Here are Independent Clauses’ EPs of the year! The lead link takes you to a place where you can hear/purchase the EP. The quote is from our review, and the last link sends you to the full IC review. Enjoy!
7. Sunset Park – A Valley Son. “Between the distinctive, versatile vocals and the enthusiastic alt-country/roots rock instrumentation, AVS has a lot of pieces that can translate easily onto bigger and brighter stages.” (full review)
6. salt’n’long distance – Foxall. “The sort of acoustic EP that just about everyone wants to write: effortlessly catchy songs with clear, relatable lyrics that are just specific enough to be unique.” (full review)
4. S/t – Roan Yellowthorn. “Her confident alto has a unique personality and sonic profile that is the rarest of things to hear in a (chamber pop) singer. Once you’ve heard her once, you’ll know her again–and that’s rare.” (full review)
2. Cattle Ranching in the Americas, vol. 1 – Ovando. “Nate Hegyi’s vocals seem like they tumble gracefully out of his throat, while the female harmonies are similarly unadorned. Those voices carry a song of woe about the American West (are there any other type?), floating over lithe, smooth guitar fingerpicking.” (full review)
1. Cold Blood – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. “It’s a stake in the ground that establishes the outfit as one to watch: a specific vision expertly handled within the goalposts of a genre framework that people are already familiar with. … Call it alt-country, alt-folk, whatever; you’ll know what it is when you hear it. … Cold Blood EP is a remarkable first effort that shows off unique arranging skills, intriguing vocals, and strong overall songs.” (full review)
Chamber pop gets thrown around a bit as an impressionistic term that vaguely means (to the best of my understanding) dignified, serious songcraft, often with strings and piano. (I could be wrong.) The six tunes of Roan Yellowthorn‘s self-titled EP very much adheres to this particular understanding of songwriting, except that it actual sounds like she has a chamber quartet backing her up in places. Opener “Lie With Me” has distinctive melodic and rhythmic elements in the string arrangements that are much more common to classical than pop songwriting. This unexpected element gives her work a surprising quality. (The great “So Fast” reiterates this sort of mood.)
She contrasts this chamber understanding of songwriting with leading piano, thumping drums, pad synths, and a bright, immediately magnetic voice. The arrangement somehow meshes perfectly with the chamber elements, creating a unique sound that’s somewhat like Regina Spektor in an orchestra hall. But it’s Yellowthorn’s voice that makes this album a can’t-miss. Her confident alto has a unique personality and sonic profile that is the rarest of things to hear in a pop singer. Once you’ve heard her once, you’ll know her again–and that’s rare.
Each of the songs here are memorable, but “Thirty Years” is the standout: a piano and voice tune that tells a tragic story with a surprising ending. Yellowthorn relates the story of two characters with grace, poise, and careful attention to the nature of the story and the people in it. It’s a fitting ending to a EP that establishes a fresh new voice in indie-pop. Recommended.
Ryan Downey‘s Me and Heris an a capella mini-LP that doesn’t sound like a joke, a fad, or a bad idea. That alone should be enough to get you to check it out, but there are charms beyond the great execution of a concept: Downey’s baritone voice is smooth and lithe, and the songs he chooses are clever and interesting. Downey’s voice is necessarily the centerpiece of the record, and his voice has enough character and experience in it to keep things fresh throughout the seven songs. The only backdrop to his voice is often his multi-tracked voice, snapping, (“Tidings”), stomping and clapping (“Only Time”), and a female voice (“On a Good Day”). Yet he keeps the arrangements varied and fresh, never letting things stagnate.
The choice of songs helps with the variety: instead of writing seven songs, he re-interpreted two previous tunes and picked five covers. You’ve probably heard Enya’s “Only Time” and Joanna Newsom’s “On a Good Day,” but you may not be as familiar with Tiny Ruins’ “Chainmail Maker” and the McGarrigle Sisters’ “Cool River.” The variety encapsulated in those four tunes alone is incredible. If you’re an adventurous sort and want to hear something unusual, check out the vastly interesting Me and Her by Ryan Downey.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.