Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Independent Clauses' Top 10 of 2010

February 13, 2011

Because I’m perpetually behind on CDs, I only get done with a previous year’s music in February.

10. Fort Orange — After the Fall. Basically, this is what I want all punk albums to sound like: furious, aggressive, short diatribes that make use of melody, rhythm and rage.

9. We’ve Built Up to NOTHING — 500 Miles to Memphis. Takes country-punk and pushes its boundaries out in all directions.

8. This Cage Has No Bottom — The Ascetic Junkies. Folk and indie-pop get mashed up in the most delightful way.

7. Ithica — Ithica. This genreless amazement is the second-most emotionally powerful album of the year and the best concept album.

6. Faithful Fools — The Damn Choir. Best lovelorn acoustic tunes of the year; it’s hard to beat a broken heart, an acoustic guitar and a cello.

5. Best of the Bees — Mansions. A jawdropping set of cast-off tunes that set up Mansions as the next Bright Eyes in terms of prolific nature and brilliant tunes.

4. Lost and Found — The Fools. Stark, beautiful acoustic tunes from two girls.

3. New Home — La Strada. Takes folk and bends it all around through world music and indie rock, producing jubilant, complex tracks that never bore.

2. Our New Life Above the Ground — Avalanche City. These are the acoustic-laden pop songs I wish I could write. Stomping, clapping, mandolin, melodies, harmonies, toms, just everything good is in these songs.

1. Sever Your Roots — The Felix Culpa. Hands down the best album of the year; nothing else even came close to approaching its masterful take on post-hardcore. The brilliant lyrics pushed it over the top.

The Damn Choir's depressed pop-folk is gorgeous and comforting

March 5, 2010

The Damn ChoirThere is absolutely no reason that I can discern to explain the unsigned status of The Damn Choir. Their album Faithful Fools is a confident, emotive, beautiful folk break-up album that showcases both the songwriting and performance chops of the members. There’s a maturity and clarity to the lyrics that propels this album far beyond the standard “I want you back” and “I miss you” themes of most break-up albums. The album is recorded incredibly well, and the overall effect of the album on me was devastating. The Damn Choir’s songs are powerful, even if they are about being depressed.

The Damn Choir used to be called Gordon and Katy, after the principal songwriters: Gordon Robertson (vocals/guitar) and Katy Myers (cello). Their interplay makes the album work; Robertson’s gentle picking and strumming is perfectly accompanied by Myers’ legato bowing. There are rarely times when the two are apart, and several of the best tracks here feature nothing but Robertson’s voice, Robinson’s guitar and Myers’ cello. “Love is a Trap” is one of these tracks, as a fingerpicking guitar line reminescent of Iron and Wine is given emotional weight by a sonorous cello line. Robertson’s unadorned vocals seem to emerge from his mouth without effort here and on the rest of the album; his voice sounds absolutely comfortable within the twelve songs of Faithful Fools.

It’s this comfort and ease that makes this album work. These songs don’t feel forced, and none of the arrangements feel like overkill. There is no filler, nor is there any overage. These songs are pared down to the essentials. On standout “Black,” that means that there’s a piano involved as well. On “Bricks,” there’s some spare drumming in addition to the piano.  “What Lovers Do” is a duet with a female vocalist, highly reminiscent of the Damien Rice/Lisa Hannigan collaborations.

Another comparison can be drawn to Rice in that both Rice and TDC treat their music with an almost reverent seriousness. Rice hollers his emotions much more abrasively than the easy-on-the-ears TDC, but the way they treat their songs and their subject matter is similar. This is not fun music; it’s important music. It means something.

Faithful Fools is a depressing ride, no doubt about it. But it’s also an incredibly gorgeous album with lyrical weight. Though morose, it is a comforting album, as the songs breathe with a confident gleam. The Damn Choir might not be happy, but they are really good.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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