Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Late February Singles 2

March 3, 2017

1. “Friends” – Marsicans. Marsicans appeared fully-formed writing masterful indie-pop-rock songs. I have no idea how that happened, but we’re all beneficiaries. This one manages to get heavy on the lyrical content and yet still manages to be one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard since … uh … “Swimming” by Marsicans.

2. “My Roommate Is a Snake and the Landlord’s a Bat” – Gregory Pepper and His Problems. If the conceit of Sleigh Bells is “hardcore guitars tamed by pop melodies,” the conceit of Pepper’s new album Black Metal Demo Tape is “sludge metal guitar and indie pop melodies.” This particular track starts off as a doomy dirge before transitioning into a early-Weezer power-pop tribute to metal. It’s a fun ride the whole way through the track. The rest of the album is equally inventive, charming, and gloomy (sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, but also sometimes not).

3. “Weathering” – moonweather. Fans of the acoustic work on Modest Mouse’s Good News album will love the unique vocal style and swaying, shambling, enthusiastic folk arrangement of this tune. The lilting, floating horns/string arrangement is excellent.

4. “€30,000” – Emperor X. If John Darnielle had collaborated with Pedro the Lion in between his All Hail West Texas and Tallahassee days, the results would have sounded as enigmatic and engaging as this incredible track. It’s almost pointless to tag this with genres–it’s a thoughtful, passionate, wild indie-pop (okay, I did it anyway) track.

5. “Unbroken Chains” – WolfCryer. If you’re not listening to WolfCryer yet, you’re missing out on some of the most vital, important folk songs being sung today. Baumann’s vocal delivery, vocal melodies, and lyrics are all top-shelf in this weary, burdened protest tune.

6. “Windmill Tilting (Live)” – Cameron DeGurski. Some vocal gruffness of the grunge-singer-gone-acoustic meets up with solid guitar work to create an earnest, tight tune.*

7. “I Won’t Rest Until” – Brianna Gaither. Following in the vein of Moda Spira, this tune seamlessly blends electro-pop synths, instrospective singer/songwriter piano, soulful vocals, and indie-rock drums for a thoroughly modern-sounding take on serious pop.

8. “We Notice Homes When They Break” – Loyal Wife. An earnest, charming love song that’s part alt-country (via the blaring organ), part indie-pop (through the vocal tone and vocal melodies), and part singer/songwriter (through the lyrics).

9. “Hold On” – Midnight Pilot. The title track to Midnight Pilot’s latest EP is a distillation of their Paul Simon-meets-Americana sound, a yearning piano-driven ballad augmented by lovely fluttering strings and capped off by a beautiful male vocal performance. The vocal melodies in the chorus are catchy and sophisticated, a balance rarely struck well.

10. “Alone with the Stars” – Ofeliadorme. Portishead-style trip-hop with a heavy dose of spacey/ambient synths for atmosphere. The video is in black and white because the song sounds like it is in noir tones.

11. “Eternally” – Julia Lucille. Fans of the complex emotional states of Julianna Barwick will find much to love in this track, which has similar focus on wordless vocals (although not looped and layered ones) to convey the dramatic, almost mystical mood. This track does have a full band supporting Lucille’s voice, and the band’s patient, thoughtful accompaniment creates a dusky evening for her voice to wander through.

12. “Islands III” – Svarta Stugan. Instead of releasing a video, this Swedish post-rock outfit released a video game. Set in a gray, bleak warzone environment, the game has elements of Helicopter Game and a side-scrolling space shooter. (It’s fun!) The song itself is a slowly-moving, minor-key, guitar-heavy post-rock piece of the Godspeed You Black Emperor! school. The game and the song really mesh well–it was a great idea.

Loyal Wife throws down passionate riffs and pensive emotions

April 5, 2012

One of my favorite albums is Before Braille‘s 2004 EP Cattle Punching on a Jackrabbit, which features masterful rock tunes like “New Vein/Proventil” and “Well as Well.” It was one of the first albums I covered for Independent Clauses that I truly loved, with the other being Novi Split’s Keep Moving. I still listen to both frequently.

Before Braille met its demise in 2006, but frontman David Jensen moved on to other projects. I missed two albums under the name Art for Starters, but I’m back on board for his project Loyal Wife. Faux Light is the debut album for that project, and it doesn’t disappoint. The main elements of Before Braille’s sound are present, as well as growth.

Before Braille was an emo/rock band comparable to a thinking man’s Jimmy Eat World. The guitars were riff-heavy, and Jensen howled with a righteous fury against the ills and travails of the world. But lyrical, rhythmic and textural complexity set them apart from the pack. And so it is with Loyal Wife; there are riffing guitars, and there are some howling vocals—but there’s a lot more going on than just that.

A lot happens to mellow a man in eight years, and so tunes such as “Hold Up,” “GodSlight,” and “In Trouble” show a pensive side to Jensen that wasn’t on display in the frenzied Cattle Punching. “Hold Up” is one of the high points of the record, a stark acoustic tune that nails that rare space where honesty and tunefulness mix. It’s raw, but it’s not weepy or overdramatic; there’s a dignity that remains as Jensen sings “If I hold up,” and that’s powerful.

“GodSlight” includes bells into the acoustic mix, resulting in a nice mix between indie sensibility and plaintive emotion. “In Trouble” is the best moment for Ashley Taylor, the female vocalist who provides another critical difference from Before Braille and Loyal Wife. Her vocals mesh perfectly with the arrangement, a sparse rock tune that relies on the space between instruments and interactions between the male and female vocals. Jensen and Taylor harmonize excellently together, and “In Trouble” is the overall highlight of the record due to its spotlighting of the duo.

The rock tunes here are solid as well. The doggedly rhythmic closer “Light Off” recalling the most brittle, brutal moments of Before Braille in the best way, while “Ivory” sets Taylor as the frontwoman against a pounding rock track (Jensen handles the vocals in the great breakdown riff). It’s passionate rock with a dark timbre but not a dark tone; it’s a rare middle-ground that Loyal Wife strikes, and I like that a great deal.

Loyal Wife’s Faux Light is an album of slowly-unfolding charms. After the immediate hit of “Hold Up” and “In Trouble,” the rest of the tunes here grew on me. It’s a definite progression, and one worth checking out. If you want passion in your rock and quiet tunes, Loyal Wife should be on your radar.

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

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