This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.
The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ’em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.
Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service
Independent Clauses is somewhat of an alternate universe when it comes to music reviewing. I rarely cover the hip bands, often love things no one else does, and generally attempt to be true to what I hear. If there’s a radar to be on or under, we’re hanging out on a different screen altogether. This is more by happenstance than choice: I never set out to be contrarian. And I don’t feel like a curmudgeonly naysayer of popular music, as you’ll see tomorrow. I just have a different lens than many people. Here’s the view from that lens.
16. Elijah Wyman/Jason Rozen’s collective output: Tiny Mtns/The Seer Group/Decent Lovers. What started out as the artsy electro-pop project Tiny Mtns split into a heavily artsy electro project (The Seer Group) and a heavily artsy pop project (Decent Lovers), with the two splitting the tracks between them. Except when both kept a track and reworked it to their likings. Did I mention that this one time, one of these guys gave the other a kidney? Now you see why they get one mention.
I’m showing up late to The Naked and the Famous’ album Passive Me Aggressive You because I agreed with the naysayers who thought “Young Blood” sounded like second-rate Passion Pit. But since I ran across the much more subtle and interesting “Girls Like You” and “Punching In,” I’ve been hooked on the band’s sound. I even like “Young Blood” more, because I know that it’s backed up with nuance, as opposed to cash-in, rip-off glee. Official apology complete.
Bands that can pull off glee and nuance with equal passion are of deep interest to me, which is why TNATF and I Used to Be a Sparrow both have been piquing my interest recently. The duo named I Used to Be a Sparrow hails from Sweden, composed of IC fave Andrea Caccese (Songs for the Sleepwalkers) and Dick Pettersson. Caccese brings thoughtful post-rock/dream-pop influences from his previous work to their debut Luke, while Pettersson contributes an upbeat indie-rock aesthetic reminiscent of Frightened Rabbit. The result is an optimistic, energetic, beautiful album with plenty of room to grow.
The album has a lot of musical touchpoints: the churning post-rock of Sigur Ros has some pull on the sound, while the heavily rhythmic beauty of their lead singer Jonsi’s work figures in (“Lovers on the Moon”). The optimistic mysticism of ’80s U2 (optimysticism?) influences some of the guitar work (“Cambodia,” especially), while the passionate charge of Scott Hutchison’s Frightened Rabbit is unavoidable to mention (“Cambodia,” again). Their more anthemic turns call up Kings of Leon and U2 again.
So is this a derivative mess? No, not at all. The touchstones never devolve into aping another’s sound, because the dream-pop, post-rock and indie-rock ideas are all pulling on each other at the same time. The best example of this is the title track: “Luke” starts off with a wall of squalling guitars and feedback before fading the noise into a dreamy, patterned electronic rhythm and four-part vocal chorus. The background drops out, leaving just the transcendent vocals. It’s an odd tune, but an endearing one, because the vocals are just so good. The song ends, seguing into “Give It Up,” which is an acoustic track of sorts.
The best of the tunes here are idiosyncratic like “Luke.” “Smoke” starts off with a chiming mellophone, introduces some interesting rhythmic patterns, and then augments the construction with a stomping, four-on-the-floor drumbeat. “Lovers on the Moon” builds from an acoustic guitar and distant “ooo” into a unique tune complete with shakers, toms, and screaming guitar. “Give It Up” builds an acoustic track out into a darker mood, again with fitting drumming and evocative guitar.
When I Used to Be a Sparrow pushes the “anthemic” button too often, though, things start to get less easily discernable from each other. “Copenhagen” and “Life is Good” sound a lot like each other; “Hawaii” is not that far off. The songs aren’t bad, but they’re repetitive. (Of the three, “Life is Good” sounds like the original, and the other two the copies.) “Moby Dick,” one of the more memorable vocal melodies on the album, owes a debt to the Passion Pit/The Naked and the Famous school. (Which, I suppose, is a good or bad thing, depending.)
