Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ICYMI: Rob Williams / Jenny & Tyler / Jared Rabin

November 19, 2015


Rob Williams‘ Southern FM is a quirky, impressive record that takes something familiar and makes it unusual and interesting again. Williams offers acoustic-driven work that falls in the timeworn space between folk and country, but his inherent charm and unique rhythmic sensibility make it all seem fresh and new. The most important element to Williams’ success is the idiosyncratic vocal lines delivered by his round, mellow tenor: instead of long, flowing melodies, Williams chops his lines into unusual patterns and shapes. This creates an endearing off-the-cuff, ad-hoc feel to tunes like the pickin’-and-grinnin’ “Best I Can Do,” the enthusiastic “Where You Hang Your Heart,” and the on-your-toes singalong “You’ve Been a Bad Christian.” Nothing feels forced in his delivery, even when his vocal patterns are at their most complex–it all seems to just float along on the airy, effortless arrangements.

Williams’ charms don’t just stem from his quirky delivery: he can write remarkable songs. “Sometimes It’s a Song” is a poignant, evocative ballad that never drags or commits navelgazing, while “Henry and Maria” is a lovely tale delicately told. It’s the melodies, the structure, and the arrangements that make these songs shine. “Sometimes It’s a Song” is sold by a beautiful piano performance and strengthened by just-the-right-amount of percussion; “Henry and Maria” displays some nimble acoustic guitar work and perfectly-placed accordion. (I’m a sucker for an accordion.) Williams knows what his songs need to sound their best, and as a result the vast majority of these tunes shine. With Williams’ comfortable voice, unique vocal lines, and well-suited arrangements all contributing, Southern FM becomes one of the most enjoyable listens of the year. Check out the album and keep Williams on your radar.

(This one comes out December 14, so it’s not technically an ICYMI, but it fits with the rest of the reviews I’m running today.)


You don’t have to listen beyond Of This I’m Sure‘s first track to hear how Jenny and Tyler‘s sound has progressed and matured from Open Your Doors–everything on the title track sounds tighter, fuller, and more urgent. In that way, it echoes some of the drama of Faint Not–they even re-recorded “Song for You”–but with a maturation of lyrical themes and arrangement styles.

Their folk-pop roots are becoming just that: roots. There are shades of U2 and Coldplay–as there always have been–but the biggest change is the fullness that was occasional in their previous releases is the modus operandi here. Yet it doesn’t sound like their “gone electric” album. The songs feel like a natural progression of their work over time; for example, “Where to Begin” echoes Faint Not‘s “Through Your Eyes” in sonic quality, but it expands the palette to include the subtle electronic elements that wend their way through the record. There are truly quiet moments, for those worried about a big rock shift: they’ve not completely abandoned the folk-pop that drew me to them. That’s a testament to the immaculate arranging, recording, and engineering efforts that went into this record–they’re growing without sacrificing their foundation to the new-shiny of added instrumentation.

The intimacy that characterized their previous work is retained here, but in different ways. It’s hard to argue that “My Dear One” isn’t one of the most towering tunes they’ve ever put together, but the lyrical concerns and pristine vocals point to the unchanged core of their work. Each tune is about love in some way, shape or form, which has always been at the heart of their work–however, as new parents, the love of child is included in “Where to Begin” and “In Everything You Do.” They both are honest and not saccharine, as tunes about children can be, which is a strong compliment to their ability to self-edit the massive bursts of emotion that appear as new parents. They’ve managed to change without alienating the old listeners, and delivered a spectacular album along the way. Overall, it’s a brilliant, beautiful album.

(This J&T review is an expanded and, sadly, spell-checked version of a review posted on iTunes.)


Jared Rabin‘s Something Left to Say melds Southern Rock guitar theatrics to gentle acoustic-led country tunes for a mellow, easygoing sound. The title track opens the record with the distinctive bass drum thump, guitar strum, and patterned clapping of folk-pop, but Rabin seasons his take on the genre with zinging pedal steel and a big guitar solo bridge. It doesn’t turn the song into a Southern anthem, but it does help the song fit into the rest of the record. Follow-up “Eight Trips Around the Sun” starts out with crunchy distorted guitars, but layers a John Mayer-esque vocal line on top of it to temper the arrangement. The two tunes set up the poles of Rabin’s sound (except for closer “Ride the Wheel,” which reprises the approach of “Eight Trips” but perhaps even a little crunchier).

