Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

December Singles: More Acoustic

December 11, 2016

1. “The Beginning” – Celebration Symphony Orchestra. I love the ambition of an 11-minute indie-orchestra suite, but I even more love the expertise with which it is pulled off. The piano and percussion throughout are great, and the overall arrangement doesn’t disappoint at any point in the track. Awesome.

2. “Dancer” – Sonder Saloon. The pairing of an exciting lead guitar/banjo melody with an electric chorus vocal melody make for an unusual, fantastic folk-pop song.

3. “Count On Me” – Moe Escandar. The best pop songs are ones that can be translated into different genres and still be awesome. This chipper-yet-suave acoustic-pop tune has the melodies, harmonies, rhythms and sunny vibes to be a power-pop song, an EDM song, or a punk-rock song. Instead, it’s a lovely, charming, high-quality acoustic-pop tune.

4. “Voyages” – Matt Garnese. Page France becomes a further distant memory as time goes on, but the sort of lullaby sweetness paired with an earnest exploration of religion and life that Matt Garnese conducts here is vintage Page France. For a more well-known touchstone, it’s sort of like an acoustic Weezer.

5. “Turning Leaves” – Woozles. Spartan bass guitar, low vocals, and tape hiss create a mesmerizing, hypnotic indie-pop sound. As a bassist, I love the thrumming, round sound of a solo bass guitar.

6. “Row“- Kyle Sturrock. The chorus of this folk/country tune shines like a diamond in a dusty trail. The arrangement is bright and attractive, too.

7. “Waiting in the Bliss” – Sylvette. Moves from moody to roaring and back with ease, like The National with more folk influences, Radiohead with more acoustic influences, or Muse with more ability to be restrained.

8. “Sounds Like Help” – Austin Basham. Basham is one of the rare few that could sing the phone book and it would sound deeply moving. His tenor tone is pure, his melodies are inviting, and his control over his pipes is incredible. Fans of Rocky Votolato will celebrate.

9. “17 {Demo}” – Beau Davison Turrentine. A relaxed, easygoing, expansive acoustic tune that sounds like someone musing on a front porch under a dim yellow streetlight.

10. “Holy Grail” – Zorita. Even there’s some mournful trumpets and strings floating above the guitar/vocals, this one is really all about the vocals. Carlos’ delivery of the lyrics is full of nuance and care, and his tone is the perfect mix of rough and smooth.

11. “John Lingers” – Fingers and Cream. Slowcore alt-country with big harmonies and a scuffling, trudging-through-the-desert atmosphere. For fans of Songs:Ohia and Calexico.

12. “Habanero Top Knot” – Lit AF. This is a fascinating, intriguing instrumental tune with some Indian melodic and percussive influences, some Album Leaf influences, and some unidentifiable connections that are Lit AF’s own. Adventurous listeners, take note.

13. “Spinning Tops” – Lena Natalia. The mix of engaging lead melodies counterpointed by deft left hand work help this solo piano work stand out.

14. “Destruction” – Raphaël Novarina. Some might call the tension between the rumbling low end and the arching right hand lines in this solo piano piece melodramatic, but the high drama of the piece is appealing and stays on the right side of overly emotional for me.

15. “Burning Bright” – Mike Vial. This tune flows like a gentle brook, burbling quietly with the occasional burst of energy. The smooth guitar and lithe vocals recall the best elements of James Taylor without being a knockoff.

August MP3s: Loud / Quiet / Loud

August 28, 2016

1. “New Moon” – Namesayers. The lead guitar here is angular, cranky, and brittle, contrasting against the swirling, low-key psychedelia laid down by the rest of instruments and Devin James Fry’s mystical croon. It makes for an intriguing rock that sounds like midnight in the desert with a big bonfire going. (Which is pretty much what the title and the album art convey, so this one has its imagery and soundscapes really tight in line.)

2. “O Zephyr” – Ptarmigan. It’s tough to be a serious alt-folk band without sounding over-earnest or overly ironic. Ptarmigan finds the perfect center, where it sounds like a bunch of people who love folk and have something to say are making their noise how they want. Fans of River Whyless, Fleet Foxes (often violators of the over-earnest, but nonetheless), and Barr Brothers will enjoy this.

