I have now officially recovered from SXSW. It’s time to get back to that inbox and cover those bands you will soon love. Here’s an indie-pop/indie-rock mix for y’all; this should brighten your day.
Brighter … Now!
1. “Come Back to Life” – Hospital Ships. Sometimes I hear a song and think, “Wow, I want to write songs like that.” Stunning quiet/loud indie-rock here.
2. “Roosevelt Hotel” – Cocovan. That chorus. I’ve been singing and dancing for a week solid. This woman knows her way around a thoughtful pop song.
3. “Way Yes” – Colerain. Can you have dance-friendly energy while being deeply pensive, even sad? And make all that beautiful? Colerain says yes, yes, we can.
4. “California Analog Dream” – Vondelpark. Remember the first time you heard Grizzly Bear? Or Bon Iver? My first listen of Vondelpark was like that: instrumental simplicity that somehow overwhelmed my ears like an enlightenment experience.
5. “Monday Morning” – Charles Mansfeld. Acoustic indie-pop with idiosyncratic vocals and a unique gravitas? The more the better.
6. “Jive Babe” – Mikhael Paskalev. Squash together the frenetic vocal fervor of King Charles with the buzzy guitars of the Vaccines and you’ve got a scrumptious recipe.
7. “Monday Morning” – Younger James. (Not a typo, this one is also called “Monday Morning.”) I heard the Strokes have a new coming out. I can almost guarantee that this tune will be better than whatever that foursome is putting out.
8. “Ode to the Summer (Radio Edit)” – Syd Arthur. Someone called this prog? I thought this intricate, melodic work was what indie rock sounded like in 2013? Things just got weird.
9. “Young Men of Promise” – Yellowbirds. What a great song title. The mid-tempo, vaguely garage-y indie-pop is strong, too.
10. “Open Arms” – Fletcher. Q: What if The Walkmen were happy? A: FLETCHER. Next question.
On recommendation from a friend who knows more about music than me, I checked out NYC synth-pop duo Carousel. He told me that it was beautiful and peppy stuff, and those are two of my favorite words. The music was indeed both. The duo both played keys/synths, while one took care of vocals and the other handled an electric guitar. Their synth-pop sounded like the second album that MGMT should have made: all gentle treble hooks and catchy bass-synth beats, sung in feathery, whispery vocals. I found myself dancing through the entire set, and no more happily than when they broke out a cover of Robyn’s “Dancing in the Dark.”* Their set was an absolute blast to be a part of, and I thoroughly recommend checking them out for some catchy, peppy synth-pop tunes. It was a perfect way to open SXSW.
Later in the evening I ducked out of The 512 to catch Lord Buffalo‘s set. Having covered Lord Buffalo’s excellent debut EP, I was intrigued to see how it translated live. The answer: apocalyptically. The band’s sweeping, post-rock sound is made largely with acoustic instruments, but not in any way you would expect. The drummer stands throughout, pounding on toms and snare with huge mallets. There’s no kick drum, but it’s not necessary: the rest of the band stomps enough for two or three kick drums. The quintet were so forceful in their stamping, stomping and hollering that they kept knocking over one of their amps, which made even more noise crashing to the ground.
Building off the pounding drums and foot percussion, the melodic drone comes from an organ of sorts, repetitive acoustic guitar lines, and swooning violin. The howled vocals and dissonant electric guitar cap off the maelstrom, creating great walls of doom-laden sound. But this is no aesthete exercise; the band oozed energy, as if they couldn’t get their songs out of themselves fast enough. At one point the violinist and the vocalist faced the front of the stage away from the microphones and just screamed into the air, unleashing a torrent of musical anguish/triumph from the band. It was shiver-inducing. If you’re into post-rock or the act of having goosebumps, Lord Buffalo is for you.
*2017 edit: I don’t know if this was Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” but it clearly wasn’t Robyn’s “Dancing in the Dark.”
The Kickstarter for Independent Clauses’ 10th birthday compilation album ended yesterday with $1432 donated! This will allow us to stream the album until the end of 2013, and then give away 4300+ free song downloads! I am blown away. Your support has exceeded my wildest dreams. The album will come out May 15, 2013! I am thrilled! I will keep you all posted on the details as they arise.
Also, I will be at SXSW starting tomorrow, so I will be running around Austin like a crazy person. If you’re in austin too, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with the acronym SXSW at the beginning of the subject line. I’d love to meet and say hello!
I will be posting here throughout the week, as well as at the Oklahoma Gazette and on Twitter at @scarradini. Here we go SXSW!
