1. “Home Away” – Valley Shine. This song excellently combines two things I love: enthusiastic folk-pop and Graceland-style African music influences. It’s the sort of jubilant yet suave work that transcends genre barriers and should be appreciated by people across the pop music spectrum. Just a fantastic song.
2. “Brother” – Jack the Fox. Doesn’t need more than an acoustic guitar, some warm pad synths and an arresting voice to totally take over a room. It’s quality on par with Josh Ritter and Fleet Foxes, but doesn’t sound like either artist.
3. “One Day I’ll Be Your Ears” – Mateo Katsu. Ramshackle, enthusiastic, chunky, herky-jerky acoustic indie-pop from the school of Daniel Johnston and Page France. It’s the sort of charmingly off-kilter work that lo-fi was meant to celebrate.
4. “Lil to Late” – Brother Paul. Here’s a fun, easygoing acoustic blues shuffle with hints of rockabilly, vintage country and self-deprecating humor sprinkled throughout. It’s topped off with just the right amount of Motown soul-style horns.
5. “The Time It Takes” – The Show Ponies. This Americana outfit sounds like a Joe Walsh moonlighting as the leader of a Nashville country outfit: saloon-style piano, radio-rock ramblin’ vibe, and male/female duet vocals straight off your local country radio. It’s not usually what I’m into, but it hooked me and kept me.
6. “Return to the Scene” – Aaron Atkins. Weary yet sturdy, this alt-country/folk tune ambles along on the strength of great rumbling bass lines and a convincingly-achy vocal performance.
7. “Phoenix Fire” – Simon Alexander. From the Josh Garrels/Hozier school of intense singers comes this thoughtful, mature pop song with a great chorus.
8. “Melody, I” – Pluto and Charon. A warm, intimate acoustic performance that retains the fret squeaks and string buzz. It’s more rough in its fidelity than Damien Jurado ever was, but it has a similar sort of vibe in the dignified vocals.
9. “Waterski to Texas” – Budo and Kris Orlowski. Now this one really does sound like Damien Jurado, but the latter-day Jurado. Budo and Orlowski walk a fine line between big, sweeping arrangements of singer/songwriter work and a very personal, even raw, emotive quality. The vocals here are particularly fine.
10. “Gold Ring” – Redvers Bailey. This one’s a lovely, romantic, gently layered song that floats somewhere between Josh Radin’s delicate work and the wide-eyed wonder of “Casimir Pulaski Day”-style Sufjan Stevens.
11. “High Rolling” – Jake Aaron. This acoustic instrumental manages to be complex and inviting at the same time, subverting expectations by not just jumping to the highest treble notes for the lead melody. By keeping the melody low and close to the fingerpicked foundation of the piece, the tune feels both comfortable and complicated. It’s very worth your time, even for those who aren’t generally into acoustic instrumentals.
Kris Orlowski has come a long way since 2011, when his At theFremont Abbey EP crossed my desk. Often in the Pauseis his second LP of full-band indie rock tunes, and it is his most musically assured and confident work to date.
Opener “Something’s Missing” is a low-slung indie-rock tune with a bunch of reverb (a la The Walkmen) until it explodes satisfyingly into a Bloc Party-meets-Jimmy Eat World rocker. That interplay between the angular, dusky edges of Bloc Party and the mature, hummable pop-rock of Jimmy Eat World forms the basis of the album’s sonic palette–the acoustic guitars and pianos I love so much are thrown in for contrast and color, either within songs (“Walking In My Sleep,” “Stars and Thorns”) or as a whole song breather amid the noisier tunes (“Go,” “Lost,” “We Share the Moon”). Lead single “Walking in My Sleep” develops the noisier sound well, showing off Orlowski’s talent for combining intriguing rhythms and textures with song structures and vocal melodies that are immediately recognizable to indie rock listeners.
“Electric Sheep” expands this dark, brooding palette with a set of lyrics that blurs the line between the androids of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and an emotionally cold human being. Orlowski’s lyrics aren’t all literary references, though; most of them are direct, affecting, and effective, working through the tensions of young adulthood in the 2010s: relationships, politics, career fears, meaning-seeking.
The standout song on the record is unity-seeking political anthem “Stars and Thorns.” Lyrically it strikes just the right balance between patriotism, criticism, and optimism; musically it features a towering chorus that gave me shivers the first time I heard it. Orlowski doesn’t try to holler above guitar-rock din–instead, he lets the stomping arrangement punctuate his enthusiasm. It’s one that I immediately pressed repeat on.