From there, Rabin settles into his groove: “A Memory Forever,” “I Remember Last December,” and “Not Heart Broken” are emotive tunes that rely on the tension between acoustic country-pop and electric guitar-driven country-rock. The lyrics and music of “A Memory Forever” evoke the poignant side of saloon troubadours, while the ballad “I Remember Last December” amps up the country-pop melodies and arrangement. “Not Heart Broken” is an “over you” song that includes banjo and weeping pedal steel. The lyrics of love and loss evoke Taylor Swift et al, while the bit of southern rock thrown in on every track keeps things fresh. Something Left to Say is an easy listen, great for putting on while you relax on a back porch somewhere.

Although the record has dropped, the CD release show is Friday, December 4 at Martyrs’ in Chicago, if you’re in the area.

Premiere: Valley Shine’s “See You Soon” from LOCA EP

October 27, 2015


Some tunes are slow burners, and others smack you in the face with their immediacy. Valley Shine‘s “See You Soon” is the latter: the verse melody is so infectious, carefully delivered, and beautifully arranged that it gave me goosebumps on first listen.

The band marries delicate folk-pop with joyous indie-pop with such skill that it seems obvious, which is the first sign that there are a lot of non-obvious things going on. Digging into the song reveals sonic and structural complexity, from the many melodic lines the vocals deliver to the delicate balance of intimacy vs. oversharing in the lyrics (they fall on the former side, of course). The overall effect of the tune is remarkable: it’s the sort of thing that you want to play for everyone you know; that soundtracks the joyful conclusion of indie movies; that rolls your windows down almost of its own accord. It’s a powerful tune, but it’s also not trying to hard to be that. These are the sort of songs that I started this blog to cover: songs I can’t stop thinking about. Cheers, Valley Shine.

The tune comes off their upcoming Loca EP, which is just as gush-worthy as “See You Soon.” “To the Sea” presents a different side of Valley Shine’s sound: one that does reach for the epic sweep. The broad, wide-open sound evokes big emotions but stays grounded (through great banjo use!) in it all. It’s reminiscent of the Oh Hellos or Jenny and Tyler’s work. The delicate “If I Was a Bird” strips out the indie-pop affectation and reveals the oh-so-satisfying shuffle-snare country/folk roots of their sound (they even throw in some Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”-esque booms, to prove bonafides).

Jenna Blake leads the song, with Sam Sobelman providing the harmonies. The two switch off throughout the EP, with Sobelman taking the reins for the Beatles-esque opener “Sugar Dream” and “See You Soon” and Blake taking the darker “Don’t Let It Slip Away.” “To the Sea,” naturally, has both of their vocals together in a choir-esque arrangement. It’s like if Fleet Foxes got really, really stoked about something, or maybe if they met the Polyphonic Spree.

I can’t talk about Loca without returning to the term “immediate.” Everything about the five songs here just jumps off the page and demands your attention. They have diverse arrangments, generic range, varied vocalists, and impeccable melodicism. Valley Shine sounds like a band that has been around a lot longer than it has: they’ve created the sorts of songs that can hold up for a long time. This should be the start of something big for Valley Shine. Highly recommended.

LOCA drops Nov. 3 on iTunes. If you’re in Southern California, you should check out their EP release Nov 7 at Hotel Café in Los Angeles.

Kickstarter: Jenny & Tyler

May 14, 2015

I’m pretty sparing with the Kickstarters I post–I don’t post nearly as many as get sent to me. The ones I do post, I’m behind 100%. I’ve covered Jenny & Tyler’s work since 2009 with great enthusiasm. They’re able to create heavily-orchestrated folk-pop (as shown on their cover of “We Will Become Silhouettes,” which IC commissioned as part of its 10th birthday) as well as intimate acoustic tunes that leave me misty-eyed. They’re one of my favorite bands I’ve covered here at Independent Clauses (another thing I don’t say very often).

Their $15,000 Kickstarter will fund their first-ever full-band tour and live record. That’s a pretty giant undertaking for any independent artist. They’ve got the normal rewards (digital download, physical albums, t-shirts, etc.) at the lower levels, but the upper levels have some really impressive stuff going on (handmade instruments!). So when I say, “check out their Kickstarter!” I really mean “check out their Kickstarter!!!!

