Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mid-April MP3s: Acoustic, pt. 1

April 14, 2016

1. “Who Are You” – The March Divide. Jared Putnam turns to formal popcraft, creating a splendid little perky acoustic pop tune. Somewhere between “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and a Shins song, this tune is a lovely surprise.

2. “I’ll Be True” – Crockett Hall. Standing in front of a big Stax Records sign, a raw, rough-throated reverie with soulful, mournful horns in the background.

3. “Low Hymnal” – Told Slant. The dark flipside of twee shows its sleepy, anxious head here. This song is somehow both tiny and expansive in how it sounds.

4. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. Like a less hyperactive version of Dan Mangan, Smith has a bouncy, chipper flair to his troubadour folk.

5. “Vanishing Shores” – Tom West. Here’s a big, Australian indie-folk singalong with gentle, marimba-esque arpeggiator below it. Hard for me to dislike anything with that description.

6. “C’Mon and Sing” – Chaperone Picks. While we’re on the topic of singalongs, here’s a song about singing along. A rootsy, bass-laden guitar strum creates the structure and most of the arrangement for this not-quite-folk-punk tune, and the results are smile-inducing and foot-tapping.

7. “Burning Bridges” – 2/3 Goat. Led by a clear, bright, strong female vocal, this alt-country tune has a killer chorus that stuck in my mind.

8. “Francesca” – Thurdy. Sometimes you need a gentle, kind ukulele instrumental in your life.

9. “Windfall” – Kalispell. The majestic folk spaciousness of Bon Iver paired with striking, disarming, immediate tenor vocals creates a unique, deeply enjoyable atmosphere. The arranging and recording engineering here are truly remarkable.

10. “Curse the Road” – Austin Miller. The easygoing shuffle of a old-school country song meets careworn vocals to create a tune reminiscent of Rocky Votolato’s early work.

11. “Rattlesnake” – Fog Lake. An appropriate band name to fit this hazy, swaying tune. There’s some angular guitar and some abstract sounds thrown in for good measure, but other than that this is grade-A strength walking-speed bedroom pop.

12. “Everything” – Cavalry. First it made me feel like the first rays of dawn coming over the horizon, then like a gem opening up to the light for the first time, then the great expanses of wide canyons and huge mountains. It’s indie-rock that uses the same instruments you would expect, but their sense of wonder and careful restraint make this an incredible track.

13. “Ruelle (feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. Starts off in beautiful piano-based minimalism, grows to dramatic post-rock grandeur, then drops off to develop again.

 

Tidelands’ Old Mill Park: Delivering Twists and Turns

May 6, 2015

tidelands

At first, I didn’t know what to make of Tidelands’ latest EP Old Mill Park because of how diverse it is. As I listened more, I discovered that  what ties the album together is the fact that every song is so distinct in its sound, making the listening experience quite the adventure.

Opener ”Old Mill Park” begins with a calming guitar intro. Gabriel Leis’ voice quickly enters and the coolness in his voice furthers the relaxing feel of the song. As the lyrics say, “drifting on, drifting on”; it’s as if your mind is drifting on to a much more peaceful place. The track has a very Shins feel to it.

“Dog Named Bart” begins with a much more classical instrumentation, primarily through the use of strings. You can begin to understand why they call themselves “Orchestral Indie Rock.” The adorable lyrics paired with the back-and-forth, male-to-female vocalization really transform this song from a potential classical ballad to a more cheerful orchestral folk song.

The aptly named “Four Strings and a Wooden Box” interlude in the middle of the album is exactly as the title states: a classically brilliant cello/violin interlude. It’s interesting that the interlude begins with more hopeful-sounding notes and transitions into more minor, dreary ones. The interlude really serves as a good transition for the collection from the two more upbeat songs to the three more complex and dark ones.

“Hole in the Ceiling” immediately follows the interlude with a distinctly flamenco feel. The use of brass instruments with the traditional flamenco guitar melodies really add this dark Latin American sound to the song, throwing a unique twist into the listening experience.

“Brown Eyes” and “Low Roller” both have a lovely mellow sound. The band uses a melodic vocal harmonization to add a calming effect, much like what Milo Greene does in their music. The use of the electric guitar paired with the sensual lyrics brings “Brown Eyes” from mellow to sultry.

