1. “County Line” – Susto. Susto is one of the very best alt-country acts working today, and if you don’t know that you haven’t heard their stuff yet. Let this nigh-on-perfect tune serve as your introduction.
2. “King” – The Amazing Devil. This incredibly intense song wrings every last drop of emotion out of dramatic vocal performances, a cinematic lyrical set, and a churning full-band acoustic performance. Cello has rarely sounded so incredibly vibrant and necessary in folk-rock. The video that accompanies the tune is equally impassioned; it’s a rare thing that the video enhances the experience of listening to the song, but this one totally does. Highly recommended. Their album comes out Monday, so if you’re in London you should check their release show out. If it’s anything like this video, it promises to be a wild affair.
3. “Window” – Stephen Douglas Wolfe. Saxophone and French horn are not common inclusions in a woodsy folk tune, but Wolfe makes them sound totally natural. Between them and the bassist going absolutely bonkers (you go!), this sounds almost more like Anathallo than it does Bon Iver, but fans of both will find much to love in this tune.
4. “Dancing in the Dark” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. This song is infinitely coverable: I would listen to almost anyone cover this tune. The fact that Josiah and the Bonnevilles are my favorite new band of the year makes it even more excellent.
5. “Standing” – Melody Federer. This singer-songwriter/indie-pop tune has a melodic maturity that stands up against Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Watkins, and Sleeping at Last. It has gravitas while still remaining light; it’s a very rare balance that is to be celebrated.
6. “Why Don’t You Call Home” – Deni Gauthier. Sometimes all you need is a great falsetto and a tiny guitar riff to steal hearts.
7. “Sunset Road” – Kathryn Overall. Here’s a folk-pop tune about contentment, local beauty, and home played in a low-key, no-frills, earnest way. I broke into a smile, and I think you will too.
8. “Under a Rose” – Dylan Addington. Always space in my heart for a folk-pop tune with a catchy vocal melody and stomping percussion. Fans of The Lumineers should be all up on this.
9. “The Captain” – Adam Topol. Fans of the easygoing acoustic joy of Dispatch and Guster will find a lot of love in Topol’s swaying, airy, summery tune.
10. “Catch Your Fall” – The River South. The iconic shuffle-snare is employed to great effect here, providing the backbone for a delicate love song. The keyboards, bass, and dual vocals fill in the warm, comforting vibe.
11. “White Sky” – Lilla Clara. A solemn, emotionally powerful tune that sucks all the air out of the room.
12. “Between the Bars” – Andrea Silva. Elliott Smith cannot have very much added to him, but reinterpretation keeps a legacy alive. This cover features a great vocal performance, too. (editor’s note: this song is no longer available.)
13. “Once Upon a Child” – Eleanor Murray. Tape hiss, nylon strings, room reverb, and an arresting alto vocal line come together for a deeply affecting tune.
14. “Loss” – Paul Sweeney. This contemplative solo guitar piece has a consistent motion in the melodic line that makes the song both evocative and emotional.
15. “Improvisation I” – De Martenn. This solo piano piece explores a dark blue mood; it feels like the street corner late at night, when you know no one is around but it still feels like something is going to happen. It’s peaceful but not serene; there’s some undercurrent going right there under the surface. You look twice; no one is there either time. You’re a little disappointed, but but also relieved. You walk home. You sleep well.
1. “Winter is for Kierkegaard” – Tyler Lyle. There are few things that get me more than a earnest tenor singing way too many words over a folky arrangement. Lyle plays somewhere between Josh Ritter, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Gregory Alan Isakov.
2. “Resolution” – Young Legs. The world always needs more quirky, delightful indie-pop on a strummed banjo.
3. “The Fall” – Reina del Cid. Warm, fingerpicked acoustic guitar; brushed snare; stand-up bass; contented alto vocals–it sounds like all the bits and bobs of a country song, but del Cid turns it into a charming folky ballad.
4. “Forever for Sure” – Laura & Greg. The gentle, easy-going guitar and male/female vocals create an intimate vibe, while a mournful instrument in the distance creates a sense of spaciousness. The strings glue them together–the whole thing comes off beautifully. I’ve likened them to the Weepies before, but this one also has a Mates of State vibe.
5. “Touch the Ground” – The Chordaes. Dour Brit-pop verses, sky-high falsetto in the sunshiny, hooky chorus–the band’s covering all their bases on the pop spectrum. That chorus is one to hum.