Again, generally I don’t do the whole salesman thing, but Jenny & Tyler!

Jenny & Tyler!

SVALL, pt 4

October 13, 2014

Brook Pridemore’s “Oh, E!” clip is a humorous clip involving a literal house party and a metaphorical party that Pridemore wasn’t invited to. The noisy, literate acoustic-punk is a ton of fun too.

Jenny and Tyler have released a touching video for their tender, moving “In Everything You Do.” I don’t think there’s been a thing in the last three years that I haven’t enjoyed by J&T.

The Gray Havens’ “Far Kingdom” performance clip shows off a pristine guy/girl folk-pop tune. Their new album (Jan 2015!) is going to be great.

Jenny & Tyler set their stamp on 7 tunes for charity

November 14, 2013


When I was in an art-rock band in high school, we managed to agree on only three cover songs in our four-year history: Coldplay’s “Parachutes,” Fall Out Boy’s “Dance Dance,” and “Hotel California.” (If you can figure out what those have in common, let me know.) My latest endeavor with the cover song was much more coherent, as I got 22 bands to contribute to a Postal Service covers album. I’m still incredibly thrilled with the final product, although I certainly do not want to run a similar project any time soon.

Folk-pop duo Jenny & Tyler, who were featured on Never Give Up, have put together their own covers album in For Freedom. As the title would suggest, the 7-song album is a project that benefits International Justice Mission‘s work to end slavery. Not only do you get their excellent arrangement skills, songs you love, and guest musicians (Sara Groves! JJ Heller! A virtual choir of hundreds of J&T fans!), you get to support justice in the world. What are you waiting for?

“We Will Become Silhouettes” is included here in remastered form, sounding even more gorgeous than before. It would easily be my favorite (and not just for sentimental value; the crescendo from beginning to end is heart-pounding) except for the absolutely stunning “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Jenny & Tyler temper Bono’s original desperation with their warm, gentle arrangement skills, using oboe, clarinet, and cello to create an alternate vision of what that place we’re all looking for sounds like. If that wasn’t enough, they enlist the excellent Sara Groves and a choir of fans to guest vocal, creating a simply masterful take on the song. I could listen to this one all day.

They turn Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” from an angsty rager into a twee-pop tune, complete with glockenspiel. “The Sound of Silence” is suitably haunting, with their voices and clarinet (aside: I just love that they give the clarinet good press) giving a new tension to Simon & Garfunkel’s original. “The Scientist” includes a harpsichord/autoharp sound, but no piano; it’s an ambitious move that pays off.

Overall, Jenny & Tyler have set their unique and particular vision on these tracks, and that’s all that I ask from covers. The fact that the tunes are alternately heartbreaking and heart-pounding is a testament to the skill with which they can realize that vision. Highly recommended.

Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service releases today!

May 15, 2013


The Postal Service’s Give Up has been hugely influential in my music-reviewing life, so it is with great pleasure that I can announce today’s release of Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of The Postal Service! It is exclusively available at the Independent Clauses Bandcamp.

This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.

The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ’em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.

Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service

Folk side
1. The Collection – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
2. Venna – “Such Great Heights
3. Seven Handle Circus – “Such Great Heights
4. Andrea Caccese (of I Used to Be a Sparrow and Songs for the Sleepwalkers) – “Sleeping In
5. The Duke of Norfolk – “Nothing Better
6. The Lion of Tallasi – “Recycled Air
7. The Parmesans – “Clark Gable
8. Jenny and Tyler – “We Will Become Silhouettes
9. Carl Hauck – “This Place is a Prison
10. The Noise Revival Orchestra – “Brand New Colony
11. The Midnight Sons – “Natural Anthem

Indie-pop side
1. Fairmont – “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
2. Kris Orlowski – “Such Great Heights
3. The Lovely Few – “Sleeping In
4. Oh Look Out – “Nothing Better
5. Josh Caress (of Come On Pilgrim!) – “Recycled Air
6. Dr. Pants – “Clark Gable
7. Young Readers – “We Will Become Silhouettes
8. Western Romantic – “This Place Is a Prison
9. Decent Lovers & Seer Group – “Brand New Colony
10. Gregory Pepper & His Problems – “Natural Anthem

I can't get The Gray Havens' indie-pop out of my head

March 7, 2013


It appears that I can’t get enough of guy/girl duos. Venna, Jenny and Tyler, Destroy Nate Allen!, Matt and Kim, and Mates of State are some of my favorite bands that I’ve covered here at Independent Clauses, and each fall into the aforementioned category. You can add The Gray Havens to that list, as their EP Where Eyes Don’t Go has swept me off my feet.

