Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

I NEED GLORIA!

August 15, 2014

I NEED GLORIA!

1. “Whodunit?” – Gentle Robot. GR’s new album of indie-friendly alt-rock a la Silversun Pickups or Anberlin is a whodunit murder mystery. Gentle Robot deftly balances tenderness and aggression via strong lyrical and musical songwriting. Clever, memorable, and novel.

2. “Say Yes” – Afternoons. If you can resist belting out that chorus at the top of your lungs, this blog cannot help you. I’m serious.

3. “Gloria” – Backwords. Item Two: If you can stop yourself from belting out “I NEED GLOOOOOOORIA,” this is probably not the blog for you. Excellent song development from this crew.

4. “Love the Sea” – The Vigilance Committee. Grows from dreamy beginnings all the way to a rhythmically technical post-hardcore section, with some punk-inspired motion in the middle. I love ambitious songwriters.

5. “Midnight:Sixteen” – Tree Dwellers. TD has some weird post-rock/alt-rock/found-sound thing going on here. It’s the soundtrack to a really ominous “getting ready” sequence in a artsy futuristic dystopian action film.

6. “You Come to Kill Me?” – Happyness. Two minutes of pure slacker rock with impressive attention to lyrical detail. It doesn’t get repetitive, it doesn’t ask for much, it just wants to know if you’re there to kill him. Solid, bro.

7. “Monuments” – Haverford. My current favorite emo band mixes vocal desperation, dreamy guitars, and punk intensity for a swirling, whirling track. This release should get Haverford noticed by emo revivalists and more.

8. “Escape” – Dream Boat. The intensity of the forward motion that pushes through this psychedelic track makes it more than just a woozy psych jam or a four-on-the-floor stomper. Heavy vibes here, but good ones.

9. “Love Again” – JOA. Yearning, churning, moody indie-pop from the artist formerly known as Like Clockwork; much more atmospheric than the brash pop music he was previously producing. It’s got some down-tempo groove to it, too.

10. “Dis-Moi Qui Tu Aimes” – The Lovers Key. More rippin’ Motown surf soul from TLK.

11. “January” – Silva. The breeziness of chillwave meets the celebratory vibes of Brazilian music in a fun, charming, beautiful track.

12. “Lovekill” – Anie. Opens with an asymmetric vocal line reminiscent of tUnE-yArDs before exploding into a pop-rock tune with high male vocals; it shifts back and forth from artsy to poppy throughout the track. Really interesting take here.

13. “Oh the Evil!!!” – Michael Leonard Witham. A Dylanesque yawp, pedal steel, brazen harmonica, and a perky overall mood? Yes. Let’s have some more of that.

14. “Shapeshifting” – Sam Joole. This warm, gentle, pristine arrangement that recalls William Fitzsimmons or early Joshua Radin feels lush and full, even though it’s rather stark. Wonderful track.

November MP3 Drop 1: DANCE IT OUT

November 10, 2013

So I’m getting caught up on MP3s too. Soon I will be back on schedule!