6. “Inside Out” – Avalanche City. My favorite Kiwis return not with an Antlers-esque, downtempo, white-boy-soul song. It’s not exactly the chipper acoustic pop of previous, but it’s still infectiously catchy.
7. “Bad Timing” – The Phatapillars. If Jack Johnson’s muse was outdoor camping and music festivals instead of surfing, he could have ended up like this. For fans of Dispatch and old-school Guster.
8. “Tapes” – The Weather Station. Sometimes trying to describe beauty diminishes it. Let this song just drift you away.
9. “ Forest of Dreams” – Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands. The Decemberists have largely gone standard with their arrangements, but there are still people holding it down for klezmer arrangements of gypsy-influenced melodies mashed up with the occasional operatic vocal performance. It’s like a madcap Beirut or a female-fronted Gogol Bordello.
10. “Heavy Star Movin’ – The Silver Lake Chorus. Written by the Flaming Lips for the choir (which operates in a very Polyphonic Spree-like manner), it’s appropriately cosmic and trippy. Strings accompany, but nothing else–the vocals are the focus here.
11. “Emma Jean” – WolfCryer. Here’s Matt Baumann doing what he’s great at: playing the storytelling troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a world-weary baritone.
It’s getting better and better outside, so my ears are getting more and more attuned to those summery tunes.
Oh So Summery
1. “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” – Kishi Bashi. He’s on Joyful Noise Recordings, which sounds like a 100% perfect fit. This ridiculously happy and catchy tune will get stuck in your head. HAPPY SUMMER Y’ALL.
2. “Sweater Weather” – Challenger. If John Ross gets any more inspired by the ’80s, I’ll have to start questioning where he’s hiding his time machine. But for now, enjoy this blissed-out synth-pop, complete with gated snares and stuttering percussion fills.
3. “Dead Man’s Pose” – Old Smokey. Almost as excited as Kishi Bashi is Old Smokey, a folky outfit that features no guitars but 3000% enthusiasm. This is not your average folk: brass and clarinet counter throughout when the members of the band aren’t group-hollering. It’s just wonderful.
4. “Let’s Get Started” – Dylan Gardner. OH SUMMER YOU ARE ALMOST HERE. I will celebrate you with a guitar-pop tune by a flop-haired teenager with pop chops. I only thought of Hanson like once. Mostly the Beatles. But some Hanson. No Bieber though.
5. “Halo” – DamnRight! There’s always room in my heart for chillwave-inspired electro fun.
6. “I Spy” – Michael McFarland. I love Train, so take this as nothing but a compliment when I say that this track falls somewhere between Train and old-school Guster.
7. “Old Foes” – Yaquina Bay. Orchestral folk is not generally known for its easygoing vibe, but Yaquina Bay creates just such a mood here.
8. “Morning Light” – Andrew Judah. I’m not sure how Judah came up with the idea to get steel drums and banjo together, but it sounds incredible. I am extremely excited for this upcoming record–it promises to bend genres all over the places.
9. “Terrible Love” – Moda Spira. Latifah Phillips takes a different angle on The National’s slow-burner, but it’s no less dramatic or powerful at the end.
10. “Right In My Arms” – Exzavier Whitley. Like early Iron & Wine, this is deeply calming fingerstyle guitar that cares more about the mood than perfection of performance. Gorgeous work.
Lotta good stuff trying to cram its way into 2013! Here’s a varied mix.
1. “No Sleep Tonight” – Family Cave. The precision of indie-pop, the aesthetics of indie-rock, and the mood of indie-folk create an incredibly intriguing tune. Watch for Family Cave in 2014.
2. “Keep It Together” – Decent Lovers. Not a cover of a Guster tune, this DL jam is ironically pretty separated and hectic. It’s held together by a strong mood and a deep internal rhythm. Elijah Wyman is getting better and better at this really unique style of pop.
4. “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” – Miles Hewitt. Reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s protest rock, Hewitt combines old and new into a hypnotic mix.
5. “Belfast” – William Steffey. Takes cues from Oasis with dashes of Portishead and Blur, this tune sounds completely British but is totally from Chicago.
6. “Heartbreakers” – Tomorrows. The Jim Ivins Band rebrands and revamps, moving from an adult-pop template to sounds more akin to Anberlin’s early modern rock. The prominence of vocal melodies has not changed, which is good.
7. “Love Is Not Allowed” – Gap Dream. Obligatory Eno namecheck. Aside from that, this is a gorgeous, swirling mass of analog-sounding synths, modulated vocals, and electronic drums that makes me swoon.
