Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

News: Hoodie Allen & G-Eazy / Soundsupply / RunHundred

August 21, 2012

Hoodie Allen and G-Eazy are going out on tour together! The indie-rock-flipping rappers will be traveling all over the East Coast and Midwest in September; I’ve already got tickets to the Atlanta date. I’m stoked to finally see Hoodie live; IC has been covering him for a long time.

Soundsupply, the music-discovery service whose creators I interviewed recently, is back with a new 10 albums for 15 bucks. This one includes IC faves I Used to Be a Sparrow, Mason Jennings, and Mansions; from the clips in the video below, I’m super-excited about La Dispute and Talons.

Soundsupply Drop 4 from Soundsupply on Vimeo.

I’m getting back into running (it’s always more fun to be a runner than to turn yourself into a runner), so I need music. And RunHundred is there for me, with its monthly Top 10. —Stephen Carradini

If you were working on a workout music time capsule—trying to show future generations what folks listened to in the gym in 2012—the highlights from August alone would nearly do the trick.

In this month’s top 10, running favorites LMFAO, Flo Rida, and Pink all made appearances. Pitbull turned up twice—once in a remix and once with Shakira. And, the year’s two biggest hits (“Call Me Maybe” and “Somebody That I Used to Know”) were both reinvented as club tracks.

Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.

Flo Rida – Whistle – 103 BPM

Pitbull & Shakira – Get It Started – 129 BPM

The Wanted – Chasing the Sun – 129 BPM

Calvin Harris & Ne-Yo – Let’s Go – 130 BPM

Pink – Blow Me (One Last Kiss) – 113 BPM

Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen – Good Time – 126 BPM

Pitbull – Back in Time (Play-N-Skillz Remix) – 128 BPM

Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe (Coyote Kisses Remix) – 124 BPM

LMFAO – Sorry for Party Rocking (Wolfgang Gartner Remix) – 130 BPM

Gotye & Kimbra – Somebody That I Used to Know (Tiesto Remix) – 129 BPM

To find more workout songs, folks can check out the free database at RunHundred.com. Visitors can browse the song selections there by genre, tempo, and era—to find the music that best fits with their particular workout routine. –Chris Lawhorn

Superstar Runner writes wrong songs right

March 28, 2012

I love songs that buck trends. It’s refreshing to hear a song that operates in the way its author feels is right, instead of a predetermined “right” pattern. This sort of idiosyncratic songwriting has caused me to shower praise on Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitsch (several times), Mansions’ Best of the Bees and The Mountain Goats’ entire discography.

Superstar Runner‘s “Advice From People Who Shouldn’t Give It (Don’t Take It)” is my latest favorite wrong song. Songwriter Ben Johnson builds the tune from a slow, gently fingerpicked intro to a fast-paced group-sing accompanied by piano and beatboxing over the span of 3:43. There’s no real chorus; instead, Johnson sprinkles repeated melodies and phrases throughout the tune. (Also, yes, the percussion is a guy beatboxing.) No matter; “Advice” feels incredibly organic, passionate and relatable.

It made me think of Nitsuh Abebe’s recent rumination that “The motor behind [Fiona] Apple’s shows seemed to be inside her– some kind of emotion with no cultural reference point.” We want songwriters to tell us stuff about themselves and ourselves, so we rightly decry songwriters who try to cop someone else’s style or produce weirdness for the sake of weirdness. When idiosyncratic, weird songwriting meets an emotion that’s difficult to express, that’s where the magic happens. And “Advice From People Who Shouldn’t Give It (Don’t Take It)” is certainly magic.

The emotion that’s so difficult has much to do with the tensions and strains that come with leaving a birth family (physically and metaphorically) to start a new family. There’s plenty of bildungsroman novels and songs, but much less ink spilled over pinpointing how and when we change from one family to the other as our primary marker (especially when this generation puts it off so much). That sprawling tension is all over the title and content of Heritage/Lineage/Hand-Me Downs/Scars (Your Birthmarks Do Not Bother Me).

