Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

More Summer Jams: '80s Movies Division

July 31, 2013

backtothefuture3

1. “Into the River” – The Quick and the Dead. This exclusive download toes the line between power-pop and Old ’97s alt-country and includes a killer harmonica solo. Back to the Future Part Three was rad.
2. “Primitive Style” – Johnny Delaware. I am in a roadtrip movie. I am in an ’80s convertible. Johnny Delaware is riding on the back of the car and playing guitar, somehow standing upright at 60 mph. My feathered hair is flying in the wind. I feel like yelling “FREEDOM” into the air in a Breakfast Club sort of way, not a William Wallace sort of way. Did Molly Ringwald listen to Bruce Springsteen? She would have loved Johnny Delaware.
3. “Dybbuk” – Remedies. I am transported to a kids’ movie in the ’80s, where I am wandering through an enchanted cave. Something awesome or maybe terrible is about to happen. My hair is still feathered. My jean jacket is on. The viewers are holding their breath. Let’s do this.
4. “Lost Track of Time” – MTNS. The Antlers, How to Dress Well, Vondelpark, and MTNS would be an absolutely incredible soundtrack to a 16 Candles-type movie. You know it’s true.
5. “Electricity” -FMLYBND. It’s like M83, The Rapture, and The Temper Trap collaborated on an ’80s club jam. SET PHASERS TO STUN.
6. “The Day We Both Died” – Vial of Sound. I’m always afraid to namecheck Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem at the same time but screw it SET PHASERS TO KILL
7. “Told You Twice” – Milo’s Planes. Because sometimes you just need a thrashy, scream-it-out tune to blast in your car.

*I’m aware that BTTF3 came out in 1990, but let’s be real. 1990 was still the ’80s.

SXSW Friday: Wild Cub / Leagues / Roadkill Ghost Choir

April 1, 2013

I thought I was going to a Wild Child show at Maggie Mae’s, but I ended up at a Wild Cub show instead. Instead of folky pop, Wild Cub purveys dance-friendly indie-pop; I’m down with that. The best moment came in their closer “Summer Fires,” where they toned down the perkiness and amped up the dance elements. By the time the song reached its whirling, enveloping conclusion, I felt like I was listening to an LCD Soundsystem song. That’s about the highest praise this guy can give to a dance band: when the parts come together to be more than their individual sum, and it seems like a song might not and shouldn’t ever end, you’ve reached the peak of dance-rock performance. Good work, Wild Cub.

I found Leagues through a compilation, where the stark, memorable guitar riff of “Magic” caught my attention instantly. The restrained, thoughtful pop-rock that Leagues purveys puts them in the same category as bands like Spoon and Elbow that take small elements of a tune and elevate them to monumental status. The set I caught at SXSW put the unique cohesiveness of their sound on full display.

The band plays largely off empty spaces, populating the songs with tensions that are resolved by the interplay between the guitar, bass, drums and Thad Cockrell’s voice. The fact that guitarist Tyler Burkum, drummer Jeremy Lutito and Cockrell all have long careers in music shows, as the tunes shine by being pared down to the bare essentials. You can always add more to a song, but taking away things and still making successful tunes is impressive. Their songs are just a blast to listen to, and although they don’t particularly inspire dancing, they made me smile.

I trekked over to The Palm Door for the Team Clermont showcase, and I was pleased to find that it was in a rental space instead of a “dirty rock club” (as the lead singer of Fol Chen would later announce). It’s funny that the venue was so squeaky-clean, because the low-slung, southern, rootsy rock of Roadkill Ghost Choir would be the perfect fit for some hole-in-the-wall joint. The six-piece band’s sound filled the venue with melodic, earnest tunes that dropped down to near-silence before roaring to life again. The vocals were a focal point, as Andrew Shepard’s voice displayed unbridled fury and creaky uncertain in equal turns. Listening to such an evocative voice work its magic is one of my favorite things in music; hearing a band back that up with equal passion and fervor is even more of a joy. Roadkill Ghost Choir is highly recommended for fans of Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket and the like.