8. “Get In It” – Nyteowl. Funky, spacey, mostly-instrumental R&B. “Do you want to get in it?” Yes. Yes, I do.
9. “Get Down Baby” – Blacktop Daisy. You’ve got to hand it to a band which unabashedly labels its music disco. No violins here, but those harmonies!
10. “Can’t Let Go” – Black Checker. This pop-rock-punk tune comes from an EP called Fast. Yup, that’s pretty much all you need to know.
11. “The Ah Ah Song” – Stand Up and Say No. I miss the days when The Flaming Lips made jubilant, illogical, bright pop tunes. This joyful, exuberant pop-rock tune is exactly that.
12. “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Magi. This Bill Withers cover is minimalist lo-fi glory: the distant recording, the raw passion in the imperfect vocals, the deep sense of mood.
Any band that makes me think of Guster is automatically on my good list, which makes the Atlanta folk/pop duo Rye the newest member of that club. David and Jonathan Fallis show off a smooth, upbeat, smile-inducing sound on the Near Me EP reminiscent of Easy Wonderful and Keep it Together. Opener “She Flies” kicks off the sound perfectly with a memorable guitar melody, tight vocal harmonies and an easy-going chemistry between the instruments. The thoughtful “You Matter” still retains great motion and melodies throughout, while “I Go Crazy” invokes an affectionate mood with folky harmonica and acoustic guitar. When they slow it down and go for the drama (“Midnight Conversations,” “Take Me Away”), the results are a little less satisfying, but it seems that with a bit more polish they could master that too. At the moment, however, Rye is at its best when the melodies are warm and the good vibes are flowing.
For Independent Clauses’ seventh birthday last year, I put out a small, limited-time compilation of unreleased songs by my favorite bands that IC has covered. I stepped it up this year for IC’s eighth birthday: I helped put a real release of new material into the world.
The goal of IC over the past eight years has always been to help undiscovered artists; it’s a natural extension to move into producing and management.
Alt-folk singer/songwriter The Duke of Norfolk is the first artist I’m partnering with in this new venture; his new EP Barnacle Goosecame out Tuesday. I helped produce it. The five-song release is free, and I’d recommend it to fans of Freelance Whales, Beirut, Guster and/or the banjo.
Thanks in advance for giving the tunes a listen! I’m pretty proud of the project, and hope you’ll enjoy it. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments or send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for being a part of Independent Clauses over the last octade; it’s been a fun, fascinating and sometimes fretful ride, but I love it. Here’s to eight more!
Sometimes when I meet someone, I get this feeling that I’m going to know them for a really long time. It’s rare, but it’s also rarely wrong. I experience this feeling with music as well; it’s incredibly unusual, but it does happen. I had one of those moments of intense clarity upon first listen to Avalanche City‘s Our New Life Above the Ground. From the first few seconds of the first song, I was hooked.
And by hooked, I mean I couldn’t go to sleep that night until I had posted it to my girlfriend’s Facebook wall. I literally couldn’t rest until I had told someone about the magnificence of this album. Let the gushing begin.
The album is a debut, first of all. It falls neatly between Guster’s latest and Mumford and Sons’ only, in that it’s chock full of classic pop songwriting arranged beautifully as well as stuffed full of swooning romanticism that teeters on the edge of saccharine but never goes over. These songs have the epic bent from M&S removed, as well as the seriousness that Guster can fall into pulled out. These twelve humble songs were conceived and performed with barely-contained glee that boils over in all sorts of ways.
Whether it’s stomping and clapping, group singalongs, perky guitar strum (oh so much of that going on), cheery mandolin, tom-heavy drumbeats (you know the type) or any other number of upbeat maneuvers, Avalanche City makes sure that you know he’s having a blast. But it’s not a sugar rush; on the contrary, it’s the type of revelatory happiness that accompanies a soul a peace, bursting at the seams with its fullness.
And the soul is something discussed often here. AC sticks to generally universal language; terms like soul, freedom, love, sadness, adventure, dream, you and me appear frequently. “So long captivity, for me,” he declares at the end of “Ends in the Ocean,” and the whole rest of the album (save for “Love Don’t Leave”) proves that, indeed, that’s what he did.
“Oh Life” is a wide-eyed wonder of a track, marveling at everything in just over a minute. “You and I” is the most charming love song I’ve heard this year, claiming, “If you found your toothpaste empty, I would squeeze out just a little more/if you had the sweetest victory, I’d high-five you till our hands were sore.” He goes on, and each line is better than the last. There’s also copious amounts of clapping and tom rolls, which are totally wonderful. “Love Love Love,” which is not a cover of the Mountain Goats tune, is the anthem that kicks the whole shebang off, and it’s a heck of a way to do it.
