Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Grab Bag 2: Morgan Mecaskey / James Robinson / Angelo De Augustine

December 15, 2014

morganmecaskey

December is a tough month to release music: you’ve got orgs like Paste that have already released their year-end lists by the beginning of the month, blogs that are trying to clear out the files from November (or October, or September) to get all their 2014 commitments done, and listeners who are re-living the year instead of hearing new tunes. You should probably just wait till January. But if you don’t, and your release is really good, you might sneak one in under the radar. Morgan Mecaskey is 100% radar sneaking, because anyone who sounds like Sharon Van Etten fronting The National in an eclectic record store is going to get some good words from this camp.

Lover Less Wild is an adventurous, sultry, enigmatic EP that captured me on first listen. Mecaskey’s husky alto/tenor voice leads the charge on music that skirts boundary labels and ends up firmly in that catch-all camp of “indie rock.” Opener “White Horse” has soaring horns, female back-up vocals, churning guitars, push-tempo drums, and some royal fury in the vocals of Mecaskey herself. It sounds like she mentions the name “Jolene” in the chorus, which would hook her up to a long tradition of artists to find an admirable muse in that name. By the coda of the tune, Mecaskey is hollering “Sometimes I don’t feel like who I really am,” which is amazing, because she sounds completely like herself on that tune.

It’s followed up by three tunes that are a few notches down on the tour-de-force scale (but only a few; they all register). “Fighting Extinction” starts out as a distant, questioning mix between The Walkmen and Radiohead before erupting into some funky bass (?!), calling out some Motown horns, and bringing in a male vocalist for a contentious, exciting duet. It also includes the best saxophone solo this side of M83. Because it’s hard for Morgan Mecaskey to do anything twice, the title track opens with Wurlitzer and distant vocals before unfolding into a jazzy, hip-hop/R&B groove. Right about the time that I start to feel we should call up the Antlers and get them on the same tour, the song explodes into towering guitar walls and distorted bass. “Crushed” starts with nylon-string guitar in Spanish rhythms and ends with a full choir (a real one, not just a gang-vocal offering). In short, there is about as much happening in four songs as you can possibly imagine.

Mecaskey holds this whirlwind tour of music genres and styles together with her voice, which is a versatile, powerful, emotive engine. No matter what arrangement she’s leading, she’s in firm control of what’s happening. Her voice is at home wherever she lands it, which is as much a testament to her attitude and confidence as it is her immense songwriting chops. I don’t care if you’re listening to your favorite album of the year again (I know I am, no hate), you’ve got to check out Morgan Mecaskey’s Lover Less Wild. It will keep you spinning.

jamesrobinson

James Robinson‘s Start a Fire EP is a charming four-song release. Robinson’s acoustic-centric style fits somewhere between singer/songwriter confessionals and adult-alternative pop sheen, like a more mystical Matt Nathanson or a more polished Damien Rice. This mash-up results in the best of both worlds (instead of the dreaded inverse), with Robinson’s smooth vocals getting all silky around arrangements that have some indie mystery and ambiguity in them. Think less Ed Sheeran crooning and more of that feeling you felt the first time you heard Coldplay’s Parachutes.

The quartet of tunes works nicely together, moving along a high-quality clip without drawing attention to any song in particular. “Demons” has some great bass work and a nice, memorable vocal line; “Holes in the Sky” opens with some nice guitar and vocals that evoke Jason Mraz; “Smoke & Ashes” is the most tender of the collection. But it’s the title track that takes high marks here: its polished arrangement frames Robinson’s voice perfectly, making this an impeccably done song that you’ll be humming for a while. If you’re looking for some gentle singer/songwriter fare with some mystery in it, go for James Robinson.

angelodeaugustine

Any discussion of Angelo De Augustine‘s Spirals of Silence must be prefaced by this information: de Augustine sounds, musically, vocally, and even lyrically, like Elliott Smith mashed up with Nick Drake. For many people, this is enough to send them running in its direction. I forwarded this to the resident Smith fan in my life and was promptly given compliments on my character after his first listen. It’s a hit.

But it’s not just that it sounds like Smith: the songs are incredibly well-done. de Augustine has the fingerpicking/breathy vocals/tape hiss thing down, but the things he chooses to fingerpick are beautiful, contemplative, melodic works that move sprightly along. Lead single “Old Hope” is a perfect example of this, as de Augustine whispers his way across a traveling, bouncy-yet-not-cheesy guitar line. (Side note: because this song sounds like Josh Radin, I realized that I’d never noticed how much Elliott Smith influenced Josh Radin.) Other highlights include the oddly heartbreaking “Married Mother,” the tender “I Spend Days,” and the intriguing “You Open to the Idea.”

