Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

April MP3s: 2

April 2, 2016

1. “War and Opera” – Montoya. The careful, restrained arranging that Montoya deploys in this melodic indie-pop tune gives it a maturity and dignity that separate it from other tunes. The delicate guitar and alto vocals still create thoroughly enough interest to power this intriguing song.

2. “ALIEN” – Laura and Greg. The duo has transformed from a pristine acoustic duo into a punchy, noisy indie-pop-rock outfit. It’s not exactly Sleigh Bells, but they’re heading in that direction–but Laura’s charming vocals and fun keys keep the song on this side of full-on-indie-rock assault.

3. “Call Me Out” – Jesse Alexander. A former member of Cobalt and the Hired Guns keeps the ska / indie-pop fusion tunes coming: this one has horns and organ to keep the good vibes flowing.

4. “Fire Up the Bilateral Brain and Draw” – Word to Flesh. Here’s a quirky tune that employs the keys-focused sound structures of formal pop, but has no real formal structure: the only phrase in the two minute tune is the titular mantra, surrounded by guitar noodling. It’s remarkably engaging, and then it’s over–sort of like a less manic They Might Be Giants.

5. “Rainer” – Lull. A hammering rock intro flips on its head and unveils a delicate, early ’00s emo sound. They get back to the rock, but they take their sweet time getting there and make it worth your while when they do.

6. “A Moment to Return” – Why We Run. Moody bass/drums meets The National vocals with some U2 ambient/anthemic guitars on top. The results are a surprisingly uplifting post-punk tune–post-punk generally doesn’t make me want to dance or smile, and there’s some of both to be had here.

7. “When We’re Clouds” – Slow Runner. So indie-rock used to be shorthand for “rock songs that are definitely rock but kinda don’t play by the same rules.” Slow Runner’s tune is a song of (government?) scientific experimentation on human subjects (I think?). The music itself is slightly off-kilter rock, like a louder Grandaddy, a chillaxed Flaming Lips, or something altogether different. Here’s to Slow Runner.

8. “Dance Baby” – Luxley. That rare electro-rock song which doesn’t hammer listeners over the head with massive synth blasts–instead, there’s a bit of Cobra Starship restraint in the vocal-heavy arrangement. There is a bit of punk-pop attitude in the vocals (Good Charlotte came to mind), giving this a bit of a unique flair.

9. “Maria, Mine” – Don Tigra. Former folkie Stephen Gordon has slickly and impressively reinvented himself as an indie-rocker with post-punk vibes, coming off as a cross between Interpol, Cold War Kids, and Leagues. (Full disclosure: I’ve given some professional advice to Gordon over the years.)

10. “Psychopaths and Sycophants” – Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. Bluesy, swampy roots rock with whiskey-sodden, raspy vocals and all sorts of swagger. The great backup vocal arrangement and performances put the song over the top.

11. “Polaris” – Shiners. Minimalist electro-pop usually doesn’t have enough structure and melody to keep me interested, but Shiners do a great job of creating a cohesive, immersive whole out of small parts.

March MP3s: On the Fly

April 3, 2015

Here’s a batch of MP3s that I have been long remiss in posting. Also, happy Good Friday to you.

On the Fly

1. “A Warning of Sorts” – CHIRPING. Are we ever done with slick, well-produced, cheery indie-rock from Swedes? No, never. Put on your dancing shoes.

2. “Number One” – The Sideshow Tragedy. Did The Black Keys ever sound sinister? The Sideshow Tragedy has honed the blues-rock guitar/drums duo to a fine point here, packing in energy, melodies, dynamics, and (yes) even some sinister vocal vibes. Whoever can’t get behind a good tambourine needs to get this tune in front of them.

3. “Retro Bastard (KKBB Remix)” – Blood Sport. Kasey Keller Big Band turns out a remix of a song I’ve never heard, resulting in a complex pastiche of zooming digital sounds, heavy bass lines, complex drumming, and hollered vocals. Somehow, it turns into a herky-jerky dance tune, the sort of thing that mid-to-late ’00s dance-rock bands would have jonesed after. Intricate yet danceable, Artsy yet poppy? Turn that up.

4. “Sovereign Gore” – Casual Threats. Jamming post-hardcore’s dissonant aggression, post-punk’s wiry experimentation, and Interpol-esque dour melodies into one track is a tall order, but Casual Threats pull it off with confident aplomb.

5. “Unknown” – Lylit. If you have a way with a “whoa-oh,” you’re going to do well in today’s pop scene. Having an infectious groove that rides the line between dramatic and decidedly happy helps too.

