Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mid-October Singles, pt. 1

October 14, 2016

1. “Devil Yellow Sun” – Small Town Glow. If the emotional indie-rock of Frightened Rabbit had been born in the grunge-laden ’90s, it would have been as gloriously slackery, goofy, and relatable as this tune.

2. “Fossil” – Readership. The present or future ghosts of Modest Mouse, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Arcade Fire, and Spoon dance to the beat of this impeccably crafted, relentlessly endearing indie-rock tune. It’s a rare tune that ends way before I wanted it to.

3. “You Know It’s True” – Quinn Devlin & The Bridge Street Kings. Van Morrison has been popping up in my life a lot recently. Whether it’s in essays, songs, or Spotify recommendations, Van the Man is calling my name. Is this a getting older thing? Is this like classical music? Whatever it is, here’s some earthy-yet-ethereal blue-eyed soul that carries that Van torch forward. Also there’s some Hall & Oates in there? I mean that in the most positive way possible. You know what, ignore all that. It’s just a great song.

4. “Be There” – Buddha Trixie. Hectic/loping, quirky/formal, exuberant/laidback, manic/careful; there’s a lot of duality going on in this joyous indie-pop tune.

5. “there’s nothing better” – Eugene Gallagher. A beautiful, tender, herky-jerky love-song that feels like Delicate Steve’s burbling enthusiasms mixed with a male version of Kimya Dawson’s vocals. (I think you’ll forgive the seemingly ridiculous comparisons once you hear it.)

6. “Bow Down” – TD Lind. Protest folk at its vocal belting, harmonica-toting, major-key best.

7. “The Swim” – Case Conrad. One of those alt-country tunes that balances on the edge of so many things (is it a singer/songwriter tune? is it about to go full-on rock? are the vocals about to explode?) that it keeps the listener on her toes the whole way. Surprisingly, it’s deeply satisfying through all the tension. A fantastic tune.

8. “Melting” – Lindy Vopnfjord. Have you ever walked up a forested mountain near dusk? The beauty of the setting sun unveils a sort of ominous beauty, where the unknown is both gorgeous and dangerous. Those tensions are encompassed in this acoustic/electric minor-key folk tune.

9. “Aelia Laelia (Edit)” – Christopher Chaplin. I can give this complex, complicated piece one of my highest compliments: it defied easy conventions, making me ask, “What is this?” Part post-rock, part ambient/industrial electronic, part neo-classical performance, part operatic vocal songcraft, this composition bends the boundaries. Chaplin is really inventive and engaging here.

10. “Bombs” – EDGES. Reverb can serve to obscure, but it can also make things more intimate, as if you’re sitting next to the musician in a huge church. This acoustic tune is the latter, as the patient guitar and gently yearning vocals create a sense of closeness and warmth amid a giant building.

11. “Like a Funeral (Joel Rampage Duet Remake)” – Erik Jonasson. There will be approximately 1,000,000 slow-jam electro ballads released this year, but I would wager that maybe five will make me want to cry. This heartbreaking, expansive tune is one of them.

12. “She Floats” – Van-Anh Nguyen. Ambient by dint of crackles, breaths, and distant noises that run throughout, this delicate, piano-driven piece evokes a seaside boardwalk in the early morning.

Brother Moses cranks the saturation knob

September 26, 2016

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Brother Moses‘ sophomore EP Legends builds on their debut Thanks for All Your Patience by upgrading the sonics of their rubbery, laidback, Spoon-meets-Pavement indie-rock. Their debut EP was almost preternaturally chill; Raymond Richards (Local Natives) gives their sound some punch, while not losing their goofy, waltz-through-it-all charm.

The easiest place to see this is in “Older,” the lone track present on both EPs. The opening synth has become fatter, the drums are more resonant, the tempo is slightly sped up, and the guitars are brighter. The overall effect is like cranking up the saturate knob on a picture: it’s the same thing, but bigger, brighter, and warmer. Elsewhere, the saturation holds in the form of more reverb (the guitars on “Time to Leave”), more ambiance (“Crazy Eyes”), and more expansive songwriting touches (“Pretend”). Some tracks sound like post-punk; some sound like Vampire Weekend chilling way, way out. Throughout, the band is playing with what they can do in a studio, experimenting with what exactly the sounds in their heads can be with a lot of equipment at their disposal.