Dreamy Winters Mix

February 9, 2013

So our Kickstarter is going splendidly, as we’re 84% funded after less than 48 hours of being open. The rapid success thrills and humbles me, as this little project (and by extension, I) have been the recipient of much generosity over the last two days.

But even with golden days about us, there’s still work to be done! Here’s a large mix of solid singles that have floated my way recently.

Dreamy Winters Mix

1. “Make Believe” – Sleepy Tea. The ease with which Sleepy Tea pulls off nuanced confidence made me sit up and take notice. Put your radar on for this band.
2. “Fields” – Tiger Waves. Hazy, gauzy, chilled-out indie-pop reminiscent of The Shins.
3. “Lead Balloon” – Carroll. Calm, quirky tune reminiscent of Grandaddy, recent Death Cab, and even a bit of Tokyo Police Club.
4. “Spinoza” – Generationals. Seriously, what type of world are we in that Generationals isn’t adored?
5. “Glowing” – Dream Curtain. Didn’t we call this chillwave once upon a time? Whatever it’s called, I still love it.
6. “Burn It Down” – Dark Colour. For a second I felt like I was in a LCD Soundsystem track, which is about the highest compliment I can give a dance track.
7. “Mysterieux” – White Blush. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m getting seriously into downtempo, pretty music. Or maybe the world is just catching up with something I always loved.
8. “Locks and Keys” – Glyphs. Beautiful, intriguing Postal Service-esque electro-pop with a perfectly corresponding video. I can’t wait to hear more from this band.
9. “Don’t Stop” – Odesza. Got some trip-hop, Portishead-esque vibes going on in this instrumental.
10. “I Remember the World Begin to Sway” – Antennas to Heaven. Named after a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, Antennas to Heaven deliver some slow-building, post-rock beauty.
11. “I’ve Got the Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” – I Used to Be a Sparrow. The jubilation of post-rock meets the concrete vocal melodies of indie-rock in a powerful tune. Totally stoked for their new record.
12. “Peace In The Valley” – Cliff Dweller. Old-timey gospel? And beautifully, unabashedly so.

LCD Soundsystem lives on. So do other bands.

January 12, 2012

As an an unabashedly overenthusiastic LCD Soundsystem fan, it should not surprise anyone that I took today to write a videos/MP3 post purely because the trailer for SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS came out. The film chronicles the last days (and James Murphy’s day after) of LCD Soundsystem. The trailer made me dance around in my office.

IC fave Kickstarter had a humongous third year, and you can see all their stats and stuff from it here. Cool information design for an even cooler site. They are literally changing the way the world does art.

Super Visas, James Hicken’s ambient folk project, has a new video for “The Hum That Keeps Us Cool.” It’s incredibly disorienting and fascinating:

I pronounced Avalanche City’s debut album Our New Life Above The Groundnigh on perfect” in early 2011 and named it #2 on our Top Ten of 2010 list. The rest of the world is catching on: The New Zealand band will be playing SXSW this year, and they got a song from their album posted as a download on RCRD LBL two days ago. Exciting!

Top Albums of the Year, pt. 1

December 29, 2011

I’m incredibly excited that I’ve finished my year-end lists actually correspond with the end of the year. Without further pontificating, here’s the first half of the year’s best.

Honorable Mention: LCD Soundsystem - Madison Square Garden Show. It’s not an official release, but it proves that the tightest live band in the world only got tighter with time. “Yeah” is an absolute powerhouse.

20: Beirut – The Rip Tide. The mellower, less brash Zac Condon won me over.

19: The Antlers - Burst Apart. Mostly because “Putting the Dog to Sleep” is my favorite song of the year, although the rest of the album stands up well.

18: Gray Young – Staysail. Post-rock with heart and technical abilities.

