Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

April MP3s: 2

April 2, 2016

1. “War and Opera” – Montoya. The careful, restrained arranging that Montoya deploys in this melodic indie-pop tune gives it a maturity and dignity that separate it from other tunes. The delicate guitar and alto vocals still create thoroughly enough interest to power this intriguing song.

2. “ALIEN” – Laura and Greg. The duo has transformed from a pristine acoustic duo into a punchy, noisy indie-pop-rock outfit. It’s not exactly Sleigh Bells, but they’re heading in that direction–but Laura’s charming vocals and fun keys keep the song on this side of full-on-indie-rock assault.

3. “Call Me Out” – Jesse Alexander. A former member of Cobalt and the Hired Guns keeps the ska / indie-pop fusion tunes coming: this one has horns and organ to keep the good vibes flowing.

4. “Fire Up the Bilateral Brain and Draw” – Word to Flesh. Here’s a quirky tune that employs the keys-focused sound structures of formal pop, but has no real formal structure: the only phrase in the two minute tune is the titular mantra, surrounded by guitar noodling. It’s remarkably engaging, and then it’s over–sort of like a less manic They Might Be Giants.

5. “Rainer” – Lull. A hammering rock intro flips on its head and unveils a delicate, early ’00s emo sound. They get back to the rock, but they take their sweet time getting there and make it worth your while when they do.

6. “A Moment to Return” – Why We Run. Moody bass/drums meets The National vocals with some U2 ambient/anthemic guitars on top. The results are a surprisingly uplifting post-punk tune–post-punk generally doesn’t make me want to dance or smile, and there’s some of both to be had here.

7. “When We’re Clouds” – Slow Runner. So indie-rock used to be shorthand for “rock songs that are definitely rock but kinda don’t play by the same rules.” Slow Runner’s tune is a song of (government?) scientific experimentation on human subjects (I think?). The music itself is slightly off-kilter rock, like a louder Grandaddy, a chillaxed Flaming Lips, or something altogether different. Here’s to Slow Runner.

8. “Dance Baby” – Luxley. That rare electro-rock song which doesn’t hammer listeners over the head with massive synth blasts–instead, there’s a bit of Cobra Starship restraint in the vocal-heavy arrangement. There is a bit of punk-pop attitude in the vocals (Good Charlotte came to mind), giving this a bit of a unique flair.

9. “Maria, Mine” – Don Tigra. Former folkie Stephen Gordon has slickly and impressively reinvented himself as an indie-rocker with post-punk vibes, coming off as a cross between Interpol, Cold War Kids, and Leagues. (Full disclosure: I’ve given some professional advice to Gordon over the years.)

10. “Psychopaths and Sycophants” – Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. Bluesy, swampy roots rock with whiskey-sodden, raspy vocals and all sorts of swagger. The great backup vocal arrangement and performances put the song over the top.

11. “Polaris” – Shiners. Minimalist electro-pop usually doesn’t have enough structure and melody to keep me interested, but Shiners do a great job of creating a cohesive, immersive whole out of small parts.

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.

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

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