Johnson’s highlight track and emotive themes peg him in unique (and potentially difficult) territory, but he remains in the realm of the relatable by doing his homework. Instead of going all tUnE-yArDs with “Advice” as a jumping off point, Johnson reveals a solo songwriting project that calls to mind the passionate, low-complexity arrangements prominent in the early periods of both Bright Eyes and The Mountain Goats. Johnson has learned how to use song structures, lyrics, melodies and moods for differentiation; each song is unique and interesting.

“You must fall down / if you ever want to grow up / You must leave town / if you ever want to find home,” Johnson sings in “Growing Pain,” an I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning—style country tune complete with snare shuffle and up/down bass line. His unadorned, sincere tenor keeps the song from ever coming unhinged. That control of conviction allows for the tender “Just a Lullaby,” the adamant semi-title track “Your Birthmarks Do Not Bother Me” and the wistful “Cribs and Kids” to all peacefully exist on the same album. The only place his stridency becomes a liability is when he lets his strumming and singing roar on the overdramatic “Dylan Come Home,” which draws too hard on Dashboard Confessional influences.

With 11 songs with meaningful lyrics spread over nearly 40 minutes, there’s a lot to digest in Heritage/Lineage/Hand-Me Downs/Scars (Your Birthmarks Do Not Bother Me). But Johnson’s songwriting skill is such that this feels like a guided tour instead of an art spectacle, and that marks Superstar Runner as a rising talent.

Nobody Really could be somebody in electro-pop, with some work

April 4, 2011

I love pop songs. Doesn’t matter if the great melody is accompanied by guitar, synths or a choir of saxophones: a good pop song will make me happy. And Nobody Really, the nom de plume of Fred Soligan, is in the business of pop songs. In fact, he even goes so far as to say “I want to make you sing!” toward the end of “Aren’t You Just.”

The middle song of the three-song electro-pop EP “Who Did This?” isn’t as catchy as opener “ALARMS! ALARMS!,” which is itself nowhere near as frantic as the title would make it out to be. The mid-tempo electro-pop song resides in the Owl City vein (albeit with grittier synths). I’ve been to an Owl City concert and love me some Ocean Eyes, so I say that as no knock. It’s just what it is.

Soligan’s voice is way above the level needed to float electro-pop songs, and his vocals and melodies are two of the best assets here. The other asset is potential. That’s a nice way of saying, “Man, these songs could have been awesome if…”

And the follow-up to that common phrase in this case is, “Soligan had better percussive noises and a fuller vision for what these songs could be.” The first bit is a personal quibble: I think that the heavily processed percussion noises Soligan employs clash with the smoother synth sounds that he pulls together for the rest of his songs.

The second complaint is that there’s not a personality that can be extrapolated from these tunes. Granted, there are only three of them, and you can’t have the whole world on one small plate. But these are nice songs that don’t have any distinctive markers. Owl City is a big touchstone, as well as other young songwriters like Never Shout Never! and Mansions, but without the markers of either. I’d like to see Nobody Really transcend his moniker and become someone: find a unique stamp, a subtle twist to the sound, and make it his own. Do you play sax, Fred Soligan? I’m only part kidding.

“Who Did This?” by Nobody Really (there’s the joke full-out; I oblige) is a competent little EP of electro-pop with solid vocals and a lot of room to grow. If you’re a big fan of the genre, these three tracks are all free over at Nobody Really’s Bandcamp. Consider it a “Happy Spring!” present to yourself.

Independent Clauses' Top 10 of 2010

February 13, 2011

Because I’m perpetually behind on CDs, I only get done with a previous year’s music in February.

10. Fort Orange — After the Fall. Basically, this is what I want all punk albums to sound like: furious, aggressive, short diatribes that make use of melody, rhythm and rage.

