Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Singles and some mourning for Jason Molina

November 4, 2014

1. “Great White Shark” – Hollands. Maximalist indie-rock/pop music with groove, noise, melodic clarity, effusive enthusiasm, strings, harp, and just about everything else you can ask for. If the Flaming Lips hadn’t got so paranoid after At War with the Mystics

2. “Coyote Choir” – Pepa Knight. Still batting 1.000, Pepa Knight brings his exuberant, India-inspired indie-pop to more mellow environs. It’s still amazing. I’m totally on that Pepa Knight train, y’all. (Hopefully it’s The Darjeeling Limited.)

3. “Peaks of Yew” – Mattson 2. I love adventurous instrumental music, and Mattson 2 cover a wide range of sonic territory in this 10-minute track. We’ve got some surf-rock sounds, some post-rock meandering, some poppy melodies, some ambient synths, and a whole lot of ideas. I’m big on this.

4. “Firing Squad” – Jordan Klassen. Sometimes a pop-rock song comes along that just works perfectly. Vaguely dancy, chipper, fun, and not too aggressive (while still allowing listeners to sing it loudly), “Firing Squad” is just excellent.

5. “Droplet” – Tessera Skies. There’s a tough juggling act going on in this breathtaking indie-pop tune: flowing instruments, flailing percussion, cooing vocals, and an urgent sense of energy. It’s like if Jonsi’s work got cluttered up with parts and then organized neatly.

6. “Available Light” – David Corley. If Alexi Murdoch, Tom Waits, and Joseph Arthur all got together and jammed, it might sound something like this gruff yet accessible, vaguely alt-country track.

7. “Blue Eyed Girl” – Sam Joole. I’d like to make a joke about blue-eyed soul here, but it’s actually closer to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” than that. Lots of laidback guitars, good vibes, but not Jack Johnson twee, if you know what I mean.

8. “By the Canal” – Elephant Micah. I’m a big fan of people who aren’t afraid to let an acoustic guitar and voice splay out wherever they want and however long they want. Here, EM acts as an upbeat Jason Molina, putting the focus on his voice instead of the spartan-yet-interesting arrangements. Totally stoked for this new album.

9. “If It Does” – Robin Bacior. In this loose, smooth, walking-speed singer-songwriter tune with maximum atmosphere, shades of early ’00s Coldplay appear. That’s a compliment, people.

10. “Storm” – Dear Criminals. Not that often do I hear trip-hop, even in an updated melodic form. Way to go, DC–you pick up that torch that Portishead put down.

11. “You Open to the Idea” – Angelo De Augustine. Beautiful, delicate, wispy, earnest whisper-folk. They don’t make ’em like this very often anymore.

12. “Billowing Clouds” – Electrician. The mournful, affected spoken word over melancholy, trumpet-like synths makes me think of an electro version of the isolated, desolate Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats.

13. “Blue Chicago Moon (demo)” – Songs: Ohia. Until Jason Molina, I’ve never had a personal connection to the art of a troubled artist who died too early–Elliott Smith was gone before I knew of his work. Now with unreleased demos coming out consistently after Mr. Molina’s death, I feel the sadness of his passing over and over. Each new track is a reminder that there was work still to be made; it also feels like a new song from him, even though it’s objectively not.

Is this how a legacy gets made in the digital era? How long will we keep releasing new Molina songs, to remind us that he was there, and now he is not? (Please keep releasing them.) Will the new songs push people back to “The Lioness”? Will we keep these candles burning to light our own rooms, or will we bring them to other people? “Endless, endless, endless / endless depression,” Molina sings here. Is it truly endless? Are you still depressed? Does your permanent recording of the phrase make it truly “unchanging darkness”? “Try to beat it,” he intones, finally. Try to beat it, indeed. Keep trying until you can’t anymore. And then let your work stand forever. I guess this is how I mourn.

Emily and the Complexes throw down some singer/songwriter-esque rock

December 6, 2012

If you make art about brothers, you’ve pretty much got me. The Darjeeling Limited, “Murder in the City” by The Avett Brothers, and “Brother” by Annuals are all way up in my list because of my own two brothers. (I just finished talking to one of my two brothers before I wrote this.) So when I found that the opening track of Emily and the ComplexesStyrofoam Plate Blues is named “Brother Don’t Wait,” I was hooked.

It helps that “Brother Don’t Wait” is a beautiful tune, strummed quietly on a solo electric guitar. Tyler Verhagen’s evocative tenor can barely contain his emotions as he encourages his brother to move on with his life after a difficult breakup. Its simple, but it’s powerful. This highly emotional, spartan sound doesn’t appear again until the album closer “Andy.” “Andy” is even more raw lyrically and musically, closing the album on a beautiful, wrenching note. If Verhagen’s got a solo project kicking around, I really want to hear it.

I like the sound of the rest of the album too, just not as much. The majority of this album is Verhagen and his bandmates throwing down rock’n’roll that sounds like a cross between Bright Eyes and a ’90s slacker-rock band. Verhagen inhabits the no-motivation, nothing-to-do stance in most of these lyrics, seeing travel as a way to escape all the ills that befall him. From “Social Skills” to “I Don’t Wanna Brush My Teeth” to “Would You,” Verhagen writes the slacker effectively.

The music fits in a loud, grungy mode, with lots of distortion. But this isn’t really riff-driven rock; it’s powered primarily by Verhagen’s voice, just as with much of Bright Eyes’ work. There’s even a hint of country in the way the lead guitar plays. This leads to dramatic soft/loud juxtapositions (“Would You,” “Styrofoam Plate Blues”) as well as more straightforward tunes (“Pillar of Salt,” “Two States Away”). Still, at no point does the band lose the vocal line in the instrumentals. This is a rock band that wants you to know what they’re saying.

The album is named after its most memorable rock track. The band starts off the tune with a dreary, dreamy, slow-paced section before snapping to attention with some rigid, sharp rhythms. The guitars and drums work together to accentuate the heavy rhythmic qualities of the song, creating a powerful tune that is more than the sum of its parts.

Styrofoam Plate Blues features some incredibly memorable tunes in two different styles. It never strays far from its singer/songwriter roots, even when rocking out; this makes for a unique, fun listening experience. Recommended for fans of emotive, vocals-centric rock’n’roll.

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

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