17: Bon Iver - Bon Iver. It took a while to grow on me, but now I think that Vernon out-James Blaked James Blake.

16: David Ramirez – Strangetown EP. Moving songwriting, evocative lyrics and a beautiful voice make this a brilliant collection of tunes.

15: Restorations – Restorations. The sound of punk rockers growing old without giving up.

14: Battle Ave. – “War Paint.” A more indie-fied Titus Andronicus? Sign me up twice.

13: Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. Piano-led singer/songwriter fare rarely sounds this confident, powerful or memorable.

12: Pete Davis – The Pottsville Conglomerate. The instrumentation of Sufjan Stevens meets the acrobatic enthusiasm of a pop-punk band. Fireworks ensue.

11: Oh Look Out! – Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright. Electrifying, intricate indie-pop that loves video games just as much as music. “Kam” is brilliant.

Horse Thief captures a wide-open mood and runs with it

December 10, 2011

Matt Carney and I are doing a collaborative best-of list for OKSee, the blog that we each ran for half the year. It’s going to be awesome, and I’ll post a link when it happens.

Horse Thief‘s Grow Deep, Grow Wild appeared in our conversation, and Matt exhorted me to check it out. Matt shares my love of LCD Soundsystem and has rocked out to Colourmusic’s “Yes!” in a moving vehicle with me, so I trust his judgment. His judgment was in fine form when he recommended this album to me.

Grow Deep, Grow Wild is one of that rare class of albums that appropriates a specific feel as opposed to a specific genre. I suppose it’s vaguely indie-rock/alt-countryish, but what it really sounds like is the beginning of a road trip across the Midwest. The music is wide-open and spacious, and the energy bubbles just below the surface.

Opener “Colors” sets the mood with Springsteen-esque drums, foundational organ, distant background vocals, and rattling guitars in the chorus. The whole arrangement is held together by an affected, unusual vocal tone. The song comes together brilliantly, setting the rest of the album on a course that it rarely deviates from. Think or the Walkmen if they toned down the brittle guitar distortion, or Kings of Leon if the sheen of Only By the Night had a lot more country in it. I know I just repped a band with maximum cred and no cred back-to-back, but it is what it is.

The complete control of a very specific mood is the album’s strength and weakness. The call-and-response vocal delivery of “Warrior (Oklahoma)” is one of the few tracks that sticks out in the album, because the rest of the tunes feel like movements of one greater suite. The relatively small number of instruments used contributes to this sameness; I would love to see Horse Thief experiment with other sounds more extensively in the future. The one extremely memorable break from this is “Down By The River,” which busts out Walkmen-like horns to great effect. But to Horse Thief’s credit, there are no downside tracks: this is a totally enveloping atmosphere.

I’ve mentioned the Walkmen several times, and I’m going to do it again: if you’re down with Lisbon, you really should check Grow Deep, Grow Wild out. Horse Thief’s wide-open plains intensity is the Oklahoman answer to the aforementioned’s Brooklynite yowl. The album drops today, so if you’re in Oklahoma, head out to ACM@UCO and hear it, as well as the all-star supporting line-up of The Non, Deerpeople and Feathered Rabbit (all of whom are dear to my heart).

Pikachunes' entertaining indie-dance debut points to a bright future

October 2, 2011

I pine for LCD Soundsystem so hard that if someone even mentions their name in a RIYL, I will listen to that album. Pikachunes‘ press mentioned the James Murphy Machine, and so I rushed to the self-titled album. This particular tactic sets everyone up for disappointment: the music of Miles McDougall deserves to be analyzed on its own, not as greater or less than LCD.

However, this particular dance vehicle does draw some comparisons in the both arrangement and recording style. The rhythm-heavy, muscly songs are lovingly treated to a warm production sheen that contrasts nicely with the cold vocals: McDougall’s pipes are reminiscent of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and his followers (pre-stadium rockin’ She Wants Revenge, especially). The vocal melodies unfold most often over a simple beat, rubbery bass and a melody instrument, but McDougall has enough savvy as a songwriter to make sure a pulse runs through these tunes.