6. “Lost is Found” – Perdido Key. In an age of no-nuance EDM, it’s refreshing to hear a club-ready tune with some atmosphere and restraint. It’s no surprise that it hearkens back to the ’90s–but not too much–to get that feel.

7. “Caves” – Sea Bed. Bouncy, rubbery keys give this dance tune a cool underwater feel, in addition to the boots’n’cats techno beat. (What up ’90s! Two in a row!) The vocal melody is infectious as well. This is way cool.

8. “He’s Heating Up” – Homeshake. So, this comes from an album that’s celebrating ’90s NBA basketball, which is a fantastic idea. Homeshake’s homage sounds like some unique alternate-universe version of Prince: feathery falsetto, vaguely funky mood, and affected sense of drama.

9. “Time For a New School of Alchemy” – ticktock. Glitchy electro had an idiosyncratic sort of beauty to it. This track harnesses bleeps, burbles, and chopped up sounds in the service of traditionally beautiful work that falls somewhere between ’80s synth-pop and modern bedroom chillwave.

10. “Mother of Maladies” – Marrow. I don’t know what it is about keyboards that can ground a funky song so well, but the wurlitzer gives this churning, whirling indie-rock piece a bit of solidity.

11. “Great Divide” – Humming House. Having great “whoa-ohs” helps in folk-pop too, as Humming House knows. Vocals reminiscent of The Avetts’ power this energetic, enthusiastic gem.

12. “When I Rise” – Diamondwolf. Percussion is real important in alt-country, and the stomp-clap drumming makes the mood here. The zinging pedal steel and heavy acoustic strum help too, making this into a powerful stomper of a tune.

13. “Ghost Town (Acoustic)” – Justin Klump. Klump’s voice has some of the trembling passion of Needtobreathe’s Bear Rinehart, but it’s set in a poignant, sentimental acoustic pop arrangement featuring cello and gentle banjo.

14. “Strong” – The Paper Shades. In the midst of this hurried and harried world, we need gentle singer/songwriter duos to tell us to “slow it down.” Unspool your stresses and let the gorgeous waves break kindly over you. Here’s to those who are still carrying the torch of calm.

February Singles: Pop, Light and Dark

March 11, 2015

Pop, Light and Dark

1. “Just What I Needed” – Wonderful Humans. Whatever the opposite of “reign of terror” is, WH is on that path. Their seemingly endless stream of high-energy, ’80s-inspired dance-pop singles continues with this tropical track.

2. “Summertime” – Ships Have Sailed. ShS are also on a hot streak: this latest tune is some combination of the Cars and All-American Rejects.

3. “Eternal Sunshine” – Memoryy. Yep, you can hook me with any invocation of steel drums. (They’re just so happy!) The rest of the track besides the chorus splits the difference between nu-disco and glitchy clicking–always fun.

4. “Too Damn Good” – JOA. The inimitable Jesse Owen Astin is back to making guitar-rock/electro-pop mini epics, and this one is a builder that grows to a huge apex and then fades away.

5. “She Speaks the Wave” – The Nursery. This song would have fit right in on radio when Interpol, The Killers, and The Bravery were all towering. Some real sleek, solid dance-rock here.

6. “Drive” – Ships Have Sailed. You know when Jimmy Eat World goes for a ballad but still gotta have the angsty energy? Ships Have Sailed power through this track with that same feel.

7. “Tears” – Prints. Dark, clubby electronic pop songs.are a dime a dozen, but Prints float above the pack by balancing your emotional needs with your club needs.

8. “Earth Not Above” – HÆLOS. Cinematic, evocative trip-hop mixed with some modern beats? Sign me up.

9. “Underlined Passages From Your Books” – Underlined Passages. Here’s some lush, walking-speed romance from members formerly of indie-rockers The Seldon Plan. Combining early ’00s indie-pop melodies with early ’00s emo guitar tone is a sweet spot these days.

Final 2014 MP3 Drops – Electro High / Electro Down

January 5, 2015

Electro High / Electro Down

1. “Keys in the Lake” – Hillström and Billy. This Swedish indie-rock track starts out at a level of enthusiasm that many songs crescendo to. It grows from there, if you can imagine that.

2. “Everything at Once” – Her Magic Wand. Authentic drum sounds power this M83-meets-Interpol-meets-Air jam.

3. “This Picture’s Old” – Stereogramm. Arpeggiator-heavy synth-pop from the “faster faster faster” school of thought, tempered with a relaxed vocal delivery that creates a fun tension. In lesser hands it could have been goofy, but instead it’s endearing.