3. “Axolotl” – Lord Buffalo. Lord Buffalo specializes in primal, pounding, apocalyptic pieces that build from small beginnings to terrifying heights. This is an A+ example of the form.

4. “A Miracle Mile” – St. Anthony and the Mystery Train. Equally apocalyptic as above, but in a more Southern Gothic, Nick Cave, howl-and-clatter style of indie-rock than the all-out-sonic assault. A wild ride.

5. “Spring” – Trevor Ransom. A tone-poem of a piece, illustrating the arrival of spring with found sounds, distant vocals, and confident piano.

6. “Not Enough” – Sunjacket. This inventive indie-rock song draws sounds and moods from all over the place, creating a distinct, unique vibe. There’s some Age of Adz weirdness, some Grizzly Bear denseness, some giant synth clouds, and more.

7. “Bushwick Girl” – CHUCK. A goofy, loving parody of NYC’s hippest hipsters in appropriately creaky, nasally, quirky indie-pop style.

8. “Ghost” – Mood Robot. Chillwave meets ODESZA-style post-dub with some pop v/c/v work for good measure. It’s a great little electro-pop tune.

9. “Da Vinci” – Jaw Gems. All the swagger, strut, stutter, and stomp of hip-hop and none of the vocals. Impressive.

10. “Disappearing Love” – Night Drifting. If the National’s high drama met the Boss’s roots rock, you’d end up with something like this charging tune with a huge conclusion.

11. “Black and White Space” – Delamere. Britpop from Manchester with a catchy vocal hook and subtle instrumentation that comes together really nicely.

12. “Plastic Flowers” – Poomse. Predictions of human doom over crunchy guitars give way to a densely-layered indie-rock track with claustrophobia-inducing horns. If you’re into Mutemath or early ’00s emo (non-twinkly variety), you’ll find some footholds here.

13. “Lake, Steel, Oil” – Basement Revolver. There’s something hypnotic about Chrisy Hurn plaintively singing her heart out as if there isn’t a howling wall of distortion raging around her.

April MP3s: 2

April 2, 2016

1. “War and Opera” – Montoya. The careful, restrained arranging that Montoya deploys in this melodic indie-pop tune gives it a maturity and dignity that separate it from other tunes. The delicate guitar and alto vocals still create thoroughly enough interest to power this intriguing song.

2. “ALIEN” – Laura and Greg. The duo has transformed from a pristine acoustic duo into a punchy, noisy indie-pop-rock outfit. It’s not exactly Sleigh Bells, but they’re heading in that direction–but Laura’s charming vocals and fun keys keep the song on this side of full-on-indie-rock assault.

3. “Call Me Out” – Jesse Alexander. A former member of Cobalt and the Hired Guns keeps the ska / indie-pop fusion tunes coming: this one has horns and organ to keep the good vibes flowing.

4. “Fire Up the Bilateral Brain and Draw” – Word to Flesh. Here’s a quirky tune that employs the keys-focused sound structures of formal pop, but has no real formal structure: the only phrase in the two minute tune is the titular mantra, surrounded by guitar noodling. It’s remarkably engaging, and then it’s over–sort of like a less manic They Might Be Giants.

5. “Rainer” – Lull. A hammering rock intro flips on its head and unveils a delicate, early ’00s emo sound. They get back to the rock, but they take their sweet time getting there and make it worth your while when they do.

6. “A Moment to Return” – Why We Run. Moody bass/drums meets The National vocals with some U2 ambient/anthemic guitars on top. The results are a surprisingly uplifting post-punk tune–post-punk generally doesn’t make me want to dance or smile, and there’s some of both to be had here.

7. “When We’re Clouds” – Slow Runner. So indie-rock used to be shorthand for “rock songs that are definitely rock but kinda don’t play by the same rules.” Slow Runner’s tune is a song of (government?) scientific experimentation on human subjects (I think?). The music itself is slightly off-kilter rock, like a louder Grandaddy, a chillaxed Flaming Lips, or something altogether different. Here’s to Slow Runner.