Often in the Pause is a surprisingly diverse, satisfying record of crunchy indie-rock songs, ballads, and even some folk-pop tunes. If you’re looking for a big hook and a melody that’s going to sound great in a huge group (the whoa-ohs of “Stars and Thorns” will sound awesome live), Kris Orlowski should be in your listening habits.
1. “Russian Roulette” – Sons of London. Well, damn. Right when I thought Deep Elm was out of the game for post-Blink-182 emo-punk-pop, they go and drop this on us. This is one of the most memorable, can’t-stop-listening pop-punk tunes I’ve heard in a long, long time.
2. “Solitude” – Alpenglow. The good people of Alpenglow seem like the sort of good-natured, thoughtful, interesting people who I’d like to get a beer with and talk about water rights politics. I think they’d most likely have an interesting stance, tell me an anecdote or two, and leave me feeling better off in my intellectual life. I think I mean that this song is smart and fun in equal parts, but that’s reductive and makes it look like I didn’t try (although I think Alpenglow would probably be cool with either description, because when you know yourself, you care less about what others are thinking about it.)
3. “Roll It” – Nap Eyes. Nap Eyes has my vote for breakout band of the year–their loping, engaging indie-rock tips its hat to all the coolest references without feeling derivative. “Roll It” just sounds so immediate and fresh that it’s hard to imagine people won’t jump on this train.
4. “Walking In My Sleep” – Kris Orlowski. Orlowski takes another step farther from his folk roots and closer to an indie-rock home with the debut single from his upcoming record Often in the Pause. Crunchy guitar noise, headbobbing rhythms, and his unchanged ability to write/deliver a compelling vocal melody power this tune that seems always ready to burst but never quite explodes, giving a nice tension.
5. “The Uninvited Guest” – Gladiola. If there’s a Weakerthans-sized hole in your heart, Gladiola is here to fill it with tight power-pop melodies, tight lyrics and an overall sense of weary-yet-determined urban knowledge.
6. “In This Lifetime” – Scary Little Friends. Big, punchy power-pop with a bit of glam creeping in around the edges of the vocals.
7. “Lava” – Pleasant Grove. The distillation of an expansive divorce record that took a decade to complete, “Lava” combines the tough guitar exterior and gentle melodic interior that comprise the tensions of The Heart Contortionists’ early -to-mid ’00s indie-rock. Death Cab for Cutie and Grandaddy fans will find much to love here.
8. “Butterflies” – Wyland. Do you miss The Joshua Tree? Fear no more: Wyland’s got your back with this arena-filling, stadium-rocking anthem.
9. “Come Down” – Water District. Remember that weird, brief moment where Silversun Pickups made grunge into a cool indie-rock thing? Water District remembers, creating their own pensive, emotive brand of grunge-inspired indie-alt-rock.
10. “From Far Away” – SayReal. This infectious, smile-inducing tune will thrill those who like good pop songs and those wished that Michael Franti and Spearhead sounded more like their one unusual pop hit all the time.
11. “Start Right Here” – Jennifer O’Connor. O’Connor takes the basic elements of modern indie-pop songwriting (jangly guitars, plain vocal style, catchy melodies, full-but-not-noisy drums) and turns out gold. I don’t know how that works, but it does.
12. “Guns” – Andy Metz. Punchy, rhythmic piano-pop verses open up into a smooth, memorable chorus, complete with timely political commentary on gun control.
Louis Landry‘s JJ vs. the Digital Whaleis, in a word, ambitious. The album re-situates the story of Jonah from “its roots in Christian, Jewish and Islamic culture” and comments on the “constant barrage of electronics, media, and technology which surround us all” by interpreting all of that as the whale. (The press also mentions Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi and Pink Floyd’s Animals as RIYLs.) So right off the bat, there’s points for conceptual boldness from this corner. The album that results is a largely major-key indie-rock festival that incorporates an incredible amount of sounds and instruments.
By pointing this out as a rock opera, it leaves the standard bounds of reception: JJ vs. The Digital Whale is held together by a repeated motif, the overarching story, and a spirit of adventure instead of any dedication to a stable genre. “Ride the Whale” has some Prince-ian funk going on; “Nothing No One Nowhere Blues” is a grumbling, stomping delta blues; “Ismi Azum” is a near-ambient instrumental rumination that fuses acoustic and electronic; “YOU’VE GOT eWHALE” is a marching, instrumental theatrical reminiscent of (yep!) Yoshimi. It wouldn’t be complete without a sea shanty, so “Ribs and Terrors” gives us a duet between a traditional accordion and a wiry synth before Landry’s voice comes in.
