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.

Mix 1: Indie-pop-folk

September 9, 2014

I had so many MP3s lined up that I’m breaking them into four mini-lists over the next few days. Cool, huh?

We Love Dashes – Indie-Pop-Folk

1. “Carry Oceans” – Montoya. Sweeping, cinematic pop that uses reverb expertly to create mood. There’s some acoustic guitars, pad synths, earnest female vocals, and more. For a first track, this is an exciting start.

2. “Those Days” – Noire. Wistful verses blossom into a joyful, twinkling chorus: it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, or someone flicking open the curtains in a gloomy room. You’ll feel your hips move to this one.

3. “2004” – Sleepwalk Parade. That line between indie-rock, alt-country, and folk-punk is a thin one at times. Great melodies and vibe going on here.

4. “On the Rocks” – The Rural Alberta Advantage. RAA has always been pushed by insistent drums, but now they’ve added some churning keys to amp up the urgency. By the end of the tune it’s very nearly a dance-rock tune (albeit one with distant, delicate piano).

5. “Livin’ & Dyin (to Dream)” – Kory Quinn. This track has the x factor that the best raw, honest, clear-eyed alt-country singer/songwriters have. Is it the vocal tone? Is it the use of space in the vocal lines? Is the production? Is it all of them?

New Grenada shows songwriting skill but covers it with distortion

February 27, 2010

New Grenada doesn’t have the same dark sound that most early nineties grunge bands had, but they do have an aesthetic in common with them: they write pop songs, then distort their guitars and play them at ear-deafening levels. The disappointing thing about Energy Shortage is that New Grenada’s non-distorted tunes far outweigh their distorted ones in quality.

Songs like “Lightning Bolt” and “Modern Communication” are pop songs that wouldn’t sound much different from the Fountains of Wayne if they just dropped out the mega distortion. All the distortion serves to do is make the songs more bland; these songs are very diverse in the songwriting ideas employed, but covering half the album in a massive wall of distortion makes half of those decisions negligible.

But the other half of the album is excellent. The slow and quiet verses/wild and frantic chorus of “Years of Decay” show what can be accomplished when the wall of distortion is used sparingly. The low-fi intro to “Pitfall” makes the rest of the song great. The totally acoustic “I Hope Not” is one of the most memorable tracks here, although it can be argued that it is only so noticeable because of its starkly different surroundings, and not because of its songwriting merit.  I would disagree, but it is an arguable point.

What’s not arguable is that “It Doesn’t Matter Now” is the strongest artistic statement here, combining a fuzzy sample with a clean electric guitar, accordion, saxophone and trip-hop drumming to create a song that sounds like the Rural Alberta Advantage on uppers (which is no small feat). It’s the track that hooked my ear and kept me listening. With songwriting skills this unique and interesting in their arsenal, it boggles me that the band would want to go cover everything by stomping on the distort pedal.

Energy Shortage is inappropriately named; there’s no shortage of energy anywhere on this album. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of their songwriting choices, they pull them off with an undeniable passion and energy – even the acoustic-based tracks.

New Grenada’s ten-song LP Energy Shortage is not my favorite release, but the band is talented and has a lot of songwriting skill. It will be interesting to see where they go with their next release, as they set up two distinct directions the band could go: off into the rockin’ future, or more toward their less-distorted songwriting selves. Only time will tell.

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

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