MP3 Drop 1: DANCE IT OUT

1. “Wear You Out” – Amerigogo. Punk-funk-party-rock with muscle, grit and old-school “we play our own damn instruments” passion. If you don’t want to dance to this, I’m not sure this blog can help you much on that front.
2. “Gold” – Half Sister. There will always be room in my heart for more girl-fronted power-pop, especially when it’s as crisp and surprisingly emotive as this. Tender is not a term given to power-pop that often, but more power to Half Sister for pulling it off.
3. “Small Pony” – Dott. Girl-fronted power-pop that features an impressive bit of drumming; if you’re on the Best Coast train, you’ll find much to love here.
4. “Get Down” – Like Clockwork. Somewhere between the Postal Service and Ke$ha lies this track and its catchy chorus. Cobra Starship? Maybe?
5. “TTYN” – SCRNS. Is Lorde on the front edge of something, or is she already causing? SCRNS has similarly minimalist electro production going on, and it’s similarly catchy and fun.
6. “Partners in Crime” – We Were Lovers. I don’t think I can ever think of rich, majestic, night-time dance-rock without invoking The Killers. So a female-fronted Killers it is, and I love it.
7. “My Song 9” – Nova Heart. Ominous, foreboding female-fronted indie-electro-rock with an excellent production job.
8. “Inhibitionist” – Starlight Girls. The line between campy horror and surf-rock has never been harder to find. Fun all around, whatever you think the sound is.
9. “Earthquake” – Passafire. The only reggae I know much about is Matisyahu, but Passafire caught my attention with this track: smooth vocals, great chorus, a bit of tough edge to the guitar.
10. “Moonlight” – Message to Bears. A hypnotizing, gently rolling tune that inhabits the space between artsy R&B and atmospheric indie-folk.

Like Clockwork shows erratic flashes of pop brilliance on These Are All Things

May 26, 2011

I’ve been expecting These Are All Things to come out for a little over three years, which is about a third of the time this blog has been around. So, when Like Clockwork (aka Jesse Owen Astin) finally unveiled it, I did what I do with all my long-awaited albums: I listened to it in my car, while driving. After the first listen, I had one thought firmly implanted in my head: What?!

I’ve known for as long as I’ve been listening to Like Clockwork that Astin has wide-ranging interests. He’s got modern rock, acoustic pop, dance-rock, modern pop and more in his pocket. I didn’t know which direction These Are All Things would go. The answer: all of them.

And that is one of the hardest parts to swallow about the release: it’s so varied that it barely holds together. If you threw three darts at a visual interpretation of the album, you would not hit songs that sound anything like each other. “Patience Patients” opens the set with an acoustic lead-in to a modern rock piece. “Keys” is a dark number with a pressing drum machine that makes me think of She Wants Revenge. “Oh My God!” traps one of the best pop choruses of the year inside a grating intro and long, spoken-word outro. “I Want a Family” is a gripping, devastating acoustic track that is the hands-down best song Like Clockwork has ever written.

And the whole album goes like that, dropping in and out of Astin’s interests at will. This diversity is almost certainly due to the fact that it came together over such a long period; there’s no sense of timeliness to the album at all. There are, however, thematic elements in the lyrics that tie it together.

Astin’s really concerned with love here, but not with the wishy-washy, infatuation love that the radio gets so hyped on. He ties his concept of love into religion, which is featured prominently in the lyrical matter. “Jesus Christ Crashing Star” features poet Trace William Cowen reading a poem that denounces God as dying with Santa Claus, and points to the omnipresence of love as what people are seeking. Astin’s grandmother gives her take on the outro of  “The Dark,” while the last minute of “Oh My God!” is dedicated to a  clip of a speech proclaiming that “there’s only one people, one nation, one religion, one ideology, and that’s love.”

“Jesus Christ Crashing Star” backs up to standout track “I Want a Family” as the emotional center of the album, putting the idea of “no religion but love” in the album’s crux (“No Other Word For Love” also has this sentiment).

There are also a few tunes that deal with a breakup, as well as thoughts on growing up. It seems that These Are All Things is Astin’s bildungsroman album; and as coming of age is never a neat and tidy process, perhaps the wide-ranging sounds on the release best mirror what was happening in his life at the time.

Another intriguing aspect of this album is this: I was given what amounts to the first draft. After hearing some thoughts on the record, Astin cut out several tracks (including the worst offender) and added the rock track “Be Your Man” at the end, which wraps all of his tendencies (rock, pop, emotionality, distorted guitar, acoustic guitar, even a touch of dance) into one song that completes the album perfectly. It doesn’t make the individual parts mesh with each other better, but it does bring a bit of togetherness to the whole work.

