Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

December Singles: More Acoustic

December 11, 2016

1. “The Beginning” – Celebration Symphony Orchestra. I love the ambition of an 11-minute indie-orchestra suite, but I even more love the expertise with which it is pulled off. The piano and percussion throughout are great, and the overall arrangement doesn’t disappoint at any point in the track. Awesome.

2. “Dancer” – Sonder Saloon. The pairing of an exciting lead guitar/banjo melody with an electric chorus vocal melody make for an unusual, fantastic folk-pop song.

3. “Count On Me” – Moe Escandar. The best pop songs are ones that can be translated into different genres and still be awesome. This chipper-yet-suave acoustic-pop tune has the melodies, harmonies, rhythms and sunny vibes to be a power-pop song, an EDM song, or a punk-rock song. Instead, it’s a lovely, charming, high-quality acoustic-pop tune.

4. “Voyages” – Matt Garnese. Page France becomes a further distant memory as time goes on, but the sort of lullaby sweetness paired with an earnest exploration of religion and life that Matt Garnese conducts here is vintage Page France. For a more well-known touchstone, it’s sort of like an acoustic Weezer.

5. “Turning Leaves” – Woozles. Spartan bass guitar, low vocals, and tape hiss create a mesmerizing, hypnotic indie-pop sound. As a bassist, I love the thrumming, round sound of a solo bass guitar.

6. “Row“- Kyle Sturrock. The chorus of this folk/country tune shines like a diamond in a dusty trail. The arrangement is bright and attractive, too.

7. “Waiting in the Bliss” – Sylvette. Moves from moody to roaring and back with ease, like The National with more folk influences, Radiohead with more acoustic influences, or Muse with more ability to be restrained.

8. “Sounds Like Help” – Austin Basham. Basham is one of the rare few that could sing the phone book and it would sound deeply moving. His tenor tone is pure, his melodies are inviting, and his control over his pipes is incredible. Fans of Rocky Votolato will celebrate.

9. “17 {Demo}” – Beau Davison Turrentine. A relaxed, easygoing, expansive acoustic tune that sounds like someone musing on a front porch under a dim yellow streetlight.

10. “Holy Grail” – Zorita. Even there’s some mournful trumpets and strings floating above the guitar/vocals, this one is really all about the vocals. Carlos’ delivery of the lyrics is full of nuance and care, and his tone is the perfect mix of rough and smooth.

11. “John Lingers” – Fingers and Cream. Slowcore alt-country with big harmonies and a scuffling, trudging-through-the-desert atmosphere. For fans of Songs:Ohia and Calexico.

12. “Habanero Top Knot” – Lit AF. This is a fascinating, intriguing instrumental tune with some Indian melodic and percussive influences, some Album Leaf influences, and some unidentifiable connections that are Lit AF’s own. Adventurous listeners, take note.

13. “Spinning Tops” – Lena Natalia. The mix of engaging lead melodies counterpointed by deft left hand work help this solo piano work stand out.

14. “Destruction” – Raphaël Novarina. Some might call the tension between the rumbling low end and the arching right hand lines in this solo piano piece melodramatic, but the high drama of the piece is appealing and stays on the right side of overly emotional for me.

15. “Burning Bright” – Mike Vial. This tune flows like a gentle brook, burbling quietly with the occasional burst of energy. The smooth guitar and lithe vocals recall the best elements of James Taylor without being a knockoff.

Quick Hit: Travis Smith

May 5, 2016

travissmith1

Travis Smith‘s Wildness is a delicate, beautifully executed folk / acoustic pop record. Smith walks back and forth over the very muddy line that separates fingerpicked troubadour work (“St. Patrick’s Day,” “Wildness,” “Already Gone”) from James Taylor-esque pop work (“Temporary,” “Try”), creating great work in two related yet distinct arenas.

The unifying characteristic is Smith’s smooth, easygoing tenor; whether singing a yearning, legato pop melody or a more staccato folk tune melody, Smith knows how to get the best results out of his voice. The highlights here are when Smith gets the most vulnerable, as his lyrics and arrangements work together to make each other stronger. The title track and closer “St. Patrick’s Day” both move far beyond the standard love song / break up song that are stock in trade of both these genres and delve into the complexity of human relationships: relationships to family and to the land intertwine with the romantic concerns in a rich patchwork. The arrangements of both are similarly rewarding. Wildness is a record that will satisfy many different listeners who love the acoustic guitar played in a gentle way.