Closer “Low Roller” ties the album together beautifully. The long track clearly has two parts separated by a distinct midpoint, where the song turns from more of a vocal-driven track to an instrumentally driven one. Through a repetitive beat, the song slowly revs up to the final closing section. The final set of lyrics begin with the phrase “turn the lights down ma” which gently nudges listeners into the direction that the outro moves toward. The end of Old Mill Park leaves its listeners in a calm sleep-like state through beautiful instrumentation and rest-encouraging lyrics. Tidelands’ “Old Mill Park” is definitely worth the buy.–Krisann Janowitz

Quiet Company’s Transgressor contains surprises galore

February 24, 2015

transgressor

There was a point in the mid-’00s when people knew almost exactly what you meant when you said, “We’re an indie-rock band.” With Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, The Shins, and dozens more running around, “indie rock” meant melodic rock songs with quirky affectations in one or more categories of lyrics, arrangements, song structures, and public persona (Flaming Lips were totally an indie-rock band for a minute, even though they were on a major label–whatever).

Quiet Company‘s Transgressor is an indie rock album in that fine tradition, drawing off all the influences that were impressing themselves on that wave of bands. It’s a melodic, enthusiastic, thoughtful, impressive record that creates surprises where I thought there could be no more surprises.

The first clue is lead single and opener “Seven Hells,” which is a frantic, manic tune in a major key. (Almost all the tunes here are in a major key.) The tune shows the versatility of Taylor Muse’s voice, going from smooth, friendly melodist to freaked-out rager in a span of seconds. It’s the sort of subversive moment that appeared in the mid-’00s and made you think that maybe these buttoned-up kids weren’t as okay as they looked on the cover of the album. Maybe it’s okay to not be totally okay. Maybe we should keep spinning this album for a few more aimless car rides around the city.

“Mother of a Deal” also packs personality and punch into spaces you wouldn’t expect. The casual, lackadaisical refrain of “this is how we play the game” contrasts to the passionate guitars, stomping drums and wailing organ, making another of the whiplash moments that are so cathartic and exciting. It’s that sort of giddy play with expectations that makes most of the tunes here so engaging. You might think, “Wait, didn’t we play that out in like 2009?” Well, maybe you did, but Quiet Company totally didn’t. The Shins could have written the excellent standout “The Road to Perdition,” but they didn’t, and now I’ve got plunking piano, ba-da-das, syncopated vocals, whizzing synths, stomps and handclaps trapped in my mind on loop. “I can’t get you off my mind,” indeed. If you can stop your feet from tapping in “The Road to Perdition,” then the emo revival has hit you a bit too hard, friend.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t some really sad things going on in Transgressor (“A Year in Decline,” “Wherever You Take Me”). It’s just that Quiet Company attacks difficult songs like “I Heard the Devil Say My Name” with almost pop-punk enthusiasm: blaring, wiry synths; galloping drums; big choruses; jubilant horns. There are some nuanced guitar lines, and there’s some heaviness in the lyrics, but if you left the lyrics out, you could dance gleefully to it. You can dance gleefully to basically any track on Transgressor, which is an irony inherent in the title.

The tale is about the courtship, consummation, and subsequent difficulties of marriage, and the title points out the narrator as the transgressor. But it’s still transgressive to dance at sadness and pain, no matter how many times we do it. “I’m begging you to know me / I’m begging you to figure me out / Are you brave enough to love me? / Are you smart enough to have your doubts?” Doesn’t get much rawer than that, even though that section is bookended by perky ba-da-da-da horns.

I could go on, but it would just diminish the beauty and power and excitement of Transgressor. There are alleys and paths and fields and caves to find for your own here. If you’re into mid-’00s indie-rock, late ’00s pop-punk like Relient K, or Death Cab for Cutie at any point in their career, you’ll be into Quiet Company’s impressive Transgressor.

Slim Loris / Way Yes

June 5, 2013

slimloris

Slim Loris hails from Stockholm, Sweden, but you’d never be able to tell based on their sound. They play folky Americana with Shins-esque indie-pop leanings, which should perk up the ears of any longtime reader of this blog. The best example is “Clean as a Whistle,” which blends a tambourine, banjo/acoustic guitar strum, and a Paul Simon-esque flute for an incredibly satisfying verse. The chorus kicks it up a notch, adding in a tom drum, a french horn, and perky background vocals that you will want to shout along with. It’s the sort of the song that makes me sit up and take notice.

But they’re not a one-trick pony: opener “Fear of Flying” is a jubilant indie-pop tune composed of hectic percussion, bouncy organ, steady guitar strum … and timpani. It sounds effortless, just like “Clean as a Whistle.” If you want even more than that, “I Will Forget” and “While I Breathe” are quiet tunes driven by slow, stately piano. In “Domestic,” a gorgeous female alto voice is introduced as a counterpoint to the male tenor vocals. The charm of Slim Loris is that all of these sounds cohabit Future Echoes and Past Replays without sounding disjointed or erratic. The band inhabits all of their sounds, making them sound natural.

