Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Movin' and shakin'

September 30, 2011

The latest edition of SLTM the Podcast is sponsored by Independent Clauses. You don’t want to miss it, especially if you’re a fan of heavy music, 1800s poetry, or The Parson Red Heads.

Elizaveta initially comes off as Regina Spektor/Ingrid Michaelson follower, but there’s a sharp left hook in the chorus that has me very excited for the future. Don’t worry; you’ll know it. Hers is a career to watch closely. (As for the video? Well, it’s got serious wtf factor.)

Noisetrade’s Fall Sampler includes several artists that IC has featured among its 30-strong ranks: Brianna Gaither, Jenny and Tyler, Joe Pug, David Ramirez and Sleeping At Last, the last of which was covered so early on in Independent Clauses’ history that the review isn’t even on this version of the site. There are also several bands we highly recommend that haven’t been officially covered here at IC: The Middle East, Derek Webb + Sandra McCracken, Ivan & Alyosha, Josh Rouse and Josh Garrels. I’m guessing the other third is full of joy and wonder as well – I’ll be checking it out soon.

If you’re into the whole ’80s nostalgia thing that’s going around, you’re going to be all over Geoffrey O’Connor. His album Vanity is Forever is streaming in full over here. Seriously, it’s 1985 on that webpage.

Beirut’s The Rip Tide is still keeping me company, and now a visual aid has been supplied! Sunset Television made this bizarre yet somehow fitting clip for “Santa Fe,” and while I’m not really sure what’s happening, I enjoy it.

The Comet Comes and Drops off Some Good Folk/pop tunes

September 11, 2009

There’s nothing more invigorating than popping an album in and being hit with a great song to kick off the album. ReedKD accomplishes this impeccably with “This Is It,” the opener to In Case the Comet Comes. The first sound is a wildly strummed mandolin, followed by a bass drum, tambourine, claps and vocals. The motifs of the album are laid out in full before “This is It” even finishes: acoustic instrumentation, instantly memorable melodies, yearning lyrics, folk/pop sound, capable of being uptempo but also comfortable in the slower vein, and established as part of a full-band aesthetic (even if the band is simply providing handclaps and bass drum hits).

Yes, “This Is It” is so good that it shouldn’t be legal to have a second track just that improves upon the formula. But “If the Tide Swings” does just that by adding a full band to the mix, with prominent bass guitar, fuller drum presence, accordion and more. It’s feels like all the members of the band are playing their hearts out, maybe at somebody’s house party somewhere. It has that loose, organic, passionate feeling, although the sound is crisp and the performances tight. It’s been immaculately made, but it doesn’t sound overproduced or thought to death. It’s clean, tight, and adrenalizing.

After the initial bang, ReedKD follows a road map eerily similar to the one laid out by previous effort The Ashes Bloom: slow numbers interspersed with some uptempo pieces and a sole electronic pop piece. His uptempo work is much improved this time around; “Cactus Garden” and “Sleepless Nights in Bed” kick the junk out of the older works due to the experimentation with other instruments. Playing drinking glasses is a great move, only improved by some muted brass picking up the slack in the chorus of “Sleepless Nights in Bed” (a highlight, for sure). The hoedown fiddle of “Cactus Garden” also lends a bit of unusual kick to his sound.

But his slower work is a bit too slow this time around, causing some lag in the album. “Space Vacuums” drags on for almost six minutes, which is far too long. “Lake Missouri” moves at what can only be described as a glacial pace. Closer “Splinters in the Evening” is too stately for the rest of the album, sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s understandable that the slow work is a bit off, though; in his previous album, Reed was everything. Reed’s deft acoustic guitar skills picked up the slow pieces on their own. When adding in and causing other instruments to carry tunes, as the bass does on “Lake Missouri” and the piano does on “Splinters in the Evening,” some of Reed’s skill gets muffled in the transition.

In Case the Comet Comes starts off with a bang and provides some great folk/pop moments along the way. There are a couple potholes on the road, but the majority of the tunes are catchy, peppy, and fun. If you like Josh Ritter, Josh Rouse, Avett Brothers, or David Shultz, this would make a good addition to your collection.

Jacob Furr debuts strong folk songwriting

September 3, 2009

There are various schools of thought when it comes to folk music. Woody Guthrie leads the traditionalists. The Dylan school is all cryptic lyrics and chunky chords. There’s the Nick Drake school, which is quiet, pensive, and emotive. The Sufjanites pack their songs full of instruments. There’s the freak-folk Banhart followers, which are just out of their minds. And then there’s the Joseph Arthur school, which is plaintive lyrics and lots of pop influence. No folk artist can escape the influence of these artists.

Jacob Furr falls squarely in the Joseph Arthur school. His songs are definitely folk-laden, but have a lot of pop influences. The strumming is smooth, the recording is tight, and the songwriting is structured in concise pop structures more than the meandering, free-form folk odysseys of other artists. His voice is warm and inviting; no creaking, breaking or howling here. These seven tunes on The Only Road are very emotive, but not hysterical or pre-occupied with their own emotionality.

