Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Summer!

July 22, 2015

Summer! (Mid-month MP3s)

1. “Marina and I” – The Gorgeous Chans. The syncopated guitars, perky horns, and enthusiastic attack of this track took all of 1 second to steal my Vampire Weekend-loving heart.

2. “The Fringe” – Sego. If you miss James Murphy slurring into a microphone over rubbery bass and insistent dance grooves, Sego is LCD Soundsystem’s musical, lyrical, and spiritual successor. “You Wanted a Hit,” indeed.

3. “Even Fireworks” – Pushing Static. This electro-pop/dance-rock fiesta makes me want to crank the volume knob way up.

4. “Island” – Hey Anna. If Braids drank a Red Bull and went to a beach party, they might come up with this fragile-yet-peppy indie-rock track.

5. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. Their previous work is chaotic, fractured, ecstatic, and mind-bending; this track sands down some of the eccentric flair and reveals the ecstatic rock band at their core. (The fact that their beating heart sounds like Prince is perfect.) Everybody clap your hands.

6. “That Kind of Girl” – All Dogs. The sort of melodies that I’d expect from a emo-focused band fused in to a huge punk-rock/pop-punk/power-pop stomper. It just works perfectly.

7. “Sleep Talk” – Diet Cig. The idiosyncratic indie-pop quirkiness of the Juno soundtrack + confessional pop-punk + female vocals + intimate lyrics = excellent track.

8. “Island Kids” – Holy ’57. Sometimes a chorus just works so perfectly that it feels like I’ve know it forever. The perky tropical indie-pop builds through the verse to a speak-sung chorus that just knocks it out of the park. Re: your summer parties.

9. “’82” – Death in the Afternoon. This electronic cut is a lot more breathy, chill, and smooth than I thought death would be.

10. “Good” – Ehmandah. This, right here, is a modern day (some might even say musically progressive) gospel tune. Get in on this infectious, irresistible vibe. Everybody clap your hands.

11. “Sugar Dream” – Valley Shine. The band’s press photos capture them lying on a bed of brightly-colored candy and showered with an absurd amount of confetti. These are excellent visual representations of their Beatles-on-a-sugar-high sound.

12. “Reach Out” – The Bone Chimes. The arrangement of this orchestral-folk-rock tune is clean, bright, and carefully organized: the band builds anticipation from the first reverbed guitar note to a big conclusion.

13. “Sensual People” – Lylas. If hypnotic groove is one of the things you seek in an indie-rock tune, Lylas’ dense textures, ostinato rhythms, and slowly-unfolding song development will catch your ear.

14, “Up of Stairs” – James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg. Watching two talented athletes go against each other can excite, but only rarely does that interaction produce beauty. It’s much more likely when two talented musicians play off each other, which is the basic premise of this track: two incredibly talented acoustic guitar players push each other and come up with relaxing, impressive acoustic gold.

15. “Repeat” – Sye Elaine Spence. An unconventional acoustic strumming pattern and a strong focus on Spence’s enveloping voice create an immersive, unique experience.

LCD Soundsystem lives on. So do other bands.

January 12, 2012

As an an unabashedly overenthusiastic LCD Soundsystem fan, it should not surprise anyone that I took today to write a videos/MP3 post purely because the trailer for SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS came out. The film chronicles the last days (and James Murphy’s day after) of LCD Soundsystem. The trailer made me dance around in my office.

IC fave Kickstarter had a humongous third year, and you can see all their stats and stuff from it here. Cool information design for an even cooler site. They are literally changing the way the world does art.

Super Visas, James Hicken’s ambient folk project, has a new video for “The Hum That Keeps Us Cool.” It’s incredibly disorienting and fascinating:

I pronounced Avalanche City’s debut album Our New Life Above The Groundnigh on perfect” in early 2011 and named it #2 on our Top Ten of 2010 list. The rest of the world is catching on: The New Zealand band will be playing SXSW this year, and they got a song from their album posted as a download on RCRD LBL two days ago. Exciting!

