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Tag: Regina Spektor

Movin’ and shakin’

The latest edition of SLTM the Podcast is sponsored by Independent Clauses. You don’t want to miss it, especially if you’re a fan of heavy music, 1800s poetry, or The Parson Red Heads.

Elizaveta initially comes off as Regina Spektor/Ingrid Michaelson follower, but there’s a sharp left hook in the chorus that has me very excited for the future. Don’t worry; you’ll know it. Hers is a career to watch closely. (As for the video? Well, it’s got serious wtf factor.)

Noisetrade’s Fall Sampler includes several artists that IC has featured among its 30-strong ranks: Brianna Gaither, Jenny and Tyler, Joe Pug, David Ramirez and Sleeping At Last, the last of which was covered so early on in Independent Clauses’ history that the review isn’t even on this version of the site. There are also several bands we highly recommend that haven’t been officially covered here at IC: The Middle East, Derek Webb + Sandra McCracken, Ivan & Alyosha, Josh Rouse and Josh Garrels. I’m guessing the other third is full of joy and wonder as well – I’ll be checking it out soon.

If you’re into the whole ’80s nostalgia thing that’s going around, you’re going to be all over Geoffrey O’Connor. His album Vanity is Forever is streaming in full over here. Seriously, it’s 1985 on that webpage.

Beirut’s The Rip Tide is still keeping me company, and now a visual aid has been supplied! Sunset Television made this bizarre yet somehow fitting clip for “Santa Fe,” and while I’m not really sure what’s happening, I enjoy it.

Terra Naomi's strong pop songwriting oozes confidence

I connect with highly idiosyncratic singer/songwriters: Regina Spektor, Brandi Carlile, Owen Pallett, The Mountain Goats. If she’s gunning for entry the Great American Songbook, she must be immediately distinguishable or as suave as Paul Simon.

Terra Naomi trends more toward the latter in To Know I’m OK. She projects a superb confidence throughout this collection of pop songs, even when she gets vulnerable. That attribute alone is enough to carry this album of piano and acoustic guitar-led tunes. Whether appropriating Ingrid Michaelson/Regina Spektor perkiness (“You For Me”), Brandi Carlile emotional bravura (“Someday Soon,” “To Know I’m OK”) or Kelly Clarkson drama (“Not Sorry”), Naomi sells the tunes assuredly. She owns these tunes, no matter who produced them, what sound they resemble or who covers them. All four of those songs are hits waiting to happen.

Naomi leans heavily on songcraft because no element of her sound has massive takeaway value. Her voice, instrumentation, arrangement and production are all solid, but each part is in place to serve the melody and lyric.

Paul Simon crafted unassuming, brilliant tunes through subtle hooks and devastating emotional turns, and Naomi does the same when she’s at her best. Nuance is lost on “If I Could Stay” and “Everybody Knows,” but fans of straightforward women’s singer/songwriter fare will love them (bonus: Rachel Yamagata contributes guest vocals on both tracks).

To Know I’m OK is a heartfelt, magnetic album of pop songs that shows off Naomi’s skills. You won’t be disappointed when you check out “You For Me” and the title track.

Quick hits: Sunday Lane

Sunday Lane’s cheery, playful piano-pop is easy to enjoy. While not as idiosyncratic as Regina Spektor, Lane has a easy confidence that could easily place her in the conversation with charmers like Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson and Lenka. Her mid-range voice is expressive without being overdramatic, which allows songs like “A Little Hope” and “Lack of Color” to take a step back from the early-2000s maudlin that Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch mired the decade’s female singer/songwriters in. It’s a similar sound, but it doesn’t cloy.

The EP’s title “Bring Me Sunshine” comes from aforementioned standout “Lack of Color,” which has solid melodies and a nice counterpoint to bring the track home. “Reckless One” features the next most memorable tune, as well as a string section that will almost certainly divide audiences on the “love it/hate it” axis.

