Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Brave Baby makes a defining statement

January 28, 2013

Indie rock is not a very good term. As I have noted before, it doesn’t really delineate anything very effectively when used as a blanket term. But there is a sense in which “indie rock” means something: it’s that type of music which The Walkmen, The Arcade Fire, and Brave Baby play. I mean, how else can you explain those first two bands? And Brave Baby is in the same mold.

Brave Baby
‘s debut Forty Bells is not just good: it sets the bar for the rest of the year’s releases. With crashing, glorious tunes like “Foxes and Dogs,” “Cooper River Night,” and “Lakeside Trust,” the trio has made a huge mark on my mind to start off the year.

Lakeside Trust” is the most immediate of the tunes, as it meshes jangling electric guitar, steady acoustic guitar, impressively spry bass lines, driving drums and a horns-like synth into a tune that feels like the Arcade Fire and Fleetwood Mac got together with Springsteen to make a tune for your American convertible to blare with the top down. Special notice needs to be given to the bassist, who really makes the song with his swagger. At track four, it’s the first real sign that Brave Baby has something special going on.

Cooper River Night” incorporates some Walkmen yowl and ominous-or-is-it? guitar jangle into their sound, foregrounding the excellent vocal contributions. (I hummed this one for a while.) But it’s “Foxes and Dogs” that leaves the deepest impression. The mid-tempo tune starts off with a choir, clapping and world-weary lead vocals before exploding into a tune that gives “Lakeside Trust” a run for its money in epic scope and sprawl. The synths (or are they horns this time?) play a huge role here, pushing the tune over the top. It’s the sort of song that makes the world seem a bit brighter than it was before you were listening to the tune.

Other tunes have memorable turns as well: “Last Gold Rush” has a really nice bass and drums groove, while title track “Forty Bells” has a powerful vocal hook. “Grandad” has a lackadaisical vibe that is vaguely reminiscent of the band Grandaddy, which is a cool coincidence.

Forty Bells is a sweeping, moving album that feels like a complete statement. I review a lot of albums that are trying to get there, but Forty Bells is a fully-realized album that does what it wants to do. Love it or hate it, but this is Brave Baby. I love it, and I think a lot of other people will like this too. Do yourself a favor and meet up with “Lakeside Trust.”

Other moods

April 19, 2012

Independent Clauses started out as a general interest independent music magazine: our writers were knowledgeable in punk, metal, rap, electronic, indie-rock, singer/songwriter and more. The project has pared down to a one-man blog over time, and that one man mostly likes singer/songwriter, folk, indie-pop and upbeat indie-rock. Emphasis on the mostly, though, inspires this blog post: several albums from genres I rarely cover have caught my ear over the past few weeks.

One IC reviewer wrote about Caltrop in 2007, urging “fans of doomy, dissonant rock to experience fans of doomy, dissonant rock to experience this great little demo.” Five years later, Caltrop‘s riffing has matured from an unfocused roar to a pointed boom: the pounding riffs are combined with atmosphere to make a sum bigger than the parts. At points on Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, Caltrop sounds like a southern rock band at nine times the heaviness (“Birdsong,” “Blessed”), while at other moments the members blend melodic interludes with mega-distorted guitars to create genuinely moving music (“Zelma,” “Light Does Not Get Old,” “Perihelion”). Their one-sheet mentioned riff monsters Pontiak as an RIYL, and that’s a great comparison. (Fun fact: Pontiak was on the cover of the first of two print editions of Independent Clauses magazine.)

Greek rockers The Finger caught my ear with their first single “In a Fragment of Time,” which combines modern rock guitars, The Killers-esque synths, four-on-the-floor drums, and a slinky female voice. They held it through various singles before unleashing I Don’t Believe My Eyes. The band expresses a strong melodic control throughout the 11-song album, imbuing each of the tunes with some hook or moment that kept me coming back to it even though I haven’t listened to modern rock in years. The stuttering rhythmic bursts of “I Was So Young” segue into a straight dance-rock groove; “Too Slow” has an atmospheric groove punctuated by tight drumming that invokes ’80s new wave; “Brain Stroke” juxtaposes the smooth female vocals over a pressing track with a squalling chorus guitar line. Fans of Interpol, Paramore and The Killers will find much to love.

Tyburn Saints also have an ’80s rock vibe going on, but they mix their new wave synths with post-punk rhythms. The vocals are a baritone swoon, calling up Joy Division comparisons, which is both a strength and a weakness. But the best tune of Tyburn Saints’ You and I in Heaven EP is “Last Time I Sing for You,” a tune that filters out the rhythmic clank and some of the vocal gloom to deliver a spacious tune that calls up a calmer tune by The Walkmen. It’s the sort of tune that appears out of nowhere, hooks you, and points towards bright futures for the band. Straightforward rocker “Broken Bottles” closes the quartet of tunes, making me wonder, “When you can write optimistic guitar and vocal melodies like these, what’s with all the down-and-out sound?” The band has room to grow, but Tyburn Saints is one to watch.