8. “Dance Baby” – Luxley. That rare electro-rock song which doesn’t hammer listeners over the head with massive synth blasts–instead, there’s a bit of Cobra Starship restraint in the vocal-heavy arrangement. There is a bit of punk-pop attitude in the vocals (Good Charlotte came to mind), giving this a bit of a unique flair.

9. “Maria, Mine” – Don Tigra. Former folkie Stephen Gordon has slickly and impressively reinvented himself as an indie-rocker with post-punk vibes, coming off as a cross between Interpol, Cold War Kids, and Leagues. (Full disclosure: I’ve given some professional advice to Gordon over the years.)

10. “Psychopaths and Sycophants” – Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. Bluesy, swampy roots rock with whiskey-sodden, raspy vocals and all sorts of swagger. The great backup vocal arrangement and performances put the song over the top.

11. “Polaris” – Shiners. Minimalist electro-pop usually doesn’t have enough structure and melody to keep me interested, but Shiners do a great job of creating a cohesive, immersive whole out of small parts.

Everything Else, Mid-November Version

November 20, 2015

1. “Running Away” – The Royal Foundry. It’s actually kind of astonishing that we’ve had less acoustic-pop/electro mashups than we’ve had (I see you, Magic Giant!). TRF manage to pull the best elements of both chipper-yet-thoughtful acoustic pop and fist-raising MGMT electro-pop into this really rad tune.

2. “One Less Thing” – Curtsy. I should be used to the type of distortion that makes things sound dreamy instead of grungy, but every now and then you hear something that restores your faith in an effect. This tune walks the line between hazy and energetic beautifully.

3. “Mixer” – Nap Eyes. You know that dude who shows up at your parties and he’s the friend of a guy you know, and you’ve met once, and he turns out to be awesome, and your friend never shows up, but the friend-of-a-friend is coming over next Tuesday? Nap Eyes isn’t a garage rock band on this track, but their chilled-out Cali rock is rad.

4. “Is He Gone” – The Echo Field. Giddy indie-pop that could easily pass for a first-British Invasion “rock” track.

5. “Monday Morning” – Paradise Animals. The arpeggiator synths create a post-chillwave framework for the baritone vocals to leap about in. It’s like Teen Daze paired with an alternate universe version of Matt Berninger from The National.

6. “Believer” – Paper Lions. Think of the most pleasant possible mash-up of Tokyo Police Club and Passion Pit, and you’d get this grin-inducing track. We need a better work for this specific indie-pop-rock-dance type work, ’cause it’s totally a thing.

7. “Technicolor Souls” – Flight of Ryan. Manages to combine wubby bass, chopped vocals, vocoder and high-tenor wails in an exciting way that doesn’t sound overdone. (Okay, maybe the vocoder is a bit much.) If you can’t wait for The Naked and Famous to finish up that third record…

8. LA Takedown – LA Takedown. This 44-minute album streams as one track on the linked website. It works perfectly because the electro-heavy post-rock/digital soundscape is the sort of abstract wonder that can make me stare at an empty screen quiet contently while the sounds swirl about my ears.

9. “Headlights” – Grandsister ft. Sarah Belkner. The vocals, arpeggiated bass, and percussion just all come together great on this one.

10. “TMI” – Daphne Willis. Sick of Meghan Trainor dominating all public spaces but actually love her style of music and really wish you had an alternative? Daphne Willis’s latest EP is exactly the sort of too-fun-to-be-real pop that you’ve been secretly hoping for. Seriously sasstastic.

11. “No Way” – Naives. This off-kilter electro jam sounds like M.I.A. rejected a beat made for her and to salvage it the beatmaker tried to repurpose it into an indie-electro jam, coming up with something altogether different along the way.

12. “Tokyo Megaplex” – Art Contest. I wonder if Coleman Monroe showed up at their practice space and said, “Yo, Garrett, I wrote this insane, fast guitar line that doesn’t really believe in time signatures. Think you can keep up?” If you need your mind bent by a good-natured math-rock tune today, here’s a good candidate.

