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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Being prolific is one thing, but being consistent while in the midst of a never-ending release cycle is quite another. Folk/pop duo Jenny and Tyler have trumped mere consistency with Open Your Doors, maturing in musical and lyrical skill while keeping a high release rate. Each song here moves me in a different way, while still holding together beautifully as an album: what else are you looking for?
Full of towering arrangements and difficult emotions, Faint Not is a turbulent record. Even the happiest of the tunes are tinged with pain; as a result, it’s a comforting listen on a hard day and tough to hear when things are going well. Open Your Doors splits the difference between those two poles in a realistic way, creating an album that can be enjoyed by those in the struggle and those in the sun.
This means that this, their most mature work, ties together fans of their two eras in both lyric and music: the charming acoustic pop tunes of A Prelude and the heavy folk/rock tunes of Faint Not. Opener “Little Balloon” is a perfect example: it begins as a gentle, sunny ditty with melancholy lyrics before unfolding into a more assured, full-band proclamation of hope.
And hope is the theme of the album. It’s structured almost as an epilogue to the storms of Faint Not; from the get-go the tempos are calm, and the mood feels like the relief of a still day after a long week of rain. There are moments of stress (“O That the Light,” “Fear Thou Not”), but the tone of the album is upwardly ascending, literally and metaphorically. The album’s third act consists of an evocative setting of “Psalm 86,” a triumphant modern hymn about the end of history (“See the Conqueror”), a reverent tune about subsequent celestial perfection (“Kingdom of Heaven”) and the worshipful piano intrumental “Selah,” which is so hushed that the sound of the pedals moving can be heard. A full listen of this album is genuinely comforting. The care with which it was assembled and ordered is evident, and it’s easily the most complete effort they’ve produced.
But the songs contained within it can stand alone as well. “Fear Thou Not” is a powerful sonic holdover from the tension of the last album, but the lyrics tell the other side of the story: instead of the narrator “Faint Not” telling her own soul to keep on, the narrator of “Fear Thou Not” assures, “For I am with thee/for I am thy God/and I will strengthen thee/Fear thou not!” The heartrending “O That the Light” is a lament for someone trapped in addiction; “You Keep Loving Me” is a stark, lo-fi tune that cuts to the core of things.
But it’s “See the Conqueror” that’s in the running for Song of the Year. The beautiful lyrics are carefully written and ordered into a specific scheme, then fit to an equally detail-oriented musical framework. The arrangement builds in tension, but the expectant sort: it’s that feeling you have when you know that the beat is about to drop and everything is about to get crazy up in the club—except it’s a folk song, and the beat is sleigh bells. (They’re that good.) It’s an exhilarating tune, and one that doesn’t drag out the proceedings. It leaves me wanting more.
The first act of the album leans heavily on their pop side, while the middle draws from their emotive folk-rock. But that final chapter is a new direction for the band, synthesizing both visions into something greater. And that’s ultimately the most incredible thing about this album: not only did they surpass their last work, they’re setting up another album. This feels like a full statement, but of the summing up and moving on variety; there is more to come from Jenny & Tyler, and I’m stoked about that. Open Your Doors lives up to its title and opens up their sound through a complete artistic vision. You need to get this album: it’s going to be one of the best of the year.
4: Laura Stephenson and the Cans – Sit Resist. There’s not a single bad tune on this album, you can sing along to almost all of them, and they pull off the “multiple genres but overarching mood” thing perfectly.
3: Jenny and Tyler – Faint Not. Their cute pop turned into churning folk-rock overnight, and the effect is hair-raising and goosebump-inducing. There were few moments as dramatic as the full-band entry in “Song for You” this year; Faint Not was the only album that made me write the sentence “I forget to breathe.”
2: The Collection – The Collection EP. The melodies and instrumentation seem effortlessly perfect on this folk album. David Wimbish’s lyrics and deft and quick, delivered in a vastly adaptable voice that seals the deal. “Stones” is just a wonder.
11. “Nights Like This” – Icona Pop. I love a chorus that I can belt at the top of my lungs in a moving vehicle, and this dance-pop gem provides. I get shivers just thinking about those euphoric “whoa-oh-oh-OH-oh”s.
5. “Song for You” – Jenny and Tyler. Jenny and Tyler transformed from a Weepies-esque duo to a powerful, churning folk-rock duo, and this song is the best example. I get shivers when the band crashes in.
4. “Norgaard” – The Vaccines. When I turned in my last paper, I put this pop-punk rave-up on repeat and danced all the way home. I’m sure people thought I was nuts. I don’t care – the song is that good.
3. “Kitchen Tile” – Typhoon. I’ve got a book on my stack to read about rock’n’roll and the desire for transcendence; Typhoon has already achieved it in folk with this song. Vocal melody, choirs, horns, strings, This is everything I want in a folk tune.
2. “Sticks & Stones” – Jonsi. The charging rhythm, unique textures and ethereal vocals made this the most infectious song I heard all year. I rocked this one all summer … and fall.
I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.