I first heard the music of Czech brother-sister duo Dva at SXSW earlier this year. Their unassuming inter-song presence hid a jaw-dropping maelstrom of looped acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion, presented with a powerful confidence that bordered on ferocity. Their album Hu doesn’t quite capture the breathtaking intensity of their live performance nor the intricate care that goes into creating these tunes, but it does show the finished product pretty well.
When playing live, the duo makes the most of what they’ve got: between the two of them there are sung vocals, vocal percussion, astonishingly accurate impressions of animal sounds, a saxophone, acoustic guitar, and improvised percussion. And although it doesn’t sound like it, those pieces (and copious amounts of found sound) compose most of the music in the album. They weave all of this into unique tunes that bend the boundaries of genre. The highlight track is “Hap Hej” (they sing in their native Czech), where a cascading acoustic guitar line is matched by a darting vocal line, animal sounds, an unusual flute, the sax, and looped clicks and clanks for percussion. You’ll have to make up your own words, but you’ll want to. It’s the sort of bubbling, uniquely optimistic track that Jonsi made a name for himself purveying.
“Hap Hej” is the most upbeat of the tunes (save the goofy fun of live knock-out “Tropikal Animal”), but there are gems within the more pensive tunes. “Numie” follows “Hap Hej” and builds a murky mood out of a slow-moving sax line, more percussion clicks and numerous ethereal background vocal lines. Intro “Animak” sets the tone for the album well, layering thoughtful vocals and guitars over a quirky keyboard line. The band plays with the boundaries between sunny and cloudy throughout (“Tatanc,” “Huhu”), creating an interesting listening experience that rewards multiple listens. It’s not the type you get on one listen, which should tell some people everything they need to know.
Dva fancy Hu to be “pop of non-existent radios,” and they’re right in some regards. “Hap Hej” won’t be on many radio stations anytime soon (except for hip college radio stations, perhaps!), no matter how great it is. And it certainly doesn’t sound like Katy Perry. But for adventurous listeners, there’s a lot of interesting and rewarding composition going on in Hu. And if you have a chance to see them live, by all means do it. It will knock your socks off.
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 Autres‘ Sun 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.
SXSW isn’t just a music smorgasbord. Here’s the best free stuff I found:
Coolest ad campaign: “A Guide to Play Quebec City” is exactly that. The booklet introduces you to threeshowpromoters, six venues, one music festival, 35 upcoming shows, six “Cream of the Crop” bands, and nine other groups from “the only 100% francophone city in America.” I feel like I could book a band through Quebec City now, and that’s pretty cool.
Coolest new service:StoryAmp is a way for artists to pitch to journalists in a consistent format. StoryAmp’s idea is to remove the “what do I say in an e-mail pitch?” problem by streamlining everything for the artist and the journalist. And both the flyer I was handed and the site it sells are gorgeous; that means a lot to me. I hope it takes off.
Coolest non-media object: It was a tie. I’m not sure how M for Montreal came up with the idea for a sleep mask, but it’s certainly memorable:
Coolest album art: Young Readers’ self-titled EP is a coloring page, complete with crayons. Mega!
Coolest book: Rockin’ in the New World by Bob Tulipan. It’s a how-to guide on getting your band to a successful level in our new media age. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Coolest song named after a basketball player: “Monta Ellis” by Willie Joe.
Coolest album that I had to Google lyrics to determine the band name because I found the album in a venue and it was packaged in a brown paper bag: Roll the Bones by Shakey Graves.
Most confusing ad campaign: “MYSPACE IS DEAD, LONG LIVE MYSPACE.” The Justin Timberlake-owned company never explained this concept except for the tepid, “Change is coming. Loyalty will be rewarded.” Nothing seems different on Myspace today, either. Their sticker and poster campaign seems like a wasted plan.
I’ll be posting a few bands a day that I’ve found or were blown away by here, though:
Daniel(((s))) – Chiptune electronica with masterful live bass. Hooves – Bearded, Avett Bros.-style folk/rock with the indignation turned up. Deerpeople – Dance, indie, piano-pop, moshing and more combine into a unnameable brilliance.
Now my SXSW fervor has kicked into high gear: I sent out the “Who’s playing SXSW?” e-mail to all the bands that IC has covered in the last four years. With some luck and good planning, I’ll be able to see a large number of bands with which I’ve previously only had a computer-mediated relationship.
I can’t wait to hear of more IC bands who will be kicking it at SXSW. If you’re going, hit me up with an e-mail (indieclauses[at]gmail.com) or a tweet (Scarradini). SXSW is crazy, and I don’t know who all I’ll be able to see, but I want to know who’s going to be there. Awesome.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.