April is my busiest month of the year, so I’ll most likely not get as much posting done here as I’d like. But I’m giving it all my effort. Here are five tunes that I’ve been jamming to.
A Small Collection, etc.
1. “The Stone” – The Gray Havens. No matter how far afield I go, I always come back to folk-pop. This takes a grand, sweeping approach to the genre (not unlike I and Love and You-era Avett Brothers), capping off a giant crescendo with a cascade of “ohs” counterpointing the chorus. It’s a fun, peppy, carefully-constructed track that has me excited for their upcoming new album.
2. “Spero” – Cindertalk. IC fave Jonny Rodgers is now Cindertalk. His first release under the name is a haunting, powerful track that relies on his fragile voice and an impressive arrangement of his ethereal tuned wine glasses. There’s a vinyl that will be on sale during Record Store Day–you should check that thing out.
3. “Postworld (The Sun Explodes)” – Manuka Piglet. Were you looking for 13 minutes of psych-folk freakout about the cosmic end of things? Or maybe you were looking for a clarinet solo? Or both? Ambitious, impressive, a little bit nuts.
4. “XOXO” – Swordface. Wiry indie-rock that doesn’t take its talents or melodic prowess too seriously. I heard there’s an emo revival on? This probably counts.
5. “How Terrorism Brought Us Back Together” – Challenger. IC fave Challenger is bringing its ’80s-influence electro-pop back around again, and this one kicks it off with a bouncy track that features strikingly direct vocals and melodies. Throw this one on the car stereo and let that top down.
The album is not endangered, but it certainly hasn’t been as interesting to me as EPs this year. That’s not because people aren’t making good albums, but because people have been seriously upping their EP game. Still, there are a bunch of great albums that came out this year that rightly deserve praise.
10. Talker – Dear Blanca. Frantic alt-country with unusual instrumentation (saxophone!) and influences.
9. Third Generation Hymnal – Venna. Passionate, female-led modern folk that balances earnest performances and high-quality songwriting deftly.
8. Forty Bells – Brave Baby. This is what indie-rock sounds like in 2013: chiming guitars, pushing rhythms, yawping vocals, and a great sense of atmosphere to cap it all off.
7. Ripely Pine – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. In the best debut of the year, Aly Spaltro has crafts whole worlds in her songs. Her winding, unexpected, sensational arrangements are matched with her powerful, even shocking voice. Incredibly unique, incredibly strong.
6. Wolf Eggs – The Parmesans. Three guys in a room playing easygoing, charming bluegrass/folk. All the trapping you’d expect in bluegrass are here (harmonies, solos, riffing, goofy asides), and they bring poignant, romantic lyricism to the tunes as well.
5. The Weatherman – Gregory Alan Isakov. Gentleness that doesn’t fade away into blandness is rare, and Isakov has crafted a wonder of a quiet album here. These songs just make me smile.
3. Everything All at Once – Jonny Rodgers. Jonny Rodgers uses the ethereal tones of tuned wine glasses as the basis of his indie-pop sound, but the rest of the arrangements and Rodgers’ high, soaring voice complete the beautiful sound. I’ve not heard anything like this before. Throw in intimate, personal lyrics and you’ve got an impressive work.
2. The Beast in Its Tracks – Josh Ritter. Ritter is a master lyricist, and he turns his pen to the fine details of his divorce. But instead of weeping, he celebrates what life comes thereafter. It’s a rare look inside the life of an artist from an unusual perspective. The fact that he’s one of the best folk songwriters working today helps: the songs here are light but not insubstantial, upbeat but not flippant, and romantic without being maudlin. This is Ritter’s first must-own work since the amazing The Animal Years.
1. Chronographic – Filbert. As a reviewer, I have set expectations of genres. Filbert blew up my frameworks for folk, singer/songwriter, indie-pop, and hip-hop, which resulted in a breathless review that I still fully believe. “Modest Mouse + Jeffrey Lewis + backpack rap + Bon Iver = Filbert” is a reductive way to say it, but it’s still true. This was easily the most inventive album of the year.
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.