The duo fits somewhere between Mates of State’s piano-heavy indie-pop and Jenny and Tyler’s pop-folk. Dave and Licia Radford combine ukulele, piano and acoustic guitar to create pop songs with folk instrumentation that are near-impossible to wrest from my brain. From the perky, Weepies-esque strum and clap of “Let’s Get Married” to the orchestrated sweep of “Where It Goes” and “Music from a Garden,” The Gray Havens show their melodic talents in diverse ways. Dave Radford is the primary vocalist, and his smooth voice fits perfectly in the genre; his rhythmic and tonal flair in delivering the melodies is one of the most engaging elements of their sound. Although featured less, Licia Radford’s soprano voice is charming as well (“Let’s Get Married”).

The duo has more than just pretty melodies up their sleeves. “Silver” incorporates a horn section and accordion, which are both sure-fire ways to get me on board with your tune. While “Silver” is the most triumphantly catchy tune of the bunch (due to the horns and some great background vocals), the most unique tune is “Train Station,” which actually mocks up the sound of a train moving with guitar rhythms and percussion. But even with their arrangement skills, the simple “Let’s Get Married” is the tune that I keep humming to myself. It’s just wonderful.

If you’re into precise, upbeat indie-pop with an acoustic bent, you need to check out The Gray Havens’ Where Eyes Don’t Go. Their infectious melodies and creative songwriting touches make for a very engaging listen. Expect to hear much more from this duo in the future.

Top 20 albums of the year: 10-1

January 1, 2013

10. Elephant Micah – Louder Than Thou. Gentle and repetitive slowcore folk can be absolutely emotively crushing in the right hands, and Elephant Micah owns those hands.

9. Mumford and Sons – Babel. How do you beat a sophomore slump? Make the same album over again, with all the great stuff still intact. Haters gonna hate.

8. The Lovely Few – The Perseids and The Orionids. Post-Postal Service indie-pop with an earnest grandeur that evokes the feelings of watching meteor showers. Simply beautiful.

7. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth. Turning its back on the morose portraits that characterized All Eternals Deck, TY was a verifiable romp through the psyches of doomed characters fighting that good fight to stay alive. The addition of horns and enthusiasm worked wonders for Darnielle’s mojo.

6. Challenger – The World is Too Much For Me. Beautiful synth-pop that was equal parts trembling and exultation. Dancy moods and undeniable melodies met a sense of late-night, modern-society dread in a masterful combination. Quite an astonishing debut.

5. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past. This tightly constructed album is one of the heaviest lyrical statements I’ve ever heard in a punk album, taking on the past and Americanism in a profound way. Their prowess of gruff pop-punk continues, leaving an album that won’t let go of your throat in its wake.

4. Cobalt and the Hired Guns – Everybody Wins. It doesn’t get more enthusiastic than Cobalt. This pop-punk/indie-pop mashup resulted in some of the best “shout-it-out” tunes of the year, while showing that you can indeed still make gold with just three chords, enthusiasm, and a solid lyric. Oh, and horns. Lots of horns.

3. Jenny and Tyler – Open Your Doors. The only artist to appear on 2011’s list and this list, Jenny and Tyler followed up their turbulent, commanding Faint Not with a gentle release looking expectantly toward peace. Its highest moments were revelatory.

2. Come On Pilgrim! – Come On Pilgrim!. Josh Caress and co. lovingly made an expansive, powerful collection of tunes that spanned the wide breadth of modern folk. Leaning heavily on rumbling, low-end arrangements, this was everything that I expected it to be from the first moment longtime solo artist Caress announced he was putting together a band.