In the end, These Are All Things has several brilliant tracks (“I Want a Family,” the center of “Oh My God!”, “Be Your Man”) and a lot of good ideas scattered throughout a wildly diverse album. These Are All Things is an incredible title for the album, because each song feels like its own thing.

Astin released the album a song at a time over at his Bandcamp; I can’t think of a better way to experience this album than a song at a time over weeks. Try it yourself that way, and see what happens.

Quick Hits: Like Clockwork

January 16, 2011

Here Are Some Things is a teaser EP for Like Clockwork‘s very long awaited album These Are All Things, which could be as big as a triple LP. The current press says “full-length record,” so make of that what you will.

The EP contains four pop songs. “Grappling Hook” dabbles in Cobra Starship-esque dance pop, while “Televisionary” is like a Fountains of Wayne power-pop song. “Method Act” is a Guster-esque acoustic tune. “Starchild” is a distorted garage-rock tune. None of them are bad, but the vast array of genres makes it feel like nothing more than a teaser. There’s no coherence, nor does it seem that any was attempted. It’s literally “some things.”

Like Clockwork has experience with dance-pop, so his skills in that area are a bit more refined in “Grappling Hook” than in other areas. Ending track “Starchild” is a bit of a mess, but it’s an enjoyable crash. The most ambitious of the set, it starts off at a punk-fueled clip and then spins out into a spaced-out, flowy jam before throwing down some intermittent guitar noises for a long outro.

The EP certainly shows the breadth of Like Clockwork’s songwriting interests. I don’t know how the album is going to pan out after hearing this EP, because it could go in any direction. But the EP certainly has me looking forward to the album, so it’s done its job very well.

Quick Hits: Nathan Leigh

December 2, 2010

Nathan Leigh’s glitch ep features “Let’s Get Lost (Alternate Mix),” whose soaring melody and piano-led pensiveness stuck in my head for several weeks. If Owl City absorbed some Transatlanticism-era Death Cab moods, he’d be making moving tunes like “Let’s Get Lost,” as Nathan Leigh operates in a similar electronic pop idiom (but without much of the kitsch and bubblegum).

The rest of the tunes fare decently, but none stand out in the long run. Many of them are heavy on the glitchy production of the name, and the heavy static hits hurt my enjoyment of them. “Breathing in Fast” is an exception, an upbeat pop song that evokes Cobra Starship or Like Clockwork. Overall, it’s decent, with a shining star among the rest.

Like Clockwork delivers a straightforward dance-pop singalong for the win

February 26, 2010

Like Clockwork is easily one of the most confusing artists I’ve ever encountered in my nearly eight years of writing Independent Clauses. I discovered him years ago as a lo-fi artist churning out tunes in a variety of genres. I guardedly praised his work, then waited for more. Since then, things got weird. There have been rumors of albums, double albums, and even triple albums. I’ll occasionally receive a single e-mailed to me with no text, just the mp3. Sometimes there’s a PR guy involved. Sometimes there’s not.

As of late, he has dramatically improved his vocals and reinvented himself as electronics-backed dance-rocker. His last two dispatches in this vein, “Oh My God!” and the most recent “Hands Up!”, are both awesome. But after rumors of all this material yet to be released, his iTunes page still only holds testament to a handful of singles, a couple EPs, old albums, and collaborations. Jesse Astin is a head scratcher, for sure.

But that doesn’t mean that “Hands Up!” is. On the contrary, it’s quite straightforward. A head-bobbing beat complete with handclaps forms the base for burbling synths. Astin’s assured, snarky vocals come in bright and clear over the beats and bring in the chorus, which is appropriately huge. There’s synths, guitars, backup singers, and guys yelling “Hands Up!”  It’s a pop gem. If you don’t feel like moving when you’re listening to it, you’re probably no fun. Cause this song is just ridiculously fun. Mid-tempo, glee-filled, pop-techno fun. I’d check it out at iTunes; it’s worth your ninety-nine cents. And until the next Like Clockwork album appears, this is what we got.

