Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Best EPs of 2015

January 4, 2016

EPs are becoming more popular than ever, and I love the trend: there’s no room for filler on an EP. As a result, a lot of artists brought their A game to the smaller format this year. Here’s to them:

1. Thanks for All Your Patience – Brother Moses. (Review) I spun this one the most often because the easygoing, almost effortless indie-rock vibe gave rise to some seamless, indelible melodies. Clean, tight, clever, and earnest, I gravitated to this one early and often in 2015.

2. On Separation – David Wimbish. (Review) Wimbish, frontman of The Collection, stripped out some of the intricate arrangements of his day job for a more intimate set of portraits that focused in on the lyrics. Elegant, haunting, and beautiful.

3. Loca EP – Valley Shine. (Review) Folk-pop can be a formula these days, but Valley Shine is all about exploding the formula with raw enthusiasm, brash melodies, and surprising pathos.

4. Magic Giant – Magic Giant. (Review) Rave-folk is a thing now (thanks, Avicii!), and Magic Giant are the next big thing on that front.

5. Linton // Oslo EP – Austin Basham. (Review) I rarely heard singer/songwriter work this assured, pristine, and strong during 2015. Top-shelf.

6. Regards – We are the West. (Review) A wisp of an EP that barely has time to meet you before it’s gone, but oh does it deliver: this Low Anthem-style Americana sounds like a warm blanket around my ears.

7. Joe Kaplow EP – Joe Kaplow. (Review) One of my favorite debuts of the year, as Kaplow showed off his versatility in several different acoustic-based styles. Looking forward to more from Kaplow.

8. Away, Away – B. Snipes. (Review) Another excellent debut that introduces Snipes’ low-slung troubadour singer/songwriter voice to the world, taking the lyrics of Rocky Votolato in a more Americana direction.  

9. Elegant Freefall – Ira Lawrences Haunted Mandolin. (Review) Lawrence turns one mandolin into an enormous array of sounds, turning out some wildly inventive pop songs along the way.

10. River Whyless – River Whyless. (Review) Gentle, quiet, and worthy of your time.

11. Your Friendly Neighborhood Demo – Your Friendly Neighborhood. (Review) Takes R&B, blue-eyed-soul, ambient, and indie-rock into something greater than the sum of its parts.

12. The Best of Times – Cable Street Collective. (Review) Do you want to dance? Because the Vampire Weekend meets the Caribbean meets UK rap sounds here are built for that. —Stephen Carradini

Premiere: Valley Shine’s “See You Soon” from LOCA EP

October 27, 2015

valleyshineloca

Some tunes are slow burners, and others smack you in the face with their immediacy. Valley Shine‘s “See You Soon” is the latter: the verse melody is so infectious, carefully delivered, and beautifully arranged that it gave me goosebumps on first listen.

The band marries delicate folk-pop with joyous indie-pop with such skill that it seems obvious, which is the first sign that there are a lot of non-obvious things going on. Digging into the song reveals sonic and structural complexity, from the many melodic lines the vocals deliver to the delicate balance of intimacy vs. oversharing in the lyrics (they fall on the former side, of course). The overall effect of the tune is remarkable: it’s the sort of thing that you want to play for everyone you know; that soundtracks the joyful conclusion of indie movies; that rolls your windows down almost of its own accord. It’s a powerful tune, but it’s also not trying to hard to be that. These are the sort of songs that I started this blog to cover: songs I can’t stop thinking about. Cheers, Valley Shine.

The tune comes off their upcoming Loca EP, which is just as gush-worthy as “See You Soon.” “To the Sea” presents a different side of Valley Shine’s sound: one that does reach for the epic sweep. The broad, wide-open sound evokes big emotions but stays grounded (through great banjo use!) in it all. It’s reminiscent of the Oh Hellos or Jenny and Tyler’s work. The delicate “If I Was a Bird” strips out the indie-pop affectation and reveals the oh-so-satisfying shuffle-snare country/folk roots of their sound (they even throw in some Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”-esque booms, to prove bonafides).

Jenna Blake leads the song, with Sam Sobelman providing the harmonies. The two switch off throughout the EP, with Sobelman taking the reins for the Beatles-esque opener “Sugar Dream” and “See You Soon” and Blake taking the darker “Don’t Let It Slip Away.” “To the Sea,” naturally, has both of their vocals together in a choir-esque arrangement. It’s like if Fleet Foxes got really, really stoked about something, or maybe if they met the Polyphonic Spree.

I can’t talk about Loca without returning to the term “immediate.” Everything about the five songs here just jumps off the page and demands your attention. They have diverse arrangments, generic range, varied vocalists, and impeccable melodicism. Valley Shine sounds like a band that has been around a lot longer than it has: they’ve created the sorts of songs that can hold up for a long time. This should be the start of something big for Valley Shine. Highly recommended.

LOCA drops Nov. 3 on iTunes. If you’re in Southern California, you should check out their EP release Nov 7 at Hotel Café in Los Angeles.

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

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