Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Concert: Bishop Allen / Jesse Marchant / North Elementary

August 26, 2014

My favorite genres are acoustic folk, indie-pop, and indie-pop-rock, so it makes perfect sense that a North Elementary / Jesse Marchant / Bishop Allen show was my favorite I’ve been to all summer. The three bands converged on Carrboro’s Local 506 for a Sunday night show that didn’t disappoint those who stayed up late the night before the local university started back to school.

honchoponcho

I caught about half of the set from local indie-pop-rockers’ North Elementary. I would have caught more of it, but I never expect any venue to start on time. (Props to Local 506 for starting at 9 when the poster said 9.) Their enthusiastic, noisy, occasionally jubilant rock was fun to hear; closer “Hi-Lo” was especially smile-inducing. The guitars were noisy but not overly heavy; there’s a lot of levity in their tunes. As a bassist, I particularly enjoyed the great low end lines laid down by Jimmy Thompson.

jessemarchant

After knocking some of the rust off my concert-lacking ear drums with North Elementary, Jesse Marchant, also known as JBM, soothed my ears. Marchant’s calm, relaxing solo set was an astonishing success, especially considering that he was sandwiched between two loud bands. (He’s on tour with Bishop Allen right now, which I think is cool: I’m a big fan of cross-genre tours.) Marchant’s songs feature the delicate intimacy of Gregory Allen Isakov’s work, but also have a deep grasp of space and mood that reminds me of Jason Molina’s work. Those two songwriters are some of my favorite in my 13-year music-reviewing career; Marchant’s sound was on par with theirs.

His melodic skill, songwriting maturity, and instrumental dexterity are all sky high. Some quiet bands don’t know how to keep attention; Marchant kept me riveted to everything that he played. His new album comes out soon, and I’m very excited for it: his set was one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen all year. If you like quiet, emotional songwriters that can keep you hanging on every note, you need to know JBM (the name his old work is under)/ Jesse Marchant (which the new album will be under).

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You’d think it would be hard to top that sort of set, but Bishop Allen is a special band to me. I don’t often indulge in personal backstory for reviews, but BA requires it. Seven years ago, I was an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, doing my best to try to figure out my place in the world. I had a best friend, a mentor, a boatload of acquaintances, and a never-ending stream of girls I liked but never managed to date. My best friend was in pretty much the same boat. In the midst of this very normal college experience, he and I went to Guestroom Records in Norman, Oklahoma to get something to listen to. We didn’t have anything in mind.

After scouting through the store, I found Bishop Allen’s The Broken String. I know I liked the cover; this may have been the only reason I bought the album. (Maybe Paste had put Bishop Allen in a sampler; RIP, Paste printed edition.) We bought it, put it in my SUV, and started driving around the city to listen to it. It was amazing. (It is still amazing.) We did this several more times throughout that year, chasing the ennui away with “The News From Your Bed” and “Like Castanets.” It is a major touchstone in my life.

We were obsessive liner notes readers–me because of The Mountain Goats. We discovered during our first listen to the album that The Broken String had been recorded in Norman, OK–the very town we were living in. This odd coincidence was enough to cement my already burgeoning fanboyship into a full-blown crush on the album. I enjoy the rest of the Bishop Allen catalog (especially the tune titled “Oklahoma,” for obvious reasons), but The Broken String will always be where it’s at for me.

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Fast forward to now: Bishop Allen is back with a new album after five years off. Lights Out is a real fun record that I’ll be reviewing soon. Even though I couldn’t get a review done by the time the show rolled around, I wanted to go hear them perform live. Maybe they’d play one or two Broken String songs. I was thrilled by the end of the set: they played almost half the record (5 of 12 songs). So everything you read from this point on is going to be colored by the fact that I heard almost half of one of the more important albums in my life played. They could have played in pitch darkness and I would have been thrilled.