May Singles: Acoustic, Pt. 2

May 3, 2016

1. “Finally Happy” – Exzavier Whitley. A major key fingerpicking job that strongly evokes Nick Drake’s work is paired with some heavy lyrics. Delivered by Whitley’s breathy tenor and placed in the context of the guitar work, they aren’t quite as sad as just reading them on a page would be, but they’re still pretty heavy.

2. “Jumping Ship” – Theo Kandel. Lots of people can throw their voice around, but Kandel uses tonal and dynamic shifts carefully (and thus expertly) to take this singer/songwriter tune to the next level.

3. “The Reason for Living” – The Folk Today Project. A short, sweet, simple folk tune that employs a great stand-up bass and solid contributions from the rest of the band.

4. “6 Shots” – Kate Brown. The strum presses forward relentlessly, while the vaguely Celtic strings pull back on the reins. Brown’s alto splits the difference excellently, walking through the tension comfortably and confidently. By the end, Brown has turned in a pretty powerhouse performance vocally.

5. “Silver Mountain” – Adora Eye. The immediate vocal performance and insistent piano call up comparisons to serious folk singers like Josh Garrels and Chris Bathgate. The vibe here is serious, but not so much that there isn’t a bit of swaying that can be done by the listener.

6. “Already Gone” – Wild Rivers. A male/female duet powers this folk-pop tune that sounds like it can scratch the itch left behind by the demise of The Civil Wars.

7. “Teenage Crime” – Rod Ladgrove. Beachy acoustic jams are an intrinsic part of summer, and Ladgrove’s contribution on that front has the mystique of “crime” thrown in on top of a relaxed-yet-carefully-arranged atmosphere.

8. “Catching Elizabeth” – Carter Vail. Here’s another beach-friendly adult alternative pop tune that sounds like a mix between Jack Johnson and James Taylor. There’s a spark in here that sets it apart from the hundreds of other tunes that bear similar explanations; it’s got some groove that keeps me into it.

9. “Blue and Gray” – O.B. Howard. Pizzicato strings provide a contrast to the hazy, relaxed acoustic indie-pop and transform the track into a wonderful piece of lazy-day hammock music.

10. “Last Light” – Maurice Van Hoek. Traditional country is going through a moment right now, and Maurice Van Hoek’s offering continues that old-school vibe with earnest vocals, strong melodies, tender keys, and weeping pedal steel. If you’re on that Sturgill Simpson / Chris Stapleton train, hit this one up.

11. “Can You Tell” – Bird Concerns. The major key folk aesthetics of Blind Pilot meet a West Coast indie-pop sensibility to create a light, enjoyable tune that’s actually about a breakup. Who would have guessed, from the sound?

Mid-February Singles, pt. 2: Acoustic

February 19, 2016

1. “Evergreen” – The Tomes. This moving track pits a clear-eyed vocal performance and swift fingerpicking against a swooning violin and delicate piano performance. The results are light and yet weighty; dramatic, yet intimate.

2. “Modesto” – Jon Bennett. This creaky speakin’ folk made my heart leap in recognition and desire, reminded me of Jeffrey Lewis and Bob Dylan. What else do I need to tell you to get you to listen to this?

3. “Unpuzzle Me” – Kate Copeland. There’s something ghostly and close about the mandolin and vocal pairing here that comforts me.

4. “No Mercy in the Night” – Natalie Lurie. Lurie’s harp is insistent, her voice is glorious, and the arrangement frames it all perfectly to sound like a female-fronted Barr Brothers.

5. “Heroin Strings” – Jack Conman. The perfectly-recorded drums here sound just north of empty cans in a big room, which gives this ominous tune a bit of an extra pop. Conman’s vocal performance is also particularly evocative and moody.

6. “The Big Surprise” – Trickster Guru. Elements of Carrie and Lowell run through this moody, death-pondering track.

7. “Long Way Back” – Terri Binion. From the jaunty old-school country vibes, you wouldn’t know that this is a track about a tragic death of a wife and the attempts to cope with that.

8. “Fear of Music” – Tobie Milford. Fans of Antony and the Johnsons will connect with Milford’s theatrical vocals, complex orchestral arrangements, and intensely dramatic moods.

9. “Up There Listening” – Jordan Prince. Back porch picking on a banjo and guitar with Prince’s sweet, charming voice making the tune even more endearing.

10. “Child of the ’70s” – Derek Clegg. Evocative of flower-power folk (Jackson Browne! James Taylor!) but subverts the script by being a song about growing older. It’s like Ben Folds’ “The Ascent of Stan,” but chiller and more accepting of the realities entailed therein.