9. We’ve Built Up to NOTHING — 500 Miles to Memphis. Takes country-punk and pushes its boundaries out in all directions.

8. This Cage Has No Bottom — The Ascetic Junkies. Folk and indie-pop get mashed up in the most delightful way.

7. Ithica — Ithica. This genreless amazement is the second-most emotionally powerful album of the year and the best concept album.

6. Faithful Fools — The Damn Choir. Best lovelorn acoustic tunes of the year; it’s hard to beat a broken heart, an acoustic guitar and a cello.

5. Best of the Bees — Mansions. A jawdropping set of cast-off tunes that set up Mansions as the next Bright Eyes in terms of prolific nature and brilliant tunes.

4. Lost and Found — The Fools. Stark, beautiful acoustic tunes from two girls.

3. New Home — La Strada. Takes folk and bends it all around through world music and indie rock, producing jubilant, complex tracks that never bore.

2. Our New Life Above the Ground — Avalanche City. These are the acoustic-laden pop songs I wish I could write. Stomping, clapping, mandolin, melodies, harmonies, toms, just everything good is in these songs.

1. Sever Your Roots — The Felix Culpa. Hands down the best album of the year; nothing else even came close to approaching its masterful take on post-hardcore. The brilliant lyrics pushed it over the top.

Mansions releases b-sides that blow most people's a-sides away

March 8, 2010

I love prolific, emotive songwriters. From Damien Jurado to Sufjan Stevens  to Bright Eyes to the all-time champion of the genre The Mountain Goats, I love the idea of an artist that has so much music coming out that he can’t release it all fast enough. Mansions is my newest prolific songwriter discovery. Best of the Bees has songs on it other bands would kill to have as singles, and it’s a b-sides album. I simply cannot understand how people like this exist, but I will gladly listen to their music.

Christopher Browder, who is Mansions, has released ten songs that paint him as caught somewhere between being Bright Eyes and The Mountain Goats. He captures the all-encompassing songwriting of Bright Eyes (electronic pieces, pop songs, folk songs, song fragments, etc) but does it through the earnest but not maudlin lyrics of the Mountain Goats. There is some adolescent moping throughout the album (“LetsBSdTgthr,” “18th Bday,” “Tangerine”), but there is also an impressive amount of questioning of weighty and substantive issues, like “Never Enuff,” which is a story about someone breaking up with God. Browder isn’t questioning the existence of God, he’s questioning whether or not God is worth it. That’s a pretty advanced step for a pop song.

Also advanced is Browder’s songwriting ability. Browder sets up “All Eyes on You” with a dance-ready synth line and a clicking backbeat that just begs to become a thumping techno song. Instead, he keeps the clicking and the synths going, then adds mellow, atmospheric synths on top of it. It transforms the mood of the song and drives the tune in a whole other direction. It’s a masterful re-direct and a perfect display of his unique songwriting vision.

Other songs are more straightforward, like the plodding guitar and piano of “Unwell” or the lo-fi guitar sound of “I Swear” and “LtsBSdTghthr.” These display Browder’s prowess in a totally different way. On “LtsBSdTgthr” and “I Swear,” Browder creates memorable, distinct songs out of the most basic of elements. He’s not just a composer; he’s a genuine songwriter. And in this day and age, pure songwriters are becoming less lauded and (thus) less heard from.

Every song on this album is worth writing a hundred or more words about; some songs merit even more than that, as I’d want to set aside a hundred plus for the lyrics and a hundred plus for the music. I’ll spare you the words, but take that statement in good faith. This album is amazing, and it’s a friggin’ B-sides album. If Browder writes with this sort of clarity, quality and intensity on his regular albums, I may have found a new prolific artist to keep up with. And that’s not a statement to be made lightly, because liking a prolific songwriter is an expensive venture (I had to cut Damien Jurado when I discovered the Mountain Goats, etc.). Get this album. It’s available as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp, and that’s just silly for the amount of quality you’re getting in these tunes.

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

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