The overall effect of Future Echoes is an impressive one: it can easily stand up beside other indie-pop albums from much more well-known bands. Not every track is a home run, but there are a ton of high-quality tracks. If you’re a fan of thoughtful indie-pop with lively arrangements but also a pensive side, I highly recommend checking out Slim Loris.

tog pebbles

Way YesTog Pebbles is the sort of thing that comes along, blows my mind, and leaves me wondering what to write about. Tog Pebbles‘s unique sound blends tribal rhythms, shimmering guitars, horns, and impressionistic vocals to create a unique sound. It’s like a more grounded Animal Collective; instead of having a mystical quality that AC has, Way Yes has a concrete feel. It’s as if I am walking through a jungle, matter-of-factly, instead of with wide-eyed wonder. Maybe I’m sneaking a few glances of wide-eyed wonder every now and then, but mostly, you know, this is a thing that happens. It’s beautiful and excellent, but it’s not necessarily out of the ordinary (at least to the members of Way Yes). To us, of course, it’s kind of mindblowing, which is why I’m breaking from my usual reviewing methods and going all Pitchfork on this review. EXTENDED METAPHORS EVERYWHERE.

I could tell you about the individual songs, but the album is so tightly written and organized that I feel it would be largely useless. Furthermore, the band doesn’t have to get away from their core sound very often (because their core sound is so unique): if I described each of the songs, it would largely be the same descriptors. But the melodies are excellent, the moods are exquisite, and the songs are wonderful. If you’re into unique sounds but hate the phrase “world music,” then Way Yes has an album that will make you jump. Totally awesome.

Dreamy Winters Mix

February 9, 2013

So our Kickstarter is going splendidly, as we’re 84% funded after less than 48 hours of being open. The rapid success thrills and humbles me, as this little project (and by extension, I) have been the recipient of much generosity over the last two days.

But even with golden days about us, there’s still work to be done! Here’s a large mix of solid singles that have floated my way recently.

Dreamy Winters Mix

1. “Make Believe” – Sleepy Tea. The ease with which Sleepy Tea pulls off nuanced confidence made me sit up and take notice. Put your radar on for this band.
2. “Fields” – Tiger Waves. Hazy, gauzy, chilled-out indie-pop reminiscent of The Shins.
3. “Lead Balloon” – Carroll. Calm, quirky tune reminiscent of Grandaddy, recent Death Cab, and even a bit of Tokyo Police Club.
4. “Spinoza” – Generationals. Seriously, what type of world are we in that Generationals isn’t adored?
5. “Glowing” – Dream Curtain. Didn’t we call this chillwave once upon a time? Whatever it’s called, I still love it.
6. “Burn It Down” – Dark Colour. For a second I felt like I was in a LCD Soundsystem track, which is about the highest compliment I can give a dance track.
7. “Mysterieux” – White Blush. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m getting seriously into downtempo, pretty music. Or maybe the world is just catching up with something I always loved.
8. “Locks and Keys” – Glyphs. Beautiful, intriguing Postal Service-esque electro-pop with a perfectly corresponding video. I can’t wait to hear more from this band.
9. “Don’t Stop” – Odesza. Got some trip-hop, Portishead-esque vibes going on in this instrumental.
10. “I Remember the World Begin to Sway” – Antennas to Heaven. Named after a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, Antennas to Heaven deliver some slow-building, post-rock beauty.
11. “I’ve Got the Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” – I Used to Be a Sparrow. The jubilation of post-rock meets the concrete vocal melodies of indie-rock in a powerful tune. Totally stoked for their new record.
12. “Peace In The Valley” – Cliff Dweller. Old-timey gospel? And beautifully, unabashedly so.

Phratry Week: State Song

July 22, 2011

Phratry‘s State Song has one of the strangest RIYLs I’ve ever seen: The Shins, Sunny Day Real Estate and Ziggy Stardust. I almost entirely disagree with The Shins reference, as there is nothing quirky, warm or bubbly about Dear Hearts & Gentle People whatsoever. Even when I sub in Death Cab for Cutie (a more appropriate RIYL), that’s still one of the weirdest lists ever.

But they are all real elements of State Song’s sound. The modus operandi of State Song’s members is to make songs that have the intensity and aesthetics of rock songs, but the drama and melodies of pop songs. The mix also skews more toward the vocal-centric engineering of pop music. The band that most closely appropriated this style was Deja Entendu-era Brand New, making that album the ultimate (if a bit esoteric) RIYL. Tunes like “4-6prn” move from from nuanced, quiet pop songs to an all-out rock attack, capped off by the mournful roar of Scot Torres.