Closer “Please Stop” is probably the furthest push of their experiments, putting all of their sonic elements together into one track. Mashing all of their ideas into one place results in a tune that doesn’t quite sound like anyone: James Lockhart’s lolling drawl amps up to an anthemic soar over an indie-rock band that has thoroughly ingested modern indie music and spit out their own distinct version of it. It’s a fantastic tune that is more than the sum of its parts–and the parts are all pretty great on their own.

Legends is a brief six songs, but the growth and development from their first EP shows that they’ve got a lot of ideas. Brother Moses has got a great thing going, and you should jump on that.

Mid-November Rock Jams

November 19, 2015

1. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. This track manages to make the lovechild of Prince, James Brown, and a garage-rock band sound like a fine, upstanding individual. Also there’s a choir at the end. Need I say more?

2. “Other Kids” – Mighty. Yawping, hectic, mile-a-minute, ideas-everywhere garage rock that sounds as wild and wide-open as the youth that it so clearly evokes.

3. “The Runner” – Mountains Like Wax. As a fan of the Mountain Goats, I am a bit of a connoisseur of enthusiastic yelps. (John Darnielle actually remarks on the quality of his own yelps in the All Hail West Texas re-release liner notes.) I must say that the scream at 4:51 that turns this slow burner into a post-rock thrasher is an exquisite example of the enthusiastic yelp. I believe it when it happens. That’s rare. The rest of the band puts all they’ve got into it too, but man. That scream.

4. “Her” – The Oswalds. I love an ambitious tune. This one zigs and zags all over the place, moving from garage rock to strict-rhythm indie-rock to acoustic sections to a fractured, crazy guitar solo and then through it all again. The panning is all over the place, adding to the chaotic-yet-controlled feel. You feeling adventurous?

5. “Haunted House” – Ancient Cities. Gotta love an indie rock track that uses the piano as its driving force: check how they use it to escalate the intensity of the song instead of the guitar.

6. “Pressure” – Down Boy. Will a heavy, scuzzed-out guitar and thrashing drums duo ever get old? Not yet, at least: Down Boy makes my feet want to move and my head want to rock.

7. “Anime” – Debris of Titan. You know how Pogo makes these fluttery, wide-eyed electronic burbles? Debris of Titan makes that sort of music in a chill psych-rock vein. I don’t get a lot of psych-rock, but I know intuitively how to jam to this.

8. “Big Sky” – The Pressure Kids. Straight-up-and-down indie rock that draws off elements of Young the Giant, Spoon, and other people that manage to make mid-tempo sound intense.

9. “Denim” – Brave Town. This guitar-fronted pop-rock tune has arena aesthetics (if not aspirations) and hooks to match, reminding me of Colony House (similar) and Arctic Monkeys (less so, but it’s totally there).

10. “Not That Easy” – Lime Cordiale.  Some songs just sound like they belong on the radio: this fusion of pop-rock and electronica fits right in the zeitgeist (or maybe we’re just past it?). Either way, this tune is great.

11. “Alright” – Lemmo. Sometimes a chorus just hooks me and I can’t turn away.

12. “Deerhunter” – Ghost of You. Tight groove, attractive arrangement, solid vocals: indie rock gold.

13. “The Road” – DB Cooper. Noisy-yet-slick pop-rock a la Fall Out Boy and the like, with vocals reminiscent of All American Rejects. It’s the sort of catchy chorus and fist-pumping drive that people who love nuanced indie pop secretly love.

14. “Goddess of the Sun” – Postcards from Jeff. Manages to work a flute into the rock part of an indie-pop to indie rock transitional track. Mad props. This one could fit great in any number of indie movie soundtracks.

September MP3s 3: Twirling Arms

October 13, 2014

Twirling Arms

1. “The Balance” – Royal Tongues. Sometimes the RIYL is absolutely perfect. I got told this one was like Smallpools and Passion Pit. BY JOVE IT IS! EVERYBODY DANCE!

2. “Desole Pt. II” – The Gromble. This is like if the enthusiasm of Passion Pit met the restraint of The Naked and the Famous. You can dance to it and think heavy musical thoughts about post-punk to it!

3. “I Feel Sorry For You” – Bullybones. Always space in my heart for voice-shredding, garage-crushin’, surf-rockin’ tunes.

4. “Lisa Loeb Probably Never Pierced Her Ears” – Field Guides. Surf-rock meets indie-pop in a vastly enjoyable, really impressive way.