In that regard, Pikachunes is at even more of a disadvantage: by showing significant aptitude in the genre, it’s even easier to draw comparisons to James Murphy. Murphy, however, had 15+ years of indie-rock, DJ, and cultural critic experience to draw on before he started putting together the songs that turned indie music on its ear. McDougall is a relative young’un, and that youth is belied in the pacing of the songs.

Almost all of the songs here are self-contained entities. They share a vague mood and sound palette, but there’s no ebbing/flowing energy from song to song in the collection that would compel me to listen in this order or all at once. There’s nothing wrong with this approach (clubs don’t care about yr album, suckaaa, just yr hitz), but it makes the album less of an meaningful unit. His press says it’s kind of a concept album, so he’s going to have to improve on his cohesiveness in the future if he wants to achieve his concept goals.

But is “Metronome” a bodymovin’ dance track? Yes. Is “Nervous” an earworm deluxe? Also yes. Is “Disco Baby” suave as anything? Very, very yes. This stuff is fun to listen to, and that’s something that you can’t take from him.

But LCD Soundsystem raised the bar for indie kids making dance music. You can’t just throw it down anymore; you’ve gotta build great songs within great albums. I know, I know, that’s what we ask of anyone. But when Miles McDougall’s debut is this promising, I want to be that guy who challenges him to greater heights.

Pikachunes is an entertaining album and impressive debut of club-ready indie dance tracks. Here’s to hoping this is the start of something even greater.

It's the end of (paying for) (itemized) art

August 23, 2011

James Murphy at Austin City Limits 2010. Photo/Matt Carney

I keep accidentally reading things about the end of paid art (the basic theory, espoused neatly by Chris Anderson, that when anything goes digital it will eventually become free). The old model (paying for reproduced art items) is dead, but the good news is that it was really only a 20th century model anyway. For the rest of time, artists have been supported in other ways than selling physical interpretations of their work: art items (books, magazines, visual art) didn’t become truly viable until the 18th century, and not prevalent until the 19th, while music reproduction was almost impossible until the LP came along in the early 20th century. Before that, everything was live.

Everything.

No, really.

So yes, you will not make money selling your book/movie/album soon. This is especially a bummer for books, a medium which has no live element. But music, theater, art and movies* will survive and thrive on their live aspects, because there’s a vast difference between seeing the Sistine Chapel on StumbleUpon (which I did yesterday) and seeing it in person (which I did ten years ago). I still count the real experience of it as way more valuable than yesterday’s viewing – even though the digital picture was clearer online due to Photoshop.

If you play well live, you’re gonna be fine. People will want to come see your show. If you make art, have showings. People will want to come see it. Note how many people came in for LCD Soundsystem’s last show.

“But James Murphy is a genius!” people say. And it’s true! He is. But Nick Drake was a genius and a miserable, miserable showman. Josh Ritter (closer to the Nick Drake side of sounds) is closing in on genius status, and he’s a brilliant performer.

People flocked to the final LCD shows because the band just blew people’s minds live. Its recorded music pales in comparison. This is the new paradigm.

Does this mean a lot more time on the road? You bet it does. Brandi Carlile will be on the road the whole rest of the year, with the exception of October. That’s exhausting. But it’s the new shift.

There will be less people doing music professionally, and there will be more people trying to break in to that small elite. It will get even harder to become a band. But for those who are willing to sacrifice to do what they love, there’s still a place for you. There always will be.

Always.

Even when they start streaming shows online en masse (and they will), it will be like seeing the Sistine Chapel on Stumbleupon.

Always.

Even if we get to the point where we are entering 3-D renderings of shows that we are viewing through virtual reality helmets (by Google, probably), there’s just no substitute for the unquantifiable live energy that a band and audience create. You weren’t there, as James Murphy would note. You’re just bringin’ him down.