Torres has the sort of voice I adore. His is on the high end of baritone, so he can ratchet up to a mindblowing intensity without succumbing to a whiny tone.  His comfortable range is somewhere around where most people talk, but he can command a muscly tone that borders on a scream (“Highway Machine (Loud Version)”) when he wants to make a point. But when he’s just singing comfortably, his voice sounds weary and real (“Skeleton Key”). If the voice is what makes pop music, he’s got a voice to make it happen.

The songs are brilliant as well; from the emo-rock of opener “Blank Lake” to the supremely Death Cab-esque chill of “The Concierge,” the songs are instantly enjoyable. In addition to its immediacy, it has staying power: It’s a rare album where each song reveals its own wonders, while still hanging together in a cohesive mood. “Houses” drops in some synths that create great atmosphere before the song explodes into throat-shredding, distortion-crushing angst. Then it goes back. “Dig” sounds like a tougher Bright Eyes, which is a huge compliment from over here.

Dear Hearts & Gentle People is an excellent album. Not much rock has impressed me this year, as it’s all just the same old same old.  But State Song‘s ten-song collection brings vitality to their songwriting and thus is currently sitting atop the list of “best rock in 2011.” Fans of Brand New will be all over this. Can we get the bands on tour together? Kthx.

Derek Porter has a composer's ear for atmospheric folk

April 27, 2010

There are artists in this world that cut a huge swath across their genre. They’re the Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie and Shins-type bands; their sound is so distinct that it’s hard for them to escape it, much less anyone who sounds like them. This is a shame, because as any hipster will tell you, Nirvana wasn’t the first band to sound like Nirvana. There were people before and after Nirvana who sounded just like ’em, but those before didn’t get the glory and those after glommed onto the glory without earning it or were shunted to the side as copycats.

I hope that Derek Porter can fall into the former category; it would be easy to shove him aside as a Bon Iver disciple, but that’s not a fair judgment. There are striking similarities in the folk tunes of the two men: both have a rustic sound, favor spare arrangements and feature a high, trembling vocalist. But where Bon Iver makes paeans to the cold desolation of heartbreak, Derek Porter’s Strangers, Vol. 1 is a humble and inviting exploration of memory.

It’s probably good that these tunes aren’t as wholesale despair-laden as Bon Iver’s work. I don’t know if I could take much more of that. I much prefer Porter’s lively, bluegrass-inflected “I Remember” to the atmospheric density he employs in “All I Know Will Be Forgotten.” When “I Remember” drifts off into a weary haze, it still doesn’t meander into navel-gazing depression. This is because Porter takes careful care of the moods he creates; he’s not creating standard depressing fare, but his strength is still the moods he is putting out.

“I Forgot” is a cheery, wide-eyed tune, incorporating an accordion to great effect. It doesn’t have the direct, powerful melodies that some bands make their living on, but the overall mood cultivated is just as satisfying in this and other cases. There are good melodies sprinkled throughout, but the moods are much more consistent and thereby more praiseworthy.

Derek Porter’s Strangers, Vol. 1 is a solid EP. If you’re big on atmosphere (or a film scorer), Derek Porter should jump high up in your queue. He’s got a composer’s ear and skills. The tunes aren’t as direct, clear and elegant as Avett Brothers or Low Anthem tunes, but his command of mood transforms a room. It will be interesting to see if he develops his melodic prowess in the future or whether he pours himself even more into the atmosphere work. No matter which way he goes, Strangers, Vol. 1 is a great EP to put on during a lazy day and just be with.

Said the Whale gets an A, said the reviewer

October 19, 2009

From what I’ve heard that’s come out of Canada, I have yet to be disappointed. Well, except for maybe Avril Lavigne. I’ll narrow the category: folk-influenced indie from Canada can’t seem to go wrong. And Said the Whale from Vancouver doesn’t break this reputation.

Islands Disappear is the quintet’s second full-length album, released October 14. It ranges from gorgeous, picturesque acoustic ballads to more up-tempo, danceable electric numbers, but all have a certain (Canadian?) quaintness that keeps the album cohesive. Even the harder, grittier songs still have a bounciness to them. Part of this charm can be attributed to the harmonies, sometimes inter-gender, that saturate Islands Disappear. Somehow they capture the essence of cute without crossing the line into cutesy, a fine line that’s easy to cross.

These harmonies are instantly wooing in the lovely opener “Dear Elkhorn,” a song about getting lost that is easy to get lost in. (See? I just crossed that fine line into cutesy.) Another gem is the album’s single, the high-spirited, fun, and absurdly catchy “Camilo (The Magician).”

