Independent Clauses is a wide-ranging blog, but it still comes home at night to folk and indie-pop. So those genres are very well-represented in the Top 10.
10. “Song for Zula” – Phosphorescent. Yup, I’m thoroughly on board with all the love this is getting. Just beautiful.
9. “Home Sweet Home” – Russell Howard. The sound of loss and longing rarely sounds so sweet as in this singer/songwriter tune.
8. “The Mantis and the Moon” – Son of Laughter. Clever lyrics, sprightly arrangement, poignant performance: I hummed this a lot in 2013.
7. “Aaron” – JD Eicher and the Goodnights. Sweeping, widescreen folk-pop that leveled me with a great melody and this line: “I don’t write sad songs/they just seem to write me.”
6. “Judah’s Gone” – M. Lockwood Porter. It’s a tough thing to pack nostalgia, disillusion, and rage into one folky tune without any yelling, but Porter navigates the wildly varying emotions deftly.
5. “American Summer” – Jared Foldy. Gentle fingerpicking and reverb create a strong atmosphere, as Foldy offers the sound of beloved summers that sadly have to end.
4. “The Riddle Song” – The Parmesans. Poignant yet flirtatious, this bluegrassy love song is wonderful.
3. “For the Sky” – Wolfcryer. The opening riff of this folk tune, optimistic and yearning, sets the stage for an inescapable tune.
2. “Creeping Around Your Face” – Novi Split. The most tender, gentle love song I heard all year, steeped in the reality of hard times but the hope of good to come.
1. “Everything Is Yours” – Jonny Rodgers. Wine glasses cascade and swoop through the quiet indie-pop arrangement, giving Rodgers a fascinating canvas on which to paint lovely vocal melodies and descriptive lyrics. I couldn’t stop listening to this for weeks.
I love a good pop song. I know it makes me uncool that I’m a big fan of Train’s “Hey Soul Sister,” BUT WHATEVER Y’ALL. UKULELE POWER. JD Eicher and the Goodnights know the value of pop songs. Eicher and his crew fit squarely in the adult alternative pop genre (which I shorthand as the Matt Nathanson/John Mayer sound). And they’re awesome at it on Into Place. Tunes like “You’ve Got a Lot of Growing Up To Do” and “I’d Like To Get To Know You” are perky, poppy tunes with excellent melodies, memorable lyrics, and fun choruses that you can’t help but sing along with. It’s perfect summer music.
There are some heavier moments: “People” pulls the heartstrings in a Goo Goo Dolls sort of way, “Oh My God” is a pensive piano rumination, and “Edgar Greene’s Time Machines” tells a long story to make a point about the way history and us intersect. The best tune on the album, though, combines the excellent pop songwriting chops with the heavier musings. “Aaron” brings in some banjo and clapping, moving the melodic center a little more toward Mumford/Lumineers territory. The tune is basically an audio version of Nick Hornsby’s High Fidelity: it looks at our relationship to sad songs through the lens of one musician. “I don’t like sad songs, they just seem to write me,” the narrator shrugs before blasting off into a monster that should be all over radio right now. It’s far and away the best display of songwriting on the album, and I’ve had “Aaron” on repeat for several weeks. It’s just excellent.
If you’re into a good pop song, Into Place by JD Eicher and the Goodnights should be on your iPod. That’s all there is to it.
It’s interesting to me that I came across a band named Drew Martin and the Limelights at almost the same time as JD Eicher and the Goodnights. It’s not just their names that are similar, either: Both play modern pop with the Goo Goo Dolls firmly in the RIYLs. Eicher relies on a tempered melodic bent for his differentiating factor; Martin just goes for the pop throat. He doesn’t connect every time, but you can’t say that he held back.
“Calling Your Bluff” has the anthemic chorus to make stadiums sing (“Days here are beautiful/and sometimes cold/just like you-ou!”) with just the right amount of emotive resonance to sell it. It’s a windows-down summer song, for sure. “Hit and Run” scales it back, showcasing Martin’s emotive vocal tone and lyrical abilities to great effect. “Once Was” is a white doo-wop tune with a standout chorus.
It’s not a perfect release: “Bring the Light” conflates “motion” with “melody” as the main draw, while the verses of “Once Was” can be tedious. “Just Call Me” is the sort of overblown sentiment that made “modern pop” a pariah in the first place. Only one of these songs drops below four minutes; Martin could stand to tighten things up a bit. But as a glove tossed in the ring, there have been far, far worse.
Eicher’s been kickin’ it longer than Martin, and it shows. Martin and his band have some work to do. But “Calling Your Bluff” is the sort of song that makes me sign up for more releases by a band: it’s a polished diamond hanging out in the midst of lesser gems. One to watch.
In 2002, a wise friend handed me copies of Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head and Counting Crows’ August and Everything After. Inexplicably to my pop-punk self at the time, I became obsessed with both. Thus began an interest in modern pop music that extends to an unironic enjoyment of Goo Goo Dolls and Train. Judge away.
JD Eicher and the Goodnights falls between the acoustic pop of August and Everything After and the arena-sized pathos of Goo Goo Dolls. The band’s best songs aren’t quite as navelgazing as Adam Duritz’ increasing self-defeating tunes, but stop short of going for the John Rzeznik stadium singalong. The lesser tunes fall on either side of the divide.
Eicher opens the Crows-esque “Feel The Rain” with the striking, “Seems like every couple hours, it’s six a.m.,” and its subsequent description of breakup symptoms doesn’t beg for sympathy or employ bitterness. The rest of the band employs a similarly impressive restraint, teasing the listener with a soaring chorus that never arrives. The song becomes a highlight because it doesn’t command all the modern pop tricks. Subversive!
The melodic bass work on “Distance and Space” echoes the style of “Feel the Rain,” proving the bassist’s vitally important role in the band’s best songs. The acoustic songwriting in “Love is Gonna Find You” leans in toward Goo Goo Dolls drama, but Eicher keeps the arrangement tight and low: more featured bass, no sweeping strings, no chorus pedal.
It’s not all success. Openers “The Beauty of It All” and “Two Weeks Back” do let the arrangements go electric, and the songs suffer blandness accordingly. “Crazy” is an odd acoustic-rock turn. “Fine Line” is a bit too Five for Fighting cute to pique my interest, and “Easy” flirts with that syndrome as well. But the high highs make the middling tracks easy to pass over.
That oft-maligned, major label-infested genre of modern pop is a tough bag in which to make a go of it. But JD Eicher and the Goodnights are not perturbed. It feels that Shifting came about honestly: Eicher and his band just process music this way, and the greatest honest move they can do is make these songs in this way. In a genre full of cash grabs, kitsch and knowing winks, it’s a pleasant and unusual experience to know that Eicher and his band really mean it when they rock out at the end of “Mr. Misery.” That level of honesty and real pop songwriting chops make Shifting into the success it is.
Oh, and JD: Buy your bassist a beer. And don’t let him leave the band.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.