can vouch). Some highlights that stick out (but only ever so slightly–it’s all really good) are “When Solitude Becomes Isolation,” a cascading tune that sounds more contemplative and positive than the title suggests, and “The Submersion,” which pairs pad synths with interesting guitar runs. (Some might not be thrilled with the occasional overture toward new age music, but I don’t think it diminishes the overall impact of the release.) If you’re interested in relaxing guitar-centric music, you should check out Sundaug’s Nocturnality.

MP3s: Acoustic, pt. 1

September 23, 2015

Acoustic, pt. 1

1. “Wolf Wife” – Jenny Ritter. I can’t be the first person to mention this, but I’m doing it anyway: we need to get Jenny Ritter and Josh Ritter on tour together. Her evocative modern singer/songwriter tunes push past folk stereotypes into timeless, need-no-terms realms–just like that other Ritter.

2. “Always” – Jake McMullen. McMullen sets the scene with low, slow, poignant guitar; once he’s let you know where we’re going, he reaches out of the speakers and grabs my ears by the lobes with his evocative voice and downhearted vocals. It’s a remarkable tune that has that slowcore X factor which commands my attention.

3. “Wolves” – Guilford. Breaking a ten-year pause, Guilford returns with a beautiful, rolling slowcore track. Some synths mark a slight change in sonic palette, but the apple doesn’t fall too far from the historical tree: you’ll still get pensive, thoughtful tunes with some unusual chords woven in.

4. “In the Garden” – Cicada Rhythm. Lilting, creaky, rootsy, Latin, classic, classical, and altogether immersive, this you-gotta-hear-it track charts its own course. Here’s to more of this.

5. “Summer Night” – Tree Machines. It’s not easy making complexity sound organic and effortless, and Tree Machines pull off that feat via a remarkable indie-pop track with a variety of tricks up its sleeves.

6. “Your Story (feat. Jessie Payo)” – Distant Cousins. There’s still plenty of room in folk-pop for a great melody, earnest vocals, harmonica wails, and woodsy vibes.

7. “Helping” – Nathan Fox. A bluesy, grit-infused voice meets a chipper, whistle-led pop tune about helping each other. I can’t help but smile while hearing this song.

8. “How It Fades” – Daniel Martin Moore. The gentleness of Joshua Radin’s early work and the concreteness of a piano/drums connection buoy this breathtaking update on the early-morning musings of James Taylor.

9. “The Fall” – The Native Sibling. It’s a pillow in audio form, until the female vocals come in and kick the song up several more notches. A dreamier Civil Wars? Please stay together, though.

10. “Calon Lan” – ChessBoxer. There’s something bright and pure about a rustic-minded bluegrass outfit playing a gorgeous traditional air; it gets deep in my bones and pulls the smile (and the nostalgia) out.

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

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