Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Top Albums of the Year, pt. 2

December 30, 2011

Here’s part two:

10: Common Grackle – The Great Repression. Absolutely unhinged western swing/rockabilly. I listened to this for a couple weeks straight when I first heard it.

9: Hoodie Allen – Leap Year. The indie-rock-appropriating beats float the cleverest lyrics I’ve heard all year. “Soul on Fire” and “James Franco” blow my mind.

8: Braids – Native Speaker. The most mesmerizing album I listened to all year. Raphaelle Standell-Preston can make even curse words sound beautiful and delicate.

7: Typhoon – A New Kind of House. Strings! Horns! Choirs! Acoustic guitars! Melodies! Emoting! I saw them in a huge church!

6: Brine Webb – O You, Stone Changeling. Morose, beautiful, touching. “Too Small to Pray For” and “rrose hips” are excellent.

5: Generationals – Actor-Caster. The best indie-pop songs of the year, hands down.

4: Laura Stephenson and the Cans – Sit Resist. There’s not a single bad tune on this album, you can sing along to almost all of them, and they pull off the “multiple genres but overarching mood” thing perfectly. 

3: Jenny and Tyler – Faint Not. Their cute pop turned into churning folk-rock overnight, and the effect is hair-raising and goosebump-inducing. There were few moments as dramatic as the full-band entry in “Song for You” this year; Faint Not was the only album that made me write the sentence “I forget to breathe.”

2: The Collection – The Collection EP. The melodies and instrumentation seem effortlessly perfect on this folk album. David Wimbish’s lyrics and deft and quick, delivered in a vastly adaptable voice that seals the deal. “Stones” is just a wonder.

1: Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. This album just blows my mind. It is beautiful, haunting, terrifying, elevating, artsy, powerful, surreal and hyperreal (you can hear him clicking the keys) at the same time.

Battle Ave. creates an indie-rock maelstrom

September 4, 2011

It’s very telling that Kevin McMahon produced Battle Ave.‘s War Paint, as McMahon had a hand in both Titus Andronicus releases, work by The Walkmen and Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight. Each of these bands feature an extremely emotional singer going nuts in an atypical musical setting, and War Paint is not outside McMahon’s oeuvre in that regard.

Battle Ave’s unhinged frontman is Jesse Alexander, whose anguished voice ranges from indignant slurring to full-on roar. It’s highly reminescent of Patrick Stickles’ voice (Titus Andronicus). But instead of couching it in a workingman’s punk ethos, Battle Ave. sets Alexander in the midst of an indie-rock maelstrom.

The band can get just as furious and frantic as TA (“Whose Hands Are These?”, every other song on the album), but the bands start at different ends of the spectrum. Andronicus’ pathos comes after a calming down of rage, while Battle Ave ratchets up to a cacophony.

Battle Ave. strangely calls to mind the band that Patrick Stickles least likes to be compared to: Bright Eyes. Those who love the catharsis of “Road to Joy” and the conviction of tunes like “Train Underwater” and “Another Traveling Song” will find emotional analogues here, especially in the gorgeous, horn-filled “Complications w/The Home (Hernia)”. Most of BA’s tunes blow up past the heavy end of “Road to Joy” at their apex, but you’ll feel a similar emotional connection.

In stark contrast to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, however, the songs sprawl all over the place. Their length and seeming formlessness (exactly zero choruses) call to mind Braids’ Native Speaker, although these guitars definitely go to 11 (“Puke Lust”). Because of that, it’s a tough album to grab onto. It’s not designed to be catchy, nor is it organized in easily digestible bits. This is art. The band is saying something, and if that’s not your thing, then this isn’t your thing.

Thanks to the vocal delivery, however, it’s difficult to make out what the point is. Track titles, album art and snatches of lyrics here and there make out the beginnings of a picture, but this (like The Monitor) is an album to which listeners should dedicate time. That’s an incredible artistic risk in this day and age, but I believe music is worth that, so time it will get (from me, at least).

I realize that I’ve spent less time describing songs and sounds than I usually do. I can explain that “Complications w/Traveling” is a noise-laden dream dirge, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Battle Ave.’s compositions are pretty unique, so I don’t want to waste time explaining every detail. I do, however, want to convince the people who might listen to it that they should – and the import of the album is the best way to discuss that.

The album really does have weight. The guitar tones and styles lend the album a cohesive feel, even when the band incorporates carnivalesque rhythms (as in the standout, 10-minute “”K. Divorce” (For Mildred)”). This was painstakingly written, crafted and ordered, and as a result War Paint is one of the most interesting indie-rock albums I’ve heard all year. If you’re into noisy indie-rock as art, then you should do yourself a favor and pick up Battle Ave.’s latest – you’ll find many moments of bliss.

Download the whole thing for free here.

My other car is a real job

February 25, 2011

In my day job at Oklahoma Gazette, I also write about music. I spend a significant amount of time making websites happen, but I do have duties that involve writing about people strumming and hitting things. It’s a fun thing that I’m incredibly thankful for. Here are links and teasers to a few of my favorite recent CD reviews from there.

Braids — Native Speaker. “An album that fuses the vaguely optimistic, digital-created moods of chillwave to the full-band power of indie rock and the cinematic scope of post-rock.”

Typhoon — A New Kind of House. “Typhoon accomplishes more in 21 minutes than some bands can accomplish in a career. These songs are endearing, invigorating, mature, well-orchestrated, brilliantly performed, immaculately recorded and summarily astounding.”

Chikita Violenta — Tre3s. “They take after the late, great Grandaddy in that they write indie-rock songs that exist somewhere between pop and rock; not quite as rebellious as real rock, but not as melody-centric as real pop.”

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

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