The remarkable thing about JJ is that even though the album has wide-ranging interests, the album never goes awry. Landry is able to corral all the sounds into the sonic framework he’s developed. Now, it’s weird, but it’s a rock opera about a modern re-telling of an ancient tale as understood by our current electronic issues. This never had a small horizon. By the time “Sunbound” rolls around, a six-minute slow-building acoustic-based indie-rock tune with a backing choir, nothing seems out of place at all. If you’ve got an adventurous streak and appreciate musicians with big ideas, then Louis Landry’s JJ vs. the Digital Whale will be right up your alley.
Kris Orlowski references Jonah as well in “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” the opener on The Gershwin Sessions Vol. 1. After that Porgy and Bess tune, folkie-turned-indie-pop/indie-rock musician Orlowski focuses his attention on Gershwin’s love songs in this loving tribute to the early 1900s songwriter best known for Rhapsody in Blue.
The six-song collection treats these tunes with piety, largely retaining their form, structure and vibe (particularly in the strings). The update lies in Orlowski’s voice and delivery, as well as the inclusion of guitar in the largely piano-driven originals. Orlowski’s confident tenor gives a warm sheen to these tunes, and the guitar contributes a modern vibe that pushes against the romantic strings in a productive tension. Those smart touches combine with the rest of the arrangements to create tunes that are both clever and honest: the material never strays too far from the source, but these songs feel differentiated enough to justify their existence. The biggest difference comes in closer “Things Are Looking Up,” which features a much sparser arrangement than the rest. The subtle motion of a gentle electric guitar strum and the engineering of the bass push this in a more modern pop direction, which is just lovely. Elsewhere, “Love Walked In” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” are particularly neat. If you’re a fan of the old and the new, Orlowski has implicitly promised more than one collection of this work–get excited.
Carly Comando‘s Dreamlifehas two settings: slow and fast. The instrumental pianist best known for the deeply moving “Everyday” offers tunes that have rushes of single-note runs, rapid patterning, and arpeggiation (“Daydream,” “Dragonfly”) alongside those that go for the more stately emotions (“Procession,” “Birthday”).
The former are charged with excitement and passion, as they sound like running, leaping, and playing. The more solemn tunes are less immediate, as they are less similar to pop songs and more like classical compositions. The best side of her work comes out when both the gravitas and the enthusiasm come out at once, as in the middle of “Daydream” and the entirety of “Dusk.” Comando augments fluttering synth patterns with a heavy left hand on the bass piano keys to create a unique tension. The song builds and flows with the two vibes working together to create something larger than both. It’s in that melding that Carly Comando’s unique strengths as a composer are shown. This is beautiful, evocative, powerful music–you’ll be hearing this in places you don’t expect for years to come, so jump on it now and have the surge of recognition at movie trailers and advertisements of the future.
Singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski has been a shooting star for the fast few years, moving quickly from local roots to premiering his latest album Believer on Pandora to recording a three-song EP with the venerable Damien Jurado at the helm. Columbia City Theater Sessions is the outcome of that collaboration: three songs of stripped-down acoustic work with delicate touches that are indicative of Jurado’s ear.
The new version of “Believer” retains the heavy strum pattern of the original, but foregrounds the lead and backup vocals. It creates a more collective vibe to the tune, as opposed to the very individualistic vibe that runs through the lyrics and original full-band version. (You can check the full version of “Believer” as the bonus track on this EP.)
The revelation here is “Fighting the War,” which is transformed from an anthemic pop-rock song into a tender, delicate tune that incorporates distant piano, warm background vocals, and even flute. It feels very much like a Jurado tune, in its tension between spare vibes and lush aspirations. It’s a stand-out tune both ways Orlowksi has cut it so far, which is truly remarkable.
The new track, “Winter, Winter” is truly a solo effort, vocals and guitar only. I don’t know how much influence Jurado had on it, but the insistent strum pattern is similar to the work that Damien would put out. Jurado’s fingerprints are all over these three quiet re-interpretations, and it shows a side of Orlowski that he hasn’t flexed in a while. If you’re looking for a solid little EP to play on a snowy day (like today), this one would be a great choice.
