Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hit: Supersmall

November 7, 2014

supersmall

New York folk/indie-rock duo Supersmall‘s This Other World captures the balance between composed and wide-open songwriting that is common in artists from across the pond: Johnny Flynn, Fionn Regan, and Eoin Glackin.

Big, warm, resonant acoustic guitar chords are held in line by calm, distinctly enunciated tenor vocals on the title track; rattling drums add to the ambiance. “Goodbye Old Friend” continues the cheery, upbeat folk vibes. The more serious “Wherever We Are” and “This Grenade Will Love You” invoke a little Ben Folds plaintiveness in the vocals, giving the EP some firm grounding and diversity. Tasteful keys appear in several areas, providing some atmosphere on tracks like the more romantic, swooning “Everywhere.”

Overall, This Other World is a neat introduction to a warm, friendly folk duo. There’s a lot of promise throughout in this short EP, as the band has given themselves a lot of ways to spread out from here. It will be interesting to see which of their strengths they play up as they continue to produce music. For now, there’s a cheery few minutes for you in This Other World.

Some CMJ’ers: Brook Pridemore / Blake Brown

October 24, 2014

brookpridemore

I tell every band that will listen that the long press cycle is a real thing. You’ve gotta get content out there at periodic and consistent intervals so that press people remember that you’re there and then therefore tell their readers. This means dribbling out content in ways that don’t necessarily fit with the last 30 or so years of music history (but actually fit real nicely with methods of the 30 before that; truly nothing is new under the sun).

There is no one who is a champ at this more than Brook Pridemore (person and band). Between 11 videos, a teaser EP, and a live release that started all the way back in early 2013, I feel like I’ve been listening to Gory Details for years already because I have. At its worst this could produce burnout, but with Brook it basically just makes me love the album. I mean, who doesn’t like an album where you can sing along with half of the songs the first time you press play?

It helps that Brook Pridemore’s work perfectly matches my favorite styles of music. Gory Details starts with the energetic strum of folk-punk, layers on impressively thoughtful lyrics sung via infectious indie-pop vocal melodies, then arranges the whole thing with an excellent band and even some horns. It’s like Andrew Jackson Jihad mellowed out into The Mountain Goats with some Josh Ritter thrown in for good measure (“Damage Control”). The weird way I’ve heard this album kind of skews the review: my favorite tracks are the tracks that were already my favorites. “Oh, E!” is tons of hyperactive, travelogue fun with an earworm melody; “Listening to TPM” is awesome for its horns as well as its tight control of mood. “Celestial Heaven or Leap of Faith” has a great instrumental hook and an urgent vibe throughout; the intelligent set of lyrics make it seem somewhat like a super-powered version of a Johnny Flynn song. “Brother Comfort,” one of the more aggressive tracks here (and new to me), is also fun in its neat complexity.

Gory Details is, above all things, a ton of fun. Brook Pridemore has a lot of things going for them on this album, and all the complex pieces have come together to make an album that transcends them all. Great lyrics, mature vocal control, excellent production job, solid contributing rhythm section; all of it comes together to make tracks like “Oh, E!” seemingly obvious songs: when has this not existed? When was it not amazing? To steal a song title, no one belongs here more than you. Of course you’re one of my favorite songs. Of course you are. You always were, as soon as I knew you existed. You need more Brook Pridemore in your life.

You can get more Brook Pridemore by going to his CMJ set at Muchmore’s in Brooklyn on Saturday.

blakebrown

Maybe it’s the World Series, but there’s all sorts of baseball metaphors I can make about Blake Brown and the American Dust Choir‘s Three EP. The band’s straightahead alt-country could be called a fastball straight down the pipe, because you know exactly what you’re going to get and you can smash a home run off it. You could also call it a change-up, since the band prefers mid-tempo, Jayhawks-style work as opposed to the hectic Old ’97s style. If I were really reaching, I could point out there are only a few baseball teams left that use organ as prominently as Blake Brown’s outfit does.