Bring Me Sunshine is a solid EP that toes the edge of overdramatic. Fans of the aforementioned female singer/songwriters will find much to love here. There’s no clear indicator of where she’s headed from this EP, but she’s worth tracking to find out.

Quick hits: Bird Call

Bird Call‘s The Animals Know EP showcases a talent that I look forward to hearing more from. The extravagantly-named pianist Chiara Angelicola, whose stage name is Bird Call, plays piano pieces with a minimum of surrounding sounds. They range from chirpy pop a la Regina Spektor (“Waltz in the Snow,” “Bye, Bye Honeymoon”) to elegant, morose pieces (the other four songs). Her dusky voice has impressive range, from gravelly low notes (“The Races”) to trilling highs (“Bye, Bye Honeymoon”). It’s hard to tell which is more appealing, the piano songwriting or the vocals; and that’s a good problem to have. Fans of solid pop melodies and dramatic sweeps and swells will find much to love in The Animals Know.

Mel Flannery Trucking Co. unleashes jazz-pop with confident, beautiful vocals and a few misses

Mel Flannery Trucking Co.’s jazzy, keys-heavy As It Turns Out gives a little too much of a good thing.

Mel Flannery’s voice is a delight; it’s smooth, warm and crisp. The clarity and passion of the songs show that she has confidence in both her songwriting and vocal skills. Highlight “Gone” sees her nailing a difficult vocal line and leading a choir through an excellent pop song populated by gentle keys, pulsing bass and jazzy drums. You’ll hit repeat, almost assuredly. The song just oozes charisma.

Other songs feature the jazz elements of her sound more prominently. “You Know What to Do” sees her in come-hither lounge singer mode over a syncopated keys line. “I Need You Here With Me” shows a forlorn black-and-white movies nightclub singer side of her. These three elements of her personality shine, as she has very obviously polished these.

The problem comes in the songs that stray from her easygoing, seductive pop. “(You Are the Only One For Me)” is a giddy love song written on guitar, and it only serves to break up the album in an uncomfortable, annoying way. “Without You” barely keeps its head up under the weight of its narrator’s depression, although it does fare better than “Lift Me Up, Tie Me Down.” “Lift Me Up…” is a depressing, introspective tune, and it sounds confident musically but misplaced lyrically and mood-wise on this album of otherwise slinky and assured tunes. Even “Running,” a tune about physical spousal abuse, comes off with a assured swagger, as the song’s battered woman books it from the bad relationship with little more than a middle finger left behind.

Mel Flannery Trucking Co.’s As It Turns Out is a collection of tunes that suffer from trying to do too much. Flannery has the seductive song down pat, as well as the gentle, lilting pop song. The great success of her hits only make her misses that much more obvious. Still, the majority of the tunes here are thoroughly enjoyable and display chops musically, vocally and lyrically. Fans of gentle, jazzy pop, like Norah Jones, Michael Buble, Jason Mraz, or Regina Spektor and the like would find much to enjoy in Mel Flannery’s wonderful voice and great songwriting.

Moruza loses her personality in Regina Spektor's

It’s really hard for me to judge Moruza objectively. Moruza (which is named after its primary songwriter, Leslie Moruza Dripps) plays quirky, upbeat piano songs that have equal parts pop glee and serious contemplation. The fact that both moods often occur in the same song, and that Moruza has a penchant for both strings and nonsense syllables makes it nigh on impossible to not compare Moruza to Regina Spektor and judge it lacking.

It’s really kind of annoying, because I swore I was not going to compare the two. But the more I listen to Moruza’s self-titled album, the less I can stop myself. “Bad Man” has quirky piano rhythms similar to Spektor. “If It’s You” has the minor/major back-and-forth that makes me think strongly of the world’s most huggable Russian.

It’s not that these songs are bad; it’s hard to imitate Spektor. And Moruza takes great steps to differentiate herself; the band here is composed of a double bassist, a drummer and a violinist. This album really should be closer to a jazzy experience than it is, as the only heavily jazz track in the almost-not-canonical extra point “Wierd Little Person.”  The back half of this album is less like Spektor and more of her own personality, which is a dainty Americana sound. But by the time I get to  “Richmond” (song ten), the comparisons are entrenched, and it’s hard to separate out expectations from realities.