Pikachunes' entertaining indie-dance debut points to a bright future

October 2, 2011

I pine for LCD Soundsystem so hard that if someone even mentions their name in a RIYL, I will listen to that album. Pikachunes‘ press mentioned the James Murphy Machine, and so I rushed to the self-titled album. This particular tactic sets everyone up for disappointment: the music of Miles McDougall deserves to be analyzed on its own, not as greater or less than LCD.

However, this particular dance vehicle does draw some comparisons in the both arrangement and recording style. The rhythm-heavy, muscly songs are lovingly treated to a warm production sheen that contrasts nicely with the cold vocals: McDougall’s pipes are reminiscent of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and his followers (pre-stadium rockin’ She Wants Revenge, especially). The vocal melodies unfold most often over a simple beat, rubbery bass and a melody instrument, but McDougall has enough savvy as a songwriter to make sure a pulse runs through these tunes.

In that regard, Pikachunes is at even more of a disadvantage: by showing significant aptitude in the genre, it’s even easier to draw comparisons to James Murphy. Murphy, however, had 15+ years of indie-rock, DJ, and cultural critic experience to draw on before he started putting together the songs that turned indie music on its ear. McDougall is a relative young’un, and that youth is belied in the pacing of the songs.

Almost all of the songs here are self-contained entities. They share a vague mood and sound palette, but there’s no ebbing/flowing energy from song to song in the collection that would compel me to listen in this order or all at once. There’s nothing wrong with this approach (clubs don’t care about yr album, suckaaa, just yr hitz), but it makes the album less of an meaningful unit. His press says it’s kind of a concept album, so he’s going to have to improve on his cohesiveness in the future if he wants to achieve his concept goals.

But is “Metronome” a bodymovin’ dance track? Yes. Is “Nervous” an earworm deluxe? Also yes. Is “Disco Baby” suave as anything? Very, very yes. This stuff is fun to listen to, and that’s something that you can’t take from him.

But LCD Soundsystem raised the bar for indie kids making dance music. You can’t just throw it down anymore; you’ve gotta build great songs within great albums. I know, I know, that’s what we ask of anyone. But when Miles McDougall’s debut is this promising, I want to be that guy who challenges him to greater heights.

Pikachunes is an entertaining album and impressive debut of club-ready indie dance tracks. Here’s to hoping this is the start of something even greater.

It's the end of (paying for) (itemized) art

August 23, 2011

James Murphy at Austin City Limits 2010. Photo/Matt Carney

I keep accidentally reading things about the end of paid art (the basic theory, espoused neatly by Chris Anderson, that when anything goes digital it will eventually become free). The old model (paying for reproduced art items) is dead, but the good news is that it was really only a 20th century model anyway. For the rest of time, artists have been supported in other ways than selling physical interpretations of their work: art items (books, magazines, visual art) didn’t become truly viable until the 18th century, and not prevalent until the 19th, while music reproduction was almost impossible until the LP came along in the early 20th century. Before that, everything was live.

Everything.

No, really.

So yes, you will not make money selling your book/movie/album soon. This is especially a bummer for books, a medium which has no live element. But music, theater, art and movies* will survive and thrive on their live aspects, because there’s a vast difference between seeing the Sistine Chapel on StumbleUpon (which I did yesterday) and seeing it in person (which I did ten years ago). I still count the real experience of it as way more valuable than yesterday’s viewing – even though the digital picture was clearer online due to Photoshop.

If you play well live, you’re gonna be fine. People will want to come see your show. If you make art, have showings. People will want to come see it. Note how many people came in for LCD Soundsystem’s last show.

“But James Murphy is a genius!” people say. And it’s true! He is. But Nick Drake was a genius and a miserable, miserable showman. Josh Ritter (closer to the Nick Drake side of sounds) is closing in on genius status, and he’s a brilliant performer.

People flocked to the final LCD shows because the band just blew people’s minds live. Its recorded music pales in comparison. This is the new paradigm.

Does this mean a lot more time on the road? You bet it does. Brandi Carlile will be on the road the whole rest of the year, with the exception of October. That’s exhausting. But it’s the new shift.

There will be less people doing music professionally, and there will be more people trying to break in to that small elite. It will get even harder to become a band. But for those who are willing to sacrifice to do what they love, there’s still a place for you. There always will be.