11. “I Will Follow You” – RIVVRS. Ah, home sweet home: tom thump, “hey,” upbeat strum, romantic lyrics, catchy melodies. This one’s for everyone who just loves a good, honest, earnest folk-pop tune.

 

MP3s: Acoustic, pt. 1

September 23, 2015

Acoustic, pt. 1

1. “Wolf Wife” – Jenny Ritter. I can’t be the first person to mention this, but I’m doing it anyway: we need to get Jenny Ritter and Josh Ritter on tour together. Her evocative modern singer/songwriter tunes push past folk stereotypes into timeless, need-no-terms realms–just like that other Ritter.

2. “Always” – Jake McMullen. McMullen sets the scene with low, slow, poignant guitar; once he’s let you know where we’re going, he reaches out of the speakers and grabs my ears by the lobes with his evocative voice and downhearted vocals. It’s a remarkable tune that has that slowcore X factor which commands my attention.

3. “Wolves” – Guilford. Breaking a ten-year pause, Guilford returns with a beautiful, rolling slowcore track. Some synths mark a slight change in sonic palette, but the apple doesn’t fall too far from the historical tree: you’ll still get pensive, thoughtful tunes with some unusual chords woven in.

4. “In the Garden” – Cicada Rhythm. Lilting, creaky, rootsy, Latin, classic, classical, and altogether immersive, this you-gotta-hear-it track charts its own course. Here’s to more of this.

5. “Summer Night” – Tree Machines. It’s not easy making complexity sound organic and effortless, and Tree Machines pull off that feat via a remarkable indie-pop track with a variety of tricks up its sleeves.

6. “Your Story (feat. Jessie Payo)” – Distant Cousins. There’s still plenty of room in folk-pop for a great melody, earnest vocals, harmonica wails, and woodsy vibes.

7. “Helping” – Nathan Fox. A bluesy, grit-infused voice meets a chipper, whistle-led pop tune about helping each other. I can’t help but smile while hearing this song.

8. “How It Fades” – Daniel Martin Moore. The gentleness of Joshua Radin’s early work and the concreteness of a piano/drums connection buoy this breathtaking update on the early-morning musings of James Taylor.

9. “The Fall” – The Native Sibling. It’s a pillow in audio form, until the female vocals come in and kick the song up several more notches. A dreamier Civil Wars? Please stay together, though.

10. “Calon Lan” – ChessBoxer. There’s something bright and pure about a rustic-minded bluegrass outfit playing a gorgeous traditional air; it gets deep in my bones and pulls the smile (and the nostalgia) out.

I Don’t Know If My 2006 Musical Self Would Recognize My 2015 Musical Self (Mid-month Mp3s)

July 21, 2015

I Don’t Know If My 2006 Musical Self Would Recognize my 2015 Musical Self (Mid-month Mp3s)

1. “Started a War” – My Own Ghosts. Builds from a fragile, rickety beginning to a full-on indie-rock/shoegaze stomp without losing a deep sense of pathos. Oddly beautiful.

2. “Boys in Blue” – Inner Outlaws. Bass-heavy indie-rockers Inner Outlaws bring their genre-wandering sound to a fine point here, taking all sorts of sonic turns you wouldn’t expect.

3. “White Lodge” – The Kickback. “Hey guys, let’s phase the drums on this one.” “Why? Dark, serious indie rock bands don’t do that.” “Because wouldn’t that sound rad? It would sound rad. Trust me.”

4. “Show Some Shame” – Caustic Casanova. This is definitely the most amped up I’ve ever been while being told “we are doomed!” The innate melodicism of this riff-heavy rocker turns my head, even though I’m not that into heavy stuff anymore.

5. “Lint” – Teen Cult. I spent four years playing in a band composed of a metalhead drummer, a jazz pianist, a Radiohead-addled guitarist, and a pop-rock bassist. As a result, I am the perfect audience for Teen Cult’s sprawling, genre-mashing art-rock. It starts off in traditional Spanish guitar (and Spanish language!), then morphs into difficult-to-classify, Mars Volta-esque stuff (only slightly less heavy).

6. “Spirit of Discovery” – Have Gun, Will Travel. Sometimes I call things alt-country because it’s neither Sweet Home Alabama-style Southern Rock or hot country, even though it’s definitely not the Jayhawks. Whatever you call HGWT, there’s a sweet pedal steel and a workman-like approach and vibe to the song. It feels real, like it’s made by guys who you just want to hang out with.