Caccese is starting a habit of doing one-off projects, but I hope this is one that he sticks with. The things that he and Pettersson bring to the table make for a unique blend of nuance, passion and enthusiasm. With some more songwriting under their collective belt, I Used to Be a Sparrow could be something really great. Tunes like “Luke” and “Lovers on the Moon” already prove that their vision is an interesting and unique one. Here’s to hoping they refine and mature it, because I would love to hear more of this.
The Wooden Birds know their sound perfectly: “Long Time to Lose It” is the second pitch-perfect music video they’ve released from their latest album Two Matchsticks. It features a woman walking calmly around in the beautiful wilderness, as well as a stop at an interesting house. It is beautiful.
“Life is Good” by I Used to Be a Sparrow is ascendant, triumphant indie-rock that recalls everyone and no one. The band features Andrea Caccese of Swedish post-rock band Songs for the Sleepwalkers, and a wintry, elegant Swedish landscape gets significant play in the clip. Despite the enthusiastic musical charge and beautiful visuals, the narrative is pretty heavy.
Keeping the heavy theme, here’s a mini-documentary from Bowerbirds. It’s about how they got back together, recorded an album and built a house. It is visually incredible, and the music is equally sonically amazing.
Great parodies sneak up on you, and the video for The Gorilla Press’s mega-fantastic “On Fire” is a great parody of music videos and Kung Fu action. I love the ending sequence.
Here in Auburn, Ala., winter is a color and not a weather pattern. The 40-60 degree temperatures are not much colder than “fall” or “spring,” but the sky turns (and apparently stays) various shades of gray. From ivory to gunmetal, it’s all washed out, all the time. This, however, is the perfect situation to hear Songs for the Sleepwalkers‘ Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions.
I’m willing to bet it’s gray a lot of the time in Lake Mälaren, Sweden, where bandleader Andrea Caccese and his cohorts probably see a lot more snow than Auburn does to create the color. The de-centered, dreamy feeling that comes from not seeing the natural color of the sky is at least an analogue and perhaps a motivator to these delicate, unusual tunes.
Fellow cold-weather dreamers Sigur Ros provide a fine starting point for discussion of Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions. Beauty-minded arrangments, atypical song structures and uniquely transcendent moods are shared goals between them; while the tunes of Sigur Ros can ratchet up to an impressive roar from their starting point, the songs of SFTS often dissipate into a wispy haze. To that end, it’s probably more fair to call SFTS post-pop than post-rock; it does not appear that the members aspire to rock in any way, although people who are fond of post-rock will be quite understanding of what the band is trying to do. “Down the Line” is built off a gently strummed acoustic guitar, a shaker egg and strings; it measures its own weight by fading in and out through the song, then abruptly ending. It’s not constructed in any specifically defined way; it meanders about at its own pace, keeping its own counsel.
But where the gray winter provides a downward slope into disappointment, the songs of SFTS have a levity about them that precludes a doleful interpretation. Keeping the listener off-balance with the unique song structures is their first tactic, while creating carefully arranged moods is the second: note the use of barely-distorted electric guitar on “We Are Still Here” and the depth of field in the arrangement of standout “Tell Me How.” In an era where post-rock is defined by the dichotomies of loud/soft, fast/slow, and heavy/delicate, it’s refreshing to hear a take that blissfully ignores all pretense of what “should” be done. The wordless, cascading “Asleep” is the best example of this, and putting an acoustic guitar and voice track (“What If I Do”) at the end is certainly another tally mark under that category.
Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions does feel spontaneous, but not in the hyperactive sense of my connotation. These are tunes that feel like the audio equivalent of drawing directly from subconscious: raw, but not in a calculated way; honest, but not in a truly focused way. The meandering aspect (Caccese describes it as “like a drunk man staggering over here and there”) is the element that most surprises and delights. Here’s to hoping Songs for The Sleepwalkers’ work never sobers up, and we hear more beautiful tunes like these in the future.
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.