Always.

Even when they start streaming shows online en masse (and they will), it will be like seeing the Sistine Chapel on Stumbleupon.

Always.

Even if we get to the point where we are entering 3-D renderings of shows that we are viewing through virtual reality helmets (by Google, probably), there’s just no substitute for the unquantifiable live energy that a band and audience create. You weren’t there, as James Murphy would note. You’re just bringin’ him down.

There will always be a place for people who bring it live.

Always.

*I value the theater experience. Many others do as well. We could debate the rise of home theaters, but I’m not really qualified to do that.

Photo/James Murphy at Austin City Limits 2010. Photo/Matt Carney

James Murphy never lost his edge

August 1, 2011

We all knew it would come to this someday. If a guy starts out his band by announcing, “I’m losing my edge,” there must come a point where he feels he’s lost it. If he’s smart, he feels the final slide before everyone else and gets out early. James Murphy is a very smart man.

I mean, how many people go out by playing a show throwing a party in Madison Square Garden? No one does that. I couldn’t steel myself to quit while the number of people necessary to fill MSG still cared deeply about my band. People flew in from other continents to see this spectacle, because James Murphy is an incredibly brilliant musician.

And if that musicianship isn’t necessarily the point of the Madison Square Garden show, it’s at least on display by proxy. Other than an adrenaline-spiking drum solo in the amazing version of “Yeah,”  Murphy’s contribution to the music during the show consists of vocals* – except that he wrote or arranged everything in the nearly three-hour set.

Even that seems ambiguous to me. How much does a gajillion-piece band contribute to a sound? How much do they bring to the table? How does the indie-rockin’ “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” turn into the dance-punk fiesta that it was at that show? I know The London Sessions significantly transformed it, but this is something else again. I never saw James Murphy live, so I’ll never know how the transition happened – because not enough people in Oklahoma like LCD Soundsystem for the band to have ever stepped foot in this state.

Transformation aside, the songs here are transcendent. These songs are the epitome of a band on top of its game: from “Home” to “Someone Great” to “Dance Yrself Clean” to even “45:33,” every era of LCD sounds more vital than it ever has. I would say the band was killing it, but they’re not: they’re bringing life to all of it. “Tribulations” appropriates the most timeless elements of the early 2000s dance-rock movement (catchy bass lines, perky drumming, squelching synths) and discards the pretension and mock aggression for a sober look at a relationship and a nation. How do you do that, James Murphy?

But if you’re a LCD fan, you already know the brilliance of his lyrics and songwriting; you’d like to know about this time, this way, this show. And rightfully so. If you haven’t heard LCD yet, here’s a recommendation: this was one of the best dance bands that ever existed. And I’m not saying that ’cause they’re gone. I was saying that while they were happening. I was there.

(Somewhere, Murphy is laughing that all we can say about his band now is what he already said about his band. There’s another clear indicator that he was the cleverest songwriter of our generation – and I am obsessed with The Mountain Goats.)

So, this time, this way, this show: the band sounds laser-guided. The bootleg is of astonishingly good quality, which could be a tribute to the taper (Pitchfork, in some way or fashion), the massive MSG sound system or both. Murphy doesn’t lose an ounce of energy or voice quality in 25+ songs (depending on how you count the massive “45:33”). This sounds like a band doing a victory lap on a huge tour, not a final gig. Just check the swagger of “Us vs. Them,” which was not really there in the original recording, or that of “All My Friends,” which is once again a revelation. And that’s because Murphy is victory lappin’. Right off into the sunset of performing.

Because no matter how much the band makes the Madison Square Garden show just rip, the last LCD Soundsystem gig will always be about Murphy. He does all the talking and almost all the freaking out, except when Arcade Fire gets in on “North American Scum,” and when the band sings magnificently on the high point of “Losing My Edge.”

And that’s the moment: as the band members sing “LA!!” at the top of their lungs, Murphy starts the signature move of screaming out band names. At first, you can’t even really hear him due to the volume of the “background” singers. The kids are coming up from behind, indeed.