4. “Young Oblivion” – Memoryy. If the giddiness of MGMT could have been tempered by the darkling sheen of The Naked and Famous, we’d have had this jubilant track earlier than we do.

5. “Wherever You Are” – New Arcades. If you’re looking for a huge, synthy pop track, here’s a strong candidate.

6. “Me vs. I (Rimski Bronski Mix)” – Hannah Schneider. Schneider is a neo-classical/electro/singer-songwriter somewhat in a more-recognizable-Bjork vein. This remix gives her sound bounce, lift, and vaguely African rhythms for a really fun time.

7. “Part of the Problem” – Trey Mumz. With a name like that, I’d expect auto-tuned R&B slow jamz. Instead, it’s auto-tuned psych slow jamz. Mad skillz.

8. “Me, Liquor & God” – Night Beds. If you go electro, you better know what you’re doing. Night Beds does a good job of keeping his melodic gifts on display while transitioning from soaring country to club-friendly, arch electronica.

9. “Sudden Acts” – Temple Invisible. Portishead-style trip-hop vocals meet witch house-style synths: a dark rave ensues.

10. “Raise the Gate (ft. Body Games)” – T0W3RS. First rule of electronica: know when to get out. This two-and-a-half-minute slice of ominous vibes and slinky rhythms hits it right on.

11. “Reykjavik, January 2015” – Teen Daze. My favorite “started as chillwave” outfit is now augmenting their core sound with the icy/warm tension of pensive melodies and pushing rhythms. The result is a beautiful piano-led tune.

September MP3s 2: Quiet Heart

October 10, 2014

Quiet Heart

1. “New World” – Grammar. What if the Postal Service had been thought up by a woman instead of a man? Here’s a loose, flexible, smooth take on electro-pop that made me ponder the question.

2. “Gum Wrapper Rings” – Kind Cousin. I love to hear sentimental-yet-complex songwriting, and Kind Cousin delivers. Fans of Laura Stevenson will rejoice in the amalgam of wistful indie-rock guitars, ’50s girl pop vocals, and noisy drumming.

3. “Hold On Tight” – Ed Prosek. Radio-friendly, catchy folk-pop that’s a cross between Ed Sheeran and Phillip Phillips. Yes, that’s a pretty strong litmus test, I know. But it’s true.

4. “White Pine Way” – More than Skies. This impressive track falls somewhere between noisy punk/emo and slicker indie-rock bands like Interpol and Silversun Pickups. Lots of great melodies, but without hitting you over the head with them. Great work here.

5. “Black River” – Wild Leaves. Lush harmonies and ’70s-style production make Laurel Canyon the spiritual home of this track. Fleetwood Mac can come too.

6. “Tulsa Springs” – White White Wolf. Here’s an ominous, mysterious, rugged cabin-folk tune that’s high on atmosphere. (Also, +1 for anything with the name of my hometown in it.)

7. Ne Brini Za Mene – Neverdays. The Serbian response to Jason Molina, complete with mournful cello.

8. Even I – Grant Valdes. Valdes found a trove of hymns written by Haden Laas (1899-1918), an American soldier in WWI. They didn’t have scores, just words–so Valdes is setting each of the 44 hymns to music. This initial offering is a plaintive, yearning, piano-led tune. I’m super-excited to see where this goes.

More MP3s!!!!!

August 1, 2014

1. “My Young Love Was as Blind as Ray Charles and Half as Cold as Heat” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Not content to drop one contender for album of the year in 2014, Hillig is gearing up for release #2. From the sounds of this, he’s still on a roll. Or, if you’d like…

2. “Start Again” – Slow Readers Club. There’s a dark, slinky, sexy groove that falls between Interpol and Bloc Party going on in this hook-filled tune.

3. “Feels Like Work” – The Slang. Jimmy Eat World seems to have a monopoly on the introspective rock song that is both emotionally powerful and actually rocking, but The Slang are throwing their hat in the ring with this tune. I’m a fan of this towering rock tune.

4. “The Lord’s Favorite” – Iceage. These Danes make this tune sound like some sort of high-speed, drunken Johnny Cash outtake, from the musical style to the depictions of drinking and hard living. (That’s high praise, in case you were wondering.)

5. “Why I Had to Go” – Bishop Allen. People who weren’t necessarily fans of Bishop Allen’s latest power-pop single will rejoice at this eclectic, affected indie-pop tune reminiscent of their previous work.