I could say more about Spirals of Silence, but I think I’ve said all I need to in order to get you to listen to this or not. Viva Angelo de Augustine, please and thank you.

Absurdity / surreality

November 3, 2014

Surreality and absurdity have specific meanings to me. Surreal is the type of weird that’s just left of normal; you can feel that it might be normal, but something is just off. It’s the creepy weird, the weird that everyone accepts as normal except you–and you don’t know why. Absurdity is when completely nonsensical things happen all at once and everyone realizes it’s bizarre. Creating absurdity is much easier than creating surreality. The Landing’s video for “We Are” is surreal, in the best way.

Springtime Carnivore’s video for “Name on a Matchbook” is the funniest video I’ve seen all year. Subverting gender stereotypes and tropes? Re-envisioning Springtime Carnivore as a girl-band Beatles? Be still, my fluttering heart.

Quiet Stories’ “When I Come Down” is not necessarily quiet in volume, but the story he tells in this video definitely is a quiet little tale.

Sometimes it’s a single image that gets me in a video. In Bobby Bare Jr.’s “North of Alabama By Morning,” it’s a two-second clip (0:37-38) of the keyboardist grooving so hard. Total dedication to the sound, right there. Also, this song rules.

I watched the whole 5:16 of Sharon Van Etten’s “Your Love is Killing Me” clip because I wanted to know what was happening. Let’s just call the end a baffling one. Van Etten is a towering presence on this track, so if you’re into huge, emotional songs, you can stay for that as well.

August Videos 2: Tell Me A Story

August 6, 2014

Bear in Heaven’s cinematographer filmed for a month at night in New York City to capture the many feels of what goes on in the city at night. It’s a mesmerizing, incredible short film that works perfectly with the music.

IC faves Challenger return with a video about a girl, an abandoned asylum, a ghost, and trespassing; now with 100% more ending you didn’t expect.

Sharon Van Etten’s video for “Our Love” is almost uncomfortably personal; a black and white shot of her bedroom and her lover (without showing any nudity whatsoever), it depicts the tensions inherent in the tune perfectly. It’s beautiful, just like the tune.

Did you like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? If so, you will love the clip for The Yuseddit Brothers’ “Metronome.” The song seems to have approximately 0% connection to the video, but that’s totally okay because the video is awesome.

Quick Hits Quartet

March 25, 2012

I love doing long reviews, but SXSW has thrown me off my game. To catch up, here’s a rare quartet of quick hits.


Dana Falconberry‘s four-song Though I Didn’t Call It Came is a beautiful, immersing release. The thirteen minutes pass rapidly, as Falconberry’s uniquely interesting voice plays over intricate yet intimate acoustic arrangements. Highlights include the complex and beautiful songwriting structure of “Petoskey Stone,” the Michigan-era Sufjan Stevens fragility of “Muskegon,” and the casual wonder of whistling-led closer “Maple Leaf Red (Acoustic).” It’s a rare songwriter that has tight control over both individual songwriting elements and overall feel, marking Falconberry as one to enjoy now and watch in the future.


England in 1819‘s Alma will quickly remind listeners of British piano-rock bands: Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay is checked on “Air That We Once Breathed,” Muse gets its nod in the title track, and the melodic focus of Keane is familiar throughout. But 2/3rds of the band is conservatory-trained, and those influences show. “Littil Battur” is a chiming, gently swelling post-rock piece with reminiscent of The Album Leaf; “Emily Jane” is another beautiful, wordless, free-flowing piece. There’s enjoyment in their emotive piano-pop, but there’s magic in their instrumental aspirations. That tension shows promise past this sophomore release.


The bouncy garage-pop of Eux AutresSun is Sunk EP has been honed for almost a decade to a tight mix of modern sensibilities and historic glee. “Right Again” and “Home Tonight” call up ’60s girl-pop groups but don’t overdo it; “Ring Out” features male lead vocals in a perky, jumpy, infectious tune that includes bells and tambourine. The 1:23 of “Call It Off” is thoroughly modern songwriting, though—the band is no one trick pony. There’s just no resisting the charms of Sun is Sunk, and since its six songs only ask for 15 minutes of your time, why would you?

After seeing part of a breathtaking set by Sharon Van Etten at SXSW 2011, I jumped at the chance to give some press for her new album Tramp. Turns out all the big hitters (NPR, Pitchfork, Paste) are already on it. The tunes powered by Van Etten’s emotive croon are in full form, developed from her sparse beginnings into complete arrangements. At 46 minutes, this mature version of Van Etten is a complete vision; still, the haunting, delicate closer “Joke or a Lie” is what sticks with me.

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

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