Throughout Islands Disappear, I’m reminded of the vocal lines of The Format, the sunniness of The Shins, and the quirkiness of The Decemberists (a compliment). But Said the Whale doesn’t sound too much like any of them, incorporating their own special sound in each song. For example, the guitar sound in the electric songs is distinctly different in each. And they’ve also incorporated ukulele in several songs, a move I love for several reasons. Personally, as a very amateur ukulele player, I love to hear it being used well in good music that’s not from Hawaii. And this aside, the instrument has a lovely and unique timbre that doesn’t get taken advantage of often. Listen to Said the Whale’s “Goodnight Moon” if you don’t believe me.

Really the only downside of this album is that some of the songs can get repetitive, but this is always due to lyrics and not the music itself. In the grand scheme of Islands Disappear, this factor hardly makes a decisive impact. This album is still very much recommended for adding a youthful diversity to anyone’s music collection.

Mesmerized by Cryptacize

April 23, 2009

There are some artists who don’t do anything more than retread familiar tones and grooves, and others who go so far out of their way to “challenge your perception of music” that the product becomes distinctly unenjoyable. In between those two extremes is a territory where musicians find a happy balance between the two pursuits. That territory is where you can find Cryptacize and their new album Mythomania.

Their sound includes familiar elements of rock, alternatingof artists like Radiohead, The Shins, and Architecture in Helsinki. Mythomania has two main elements constantly at odds – the guitar and drums providing a solid foundation on which the music is based, and light, floating vocals that see male and female vocals, and the periodic use of keyboard or organ. At various times they reminded me m to be almost the exact opposite of the instrumentals. “Tail And Mane” is a fun example of this, and gave me impressions of a boardwalk or circus scene. The instrumentals and vocals are sometimes on different time signatures, melting in and out of phase with each other. On the song “What You Can’t See Is,” this technique works to great effect.

In “Blue Tears,” the guitar is a standout, providing a wicked intro. Rhythm on this song is fascinating, and indicative of the quality over the whole album. It’s driving, fun, and fresh, providing great contrast against the vocals.

One of my favorite tracks was “The Loving Sun.” Heavily distorted guitar follows a keyboard opening. It’s paired with a soft female vocal part, and makes for a great sound. It’s a short track, but I love it. Male backup vocals and some great harmonizing seal the deal for this song.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t been able to listen to this entire album. I’m working out of China, with a somewhat less-than-stellar internet connection. I’ve gone through my three allotted downloads, with each of them failing. Frankly, it’s killing me. There are five tracks at the end of the album I haven’t been able to hear, but if the others are any indication, they’re probably really cool.

With Mythomania, Cryptacize demonstrates greater musical depth and capability than your average band. If you’ve got the scratch, this is an album well worth purchasing.

The Shins-Wincing the Night Away

February 1, 2007

the-shinsBand Name: The Shins

Album Name: Wincing the Night Away

Best Element: It’s the Shins.

Genre: Indie-pop

Website: http://www.myspace.com/ilikelikeliketheackleys

Label Name: Sub Pop

Band E-mail: N/a

[url”>Wincing the Night Away, The Shins’ third full-length, follows two brilliant albums chock full of perfect indie-pop hooks and jaunty playfulness. So, why do they sound so dour now? Wincing opens up with the languid “Sleeping Lessons,” which with its prog overtones takes far too long to get going. It’s a taste of what’s to come.
While punchy hooks are still to be found (see first single “Phantom Limb”), they are often buried deeper this time around. For every “Australia” and “Sea Legs,” which hearken back to the band’s in-your-face pop songwriting, there are two more “Sailor Girls” and “Split Needles”: tracks that float along nicely enough but fail to linger after they’ve finished. The problem is not the slower tempo that permeates the record. After all, those that have followed the band know that they can be just as hooky and effective no matter what the tempo. The letdown is really in the songs themselves. It’s as if they have been blunted, dulled slightly so that when stacked against their peers, they just don’t work quite as well.
Don’t get me wrong. Wincing the Night Away is not a bad record. After all, it is The Shins, and I’d take them over many indie bands any day. More than anything, the album’s a comedown from their last release. It sounds like the work of a band in transition. Working elements of prog and stadium rock into their sound will work eventually (lead singer James Mercer’s voice suits it perfectly), but it’s not quite there yet. Once the guys figure it out, though, the next album should be crazy. B-
Key Tracks: Phantom Limb, Sea Legs, Australia

-Nick James

JamesN65@gmail.com

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

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