6. “Memories That You Call (feat. Monsoonsiren)” – ODESZA. My favorite post-dub electro group drops a quirky, upbeat, friendly tune that makes me want to go running.

7. “Hold Still” – Slow Magic. Threatening ODESZA’s place as my favorite electro artist right now, Slow Magic makes moody, ethereal moments out of the most minor of sounds. This one does open up into a bit of an epic slow jam, but never includes a ton of instruments to overwhelm you with.

8. “Trap” – Remedies. This smooth, well-crafted electro jam has strong Zelda/Final Fantasy vibes, and I’m totally down with that.

9. “Weightless” – Grand Pavilion. These newcomers take a slow jam/R&B angle on their electro work, complete with autotune reveries.

10. “Bark and Sticks” – Kosoti. I never thought I’d be into a fusion of alt-folk and funky rhythms, but lo and behold. Really unique mood here.

11. “We All Been There” – Chris Heller. Mmm, sometimes you just gotta have some piano-fronted blue-eyed soul/R&B in your life. Heller really nails the soulful chorus.

ENERGY AND STUFF

January 15, 2014

My last MP3 drop was pretty chill. Here’s some decidedly energetic MP3s to get you through the middle of the week.

ENERGY AND STUFF

1. “The Scope of All This Rebuilding” – The Hotelier. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the incredible title of the album this comes from: Home, like Noplace Is There. Then appreciate the frantic, emotionally charged, complex arrangements of this mile-a-minute pop-punk rager. It’s a workout, y’all.

2. “On Your Own” – Germany Germany. Clubby house with some neat synths and a great nighttime vibe? SECRET TECHNO FAN EMERGES!

3. “Tear Your Hate Apart” – Monks of Mellonwah. I cover hardly any modern rock, but man–these guys know what’s up. Interpol-esque moods, great falsetto, and strong control of atmosphere call up Muse comparions, but without the proggy bloat.

4. “Here We Go Again” – King Champion Sounds. The line between punk and post-punk is muddied here by horns that aspire to stay out of ska territory by being textural and integral to the sound.

5. “Evergreen (Feat. I AM DIVE)” – Brunetto. Moody electro incorporating fractured breakbeats, muscly tones, and some chill vocals (for contrast).

6. “Pulsing (Feat. Nina K)” – Tomas Barfod. You’re driving on an empty highway through a major metropolitan area at 4 a.m. This perfectly titled electro track is playing on the stereo.

7. “How Do You Know” – Scary Little Friends. Neil Young guitars, skyscraping vocals, and a ragtag alt-country feel propel this tune to great heights.

8. “Head for the Hills” – Night Beds. Night Beds can do no wrong so far, as the folky troubadour gives us a few triumphant indie-rock moments here. Give your ears a rest and enjoy this one.

Italian Japanese restrain the rock, yet suck listeners in for a ride

June 8, 2010

With a goofy name like Italian Japanese and an even goofier title of The Lush, Romantic Weirdness, it was hard for me to take this album seriously at the onset. Both of those sins were forgiven by the end of the first song, though. Italian Japanese know their stuff.

Italian Japanese appropriates the moody anthems of Silversun Pickups, sprinkles in the punchy riffs of Cold War Kids, then tops off the mix with the insistent melodies of Interpol.  The eerie, minor keys are lightened by the vocal tone and melodies, which are instantly memorable. The vocalist has a smooth, inviting tone that draws listeners in. Then he keeps them with infectious melodies.

When I listened to this album a second time, I felt like I was listening to it for the hundredth time, because the melodies were that familiar and that lovable. “Jaguar Paw” has a fantastic, “where have you been all my life?” guitar line. “Le Pony” has a vocal melody that will stick in your head. So does “The Knife,” although it is helped along by stellar composition techniques and a firm grasp on mood.  “Ladybird” does the same, as the barely restrained power in the band underscores the calm but passionate vocals. It’s fantastic songwriting on both sides of the ball.

The mood is the slow burner on this album. Yes, the vocal melodies are spontaneously lovable. Appreciation for individual instruments and their performers filters through my consciousness as I appreciate this album more and more. But it’s the atmosphere that The Lush, Romantic Weirdness creates that leaves the longest-lasting impression. Italian Japanese is the type of band that should be scoring movies, because their songs control the feel of whatever room or vehicle I’m playing them in. As Italian Japanese plays pensive, somber, thoughtful indie-rock, and I live in a house of dudes, changing the entire mood of my room/house toward that end of the spectrum is quite a feat indeed.