It was a thrill for hardcore fans of Bishop Allen, but I think it would have been a great time for new fans too. BA’s lyrics are often wry and funny, which was reflected in vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Justin Rice’s stage banter. The band ripped through traditionally quieter tunes with extra noise and energy, which made “Rain” in particular into a mini-anthem. With those slight updates to the older material, their new songs fit pretty seamlessly into their live show. The highlight of their new material was the funky, dance-oriented “Breadcrumbs,” which was a lot of fun to dance along to. I and several others were getting into it, dancing-wise. It was a blast–chipper music, fun stage banter, dancing, and singing along to my favorite songs. How can you ask for more?

Bishop Allen’s Lights Out is out now, while Jesse Marchant’s self-titled new album comes out September 9. North Elementary’s Honcho Poncho was released earlier this year.

Mid-Year pt 1

June 27, 2014

It’s the middle of the year! Independent Clauses always gets more music than it knows what to do with, so mid-year and end-of-year are a good time to clean out the files and point out all the amazing things that I missed the first time around. So here goes three days of that! These singles could have been released yesterday or months ago; these and the following posts are not time-sensitive whatsoever.

Mid-year, pt. 1: Rock, etc.

1. “A Place Called Space” – The Juan Maclean. LCD Soundsystem is gone, but The Juan Maclean is still around to fill that rubbery, propulsive dance tune-shaped space in our hearts. THE JUAN MACLEAN FOREVER.

2. “Mama Gold” – North by North. Pounding, fuzzy guitar, yelping vocals, heavy low end? Welcome to rock’n’roll, people.

3. “Blood::Muscles::Bones” – Street Eaters. This punk band is composed entirely of distorted bass guitar, drums, female vocals, and male vocals. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

4. “Everybody Pretends” – Ostrich Run. A high-drama violin riff kicks off this dark indie-rock tune. The vocals keep me going the rest of the way.

5. “Serious Things Are Stupid” – Cayetana. The rise of Cayetana in the punk scene has been fun to watch, as innate songwriters start to match the talent with the ability. Impressive tune here.

6. “Dirty Roofs” – Edmonton. Do you like The Offspring? You’ll love Edmonton, which sounds similar, but with a heart that The Offspring haven’t had for a while (/ever).

7. “You’re Cold” – The Black Tibetans. Stuff that Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) produces is starting to be as distinctive as Stuff Steve Albini or Jack White does: rifftastic, slightly scuzzy, classic-rock-inspired blues heaviness with melodies galore. The Black Tibetans deliver on that promise.

8. “Every Night, Every Day” – The Sheens. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it just sounds right. Here we have female-fronted rock with punk and new wave-y overtones, and it’s just a ton of fun.

9. “Hi-Lo” – North Elementary. Check that opening riff on this power-pop tune. The vocals and arrangement have some Arcade Fire vibes thrown in for good measure.

10. “Pack of Cards” – Wood Ear. Straightforward rock’n’roll, Glossary-style, doesn’t get enough love here on Independent Clauses. Wood Ear throws down some organ-laden rock that just feels right.

11. “Loving You Is Hard” – The Parrots. Sometimes you just want some brash, off-the-cuff, speedy, infectious surf-rock. The Parrots are here for you.

12. “We’ll Be Fine” – Action Item. So I really like big, shiny pop-rock like Hot Chelle Rae, and Action Item delivers it in spades. HAVE FUN, Y’ALL!

13. “Always” – Annabel. Jangly guitars, tom-heavy percussion, and yearning male vocals satisfy my craving for earnest, serious indie-pop-rock.

14. “House” – Thunderhank. The tension builds and builds in this electro-influenced rock song, but it resolves in ways other than you’d expect. Keep ’em guessing, Thunderhank.

15. “Whistle for My Love” – Jimmy & The Revolvers. If the Beatles had kept cranking out the pop tunes instead of going all psych, they could have ended up here. Total old-school pop bliss (with some modern rhythms, of course).

16. “Pool Guard” – Inspired and the Sleep. Sometimes the title really does tell you everything you need to know.

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

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