13. “Flame” – Controller. So you’ve got a good fuzzed-out guitar riff, a great vocal line, and a big chorus: you, my friend, are in business.

Ava Marie and the thoughtful guitar solo

July 13, 2015

avamarie

In my academic research, I study genre–the socially-grounded understanding of categorization that individuals or groups have. (I look at it in terms of business writing, but my personal interest overflows those strict bounds.) So I’m intrigued by how people describe the music they make and how it signifies to themselves and others. Ava Marie‘s Kettle Steam lists “folk” and “folk rock” as tags, which seem to be describing a process or a community of choice more than the sound itself. (I have no problem whatsoever with this: I am no purist, nor I am the folk police.) Kettle Steam is a thought-provoking, intriguing album with a lot of angles to consider.

The six-song, 26-minute release is characterized immediately by several elements: minor keys, distorted electric guitars, hypnotic baritone vocals, and guitar solos. The sonic comparisons skew closer to the fractured tensions of MeWithoutYou and Modest Mouse than Josh Ritter or Joe Pug. Again, this doesn’t mean that this isn’t folk–it just means that the term folk here does not signify “fingerpicked acoustic guitars.”

The definition, perhaps, aligns more closely with a resistance to something else: even though “indie rock” and “alternative” have always been constructed in opposition to mainstream rock, indie rock currently is as close to a mainstream rock as we have (since the rarified pop-rock world that Nickelback and Lifehouse live in bears little resemblance to the rest of the music world at this point in time). Ava Marie is definitely not playing the same game as indie rock bands like Arctic Monkeys or Two Door Cinema Club–these are thoughtful tunes that reference specific time periods and places (WWII in the title track; Casco, Maine in “Motel Room in May”) and are more committed to lyrical beauty than sloganeering.

So one takeaway from this is that maybe folk is becoming what indie-rock used to be: a refuge from a particular type of music, a space where possibilities are opened back up. One piece of data does not a conclusion make, but the strength of the anecdote is compelling: tunes like “Kathleen Carter” and “Only Sea” combine instrumental melodies and arrangements, a refined vocal approach, and a deep sense of mood to come up with impressive sonic wholes. There’s a lot of reverb (but not too much to cloud the individual elements); space is respected and used carefully; the band knows how amp up so that a guitar solo has its full, incendiary effect. Hints of a more traditional folk past shine through in the fingerpicked moments of “Motel Room in May,” but the single-note work in “White Hides” is all wiry post-punk rock. There are tensions on both ends, as with most middle entries.

A note on the guitar solos: it’s fun to hear a band just let rip on an instrumental section, especially when pitched against thoughtful lyrics and unadorned vocals (as happens directly on “White Hides”). It’s entirely possible to construct a careful mood and then let roar against it, as bands like The Walkmen and occasionally The National have discovered. But they do it without getting gaudy or turning into a punk band: they have carefully framed their own idiom and let the lead guitar work from from and through it. The intro to “Kathleen Carter” is a perfect example of this.

This review has been a bit more oblique than my usual work, but I feel that it’s a fitting response to Kettle Steam. The work here is carefully crafted so as to be thoughtful but not ponderous, intriguing without being enigmatic, and melodic without becoming a pop-rock band. It’s an album that I wanted to return to repeatedly, to parse out the sounds and lyrics therein. It’s not something to be consumed and filed away; you can sit with this one a while. It will reward you.

June Acoustic Campfire

July 3, 2015

1. “Arizon” – La Cerca. Thoughtful, walking-speed Western music: gentle keys, reverbed clean electric guitars, thrumming bass, easygoing vocals. Sometimes the title (sic, by the way) is all you need to know.

2. “Jimmy & Bob & Jack” – Edward David Anderson. Some songs don’t need or deserve lyric videos, but this rollicking tale of three would-be criminals had me hanging on every word from Anderson’s mouth. The swampy, country instrumentation that floats the lyrics is pretty great too.

3. “Need a Break” – David Myles. I don’t get sent that many old-school, rapid-fire, talking-country tunes, but David Myles has delivered me a tune that I can’t stop tapping my foot to.

