Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: Illustrated Manual / Hemmingbirds / The Griswolds

January 3, 2013


The genius of Pedro the Lion’s songwriting was the ability to combine minimalist singer/songwriter arrangements with loud indie-rock almost seamlessly. Illustrated Manual‘s The Long and Tangled Beard splits that difference neatly as well, allowing the deeply personal subject matter to find whatever proper mood it needs. “The Invisible Line” sets the tale of a first sexual encounter against the backdrop of a fragile piano line and slowly building arrangement. “Hiding the Boy” sets another intimate story against a solo acoustic guitar backdrop; “The Time Traveler” starts with airy synths and gentle acoustic guitar before snapping to attention as a driving pop/rock piece.

All of these tunes are directed by Jonathan Cooke’s fluid, gripping vocals; Cooke had vocal cord surgery during the process of making this album, but you’d never be able to tell. His vocal melodies are strong, and his tone is impeccable. It’s the perfect fit for intimate songs like these, as it feels as if Cooke is in the room with me, having a quiet conversation about his life. This album is the sort that doesn’t leave your mind or iPod quickly: this level of execution in the lyrical, instrumental and vocal arenas doesn’t come around that often. The Long and Tangled Beard is a must-hear.


At first glance, it wouldn’t seem that HemmingbirdsThe Vines of Age is a kitchen-sink album, as “My Love, Our Time is Now” establishes a pastoral folk-pop sort of mood for the album. But by the middle of the track, it has morphed into a towering rock song complete with walloping drums. This is basically how Hemmingbirds roll: they play everything from really quiet to really loud, without regard for whether that will be jarring. One of the thrashiest tunes, “Heart Attack,” cuts off abruptly from its wailing guitar, howling vocals and whirlwind drums and drops directly into the intricate, gentle solo acoustic guitar of “Through the Night.” They’re good at both ends of their spectrum, but yikes; that’s some heavy whiplash.

Another standout is “Toxic Noise,” which exercises as much restraint as it can before exploding in a gigantic, early-Walkmen rock track. It’s like Bon Iver secretly also wanted to be Jack White, so he did both his thing and JW’s thing at the same time. Again, both sides of the spectrum are good, and the mishmash makes songs like “My Love” and “Toxic Noise” into the successes they are. Don’t expect to have a single mood throughout The Vines of Age; you’ll be disappointed. But if you want to hear some unique songs, you’re in the right place.


The Griswolds‘ four-song Heart of a Lion EP is one of the most fun releases I’ve heard in 2012. This seems like an Australian cross between The Strokes and Vampire Weekend, with the energetic cool of the first and the perky rhythms of the second thrown into a blender and set to the “fun” setting. There are infectious “oh-oh-ohs” in the title track; rumbling toms and animated bass lines mark “The Courtship of Summer Preasley”; falsetto works its way into my heart in the charming “Red Tuxedo.” There’s only ten minutes of music here, but whoa, those ten minutes. They rule. Watch out for The Griswolds in 2013.

Song jam!

September 27, 2012

1. “Walrus Meat” – The Parmesans. Nothing like a fun-lovin’ bluegrass tune whose only lyrics are the title. Bonus points for the surprise halfway through and for recording to cassette.
2. “Heard It All Before” – The Switch. This garage-rockin’ trio has audible and physical connections to The Vaccines. Check that awesome bass work.
3. “Knot in My Heart” – The Zolas. This song sounds like every hip indie-pop song I’ve ever heard, but I can’t stop listening to it. Or should that be, “so I can’t…”? RECURSIVE LOOP
4. “Heart of a Lion (Purple Sneakers Remix)” – The Griswolds. The Strokes-ian rocker gets a spaced-out, airy, dubby remix.
5. “Ready for the Weekend” – Icona Pop. Easily the most aggressive and club-oriented offering by the Swedish electro-pop duo yet. This one will enthrall some and alienate others; haven’t figured out which camp I’m in yet.
6. “Pique” – Menomena. Horns!
7. “All Is Lost In The Light” – Electrician. Gentle, contemplative, quiet songwriting reminiscent of The Eels’ down moments.

Video love

June 15, 2012

I’m going on my last summer road trip today, so here’s the video for my summer jam, Here We Go Magic’s “How Do I Know?” It includes a ton of sweet dancing, which I am totally on board with.

Cory Branan‘s grim, stark “Survivor Blues” is the exact opposite of the previous video in everything except its gripping quality. I can’t take my eyes or ears off this one. Branan’s album Mutt just came out in May.

Continuing my obsession with all musical Australians, The Griswolds’ Strokes-meets-Generationals indie-rock is plenty helter-skelter and technicolor to make you move after that downer.

The Buddies’ “All the Beer is Gone” is a song that I can hardly imagining existing without a video. Check the garage-rock goodness and see what I mean.

“All the Beer Is Gone” by The Buddies from Miku & Ryan on Vimeo.

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

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