The first two tracks of the three-song outing are the sort of pedal steel/harmonica/organ/acoustic guitar fare that is most recognizable as ’90s-era alt-country. The band doesn’t give in to Wilco-style minimalism or Drive-by Truckers’ rock-oriented guitar walls; they just stay in the pocket and do their work on vocal vehicle “Get Out.” The band is tight and clean throughout the track, notably so. The band gets a little funky on “White Rose” (check those Wurlitzers!). But the standout here is the subdued, late-night mope “Surrender (La Di Da),” which allows Brown to show off his melodic sensibilities and nuanced arrangements. Brown and co. manage to glue me to the track that never gets faster than a mosey and never raises louder than speaking voice through a beautiful electric guitar tone, distant droning organ, and thoughtful percussion.

If you’re in the market for some alt-country at CMJ, I’d look up Blake Brown on Saturday at Wicked Willy’s. (He’ll be there with M. Lockwood Porter, too!)

Eoin Glackin delivers folk tunes with the poise and skill of a veteran

May 7, 2013

Rain Finally Came by Eoin Glackin

Singer/songwriters can work for a decade to find a unique voice, which is what makes it astounding when a sophomore release contains a unique perspective on things, musically or lyrically. Eoin Glackin‘s Rain Finally Came provides a fresh take on both, delivering well-penned observations in a recognizably distinct melodic idiom.

Glackin’s sound falls between the sweeping melodic excursions of Josh Ritter and the soaring yawp of latter-day Mountain Goats, as he fills his strumming with sprightly vocal and instrumental melodies. Opener “Dancing Anymore” and the title track pair tight melody-writing with arrangements that never distract from his passionate voice. Highlight track “New World Blue” is an immediately arresting tune that includes clapping, a swooning violin, and a memorable vocal hook in the chorus; you’ll be humming this one for a while. If you listen to the whole album, you’ll start to recognize his cadence and delivery: it’s the little ways he inflects his words and rhythms that make his sound distinct.

Since he showed he can strum with the best of ’em in “New World Blue,” Glackin decided to flex his lyrical muscles on the next track, “Mrs. Campbell.” It’s a protest song that doesn’t come off as cloying or privileged: it strikes just the right balance of pathos and logos to protest an innocent bystander killed by gang fighting. “It can only happen to bad people/in bad neighborhoods/I’m sorry, Mrs. Campbell/Your son is gone for good,” Glackin sings, in a stark indictment of the rhetoric of “safe.” “Last Night in This Town” is a descriptive story-song reminiscent of Counting Crows’ first album (which is a huge compliment from over here). The quiet “What Am I to You?” is a plea for clarity from a lover. Each of these lyric sets are pulled off with surprising clarity and turn of phrase that I would not expect from someone this young.

The first seven songs are incredibly dense collection, while tracks 8-10 provide a bit of breather: simpler songs that don’t aspire to as much complexity melodic or lyrical complexity. But the songwriting picks back up in difficulty for the closer: the nearly-8-minute “The Hour’s Gone Too Late (For Holding Hands)” pairs a pitch-perfect vocal delivery with a weary, descriptive lyric. It reminded me of Josh Ritter’s “Thin Blue Line,” which is another lengthy tune with huge impact.

Eoin Glackin is the sort of singer that I can’t remember hearing for the first time: the first time I heard Rain Finally Came, it seems like I had already known about the music forever. It’s a rare album that delivers that level of comfort on the first listen without shamelessly ripping off another artist. There are shades of Dylan, Counting Crows, Johnny Flynn, and more in Glackin’s sound, but the resulting mix is his own. I’m vastly impressed by Rain Finally Came, and I look forward to great things for and from Eoin Glackin. If you’re into singer/songwriters, do yourself a favor and check out the album. It’s wonderful.

Adam Hill's shows his strengths and experiments a bit

August 24, 2012

Adam Hill‘s Two Hands, Tulips is the fourth folk release of Hill’s that has crossed my desk. Nate Williams raved about the first two (which Hill released under his own name), I put in a good word for the collaborative Magrane Hill release, and now I’m about to say great things about this one. That consistency should be as strong a selling point as the following words.