4. “Falling in Love” – Nathan Fox. Right what it says on the tin, with raspy/gritty vocals reminiscent of bluesy hollerers.

5. “Beacons” – Scott Bartenhagen. Structured, mature, serious acoustic music that made me think of Turin Brakes for the first time in a long time. Regardless of what happened to the “Quiet is the New Loud” movement, I’ll still be a fan of intense, focused acoustic singer/songwriter work.

6. “Lazy Moon” – Brave the Night. If you’ve ever (secretly or unabashedly) enjoyed an ’80s Billy Joel ballad OR were enamored with Norah Jones OR don’t think “lounge” is a bad word, this tune will tickle your fancy. Sweet trumpet, too.

7. “One More Time” – Cape Snow. Bree Scanlon’s voice sounds so composed and mature in this tune that it’s tough to not start assigning positive moral qualities to it. She guides this gentle tune through its four minutes, sounding like the direct descendants of Mojave 3 the entire time.

8. “Easy on Me” – Runner of the Woods. The premiere of this song includes songwriter Nick Beaudoing coining the term countrygaze. As this mashes up country and shoegaze (and, by my own personal extension, chillwave), I am on board with this term. I want to believe.

9. “Origins” – Jesse Payne. Excellent widescreen, engaging indie-folk calling up The National comparisons as easily as of the obvious Fleet Foxes/Grizzly Bear woodsy bands.

10. “White Queen” – Benedikt and Friends. You’ve had a hard week. You need a song that gets that, as well as helping you slip into relaxation. This tune offers tons of pathos to empathize with, as well as crisp melodies and tight engineering of the nuanced, subtle arrangement. And it’s Norwegian.

11. “RMDN” – +Aziz. Linking ancient religious practice with social media and traditional acoustic guitar with gentle beats results in a song that realizes its lyrics in its sound and vice versa. It’s an intriguing song that never lets the concept take away from being a good tune.

Bits and Bobs: Rock

May 8, 2015

Bits and Bobs: Rock

1. “Dark” – Birds of Night. Dark is the massively impressive synthesis of Springsteen’s road-readiness, Arcade Fire’s sweeping drama, and The Walkmen’s trebly guitars and keening vocals. This is an impressive rock tune.

2. “Cooler” – Sancho. Why does some Weezer-esque rock push my emotional buttons and others not? I have no idea. But I heard the guitars, the vocals, and the start-stop moment that clinches the thing in this song, and I just got all mushy inside.

3. “Warrior” – SATE. If this jet-fueled, towering-guitar rocker doesn’t get your blood moving, I don’t know what will. There’s enough soul, sass, and vocal theatrics in this track to power four or five lesser tunes.

4. “Legend” – Parlement. If the sound of summer is a big, fat Queens of the Stone Age guitar riff, Parlement has a song for you. The straightforward, stomping rhythms are about as far from that other Parliament as you can be.

5. “I’m Dying on the Square” – Break the Bans. Thrashy, hoarse-throated protest punk from a Russian national that starts out with spoken words clips (that I can only assume are political/news clips)? This is pretty much what punk is for, y’all.

6. “Modern Phenomenon” – Northern American. Big, comforting synths welded to a downtempo rock song that sounds like it’s been through the Radiohead/The National/Bloc Party school of music.

7. “Optimists” – Mittenfields. Glammy, theatrical vocals can make anything sound more glam than it is–Mittenfields is laying down the rock, though. Check that sweet guitar solo.

8. “Mirror North” – Whoop-szo. Starts out all quiet and ponderous, but it ratchets up to a brittle, abrasive post-metal roar pretty quickly. If you’re into soft/loud/soft, jump on it.

9. “Cowboy Guilt” – Torres. The clear winner of SXSW this year, Torres was unknown to me before the event and absolutely everywhere afterwards. This tune, which deftly balances a minor-key gravitas and quirky melodic capriciousness, shows why she’s the big thing in indie-rock right now.