7. “Next Life” – Tyler Boone. Dedicated to the victims of the Charleston shooting, this tune bridges the line between pop-rock (giant drums!) and alt-country (pedal steel!) but without dipping too deeply into hot country sounds.

8. “Belinda’s Cross” – American Elsewhere. Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov are easy touchpoints for this charming acoustic tune that rides the line between warmly nostalgic and and remorsefully wistful.

9. “Wait” – Wyland. Goes from Lumineers to chiming U2-esque work back to horns-and-group-vocals folk-pop. You know who you are, readers.

10. “The Third Light” – The Left Outsides. Sway your shoulders/hips and bob your head to this folk-tune with a touch of gypsy magic in it.

11. “Sparrows” – Scott Krokoff. I’ve been getting an unusual amount of e-mail about ’70s soft-country and indie-soul recently; Krokoff’s easygoing acoustic tune fits in the former genre as a more full-sounding James Taylor, complete with smooth, smooth vocals.

12. “Education” – Cancellieri. Ryan Hutchens continues his hot streak of brilliant songwriting with this ethereal, floating-world gem. It’s a beautiful, expansive, warm tune that seems to color everything that’s happening while it plays with a bit of a softer tint. If you’re not listening to Cancellieri, you should be.

Bits and Bobs: Misc.

May 11, 2015

Bits and Bobs: Misc.

1. “We Are on the Hill” – Montoya. A fist-pumping indie-dance-rock anthem, complete with anthemic slogan to yell (which makes no sense out of context). I love the piano in this track.

2. “My Fortune” – Sameblod. I tried writing about this sunshiny dance-pop track, but it ended up with this anyway: Ah, what do I know. Just turn it up in your car.

3. “Ran Ran Run” – Pavo Pavo. Half languid, swirly San Fran indie-pop, half unassuming four-on-the-floor Mates of State-style indie-dance thumper. It works surprisingly well for the diversity.

4. “Por Cima” – Flavia Coelho. I don’t know, man, sometimes I just need some Brazilian bossa nova/rap funkiness in my life. I also enjoy not being able to understand the words or the subtitles on this track. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and not worry about it.

5. “We Will Be Palm” – Panda Kid. If you’re into Burger Records’ lo-fi, upbeat rock, you’ll love Panda Kid’s fuzzed-out, reverb-heavy, surf-influenced pop-rock.

6. “Nervous Breakthrough” – Bloodplums. Neuroses! Anti-authoritarianism! Politics! Religion! Big guitars! Snarling vocals! Does it get more pop-punk than this? Come and get it.

7. “High” – Puzzlecuts. Here’s some fun Post-Pavement slacker rock that combines relaxed melodies, laid-back arrangements and noisy guitars. It rambles and shambles along, cheerfully rocking.

8. “Golden Rat” – Cusses. I dare you to listen to that open guitar riff and not be totally sucked into this stomping rock song. That’s not even including the frantic, wild vocals of their female lead singer. Dynamite in a bottle. (Band is not to be confused with CURXES or Swearin’ despite (one definition of) their name–but man wouldn’t that make a great trio tour?)

9. “Eyes Lie” – Sebastian Brkic. I don’t know what to call minor-key rock that isn’t aggressive. Brkic’s new tune isn’t chill, but it’s also not aggro–it lives somewhere between cerebral and dreamy, somewhere between marching and swaying.

10. “No Justice” – Astronauts, Etc. I’ve been getting real into white-boy slow jamz recently, and this track has everything I’m looking for: a sensuous vibe created by mellow keys, smooth falsetto, unobtrusive percussion, and lithe bass. It’s not funky or aggressive, but it’s got movement and energy. It’s a tough balance to strike, but this track nails it.

11. “Good Will Rise” – Amber Edgar. This earnest acoustic tune knocked me back on my heels. The strings and trumpet in this tune don’t make the sound more expansive–they somehow make it more intimate. This is a powerful statement, musically and lyrically.

12. “Slow I Go” – Paul Doffing. This gentle, warm, optimistic fingerpicked acoustic tune calls up the kindest moments of James Taylor, which is high praise from over here.

Video Premiere: Fireships’ “Words Escape Me”

April 27, 2015

The warm, enfolding acoustic folk of Fireships is in full flower on this clip for “Words Escape Me.” The sort of sweet, yearning melodies and gentle arrangements found in Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, and more modern acoustic outfits like The End of America create a calming, refreshing sound. I can imagine this pouring out of a radio in 1973 or today, so carefully does Fireships bridge the gap between past and current trends.