Like Clockwork creates delightful pop confusion

March 16, 2009

figureitinI’ve been following Like Clockwork for a long time. Jesse Astin, the driving force behind the band, has always had a unique vision for his songs. Sometimes this is awesome; sometimes it’s just confusing. “Oh My God!”, a new single off  upcoming album These Are All Things is no different.

It is different in the fact that this is the most accessible thing I’ve ever heard Like Clockwork make: the bulk of this song is a indie-pop techno ditty, a la Postal Service. The vocals are in turns sneering and vulnerable, but always clear and confident. The song’s melodies are all clever and immediately memorable, inspiring multiple listens. The only problem is that there are some weird extra bits in the song that drag it in weird directions. I don’t say they drag it down, but with their inclusion, “Oh My God!” definitely situates itself outside the canon of “normal pop songs.”

The first fifteen seconds are distorted screaming. I kid you not. It doesn’t seem like the best intro to a pop song, and to be honest, I’m kind’ve disappointed in the intro, because it doesn’t introduce the song well. Then the pop song about paranoia comes in and sticks around for a while; then a rock song denouncing America appears. The juxtaposition holds together because he says he’s worried about living in America, as “every empire must fall, and I live in America.”

But the weirdest bit of the song comes in the last minute, which is a field recording of a guy ranting about all of us being one. It’s your garden-variety “all is one! forget countries! forget religions! just be one!” street corner ranting. In addition to it being a peculiar addition to a pop song, I can’t figure out if he’s supporting or rejecting this guy’s ideas. I think he’s supporting it, but it’s not clear.

Even though it’s a bit conflicted and a tad bit confusing, it’s a mark of a good songwriter that I can write three hundred and fifty words about one song. If Jesse Astin has more songs of this caliber or better lined up in an upcoming release, I’m very excited for that release. I recommend checking out Like Clockwork’s myspace for this track.

Like Clockwork

April 11, 2004

If there were a moral to Like Clockwork’s latest album, it would be: break-ups suck. Why? Because Jesse Astin recently suffered a breakup large enough to spawn 15 songs on the topic. Those 15 songs were compiled, and the title “A Cross in the Ground” was stamped on the resulting album.

These fifteen songs of electronica-tinted hard rock, rock, pop, and balladry are confessional in the highest sense of the word. This is some of the most emotionally draining music I’ve ever heard. It’s like Astin scrubbed his mind of every thought, then wrung out the sponge into these songs. I feel like I know Jesse Astin after listening to this album. That’s how much emotion was put into this. It’s truly amazing.

The songs range from sparse piano to thundering hard rock, and everything in between. I said that already, but there’s really no other way to explain it. It’s all extremely well coordinated and extremely well written, which was a surprise to me, as albums that span multiple genres usually fare horribly. The best songs here reflect that, as “Poison to Stir” is an acoustic-led ballad, and “No Out Girl” is a highly electronic, abrasive rock piece that crescendos wonderfully to a chorus that is epic in scope and sound. If there were more like “No Out Girl”, this album would’ve been even better than it already is.

In fact, the only thing that fares horribly on this album are the vocals. Astin’s voice is a train wreck of a voice: off-key, yelping, nearly screaming in some parts, and grating on the ears. In a few songs, his off-kilter vocal explosions fit well (A Poison to Stir to actually has an excellent vocal performance), but overall the impression left is: “AUGH, THESE VOCALS ARE KILLING ME!” I hate trashing vocals, but Astin’s leave a mark that you don’t soon forget.

Perhaps there’s some genius in that…It is true that whatever song you listen to by Like Clockwork will stay in your head. You may not be humming along (probably not, actually), but you will remember it.

I would put Like Clockwork in the column of ‘Bands I Like’; I just don’t think they would be very high up on the scale. After all, you have to work to appreciate it. I’m not opposed to thinking about my music and repeating it till I’m accustomed to it, but the best music connects without thought.

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

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