5. “I Told You So” – The March Divide. Early ’00s emo/punk is back, and that’s a really great thing. Let it emote, men. Let it jangle and emote.

6. “Black White Fuzz” – Coastgaard. Yacht rock + The Strokes? Why not? *head bobs frantically*

7. “Little Surfer Girl” – The Yetis. Do you love the Beach Boys? If yes, you love the Yetis.

8. “It Don’t Even” – ET Anderson. When you mix rubbery bass higher in the mix that crunchy guitars, you’ve got a very specific vision for your sound. ET Anderson’s vibe here is strong and impressive, like a slackery Spoon or something. I’m intrigued.

9. “Trouble” – Micah Olsan and the Many. Funk, indie-rock and shades of Hendrix psychedelia come together to make a pulsing, groove-heavy track.

10. “photograph” – crashfaster. Jamiroquai in outer space! Anamanaguchi at the bottom of the sea! Dance-rock with serious sci-fi vibes!

11. “Old Enough to Know Better” – Youth Mass. ’90s Brit rock vibes infused into dance-rock. I’m all about it.

Quick Hits: Colony House / Americo / Brother O’ Brother

August 28, 2014

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I’ve been posting singles and videos from Colony House since January, because their alt-rock had that anthemic edge which usually portends great things. And while “Keep On Keepin’ On,” “Silhouettes,” and “Waiting for My Time to Come” are great by themselves, they’re amazing when crammed together and packaged with 11 other great tunes on When I Was Younger.

Moving Forward” is the sort of deep cut that bands realize is amazing late in the album’s cycle, haphazardly throw to radio, and manage to get a career-defining hit from (see “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers). It has a jubilant riff that turns into a revelatory, shiver-inducing “whoa-oh” coda; that arching melody is the sort that Coldplay at its Viva La Vida finest was putting out. It’s the type I wear out the repeat button over.

“Waiting For My Time To Come” is still great in album version–more whoa-ohs, horns, and general good vibes. In other places Colony House echoes an amped-up Black Keys (“2:20”), the Killers, U2, Imagine Dragons, ’80s new-wave (“Roll With the Punches”), and more. Those influences might read like a derivative mess, but they sound like a eye-opening wonder. I haven’t heard anything this immediately engaging and potentially career-launching since I heard .fun’s Some Nights. And we all know how that turned out. If you like fun, cheery alt-rock-pop music, you’ll love Colony House.

americoI

Americo‘s style of rock would fit neatly in with Spoon: the rhythms, melodies, and instrumental performances fit together in a very tight, almost clockwork-like way. As a result, their recent release I is a tight, polished EP instead of a frantic, shoot-from-the-hip garage-rock set of tunes. “Stylized” doesn’t mean a lot in its dictionary definition, but the music-world connotations of restless aesthetes crafting and honing sounds seems to (mostly) fit here.

I say “mostly” because the duo also has laidback vibes as one of the core tenets of the sound. Opener “Blastin’ Off” has a stuttering strum and a liberal use of space as its calling cards, not giant guitar antics. (You have to wait for second track “Sled” for those.) “Slingshot” has a ’90s slackerish vibe in the way the chords lazily morph into each other; “Perfect World” relies on rim-clicks and jazzy vibes. This is a band that has both chops and restraint–most bands don’t even have one of those things. (Some of my favorite bands are just fine without either one.) They can even get a little weird and experimental if you’d like (“Prizes”).

Americo’s I shows off a well-developed songwriting sensibility that will appeal to fans of thoughtful rockers. The duo has made it clear that they can rock out and a lot of other things. That versatility could blossom into a particular style down the road, or they could stick with the Swiss Army Knife approach. Either way, I is commendable.

BrotherOBrother

Depending on your interest in the genre, Brother O’ Brother is either carrying on the tradition of or thoroughly indebted to The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The guitar and drums duo rips through heavy blues rock stompers with screaming guitars, howling vocals, and basic drumming. The band’s self-titled record doesn’t let up for the 30+ minute runtime; there are no pop-friendly arena rock tunes or quirky acoustic ditties to break the mood. From the outraged opener “Without Love” to the last high-hat snap of “Mice & Men,” Chris Banta barrels, blasts, struts, strains, and powers his way through through riff-heavy tunes galore.

