One of the reasons I love working with Independent Clauses is that I like seeing things improve. Tracking a band from its very beginnings to success is a gratifying process, especially when I can hear bands improving on things I (and others) have pointed out in previous releases.
This is probably why The Ridges‘ self-titled EP is a bit baffling to me: there’s almost nothing I can recommend. The band has appeared fully-formed. The members have their orchestral folk rock down. People are going to like this or hate this not because it has to grow, but because people just do that with bands.
The EP fits the formula of what a great short-player should be almost to a T. There’s an establishment of the sound (“The Insomniac’s Song”), complete with pensive string intro. “Overboard” tweaks the formula by introducing sea shanty elements. “Not a Ghost” is their “single” – it’s an easily memorable, jaunty, interesting song with a good melody.
“Invented Love” is almost a perfect example of a third act turn, to prove the band isn’t a one-trick pony: it’s upbeat and enthusiastic without abandoning the core sound. “War Bonds” brings the sound back home to the beginnings with a killer closer. In short, they tick off everything I want to hear in an album/EP except a pensive acoustic track.
So as an Independent Clauses review, this is pretty unusual: I have no suggestions, really. It’s just plain good. I’d like to hear more of this, especially as their melodic strengths are honed to a fine point. As a statement of what this band can do, The Ridges’ EP is one of the strongest and most assured debut I’ve heard all year. Now they just need to dig world-conquering songs out of the vein they’ve already started to mine.
Listening to Tom Brosseau‘s Posthumous Success was definitely something of a surprise for me. A singer-songwriter folk artist hailing from North Dakota, Brosseau has been releasing albums since 2002, this one being his eighth. What surprised me is how someone with such talent has flown under the radar for so long.
Posthumous Success is a winding odyssey of an album, with music that sounds like it should be accompanying road trips or, as it was for me the first time I listened to it, gloriously long walks on a pleasant evening. Brosseau’s sound is best described like a mix of Pete Yorn, Bright Eyes’ Connor Oberst and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. However, the music just feels hard to nail down and describe. It comes at you with a sort of joyful sorrow, as the songs can sound both ecstatic and melancholy at the same time.
While the album sticks very much in a folk/indie-rock style, there’s a remarkable amount of diversity with variances in instrumentation and mood. From the opening, “My Favorite Color Blue” with its simple vocals and acoustic guitar, to the distortion and synth of “You Don’t Know My Friends,” Brosseau avoids the monotony that can often overtake artists that perform in a similar genre. These songs are all individually noticeable and manage to avoid blending together, a failing that regular readers will know that I particularly dislike.
Brosseau’s voice can take a little getting used to, and some might be turned off from it. His voice is full of tremolo and wavering, as if he could just stop and cry at any moment. The best comparison I can think of to this is Connor Oberst.
Musically, Brosseau shows off his talents well, as he is an accomplished guitarist. The acoustic work on “My Favorite Color Blue” is excellent, and I never felt that the song could use more instrumentation. Likewise, “Youth Decay,” an instrumental track that features only one electric guitar, is oddly moving in its use of minor chords. Brosseau also smartly uses instrumental tracks like “Youth Decay” and “Miss Lucy” to transition one song from another, using similar instrumentation to make them flow better into one another. “Miss Lucy,” in fact, sounds like an extended outro for “Give Me A Drumroll,” yet doesn’t sound out of place right before “Axe & Stump.”
Anyone who appreciates smart songwriting or indie-folk would probably enjoy Posthumous Success greatly. Brosseau has a great amount of talent and the album displays it well. Standouts include “My Favorite Color Blue,” “Give Me a Drumroll,” “Axe & Stump,” and “Wishbone Medallion.” The track “Been True” is actually available right now via iTunes’ Facebook page in its “Indie Spotlight Sampler.” I’d recommend checking it out.
Released in 2008, All My Days is perhaps the most heartfelt album I’ve reviewed this year. Corinne Gooden’s voice has a warm country twinge which simply arrested me on first listen. Her voice is intimate and makes you have to sit and listen. Corinne’s feelings are obviously completely entwined in her words and notes. It’s impossible to listen to All My Days without feeling along with her. Corinne has a rare gift for drawing you in and letting you feel her love, her happiness, her pain, her heartbreak, and her hope.
Corinne’s voice can be haunting, especially on track three, “All My Days.” Corinne sings a melody here that’s so innately familiar, yet original in its own right. Her voice is painted over a perfect tapestry of her interlocking acoustic guitar and what seems to be a keyboard, the latter of which begins and ends the song. The drums provide perfect accentuation to the notes and lyrics. The lyrics are perfect, the chorus saying: “All my days/a world which pushes down the pain/I cannot make this go away/all my nights/a dream that haunts my sleep again/I cannot seem to make you stay.” Simply beautiful. Make no mistake – “All My Days” is a hit.
But Corinne doesn’t stop here. All her following songs are great (as well as those preceding “All My Days”). “Come This Far,” rocks pretty hard. The bridge is very powerful and Corinne’s voice really shines here, offering a nice contrast to “All My Days.” “Come This Far” also lets her accompaniment shine; they really help Corinne to reach high in this album.
“17th Street” is a tragic yet beautiful song dealing with something many struggle with. The song is about how people pass a homeless man on the corner in their cars, completely ignoring him. Corinne isn’t accusatory – she admits she does the same, and that this is even normal. The tragedy lies just in the fact that it’s normal. This song takes this example to expose the numbness in the human heart, a numbness which makes us forget that we need each other.
Corinne is talented as a songwriter and has the ability to draw the listener in and make him or her feel. I would definitely like more people to know about Corinne Gooden, because she is simply amazing. She is the best female vocalist I’ve heard this year, hands down. She has crafted the kind of album where, after listening to it, you feel like you know her.
She has song samples on both her site and her MySpace – be sure to check them out!