The Weather Machine: Up, Up, and Away

April 22, 2015

weathermachinepeach

The Weather Machine‘s self-titled record was a marvel powered by inventive folk-inspired acoustic songwriting, deft lyrics, and an earnest DIY sheen. The “hyper-literate story songs and Dylan-esque prophetic jams” of their 2013 release are still present in Peach, but they’re tucked inside a new-found appreciation for Americana rock. Peach‘s focus is squarely on the sounds that The Weather Machine is able to wring from a well-rounded quintet, and this results in new charms.

But before I start detailing the changes, let me not get too carried away. Peach is still The Weather Machine’s doing. The ominous “Lilium” is right there with “Skeleton Jack” and “Alexei Mikhail.” The jaunty folk of “Some Evenings Are for Dancing” has the same wonderful tension between wry and passionate that characterized so much of their previous release. Okay, so, there’s a little more electric guitar, and it’s not “So, what exactly does it say?” (To paraphrase the genius’ refrain: “But what is?”) There’s still enough acoustic work to appease fans of that which was–and I am one of them.

So, about that electric guitar. The Weather Machine is now very firmly a rock band (among other things), because you can’t write a Springsteen-esque rock song as good as “Wannabe Cowboys” and not at least throw -rock on the end of your genre. There’s a cello* swooping its way through the track, but it’s not a folk-rock tune in the same way that The Low Anthem occasionally makes folk-rock. This is not a rocked-out folk tune: this is a rock song that has some folk instruments in it. The distinction is important for tunes like the super-fun “As Long as We Get Along,” because there’s more screamin’ guitar in that tune than you could possibly expect from a folk outfit. But it still has cello running all through it. It’s a tension–something The Weather Machine is good at.

Even though tension is their forte, they’re making steps toward integration: “Wild West Coast” and “How to Get to Roseburg” are the minor and major key exemplars, respectively, of melding the ideals and instrumentaion of folk and rock on this record. “Wild West Coast” is a low-slung tune that calls up some “The National lost in Arizona” thoughts, while “Roseburg” fuses hyperactive drums and insistent bass to a string-led hoedown stomp.

But right when you think you’ve got them figured out, the title track includes feathery arpeggiators, dreamy bossa nova vibes, and prominent acoustic fingerpicking in a track that sounds like Braids ft. Josh Ritter. (And what a track that would be.) “Breakup Song” and “MC vs. The Digital Age” are as theatrical as a good show tune should be. Things are happening on this record, y’all.

Peach is a record that expands on the template set out by their self-titled record, pushing them in all sorts of directions. Purists need not apply, but those who are interested in what else creative minds* have up their sleeves will enjoy the record immensely.

*correction: originally written as “violin.” It’s way high, though.
**correction: originally written as “the minds that set steel drums in a folk tune.” Apparently the thing that sounds like steel drums is also a cello. I’m as surprised as you are.

Mon Draggor’s double album is worth every minute

March 23, 2015

pullingstrings

Double albums are a massive endeavor in every sense of the word. They take a long time to write, record, listen to, and review. All of these things are relative: it does not take as long to write a double album as it does to listen to one, but it does take much longer than average to review a double album than it does a single one.

So Mon Draggor is probably wondering why I keep saying “soon! soon!” in relation to this review, especially since I love the album so much–it should be easy to write about something you’re really into, right? But these things take time, even (especially?) when I’m reviewing a dense, textured, complex, beautiful album such as Pushing Buttons / Pulling Strings.

Further complicating the work of this double album is that there are two different genres: Pushing Buttons is a nine-track electro-rock album reminiscent of The Naked and the Famous, Passion Pit, and Bloc Party. Pulling Strings‘s nine tracks are more organically oriented, although the electronic elements spill over into the indie-rock more than the indie rock spills over into the electro.

pushingbuttons

Take “Painted Wings,” which is most electro cut of Pushing Buttons. There’s a bit of Muse’s high-drama vocals, sweeping soundscapes made by layers of distant synths, and massively reverbed percussion booms. There’s a “whoa-oh” section. It’s a slow-jam club banger of the cosmic variety, instead of the sensual variety–it feels like outer space.