1. Jonas Friddle & The Majority – Synco Pony and Belle De Louisville. You should never release a double album as your debut, unless you’ve really got the goods to back it up with. Friddle’s folk explosion is worth every second, as he deftly explores just about every nook and cranny of modern folk, from revivalist antique appropriation to protest songs to modern love songs. The immaculate arrangements would sell it, if his lithe voice hadn’t already given it away. Amazing stuff.

Top 11 Songs of the Year

December 28, 2012

The album isn’t dead, as you’ll see when my top albums of the year list rolls around tomorrow. But these songs stuck out over and above the albums that encompassed them–or not, as #4’s album has yet to be released. Viva la album, viva la single.

11. “Advice From People Who Shouldn’t Give It (Don’t Take It)” – Superstar Runner. There’s beatboxing and group vocals in this acoustic tune. Yeah, it’s awesome.

10. “Brother Don’t Wait” – Emily and the Complexes. The raw emotion tugs at my heartstrings.

9. “Kneebone” – The Miami. This call and response tune is profoundly fractured and odd, but I dare you to keep it out of your head.

8. “Virtues, Spices and Liquors” – 4H Royalty. The best lyrical outing of the whole year, backed up with strong melodies and great instrumentation.

7. “Rockingham Cindy” – Jonas Friddle. I could fill this slot with at least a dozen Friddle tunes, but this tune of longing is especially memorable.

6. “See the Conqueror” – Jenny and Tyler. Beauty and power wrapped up into one hymn-esque charge.

5. “Still Analog” – The March Divide. It’s a pop song about pop songs, and it involves clapping and snapping. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!

4. “All Creatures” – ElisaRay. Poignant and pounding in turns, this arrangement choked me up the first time I heard it.

3. “All I Have” – Young Readers. This is one of the most romantic tunes I’ve heard in a long time; it’s right up there with “Above All Men” by J. Tillman.

2. “This Love Won’t Break Your Heart” – Annalise Emerick. A gorgeous, evocative folk tune that perfectly captures the sadness that hope brings and the hope that sadness brings.

1. “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” – John K. Samson. There is no song I spun more this year. You could often find me dancing and singing along with manic glee to this power-pop jewel.

Top 36 songs of the year

December 27, 2012

I usually like to get this post to a nice round number, but I didn’t get it there this year. Here’s what my year sounded like, y’all! This post isn’t ranked; instead, it’s a playlist of sorts. My ranked post will come tomorrow.

1. “Canvas Shoes” – The Brixton Riot
2. “Never Heard of Dylan” – The Finest Hour
3. “Heard It All Before” – The Switch
4. “How Do I Know” – Here We Go Magic
5. “Lady Percy” – King Charles
6. “You Left Your Sweater…” – Cobalt and the Hired Guns
7. “Monster Fiction” – Oh Look Out!
8. “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” – John K. Samson
9. “Lightshow” – Plants and Animals
10. “Believer” – Ponychase
11. “Day is Gone” – Phoebe Jean and the Air Force (My runner-up favorite music video!)
12. “Still Analog” – The March Divide
13. “Hap Hej” – Dva
14. “Love Changes Everything” – Amy Correia
15. “The Road” – Nicollette Good
16. “Kneebone” – The Miami
17. “I Rose Up At the Dawn of the Day” – Martha Redbone
18. “Virtues, Spices and Liquors” – 4H Royalty
19. “I’m Happy All the Time (Sad Hawaii Version)” – Decent Lovers
20. “When I Hit My Stride” – Jonas Friddle
21. “Mom and Me Versus You and Dad” – Pan
22. “Walrus Meat” – The Parmesans
23. “See the Conqueror” – Jenny and Tyler
24. “Advice From People Who Shouldn’t Give It (Don’t Take It)” – Superstar Runner
25. “All Creatures” – ElisaRay
26. “This Love Won’t Break Your Heart” – Annalise Emerick
27. “The Secret Songs” – Come On Pilgrim!
28. “All My People Go” – Kris Orlowski and Andrew Joslyn
29. “Tuck the Darkness In” – Bowerbirds (My favorite video of the year!)
30. “Brother Don’t Wait” – Emily and the Complexes
31. “Survivor Blues” – Cory Branan
32. “A-Okay” – Summer of Sam
33. “Farewell Old Friends” – Jacob Furr
34. “If I Were A Surfer” – Elephant Micah
35. “All I Have” – Young Readers
36. “Shenandoah” – Goldmund

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

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