Even by this point in the review it’s hard to shake the spectre of Spektor. But here it is: Leslie Moruza Dripps has a solid alto voice and a solid command of songwriting. About half her songs are in a poppy idiom, which is not where her strength lies. The back half of this album, which consists more of Americana and jazz tracks, feels much more comfortable and unique to Moruza. The use of strings throughout is a highlight.”Little Bird” and “Richmond” are the standout tracks here, as they establish a unique voice in the folk world. I would like to see her lean more in this direction on her next album, as the more folk-and-jazz-tinged tracks just work better.

Moruza put together a solid debut effort with their self-titled release. I think that with more experience and more songwriting, this will become a very interesting band. Right now, this is a RIYL Regina Spektor-style piano pop.

Jonathan Vassar is a great folk songwriter.

I’ve been reading reviews of Regina Spektor’s far with some confusion. Many of them say that it is not her best work because it’s less experimental and more “normal.” Then I read an essay by David Hajdu in which he asserts that Jack White is beloved because he never really finishes songs. These together cause me to think that there are two types of great songwriter in the world: the great songwriter that is actually incompetent of being a “normal” songwriter and thus writes unusual and wacky works that stick in our head (which is why Spektor’s disjointed breakout album Soviet Kitsch is wonderful, and why everything that Jack White does with a real band is hopelessly boring), and the songwriter that those wacky ones aspire to be.

The problem is that the wacky ones often mature out of their wacky phase, but they don’t often mature into the great songwriters they aspire to be. far has some wonderful tracks on it, but it’s not a Ben Folds album by any stretch of the imagination. Neither is it a Fiona Apple album (although there is some debate as to whether that is something to aspire to, these days). The Dead Weather doesn’t sound normal, but it’s a lot closer to normal than “Black Math” or “Hotel Yorba” or “Seven Nation Army.” The Raconteurs sound, for better or for worse, incredibly average.

It seems that the great songwriters appear full-formed. Ben Folds was cranking out the great songs while he was still in his earliest stages with the Ben Folds Five; Damien Jurado’s best work is spread throughout his fantastic career. They just, you know, show up being awesome.

I think Jonathan Vassar is in the Ben Folds category of great songwriters. The reason for this is that the best tracks on The Fire Next Time are not the minimalist, eccentric ones, but the fully-realized folk/Americana songs. “A Match Made in Heaven” features some great mandolin, a violin, a cello, and a warbling saw in addition to his plaintive acoustic guitar and voice. But instead of feeling cluttered of amateur, each piece locks in. The song wouldn’t be the song without all the parts. It’s a perfectly written song, in that there’s nothing I can knock about it. It has a great melody, it has solid lyrics with meaning and wit, the song sways, and it has a deeply felt emotive quality that refrains from becoming maudlin. In short, it’s perfect. If you like acoustic Americana/folk/country, you will like “A Match Made in Heaven.” It’s impossible not to.

“Saint Josephina” is another fully-realized track that suceeds admirably. “San Jacinto” isn’t quite as engaging as the previous two, but it’s still a solid song. These filled-out songs are the cream of the crop; it would behoove Vassar to stay in this vein. The more experimental tracks, while interesting, aren’t up to part with these songs.

Opener “Nearer My Father’s Wounded Side” starts out with a minute-long intro that serves to confuse more than set the scene. It segues neatly into the rest of the track, which is a profoundly minimalist composition that runs for over five minutes. It’s not a bad song, but it’s just not as engaging as the tightly woven “Match Made in Heaven.” I’ll take “Nearer…” over most folk, but it’s just sad to me that one of the six tracks Jonathan Vassar treats us to is simply not his best work.