In short, these are honest songs that are enjoyable. They don’t belabor the point, and they don’t make it cryptic or inaccessible. “Many Times” is about being lonely on the road, and its musical echoes of Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” only accentuate the point that being free and on your own is not always all that it’s cracked up to be. Tom Waits would have been proud to write “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” as the eerie sway and low-slung plod invoke an atmosphere of danger, dark alleys and more. Furr’s invocation of Jewish legend and religion (“going over river Jordan”) makes the song even more foreign and thus all the more interesting.

Furr’s command of melody on “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” is another element that helps the song succeed. His vocal melodies, carried by his calm and inviting voice, are some of the longest-sticking remnants after the album is done.

Other than “Stranger,” the highlight here is “Where Are You Going?” The song expertly combines all the elements that Furr is best at:  solid songwriting conveying honest emotion, a memorable vocal line,  and an inviting atmosphere. It’s the type of song that fits in the emotional climax of TV shows, and I mean that as high praise.

Also in “Where Are You Going,” he delivers his best lyrical line. The lyrics in The Only Road are clear, concise, and, in comparison to other folk artists, not something to write home about. But he delivers a crushing set in the middle of this song:  “She said why are you flying?/Cause it’s faster than a bus/There’s no stops along the long way./What became of us?” In the midst of the mundane conversation he’s relating, he drops in the whole point of the song, then jumps off again, ready for the next lyric. The stark contrast and particular delivery made me take notice from the very first time I heard it, and that’s a good thing.

The Only Road is a good debut. Furr has established himself as a strong songwriter in the vein of Joseph Arthur and Josh Rouse. He can strengthen his lyrics (and, in folk, that’s a big consideration), but the musicianship is tight. If you’re interested in folk that will please your ears and tickle your emotions, Jacob Furr should be in your near future. And seeing as you can get his album in a “pay-what-you-want” scheme, you really should.

Leonard Mynx's Vesper gets a rave review.

May 11, 2009

I came from a punk background, but over the past three years I’ve spent a lot more time listening to singer/songwriters than I have punk. The more I listen, the more I’m interested in the barest of the bare: chords, melody and words. This, to me, is the essence of songwriting; with no distortion, no band, and no gimmicks to fall on, the songwriter’s qualities and demerits are all that is left. And it’s artists that are okay with displaying what they got that excite me.

Leonard Mynx fits perfectly into that desire. If singer/songwriters are placed on a continuum where Damien Jurado is the quietest of the quiet and old-school Dashboard Confessional is the loudest of the loud (I swear, even his quietest stuff ends in hollering – and it’s great because of it), Leonard Mynx would fall toward the Damien Jurado side, right up against Ray LaMontagne and near Jose Gonzalez. That is, there’s not much clutter in these songs; they’re pretty bare.

It is their stripped-down qualities that make Vesper such an incredibly tight piece of work. There is not a wasted second on the album. Mynx knows that his strengths lie in letting his low tenor voice meander over subtle, sparse guitar accompaniment. And he does plenty of it. But he also knows when to introduce other instruments; forlorn trumpets (a la Bon Iver) appear with enough frequency to merit notice, and a female singer accompanies Mynx in some of his best moments.

The fact that Mynx knows his strengths and exploits them is what makes this album like a warm winter coat on a cold day. Sometimes I wish that artists would do more of what they’re good at as opposed to “experimenting.” Mynx doesn’t fall prey to this at all. “Robert” is over nine minutes long (atypical for a folk song), and it sounds great. There just isn’t anything wrong with it.

Mynx plays with other atmospherics within the context of his songwriting; “Many Hours” has a full band, while “The Reins” has a distinctly Bon Iver-ish atmospheric build-up. Several tracks nod to folk tradition and have harmonica back-up. But it’s all done in a very forlorn way; none of the tracks here get caught up in their own pomp and circumstance. These songs are incredibly straightforward, down-to-earth, and enjoyable.

Mynx’s voice and lyrics add a whole other dimension to the songwriting. The lyrics are good, but his delivery makes them into what they are. Even when Mynx is delivering lines that would otherwise be cliches due to their amount of use (of which there are a handful), the way he delivers them and the context in which he delivers them make them seem like Mynx just really, really means those words. It fully doesn’t matter that other people have had those thoughts; Mynx had them too, and they were just as legit when he felt them as when those who went before him felt them.

This album is wonderful. The honest, sad, realistic clarity of the songs makes me want to put the entire album on repeat and have it running in the background of my life. I feel like people would understand me better if they heard this album. Seeing as someone else wrote this album, that’s a pretty weighty endorsement. If you like acoustic folk (Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez, Iron and Wine, Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter, Josh Radin, Damien Rice, Damien Jurado, et al.) there is no reason you won’t adore this album. I adore Vesper.

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

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