“Armageddon Baby” has many of the same elements, but with more straight-ahead EDM/trance beats and energy. Opener “Everyone Runs” fits Passion Pit stabs of synths over a wubby, pulsing bass for a tune that would make fans of the aforementioned and Imagine Dragons happy.

I know it’s not cool to invoke Imagine Dragons, but they know how to write an infectious pop song. So does Mon Draggor. The vocal melodies throughout both albums are the sort that stick in your mind. Richard Jankovich’s vocals have the high-pitched tone that can firm up into perfect pop melodies or get yelpy into ecstatic/aggrieved howls (see Bright Eyes). The ease with which the songs go through your ears and into your mind is a credit: it’s hard to write 18 songs that are all distinct enough that the listener remembers them. Sure, I can hum individual tracks like “On Your Own” because of the soaring vocals, but keeping a whole double album going is a rare skill. I don’t want to skip tracks here, and that is a rare thing in the double album.

I want to keep touting Pushing Buttons, because I could (“Secret Science”! “We Found the Limit”!)–but I have to get to Pulling Strings before I start writing a tome. (That double album problem again.) Pulling Strings is a more relaxed affair, but it’s not quite folk. It has more affinity with The National, a band that’s quiet in their own idiosyncratic way and has the ability to get loud. The best example of this is “It’s Quiet Now,” which could be lazily called folk but has a lot more moving parts that create a unique atmosphere. The trilling, keening guitar is reminiscent of The Walkmen’s work, but the thrumming bass, gentle fingerpicking and delicate piano create a unique atmosphere. It’s a standout in regard to either album.

“Recon by Candlelight” starts with a similarly spacious arrangement of fingerpicked guitar and delicate piano before expanding into a beautiful tune that grows by adding more and more parts on top of each other. (That’s an electro song structure and arrangement style peeking through.) “Curtains” starts off with looped violin notes before layering vocoder on top; the giddy experimentation and unusual juxtapositions call to mind Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz, but in a darker sonic realm. The song eventually cranks up with drums and screaming guitar; it’s a moving, beautifully arranged tune. “Love is All Around” blurs the lines between the two albums, as electronic beats and fuzzy synths live in harmony with melancholy electric guitar. The eerie “Magic Shilo” does the same. They’re all excellent.

Pushing Buttons / Pulling Strings is that rare double album that’s worth every minute. Richard Jankovich is at the top of his game, delivering an astonishing amount of thoughtful, well-arranged work in two different (but subtly related) genres. If you’re into electronic pop or indie-rock with an electronic bent, Mon Draggor will scratch both itches in grand fashion.

Top EPs of the year

January 4, 2015

Here’s my recounting of the best EPs of the year that was.

1. Drift Wood MiracleBetween Three and Four. (Review) After a triumphant emo/punk debut, DWM built on their artsy sentiment and churned out a well-textured, complex, mature follow-up EP. Heavy and light intermingle in one consistent flow of music that honestly sounds like one really long track. The songwriting instincts are already incredibly well-developed, which makes me excited for their future work.

2. Afterlife ParadeA Million Miles Away. (Review) What can I say? It’s the best pop-rock EP I’ve heard all year: it’s basically Coldplay, U2, and Imagine Dragons in a blender. Haters gonna hate. Lovers gonna love.

3. Arctic TernHopeful Heart. (Review) Romantic in both the literary and literal sense of the word, these lush, gorgeous tunes blew me away with their arrangement and production.

4. Morgan MecaskeyLover Less Wild. (Review) One of the most ambitious releases of the year, Mecaskey attempts to cram dozens of ideas into a very short space. The resulting adventure is a National-esque indie-rock base packed full of twists and turns.

5. Smoke SeasonHot Coals Cold Souls. (Review) Like Morgan Mecaskey, a whiplash bullet train ride through multiple genres. Smoke Season leans more toward the alt-rock end of things for their remarkable tunes, ending up like a folkier version of Muse.

Honorable Mention: Death and the PenguinAccidents Happen. (Review) The first rush of listening to Death and the Penguin was an adrenaline jolt the likes of which I haven’t felt in a long time. Post-hardcore of the finest order.

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

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