Even without that context, I would heartily recommend this album. Since Hill played every instrument and collected every bit of found sound, the album is an incredibly coherent statement. Hill weaves in radio clips, found performances and other noise throughout the album; some sounds are given their own interludes (“Sarabande I,” “For Me and My Gal,” “Sarabande II”) while others add context and emotive power to the bigger songs (“Dust Disease,” “Raleigh and Spencer,” “He Calls That Religion”). Josh Caress’ Letting Go of a Dream, my favorite album that I’ve ever discovered through Independent Clauses, uses this idea skillfully as well–so I’m totally excited about this idea. While Hill aims less for the romantic side of things with the tactic than Caress, the emotional impact of the interludes is similar between the two albums.

Hill stays lyrically in folk-singer mode for much of Two Hands, Tulips, protesting fake pastors (“He Calls That Religion”), poor working conditions for miners (“Dust Disease), and other doomed characters (“These Vignettes”). When he takes a break from that, it’s for a couple well-placed lovelorn songs (“French Films,” “The Train That Carried My Girl From Town”).

Musically, Hill primarily gives us folk and country; since he’s gotten good at it, why change it up? His confident, reedy tenor meshes naturally with his acoustic guitar. Tunes like “With Wistful Glances” and “Dust Disease” just work; everything comes together for a satisfying tune. It’s the sound of experience meeting hard work, and I love it.

When he does take risks, the results are mixed. The dramatic mood and arrangement of “These Vignettes” doesn’t make it the highlight of the album, but it’s still a good song. “CLQK” is a quiet fingerpicker cluttered by extraneous zooming found sound, while “She Heard a Sound” is a gypsy folk tune that doesn’t fit on the album at all (and since it’s second-to-last, it’s easy to ignore). Still, it’s nice to hear an artist clearly exercise the skills that have become a comfort zone (to the listener’s benefit!) as well as experiment a bit.

Adam Hill knows his way around a folk tune, and he knows it. Hearing him press his boundaries while exerting his strengths makes for a very enjoyable album of folk. Fans of troubadour strummers like Johnny Flynn and Justin Townes Earle should take note.

Jacob Furr releases a trio of flawless folk tunes

June 15, 2011

Much new folk music doesn’t sound like old folk music; it’s merely an appropriation of the instruments and aesthetic of folk (i.e. the West London Folk Scene, with the occasional exception of Johnny Flynn). There’s nothing wrong with playing strummy pop on acoustic instruments; I feel that the world could use more of that, not less. But in terms of rustic beauty, I’ve been coming up short recently without going deep into the country genre.

And not all folk music was country, so this is disappointing. That’s why Jacob Furr‘s music is so refreshing. His three-song EP Finches features opener “Running,” which appropriates the rustic sound of a single acoustic guitar and solo voice beautifully. The songwriting feels timeless in a way that many other folk songs don’t: there’s a bit of gospel undertone in the way he enters the chorus; the harmonica is mournful and high; the rhythm has a gentle, plodding bass line evocative of country music. By the time Furr gently sings, “Hold the world inside your hands” in his calm tenor halfway through, I’m totally sold.

“Still as My Heart” calls up Nick Drake comparisons in the guitar’s melodic structure, and that’s high praise over here. If you haven’t been introduced to Nick Drake, hear this now. If you have, be excited about Jacob Furr. It’s not rustic, but man, it’s just as great to hear someone enfolding Drake influences (or reinventing a rarely found wheel, if Furr came by it naturally).

If that weren’t enough, Furr flexes his modern folk muscles and a bit of Dylan influence on “Marching on to Zion.” Even though the first two thrill me, the third is the only one that gives me straight-up shivers. The poignantly delivered line “Don’t let your worry/steal your joy away” is followed by three percussive guitar taps and a sweetly played harmonica; I don’t know why it is such a powerful moment, but it is.

If you’re a fan of folk music of any variety, Finches by Jacob Furr should be in heavy rotation. It is a flawless trio of beautiful folk tunes, and I don’t use that word lightly. Get it right here for free.

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

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