Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Grab Bag 1: Wolfcryer / Kite Flying Robot / Speak, Memory

December 12, 2014

prospectofwin

Even though I love big, towering achievements of heavily orchestrated arrangement, in my heart I am most partial to singer/songwriters who sit down with one instrument (maybe two, harmonica counts) and sing their song. Wolfcryer, aka Matt Baumann, has been cranking out a stream of guitar/vocals or banjo/vocals EPs since 2013 that have been uniformly fantastic. His last offering in this set of intimate, The Prospect of Wind, is no different. Baumann’s husky baritone meshes with his full chord strums and occasional harmonica swoop to create humble, dignified, powerful tunes a la old school Joe Pug.

Each of the 8 tunes on the album have their own merits, so its nigh on impossible to single one out as the highlight. “Clay and Stone” shows off how he can keep a complex lyrical line going while strumming furiously; “Little People” shows off his troubadour storytelling. “The War” kicks off the album with a protest tune. But it truly is the title track that takes the cake: Baumann’s impassioned vocals, emotive banjo strumming (if you don’t know how that works, just listen), and memorable chorus keep this one on loop in my mind. If you want to catch WolfCryer before the train leaves the station, this is the last whistle. It’s on to bigger and better things from here. Highly recommended.

kiteflyingrobot

I just got married, so it’s profoundly dissonant listening to break-up songs. It’s even more odd when the breakup songs form an impressively heartrending album. Kite Flying Robot‘s Magic and Mystery starts out as a arpeggiator-heavy dance-pop album, but slowly unfolds into a narrative of how adults deal with (yet another) breakup. KFR’s synth-pop relies on staccato, separated synths instead of the huge swaths of noise that are en vogue in synthpop right now. This creates a sound that is inspired by the ’80s but also sounds other. References like Prince and ELO floated through my head as I listened; whether or not they’re accurate, the sound of this album isn’t business as usual.

Many songs here are fun and danceable (“Bad Girl,” “Criminal Supervixen,” “Belong to the Beautiful”), but the moments where KFR turns away from the club and gets introspective are surprisingly, almost uncomfortably raw in their musings. The title track and “So Goodbye” feature beautiful instances of songwriting, incisive turns of lyricism, and remarkably emotive vocal performances. Nikolas Thompson knows exactly how to control the phrasing of his lyrics and the delivery of those phrases throughout the album; when he uses those elements to pull heartstrings, the results are impressive. In that way, he’s not so different from Josh Ritter, and Magic and Mystery isn’t too far from The Beast in Its Tracks: an album of impressive songwriting trying to sort through the wreckage of a broken relationship in a dignified, mature, honest way. Kite Flying Robot has a lot going for it on Magic and Mystery; just, uh, keep your tissues handy.

speakmemory

Speak, Memory‘s Value to Survival is a 20-minute EP of punk rock-influenced post-rock; it’s the sort of work that Deep Elm Records would have been all about in the early 2000s. The tension of heavily rhythmic drums and melodic lead guitar lines will make fans of Mare Vitalis-era Appleseed Cast grin in recognition.

The trio doesn’t ever get abstractly mathy in its ambitions: where the work is technical, it is complex for a songwriting reason. The center of closer “Blue Jacarandas. Lavender Skies.” is a powerfully emotive piece of music as well as an intricate one; “Splenetic” is held together by solid bass guitar work and a warm, burbling guitar tone that keeps away from the cold brittleness of some math-rock runs. This may be anchored by guitar acrobatics, but they’re of the flowing and beautiful type–not the brute force, shock-and-awe style. It also helps that all but one of the six tracks falls under four minutes, and two fall under three. This trio knows how to hit a tune, work their magic, and then get out before it gets repetitive. If you’re more into snappy motions than slow-building crescendoes, the type of post-rock that Speak, Memory plays will excite you.

Horizon: Stereo Soul Future

November 23, 2011

Stereo Soul Future‘s Ghost in the Night caught my attention with a bouncy, ’70s pop vibe similar to ELO in opener “If I…” The album continues in that grooves for the first five tunes of its 12-track, 40-minute run time, including the back-porch chill of “Sunday Morning” and finishing with the gently propelled lead single “The Freeze.”

From there, the band opens up its sound a bit more, experimenting with Simon + Garfunkel-esque pop (“Unmake the Oddity”), piano-pop tunes (“Killer Klown”), rock’n’roll (“Watching Circles”) and Fleetwood Mac-esque dark pop tunes (“Sinking Stone,” “Whisperers”). Some go better than others: “Unmake the Oddity” is very pretty, even if it has little to do with the rest of the album.

Stereo Soul Future has a bright future if it can take all its disparate ideas from the back half of the album and run them through their well-established ’70s pop filter from the first half of the album. Right now the thing feels a little bit like a good radio station: all songs that are worth hearing, but with little connecting them.

Alston David's enigmatic, engaging pop grows on me

November 14, 2011

Our disposable culture doesn’t have much use for slow-growing albums. This is a profound sadness, as albums that sink in over repeated listens often offer the highest dividends. Alston David’s self-titled album of eclectic, vintage pop is one of such releases.

This review almost didn’t make it to the site; David’s e-mail to me bounced around in various folders before finally settling in the “To Review” section. I didn’t exactly know what to make of it: The thirteen songs borrow from both the light piano-pop of ELO and the ominous, psychedelic mishmash of the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic. “Photograph (Angels/Devils)” pulls from both at the same time.

But as difficult as it is to wrap my head around the contrasting aspects of Alston David’s work, I kept coming back to the songs. “When California Falls Right Into the Ocean” has a haunting melody doubled by the vocal and piano, a ragged sense of rhythm, and lush atmosphere. Opener “Spottedcrow Flies” foregrounds the arch feel of the album via a synth-heavy march. The forlorn “Tornado” features a cold-yet-elegant piano and strings. “If It’s All In My Head” is what Keane’s nightmares sound like. These are pop songs, but not like any you’ve heard recently.

The tunes are hard to place in the constraints of genre; this may be because I’ve not been exposed to a great deal of this type of music, or because their cross-genre sound takes a while to get used to. I do know, however, that the melodies keep running in my head, no matter how difficult it is for me to cite RIYL bands or even specific and concrete reasons I like the album as much as I do.

I’m sure this has been a relatively unexciting read, and I apologize to everyone involved. But Alston David’s self-titled album is engaging because it’s enigmatic, and then enigmatic because it’s engaging. That loop makes for great listening, but not necessarily good writing. Just go listen to it – it’s worth your time, especially if you give it a full listen (and then think about it for a while).

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

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