“Means to Be a Woman” is a highlight of the set. After its bluesy guitar intro reminiscent of the White Stripes, Banta lets his voice take most of the drama. He alternates between snarling speak-singing in the verses and outright howling in the chorus. If you’re into heavy guitars and moral indignation at how the media portrays women, you’ll be all over this tune. Throughout the album, Banta is interested in spiritual and moral themes; it gives another edge to the screaming guitars. Everyone needs some good righteous indignation over the injustices of the world now and then. If that sounds like a good time, Brother O’ Brother can hook you up.

Sabers know what’s up / Candysound rocks uniquely

July 10, 2014

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Sabers has the rare ability to rock without stomping the fuzzbox too hard or too often. It’s a trait they share with indie legends Spoon: rock is in the attitude, not the delivery. They rely on groove, tone, and mood to do the work for them, instead of speedy tempos, massive walls of sound, or crashing drums. I mean, Sic Semper Sabers starts out with a walking pace tune called “Armchair Warriors” and follows it up a track punnily called “Money Eddie.” This is a band that knows what it is about.

Don’t confuse: Sabers has chops galore. It’s just that they approach those chops from a casual perspective, preferring a bleary-eyed, Velvet Underground take on things as opposed to a Rolling Stones style. There are some who may not even call this rock, and quote the chill “Ever Eyeing” to say it’s indie-pop or something. I rebut with the surf-rock riff and distorted vocals of follow-up “Puppet.” The production job here softens edges, to be sure, but I’m betting you that Sabers gets plenty loud live. I also bet their hooks (instrumental and vocal) are just as good live as they are on tape.

I’m a big fan of bands that have energy, songwriting skills, and restraint. It shows good taste to know you can blow the doors off and yet don’t. It leaves the listener with some mystery. Sic Semper Sabers is an impressive album that establishes Sabers as an intriguing band to watch.

candysound

Candysound also rocks in an unusual way, combining the instrumental setup of garage rock, the raw energy of folk-rock, and the production values of dream-pop. Candysound’s intricate arrangements feature staccato rhythms that never become brittle, complimented by passion that never translates to general heaviness. The songs feel light and engaging, even though they’re all going at it full force.

This is nowhere as present as in the title track of Now and Then, a 1:43 slice of exuberant Candysound style. The song opens with a humble throat clearing before gentle but swift fingerpicking and whispered vocals come in. After 30 seconds, the band arrives: thumping toms and cymbal (no cymbals), intriguing walking bass, female BGVs. After 30 more seconds, the band ratchets up: the cymbals start to blow up, the vocals turn into hollers, and the guitar distorts (but without chord mashing). After 30 more seconds, it ends with a bang and interludes to the next tune. It’s a fascinating, exciting track that establishes a solid instrumental style for the band.

Throughout the rest of the album, elements that appeared in “Now and Then” show up. Single-note riffs and toms make for great fun in “Anything”; things get positively mathy in “Turned In.” But the band never loses touch with relatable hooks and melodies: when the post-rockish “Instrumental” gets heady, there’s a companion for it in the smooth mood and charming vocals of “Keep Up.” “11:11” gets heavy; its follow-up “Beacons” has a chill vibe.

Candysound has a sophisticated, mature sound: they know what they want to accomplish, and they’re very good at it. I haven’t stated any RIYL bands, because Candysound makes it easy to explain what the songs sound like. Each element of the sound is developed and clear. It’s a really fun album to listen to, and an commendable achievement. Here’s to more from Candysound!

Cultures, video

June 9, 2013

James Younger’s video for “Monday Morning” is a tribute to VHS culture in the ’80s and early ’90s. As a kid who grew up in that era, I am all about this, from the goofy subtitles to the white noise that intermittently drops in, to the overall fuzz of the video. Thank you, James Younger.

While we’re on the topic of media cultures, here’s a video from The Gorgeous Hands about cell phone culture. It’s less a tribute and more a critique of said culture, but it’s still pretty fun. Also, “Generator” the song is pretty awesome if you’re into Spoon but have approximately twice as much give-a-rip as Britt Daniel.

Wampire’s “Orchards” starts out as a piece about car culture and then becomes something, uh, completely different.

< And, rounding out our cultural journey, Post-Echo Records has commissioned a five-video project called "Passage," which celebrates the sort of culture that makes you think about what you're watching. Post-Echo, home to IC faves Pan and Dear Blanca, has my attention.