To bring it all together, Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird don’t need to get wacky to be heralded as good. Vassar is simply a good songwriter, and the Speckled Bird plays tight and close to that vision. I hope that Vassar and the Speckled Bird continue their partnership and write much more work together, honing their already tight vision. Then they will be huge. They should already be there, but that’s just a matter of time. The Fire Next Time is an excellent EP of tight songwriting, strong melodies, and great mood. It’s a must for folk-lovers.

Skyline Circle Rounds Up Some Upbeat Piano-Pop

I am addicted to pop music. I play it, I listen to it, I write about it. So when a band comes along that delivers brain-grabbing melodies, singalongs, and musical skill to boot, I jump on that like a trampoline. Thus, cue the applause for Skyline Circle.

Skyline Circle consists of a pianist/vocalist, a guitarist/bassist/female vocalist and a drummer. If that sounds like a lot of duties for three people, it is. But they pull it off excellently. Whether playing the bouncy, upbeat single “Don’t Let Go (Merry-Go-Round),” the driving “Silent War,” the lighthearted and fun “Late” or the pensive “Time and Money,” they fit neatly into a groove and hit it.

This is primarily accomplished because Nathan Lauderdale is a versatile pianist, able to play in multiple styles. He expertly channels Ben Folds on the “The Letter Folds” – an open letter to the famous pianist. He nods to Relient K in form and lyric on opener “Time and Money,” and he releases emotive balladry for closer “Waiting.” None of these sound forced. There are differing levels of prowess at each (“Silent War” gives me shivers, while “Road Trip” takes a while to make an impact), but the underlying thread is the same: Nathan Lauderdale is really good at piano.

The vocals, both female and male, are excellent throughout. If there was to be a signature style of Skyline Circle, it would be their use of vocals to create mood. The moments in which they use background vocals are the most memorable: the la-la section in “Late”, the chorus of “The Letter Folds” (which also features some impressive falsetto leads), the round on “Don’t Let Go,” and the majority of title track “Lights in Perfect Rows.” They don’t just use it as a throwaway element in their songs; the use of multiple vocal tracks sets their songs apart from other artists.

The highlights here are many, but the crescendo of “Lights in Perfect Rows” is worth mention. Skyline relies heavily on piano and bass, so the use of electric guitar to make the statement in the most important part of the song is unique and memorable. If the guitar had been used in the same capacity throughout, the power of the moment would have been diminished. Their ability to notice and use that weapon in their arsenal sparingly is a direct nod to their songwriting skill.

And while they are definitely skilled songwriters, the many moods that this album spans create a somewhat jarring effect on the listener. Many albums have mood shifts, but Lights in Perfect Rows never establishes a consistent mood that would enable mood shifts. This makes the album excellent to listen to in singles or on shuffle, but a bit confusing to listen to as a whole.

Lights in Perfect Rows establishes Skyline Circle as a band with solid, enjoyable songwriting skills. They need to settle into a consistent groove that runs throughout their songs, but within each song they know what they’re doing. Fans of Ben Folds, Ben Kweller, Regina Spektor, and other piano-based pop will love this release. Check out “Silent War,” “Don’t Let Go (Merry-Go-Round)” and “Late.”

A Girl that Can Scat is to be Praised

Intricate instrumentals compliment Tiffany Christopher’s smooth vocals. This Arkansas native roams around these here Midwest parts laying down her sweet voice and jamming on the guitar. Complex finger picking in the style of Ani Difranco and Bela Fleck swings in and out of her strong, smooth vocalizations. In places you can hear an early-Regina Spektor influence. Songs like “Scat” feature, you guessed it, Ms. Christopher herself scatting.

It’s quirky and eclectic songs like these that make the physical appearance of Tiffany Christopher slightly ironic. She’s small, skinny, and wears jeans and a tank top in most of her videos. Nothing would suggest the dexterous accompaniment she plays along to her own melodious voice.

She graces us with only four myspace songs and a handful of youtube videos, but her reputation has grown through extensive touring in the northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri region. This acoustic/folk queen promises a CD soon. I sure hope so.