Each and every song here is memorable; each and every one is worth noting. As a full album, it’s nigh on perfect. There are fast songs, slow songs, midtempo songs, anthems, musings, pop songs, and everything else. There’s even instrumental solos, if you’re into that. I mean, this has it all. And, best of all, you will leave wanting to go hug someone (preferably a significant other) with a huge smile on your face.
Avalanche City’s Our New Life Above the Ground is an album that transcends genre boundaries and appeals directly to souls that love living (or want to). The songs are affectionately written, perfectly arranged and brilliantly performed. This was released in ’10, and it’s the last album of 2010 that I’m reviewing. It’s best to end on a high note, after all.
Here Are Some Things is a teaser EP for Like Clockwork‘s very long awaited album These Are All Things, which could be as big as a triple LP. The current press says “full-length record,” so make of that what you will.
The EP contains four pop songs. “Grappling Hook” dabbles in Cobra Starship-esque dance pop, while “Televisionary” is like a Fountains of Wayne power-pop song. “Method Act” is a Guster-esque acoustic tune. “Starchild” is a distorted garage-rock tune. None of them are bad, but the vast array of genres makes it feel like nothing more than a teaser. There’s no coherence, nor does it seem that any was attempted. It’s literally “some things.”
Like Clockwork has experience with dance-pop, so his skills in that area are a bit more refined in “Grappling Hook” than in other areas. Ending track “Starchild” is a bit of a mess, but it’s an enjoyable crash. The most ambitious of the set, it starts off at a punk-fueled clip and then spins out into a spaced-out, flowy jam before throwing down some intermittent guitar noises for a long outro.
The EP certainly shows the breadth of Like Clockwork’s songwriting interests. I don’t know how the album is going to pan out after hearing this EP, because it could go in any direction. But the EP certainly has me looking forward to the album, so it’s done its job very well.
A lot can be done with an acoustic strum and a snare shuffle. Old Man’s Beard knows this and puts it to good effect on The River. They specialize in pristinely-recorded folk songs, making the familiar elements of folk and country into bright, shiny parts of pop songs.
This is not a bad thing; the instruments sound gorgeous, the vocals are beautiful, and the snare shuffle has never sounded more elegant. Purists will complain that Old Man’s Beard has more in common with Guster than Alan Lomax, and that’s true. But I don’t see that as something to complain about. There are plenty of Woody Guthrie wannabes, and not enough songs that sound like “Empty Pockets” (the purists will debate this point too, but I don’t care).
Most of these songs ease about at a stately pace, giving the listener time to enjoy the immaculate recording. Some of them move slowly because there are deep reggae influences (“Dawson Bound,” “Tofino”). The former even has the signature drumbeat and strum pattern as reggae. Still, the note-perfect production of the song ties it in with the rest in feel.
The River is an absolutely gorgeous record. There is nothing out of place and no mistakes: nothing but pristine sound. The songs are memorable, fun and interesting. And seriously, the production is amazing. I love The River. Highly recommended for fans of acoustic pop or a wide interpretation of the word “folk.”
There are few things I love more than a song celebrating life. There are plenty of break-up songs and misery tunes in the world, but not enough songs championing good things. Feldiken (the man) is on a mission to change that.
Feldiken (the musical project) has a new EP called Common Splendor, and it is six songs of relentless positivity. His sound primarily stays in the upbeat, bright-eyed pop that he showcased on his debut album Small Songs About Us. The notable exception is “Together in this Groove,” which is a surprisingly coherent and entertaining dance track. While the songwriting style hasn’t changed too much, the lyrics are much more memorable this time around.
Title track “Common Splendor” tells short stories of people taking care of other people, and it’s sincere enough to defeat any accusations of kitsch. Instead, the lyrics are genuinely uplifting and beautiful. “Everybody Loves You” does get a bit saccharine, but it’s redeemed by the funk-inflected pop of “Everything for Everyone.” It’s still not for everyone; I mean, it’s a funky song about helping people. There is no irony here.
Feldiken’s voice is solid, his songwriting is tight, and the EP wooshes by in with a grin and a dance step or two. Fans of Backyard Tire Fire, Bishop Allen and Guster will embrace Feldiken, as will anyone who loves an optimist.
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.