Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Woven Green weaves some unique songs

January 7, 2010

Woven Green wears everything on its sleeve. Even the band’s name points toward its philosophy; while not necessarily “green,” the members of Woven Green espouse taking care of the earth, being unified with each other, and loving one another. The lyrics bear no subtlety; Woven Green is what it is, and it’s not hiding it.

The same aesthetic carries over into the songs on their self-titled EP. They have a sound similar to what you might imagine from the themes presented; a few parts wah-pedal funk, a few parts upbeat acoustic pop, a few parts middle eastern instrumentation. They wear their influences on their sleeve, not trying to hide. This total honesty is to be commended, as posturing, irony and cynicism has become the norm in independent music.

Thankfully, Woven Green meets their honest aesthetic with songwriting skill. Woven Green has taken¬† steps to make their songs not just your average song. “Sixth Sun” experiments not just with middle eastern instruments, but with middle eastern chord structures (which are unusual to the western ear, but intriguing!). “Between Worlds” uses strings in an unusual breakdown of sorts. “Generation Zero” has an extended guitar solo. “Wild Love” has a violin solo in the way that other bands would have a guitar solo. It’s these touches that make their songs better than the standard upbeat acoustic-pop fare.

This four-song EP establishes Woven Green as a band that wants to take a tired genre and make it interesting again. I hope that their creative energy and unique ideas keep flowing to future releases. Their songwriting skill makes them a band to watch for fans of John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band, OAR, Jason Mraz and others of the like.

John Calvin's debut EP impresses and confuses

April 22, 2009

Charlie Brown once uttered, “There is no heavier burden than great potential.” I kept coming back to this thought as I repeatedly listened to John Calvin‘s debut EP The Walls of the City. Calvin delivers several instances of remarkable pop/folk songwriting throughout the EP, but it seems that there are just as many puzzling occurences and glaring missteps to follow the highlights.

John Calvin at Second Wind, April 3, 2009

John Calvin at Second Wind, April 3, 2009

John Calvin’s sound owes a heavy debt to Joseph Arthur. I have no idea if Calvin knows of Arthur, but Calvin’s ideas on songwriting are very similar to Arthur’s. Both have the acoustic guitar as their main instrument, but dabble in piano and electric. Both have a kitchen-sink mentality to songwriting. Both have a pseudo-hippie feel to their lyrics and sound. That being said, John Calvin’s writing never worships or emulates Arthur; it would just be a really, really great split EP or tour idea.

The differences are important: where Arthur’s voice is low, Calvin’s is high. It’s not new-school emo high, but he’s definitely a tenor. And, most importantly, Calvin’s songwriting is not as refined as Arthur’s. If you thought Arthur had a lot of things going on in his work, you will be slightly astounded by the number of ideas that go into a standard Calvin song.

Both these differences are a blessing and a curse; John Calvin’s high voice makes his sound distinctly his own. While there are influences from Dave Matthews, Ben Harper, OAR, and many other hippie/pop/folk outfits, Calvin’s voice sets him apart. It is good. Unfortunately, his voice does not sustain warble or cover miscues very well, and this creates some rather unfortunate moments (“Spit That Out” is particularly difficult to listen to).

One of John Calvin's many guitar faces.

One of John Calvin's many guitar faces.

His kitchen-sink mentality makes tracks such as “Sleep Well” and “Song to Make the Stars Fall” really, really interesting. “Sleep Well” is just under six minutes, and the amount of musical ideas packed into the track (played by guitar, piano, dual violin, electric guitar, and female vocals) creates a mesmerizing effect. “Song to Make the Stars Fall” has a similar mentality with a similar effect. At its worst, strange things make their way into his songs and throw off the groove (“Spit it Out” has strangely distorted vocals and electronic blips and glitches throughout).

It is easy to declare that John Calvin is at his best when he’s singing chilled-out tunes with a lot of instrumentation. If Sufjan Stevens had a little more hippie in him, he and John Calvin could be best friends. In fact, at Calvin’s CD release show, he covered two Sufjan tracks: the jubilant “Chicago” and the sorrowful “Casimir Pulaski Day.” Both were standout moments of the show, as nearly ten musicians covered the stage and created a veritable orchestra.

His show showed a different side of him than his album presents; his album is focused on his acoustic-based pop/folk, while his live show was much louder and much more electric. John Calvin certainly knows his way around an electric guitar, and he was very entertaining to watch. He made several guitar faces that I have never seen before during guitar solos – it was fun.

His mellower work was more musically interesting, but no one would be able to say that seeing John Calvin rock out wasn’t entertaining. He worked the audience pretty well, and made the show rock until he unveiled his stronger, mellower pieces.

John Calvin has a love of many types of music, and his live shows and album display that love. There are plenty of great things about that: his songwriting is varied, his melodies are catchy, his instrumentation is not cliche, and his overall product has a very comfortable feel to it. But there is much room for improvement: his songwriting vision needs to clarify some more and his vocal performances need to solidify. John Calvin has set a good pace for himself with this release, but now he needs settle in to a groove¬† and figure out where he’s exactly going.

John Calvin, getting into it at Second Wind.John Calvin getting into it.

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

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