The video itself only helps with the mood-building: the band plays in the leaves of a forest outside a cabin in what looks like late afternoon light. I’m usually not into live videos, but this one becomes an excellent companion to the song.

Fireships dropped last Tuesday, April 21. Read our review, buy the album, or check out their May tour dates.

MP3s!!

July 30, 2014

Wherein I Remember That I Mostly Listen to Music With Acoustic Guitars In It

1. “So, what exactly does it say?” – The Weather Machine. I loved Joe Pug’s first record lyrically, and I love Passenger’s vocal stylings now. Mash them together, and my heart melts. Add in steel drums, and you end up as the lead track on an MP3 mix. Super excited to hear more of this album.

2. “Passing Ships” – The Travelling Band. If you wish the Decemberists would go back to being flamboyant and triumphant musically, The Travelling Band might be your solution. Cello, piano, speedy drums and group vocals swirl around in a wonderfully theatrical way.

3. “Walk Away” – The Bone Chimes. There’s a lot of musical theater going on in this interesting indie-pop track, from the vocal stylings to high-drama arrangements to even a carnival music section.

4. “Sour” – Tim Fitz. There’s downers psych, uppers psych, and giddy psych. This shimmery track fits that latter category. Its favorite color is probably neon green and neon pink, because it can’t pick just one.

5. “Doin’ It to You” – Luke Sweeney. Everybody needs a slice of happy-go-lucky, charming, perky SanFran indie-pop every now and then.

6. “Way Out Weather” – Steve Gunn. Gunn opens up a classic space with this rolling arrangement, as if Joe Walsh got a little folkier.

7. “Roll the Dice” – Charles Mansfield. If The Mountain Goats had a bit more ’50s-pop nostalgia, they might turn out charming, perky, intelligent songs like this one.

8. “Noma” – Dear Blanca. With outrage in the left hand, depression in the right, and a singing saw in the third hand, “Noma” manages to be brash and raucous without being fast or particularly noisy. Impressive tune!

9. “Get Your Fill of Feelin’ Hungry” – Jay Brown. James Taylor is underappreciated in indie circles for his pristine melodies, tight guitarwork, and general great songsmithing. Jay Brown appreciates those qualities; “Get Your Fill” is smooth, tight, and melodically memorable. Whatever you call it (pop, folk, singer/songwriter, etc.), this is great songwriting.

10. “Under the Weather” – The Good Graces. Alt-country and indie-pop haven’t had enough crossover, I think. The Good Graces are making that happen, with the swaying arrangements of the former and the quirky vocal melodies of the latter in this fun tune. Also, horns!!

11. “Seasons” – Palm Ghosts. Folk loves its sadness, but this beautiful song is warm nostalgia in song form.

12. “Childhood Home” – The Healing. This pensive alt-country tune has that rare, magical male/female duet connection. The chorus is haunting and yet comforting; it’s a powerful tune.

13. “Lion’s Lair” – Red Sammy. “I like Megadeth / I don’t like Slayer,” relates the narrator in this quiet, lovely, lonely alt-country track reminiscent of Mojave 3. Caught my attention for sure.

Quick Hit: Charming Axe

July 22, 2014

charmingaxe

The Old Town School of Folk Music is a pretty amazing establishment in Chicago. Whenever I hear its name invoked, it’s always in the context of some brilliant traditional music. Charming Axe, which features a teacher from Old Town, is no exception. If you’re into traditional Appalachian harmonies and instrumental style, you’ll fall in love with Charming Axe‘s Gathering Days.

The trio features a bright, traditional Appalachian folk sound that’s heavy on mandolin, banjo, and vocal harmonies. In contrast to more modern folk bands like Mumford and Sons or even Nickel Creek that create a very loud, percussive sound, Charming Axe keeps things light and warm here. The majority of the songs are covers, although there are some nice originals. This gives them strong source material to work with; they can focus on their performance and arrangement of tunes by masters like Bill Monroe, Earl Montgomery, and the Louvin Brothers. They also put a pleasing folk spin on tunes by more contemporary pop artists like James Taylor and Bruce Cockburn.

Traditionalists will love this trio; they play ’em like nothing has ever changed. There’s something warm and comforting in this sound, and that’s not something to be taken lightly these days.

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

Recent Posts

Categories

Independent Clauses Monthly E-mail

Get updates and information about IC, plus opportunities for bands.
Band name? PR company? Business?
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!

Archives