There will always be a place for people who bring it live.

Always.

*I value the theater experience. Many others do as well. We could debate the rise of home theaters, but I’m not really qualified to do that.

Photo/James Murphy at Austin City Limits 2010. Photo/Matt Carney

Here's your half-year, 2011

August 15, 2011

Colin Stetson's "New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges"

Just like IC puts out its year-end best-of list in February, my half-year best-of doesn’t hit until August. This list includes the music I covered while at the Oklahoma Gazette.

If you would like to see this list visually, I’ve created an Independent Clauses Pinterest page that also includes the best artwork that’s crossed IC’s path in 2011 and a list of best books about pop music.

16. Chad Valley – Equatorial Ultravox. ’80s dance-pop revivalism that captures both the playful nonchalance and wistful romanticism of the first disposable music era.

15. Aaron Robinson – A Dying Art EP. The Nashville songwriter comes into his own, creating a set of unforgettable melancholy tunes.

14. James and Evander – Constellating EP + 2. The true heirs to The Postal Service’s throne, at long last.

13. The Antlers – Burst Apart. Song of the year “Putting The Dog To Sleep” caps off a emotional album of indie-fied slow jamz.

12. Adebisi Shank – This Is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank. Exuberant O-prog (optimistic prog rock) that makes the very best of a trio by use of some wicked complicated pedalboards.

12. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh. A gorgeous album of secular hymns. “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes” is the quietest emotional wrecking ball of the year.

10. Cameron Blake – Hide and Go Seek. The album establishes Blake as a songwriter with a unique voice and something to say.

9. Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. I am still blown away by the power in her voice and assured quality in her piano songwriting. Tough to believe it’s a debut.

8. Jenny and Tyler – Faint Not. They’ve upped their game from charming folk duo to serious songwriters with heart-pounding lyrics and music.

7. Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resist. One of the most complete albums of the year, as well as the most varied. Stevenson can hit shots from all over the indie court.

6. Typhoon – A New Kind of House. Horns, strings, drums, guitars, choirs: Chamber-folk doesn’t get better than this Portland outfit.

5. LCD Soundsystem – Last Show at Madison Square Garden. Not a true album, or it would be higher. The frantic energy of each tune makes this a can’t-miss for even casual fans of James Murphy’s work.

4. Generationals – Actor-Caster. Perky indie-pop tunes with undeniable charm and indelible melodies. “Ten-Twenty-Ten” is my summer song.

3. Brine Webb – O You, Stone Changeling. If emotional nakedness were the 100-yard-dash, Webb would be Usain Bolt. Dazzling folk beauty and devastating lyrics.

2. Braids – Native Speaker. Mesmerizing, wandering, evocative beauty from the only band to surprise me with a unique take on indie-rock this year.

1. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges. Stetson turns a single baritone saxophone into an art-rock band, churning out astonishing post-rock pieces at turns terrifying and rapturous.

James Murphy never lost his edge

August 1, 2011

We all knew it would come to this someday. If a guy starts out his band by announcing, “I’m losing my edge,” there must come a point where he feels he’s lost it. If he’s smart, he feels the final slide before everyone else and gets out early. James Murphy is a very smart man.

I mean, how many people go out by playing a show throwing a party in Madison Square Garden? No one does that. I couldn’t steel myself to quit while the number of people necessary to fill MSG still cared deeply about my band. People flew in from other continents to see this spectacle, because James Murphy is an incredibly brilliant musician.

And if that musicianship isn’t necessarily the point of the Madison Square Garden show, it’s at least on display by proxy. Other than an adrenaline-spiking drum solo in the amazing version of “Yeah,”  Murphy’s contribution to the music during the show consists of vocals* – except that he wrote or arranged everything in the nearly three-hour set.