The folk-grounded indie-pop of In Tall Buildings‘ Driver gets better as it gets weirder. Opener “Bawl Cry Wail” is a traditional modern folk tune that wouldn’t be out of place in a Elephant Micah record, and it’s by no means bad. But things start to sparkle on “All You Pine,” as Erik Hall introduces rubbery, staccato bass; complex drumming; and subtle synth undertones. Then a gritty, grungy guitar solo appears. It’s all very “other” to modern folk, and it’s intriguing. Lead single “Flare Gun” relies on arpeggiated synth and perky drumming to float his guitar picking and vocals; the overall effect is remarkable. “I’ll Be Up Soon” manages to create the separated, synthetic electronic vibe without any obvious electronics, which is an impressive feat.
Once you’ve heard the album once, go back and listen to it again; once you’ve listened through, the context of the whole thing becomes clear and even dramatically un-electronic songs like “Bawl Cry Wail” fit into the amalgam. Songs like “Aloft” could be electronic or organic–it doesn’t matter. They just sound right together. If you’re into adventurous, sonically experimental music (but not in an avant-garde sort of way), Driver is for you.
Usually when I get a music release from someone who’s already famous in another artistic medium, I ignore it. The space that I have is best used on people trying to work their way up from nothin’. However, Michael Malarkey is an exception because his music is really good. Feed the Flames EP shows Malarkey in optimistic fingerpicking troubadour mode, like some cross between Alexi Murdoch, Josh Ritter and Josh Radin.
The chorus vocal line of “Through the Night and Back Again” has been stuck in my head for days, as Malarkey’s gentle baritone lilts its way through a pastoral setting that includes lazy pedal steel. It’s an impressive, mature tune. “Lost and Sound” and “Bells Still Ring” keep that feel going, giving a sense of motion and lightness to the release that can’t be dragged down by two darker tunes. The title track is a minor key tune, still with strong melodicism and fingerpicking, that plays up a romantic feel. “Everything’s Burned” is a helter-skelter klezmer/gypsy tune that taxes Malarkey’s vocals in delivery speed. It’s a fun, quirky tune that never feels overly kitschy.
Acting (Vampire Diaries) first made Michael Malarkey famous, but his singer/songwriter chops are just as strong as any one-art artist could hope for. I really look forward to what Malarkey will do in the future, musically–his first offering is impressive.
I got married in November, which means I’ve been celebrating my way through the last few weeks instead of listening to new Christmas music. This means that instead of meaningful reviews, I have a large list of things that you and I should both listen to. I regret nothing. ONWARD!
The Good Shepherd Band, which released a beautiful Christmas album in 2011, are back with a new one entitled All the Bells Shall Ring. If it’s anything like the opener “O Come Let Us Adore Him” (starting off with an Advent hymn; I approve) and the last album, we’re in for big, church-style hymns in oft-triumphant arrangements. Wonderful!
Quirky, reverb-heavy indie-pop band SUNBEARS! offer up a 10-minute EP of Christmas music. It’s sure to be as thoroughly enthusiastic as its name: SUNBEARS! Do CHRISTMAS!
Vintage-style acoustic duo The Singer and the Songwriter are dropping 12 songs (in video form!) for the 12 Days of Christmas. Sounds lovely! Check it at their YouTube.
So it’s May, but I didn’t get around to posting videos in April, because it was hectic busy. (Things are slowing down now, thanks!) Here we go:
A Tribe Called Red’s “Sisters” is visually impressive, sonically fun, and engaging for the entire duration of the video.
Andrew Belle’s “Sister” (did not plan that at all) is a moving, elegant song with a moving, interesting video. I’m reminded of Where the Wild Things Are, but … different.
Kris Orlowski has built from folk to cinematic folk to full-on cinematic indie-rock. “Fighting the War” pulls out all the stops on that last front, throwing up an infectious indie-rock anthem for your enjoyment.
Singer/songwriter Todd Kessler’s gorgeous, digitally-animated “Put You in My Pocket” clip is very worth your time:
Kris Orlowski’s clip for “Believer” reminds me of Arcade Fire’s visual aesthetics. The song is a much louder indie-rock than he’s previously put out, and the guitar-heavy backdrop frames his vocals beautifully.
WolfCryer is on a hot streak, even while walking around in the snow playing a guitar. (“Sparrow”)
Okay, no dancers here. But this is a really, really good surrealist montage; bands try to do this all the time, but most fail. This one is mesmerizing, irresistible, and truly bizarre.
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
So, back in February I announced that Independent Clauses is organizing a 20-band compilation album covering Give Up by The Postal Service as a 10th birthday celebration. Well, the full release of the now-21-band album is two weeks from today! To get everyone excited about this, we decided to drop a three-song single in advance. And that’s live today!