Italian Japanese’s The Lush, Romantic Weirdness is a thoroughly endearing record. Its ability to suck in listeners and not let them go makes it a fantastic album to put on when you just want to chill. The distortion isn’t too heavy, the melodies aren’t too saccharine, the performances are restrained but not stripped of passion, and the overall product comes together perfectly. If you’re a fan of Silversun Pickups, Smashing Pumpkins, Arcade Fire, the Small Cities, The Fire Theft, or other minor-key-but-not-especially-angry indie rock bands, you’re going to love Italian Japanese. I guarantee it.

Seven's dance-rock fits in with the best of the genre

January 18, 2010

I’ve had a spate of number bands recently. I reviewed TiLT 360 the other day, I recently reviewed Black Heart Procession’s Six, and now I’ve got a double dose in reviewing The Fifth by Seven. I’m not really sure what causes people to name their band a number, but it seems to have no effect whatsoever on their music, as all of these bands are great at what they do.

Seven’s dark, danceable rock would have been lumped in with Killers, the Bravery and Interpol, had they erupted around the turn of the century. If Hot Fuss-era Killers had added a female singer and swung more toward the “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” side of than the “All These Things That I’ve Done” side, they would have become Seven.  The rattling high-hat, synths,  upbeat tempos and epic melodies are all there.

Vocalist Annette Gil has a low voice for a girl, and it fits the sound perfectly. Her voice draws power from the low, gritty guitars that comprise most of the backdrop of this album. It draws contrast and tension from the high synths that often juxtapose with the guitars. That give and take is what forms the basis of almost all Seven songs. And, from top to bottom, that’s a great thing.

From the stomping anthem “Dance Dance Dance” to the mid-tempo “Blackburn” to the punked-out “Sickleave,” Seven blazes through thirteen songs without ever letting the energy drop. There are guitar-driven tracks like rocker “Peace and Lovin,” so-much-synth-it-might-be-the-eighties tracks like “No Ambition” and even unexplainable tracks like “Elements,” which starts off like a spaghetti western and ends up being an oddball pop song.

This album is a must-hear for people who love synth-driven rock with a dance bent and anthemic tendencies. There’s a lot of that going around these days, but Seven’s carved out a niche and written songs that stick, even in a genre full of excellent songwriters. I

RadioRadio – Alarm 1 Alarm 2 EP

February 3, 2009

I enjoyed RadioRadio’s EP Alarm 1 Alarm 2.  Being a fan of eighties music, this retro-leaning band would seem a pretty good fit for me. And being from my own backyard in Tulsa, OK, makes them all the more interesting. I can probably look forward to a live show sometime soon.

On to the music.  I would classify RadioRadio’s music as alternative retro, with a very big focus on the eighties. Although Alarm 1 Alarm 2 is strong enough to make me pick up their debut album, Watch ‘Em All Come Runnin’, RadioRadio’s Alarm 1 Alarm 2 doesn’t stand out to me.

This made me a little frustrasted, because this shouldn’t be the case. Singer Greg Hosterman has a good voice, and bassist Paul Cristiano really grooves. Drummer Paul Sanders and guitarist Jay Hunt do their parts well.  The production is good, and RadioRadio’s incorporation of electronica is well-placed and not overdone–the bane of much eighties music. Though this band has only been recording and playing since 2007, they have a lot of talent and work cohesively as a group.

So what is it about this EP that makes it so-so to me? The fact that they are retro might have something to do with it. Listening to Alarm 1 Alarm 2, it’s not hard to imagine that it might have come straight out of the eighties. The band’s potential originality is buried under ideas that have already been exhausted.  For example, the bass lines reminded me of Joy Division. This is in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; Interpol’s debut album is highly inspired by Joy Division. The difference between Interpol and RadioRadio is that the former doesn’t sound exactly like the eighties; there are some updates to the sound.

I know it’s unfair to compare RadioRadio with Interpol, one of my favorite bands. RadioRadio do a good a job for what they’re trying to accomplish – be an eighties-inspired rock band. Fans looking for this will love RadioRadio. As for me, someone who has listened to a lot of eighties music, RadioRadio doesn’t seem fresh and new. Perhaps this will not be the case for someone who has not listened to a lot of eighties music.

It seems impossible in today’s world to just be a “normal” rock band. There always has to be some sort of spin that makes the band different – for RadioRadio, that spin is their eighties flavor, which, admittedly, not too many bands do. Unfortunately, at least for me, this keeps some freshness and originality out of their music.

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

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