Even that seems ambiguous to me. How much does a gajillion-piece band contribute to a sound? How much do they bring to the table? How does the indie-rockin’ “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” turn into the dance-punk fiesta that it was at that show? I know The London Sessions significantly transformed it, but this is something else again. I never saw James Murphy live, so I’ll never know how the transition happened – because not enough people in Oklahoma like LCD Soundsystem for the band to have ever stepped foot in this state.

Transformation aside, the songs here are transcendent. These songs are the epitome of a band on top of its game: from “Home” to “Someone Great” to “Dance Yrself Clean” to even “45:33,” every era of LCD sounds more vital than it ever has. I would say the band was killing it, but they’re not: they’re bringing life to all of it. “Tribulations” appropriates the most timeless elements of the early 2000s dance-rock movement (catchy bass lines, perky drumming, squelching synths) and discards the pretension and mock aggression for a sober look at a relationship and a nation. How do you do that, James Murphy?

But if you’re a LCD fan, you already know the brilliance of his lyrics and songwriting; you’d like to know about this time, this way, this show. And rightfully so. If you haven’t heard LCD yet, here’s a recommendation: this was one of the best dance bands that ever existed. And I’m not saying that ’cause they’re gone. I was saying that while they were happening. I was there.

(Somewhere, Murphy is laughing that all we can say about his band now is what he already said about his band. There’s another clear indicator that he was the cleverest songwriter of our generation – and I am obsessed with The Mountain Goats.)

So, this time, this way, this show: the band sounds laser-guided. The bootleg is of astonishingly good quality, which could be a tribute to the taper (Pitchfork, in some way or fashion), the massive MSG sound system or both. Murphy doesn’t lose an ounce of energy or voice quality in 25+ songs (depending on how you count the massive “45:33″). This sounds like a band doing a victory lap on a huge tour, not a final gig. Just check the swagger of “Us vs. Them,” which was not really there in the original recording, or that of “All My Friends,” which is once again a revelation. And that’s because Murphy is victory lappin’. Right off into the sunset of performing.

Because no matter how much the band makes the Madison Square Garden show just rip, the last LCD Soundsystem gig will always be about Murphy. He does all the talking and almost all the freaking out, except when Arcade Fire gets in on “North American Scum,” and when the band sings magnificently on the high point of “Losing My Edge.”

And that’s the moment: as the band members sing “LA!!” at the top of their lungs, Murphy starts the signature move of screaming out band names. At first, you can’t even really hear him due to the volume of the “background” singers. The kids are coming up from behind, indeed.

The crazy thing about this show is that it does an end-run on mortality: we are always losing our edge. We are always rushing toward our end. We have our bright, shining moments, and then our edge is dulled until we are gone. Murphy is severing the fall; before he can dull, he disappears. That’s what is being documented here. There will never be a regrettable LCD Soundsystem cash grab release, as others have noted. That’s an incredible legacy to leave on a musical front.

But the legacy to leave on a lyrical front is an even more lasting and impressive one. Not only did James Murphy observe culture well, he observed himself well. He knew when the gig was up. He invested what we thought was everything in LCD Soundsystem. But he apparently didn’t; LCD is gone, and Murphy’s still kicking. There was something else that drove him, something deeper than LCD that made LCD tick. Perhaps is just purely a love of music. (Given his decision to keep DJing and rumors of him producing records, this is a fair guess.) Perhaps it’s something else.

But I know that as I head toward my mid-twenties, the concept of “Losing My Edge” will dawn on me. And I’ll have to deal with it. Maybe not for xx more years at that point, but I’ll have to start thinking. I pray that I’ll keep a firm grasp on that which grounds me outside of music. Because we are all losing our edge, and we need to deal with it. We can’t stay sharp forever, but James Murphy quit trying to be sharp while he is known for it. There’s proof of it now; when mortality comes for him, no one will be able to knock how sharp his edge was.

-

*and I think cowbell, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t see who’s doing it; and there’s no way I’m torturing myself with video of this event.

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