The crazy thing about this show is that it does an end-run on mortality: we are always losing our edge. We are always rushing toward our end. We have our bright, shining moments, and then our edge is dulled until we are gone. Murphy is severing the fall; before he can dull, he disappears. That’s what is being documented here. There will never be a regrettable LCD Soundsystem cash grab release, as others have noted. That’s an incredible legacy to leave on a musical front.

But the legacy to leave on a lyrical front is an even more lasting and impressive one. Not only did James Murphy observe culture well, he observed himself well. He knew when the gig was up. He invested what we thought was everything in LCD Soundsystem. But he apparently didn’t; LCD is gone, and Murphy’s still kicking. There was something else that drove him, something deeper than LCD that made LCD tick. Perhaps is just purely a love of music. (Given his decision to keep DJing and rumors of him producing records, this is a fair guess.) Perhaps it’s something else.

But I know that as I head toward my mid-twenties, the concept of “Losing My Edge” will dawn on me. And I’ll have to deal with it. Maybe not for xx more years at that point, but I’ll have to start thinking. I pray that I’ll keep a firm grasp on that which grounds me outside of music. Because we are all losing our edge, and we need to deal with it. We can’t stay sharp forever, but James Murphy quit trying to be sharp while he is known for it. There’s proof of it now; when mortality comes for him, no one will be able to knock how sharp his edge was.

*and I think cowbell, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t see who’s doing it; and there’s no way I’m torturing myself with video of this event.

Knowin' that this (stuff)'s gotta run! It's gotta run!

July 28, 2011

So I’ve been getting back in shape after 1.5 years of what I will euphemistically call “productive desk-sitting.” Changed up my diet (less Taco Bell, more Shakeology), started working out again (can I get a grunt for P90X?!?!) and, most ambitiously, started running.

I used to get all my running in from playing Ultimate Frisbee, but I’ve been out of that for a couple years now. So after getting up my guts by running with some friends, I’ve set out upon a course that will hopefully take me through a half-marathon on Thanksgiving. This is probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever tried (other than that time I tried to start a magazine or whatever).

So I’ve needed some music. On the road trip that I’m still currently on, I’ve been rocking the bootleg of LCD Soundsystem’s last show at Madison Square Garden. (I don’t think it’s on Spotify, which makes me happy; but that’s a different post.) If you haven’t heard this, you’re just in the wrong. It’s almost three hours long, and LCD just goes for it on every song. “Yeah” and “Losing My Edge” together are almost twenty minutes of music, which is perfect for my two-mile runs. (The title of this post comes from “Yeah,” incidentally.)

James Murphy is probably one of the best motivators in the world: he absolutely loses his mind as he’s yelling “YEAH!” dozens of times. And in “Losing My Edge,” there’s a extra background vocal bit right when Murphy starts screaming out band names, accompanied by a drum freakout, which results in adrenaline infusion.

“Tribulations” and “Movement” are also killer run tracks, although “Movement” makes me want to run much, much faster than I can currently sustain. I’ll write a full review of the album (I’m counting it as an album) soon.

If you’re not up for LCD Soundsystem (I feel for you, truly), Chris Lawhorn of RunHundred sent over a list of ten tracks that users voted on as the best running tracks of 2011 so far. RunHundred is a running music community, and it’s pretty sweet. I’ll be hitting it up a lot in the next four months. Without further ado:

105 BPM – Adele – “Rolling In The Deep (Jamie XX Shuffle)”
122 BPM – Jason Derulo – “Don’t Wanna Go Home”
125 BPM – Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream (Kaskade Remix)”
127 BPM – Deadmau5 – “Sofi Needs A Ladder”
128 BPM – Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera – “Moves Like Jagger”
129 BPM – Cee Lo Green – “Fuck You (Le Castle Vania Remix)”
129 BPM – LMFAO – “Party Rock Anthem”
129 BPM – Pitbull, Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer – “Give Me Everything”
130 BPM – Tiesto, Diplo & Busta Rhymes – “C’mon (Catch ‘Em By Surprise)”
150 BPM – Avril Lavigne – “What The Hell”

Not super indie, but there is a Deadmau5 track! More interesting is the several remixes, proving that particular music method is becoming more and more important.

So run on, indie world. Run on.

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

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