Rodgers wrote and recorded the entire 7-song album in one month as part of a residency at Butter, a sound design and consultancy studio. You’d never be able to tell, as the songs and album are fully realized. Since he wrote all of the songs in such close proximity, there are sonic linkages between the tunes: arching, wordless vocal lines soar above “Everything is Yours” and “Nothing Short of Wonderful”; “Don’t Be Afraid to Be Small” and “Imperfect Perfect” have instrumental melodies of similar shapes. The back-to-back “Everything is New” and “I’ll Remember Everything” even share the same picking pattern on the acoustic guitar.
Instead of this being repetitious and boring, it ties the tunes together. “Don’t Be Afraid” is jaunty, “Imperfect” is sweet and romantic; both are firmly part of Rodgers’ milieu. “Everything is Yours” spins out into a sweeping, orchestral feel, while “Nothing Short of Wonderful” keeps it intimate. “I’ll Remember Everything” diverges from “Everything is New” by leaning on guitar, rattle-trap drumming, and horns to create a country/folk vibe. Rodgers’ songs all retain a sense of wonder via the glass and the overall delicacy of the arrangements; the fact that some of those sounds overlap only endears me more to the album as a picture of a specific time and place. There aren’t enough of those in the world, and Rodgers has made a good one.
Rodgers’ voice is worth noting: high and gentle, his timbre matches the tunes perfectly. It’s rare to find a voice that so thoroughly inhabits the tunes it is set on; it’s hard to imagine anyone else covering these tunes as effectively as Rodgers sings them. However, it’s a strong credit to his songwriting that the tunes are worth me pondering how to cover. I can’t write something as beautiful as “Imperfect Perfect,” but maybe I could sing it to someone.
Rodgers’ Everything All at Once is a strikingly beautiful collection of indie-pop tunes. There’s more here than can be written about; these thoughts are just to intrigue you so that you’ll go listen to it. This one’s going to grace my end-of-year list for sure.
A continuation of yesterday’s post, here are the June/July singles that are quiet.
1. “Simplify” – Brendan James. It’s as if Josh Ritter sat down at a piano and started casting off lyrics like he does over a guitar. Beautiful, powerful, engaging stuff.
2. “Crush” – Roy Dahan. Dahan’s Israeli vocal tone and cadence fit gloriously over snappy, precise alt-country, creating a unique, beautiful mix.
3. “I Will Let You Fall” – Walking with Elephants. Clear, crisp Americana, like Mumford but without the howling vocals.
4. “Everything is Yours” – Jonny Rodgers. I posted a Rodgers video of this song yesterday, but this version is different and worth listening to in its own right. Rodgers is a massive talent that I eagerly look forward to hearing more from.
5. “Follow You” – Sam Buckingham. YouTube suggests that I should watch videos by Junip and Noah & The Whale next; Buckingham’s delicate folk-pop kinda fits in there, but it’s way more charming and lilting than those bands.
6. “Strike the Gold” – Kodachrome. Think more of the picture type than the Paul Simon song, and you’ll have a good idea of what this impressionistic synth-pop tune sounds like.
7. “O Love, Let’s Renew Our Vows” – Jonny Rodgers. So, I’m really, really stoked about Rodgers. Really.
8. “One Half” – Julianna Barwick. A female Sigur Ros? A more concrete take on New Age? A transcendent composition? Absolutely stunning? All of the above?
Have you ever seen a person play wine glasses? Have you ever heard them turn those ethereal sounds into beautiful indie-pop? No? Then today is your lucky day, because Jonny Rodgers does those things in this video. He also loops those wine glasses into a mix with live guitars, keys, and percussion. The results are jaw-dropping.
So, before Gotye was “Someone That I Used to Know,” he had a scuzzy garage-rock/retro-rock band called The Basics. Sometime between 2010 and today, a very entertaining music video for one of their tunes was created.
Found video clips don’t usually pique my attention, but French pop outfit Pendentif salvaged really incredible footage for “1er Juillet.” Like, what in the world was the original use for the singing bears? It’s a great song, too.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.