Horse Thief captures a wide-open mood and runs with it

December 10, 2011

Matt Carney and I are doing a collaborative best-of list for OKSee, the blog that we each ran for half the year. It’s going to be awesome, and I’ll post a link when it happens.

Horse Thief‘s Grow Deep, Grow Wild appeared in our conversation, and Matt exhorted me to check it out. Matt shares my love of LCD Soundsystem and has rocked out to Colourmusic’s “Yes!” in a moving vehicle with me, so I trust his judgment. His judgment was in fine form when he recommended this album to me.

Grow Deep, Grow Wild is one of that rare class of albums that appropriates a specific feel as opposed to a specific genre. I suppose it’s vaguely indie-rock/alt-countryish, but what it really sounds like is the beginning of a road trip across the Midwest. The music is wide-open and spacious, and the energy bubbles just below the surface.

Opener “Colors” sets the mood with Springsteen-esque drums, foundational organ, distant background vocals, and rattling guitars in the chorus. The whole arrangement is held together by an affected, unusual vocal tone. The song comes together brilliantly, setting the rest of the album on a course that it rarely deviates from. Think or the Walkmen if they toned down the brittle guitar distortion, or Kings of Leon if the sheen of Only By the Night had a lot more country in it. I know I just repped a band with maximum cred and no cred back-to-back, but it is what it is.

The complete control of a very specific mood is the album’s strength and weakness. The call-and-response vocal delivery of “Warrior (Oklahoma)” is one of the few tracks that sticks out in the album, because the rest of the tunes feel like movements of one greater suite. The relatively small number of instruments used contributes to this sameness; I would love to see Horse Thief experiment with other sounds more extensively in the future. The one extremely memorable break from this is “Down By The River,” which busts out Walkmen-like horns to great effect. But to Horse Thief’s credit, there are no downside tracks: this is a totally enveloping atmosphere.

I’ve mentioned the Walkmen several times, and I’m going to do it again: if you’re down with Lisbon, you really should check Grow Deep, Grow Wild out. Horse Thief’s wide-open plains intensity is the Oklahoman answer to the aforementioned’s Brooklynite yowl. The album drops today, so if you’re in Oklahoma, head out to ACM@UCO and hear it, as well as the all-star supporting line-up of The Non, Deerpeople and Feathered Rabbit (all of whom are dear to my heart).

Run Dan Run releases the rare album that's great as a whole and in parts

November 16, 2011

I don’t know of many people in the United States who still listen to Turin Brakes. The band is alive and kicking in Britain, but their U.S. moment in the sun came during the early ’00s with Ether Song during the melodramatic Brit-pop wave (Coldplay, Keane, Travis, etc.). For whatever reason, they didn’t have the good fortune of sustaining and entering the American public consciousness. Still, I really enjoy their thoughtful, pensive melodrama, and consider it a fuller, folkier counterpoint to the fragility of Parachutes-era Coldplay.

I mention all that to say that Run Dan Run sounds like Turin Brakes, and that’s a compliment in my book. (That payoff probably wasn’t as good as the setup warranted.) Run Dan Run’s Normal is a solid collection of acoustic/electric tunes that works incredibly well as a whole album, in addition to its single-producing abilities.

The fullness includes horns, drums and earthy electric guitar on “Lovesick Animal,” as well as some sort of synth/keyboard on “Box-Type Love.” These songs are the catchiest of the lot, offering up hooky vocal lines and intriguing tones to assert dominance over whatever was happening in your musical brain before this (for me: Sleeping at Last). “Box-Type Love” is especially potent in this regard, as you’ll be humming the nonsensical, titular hook after all is said and done.

The lyric probably makes sense in context, but the lyrics aren’t foregrounded in the mix. This is an album about the sound of things, and a carefully constructed one at that. This detailed attention to craft is much more comparable to The Walkmen (Ed. note: two days of Walkmen references in a row!) than Mumford and Sons or even Coldplay.

Not that Coldplay doesn’t pay attention to the sound of things (they certainly did in Parachutes, and since Eno came on board, increasingly do), but the little flourishes are more easily recognizable as mattering than in other albums: The background keys in “Gestures and Patterns,” the mere presence of the instrumental “Intro,” the woozy bass tone in “Fresh Faces,” and the gently dissolving closer “In Parts.” This album belongs in the conversation alongside bands like Turin Brakes and The National: Old souls making contemplative music that gets labeled rock for lack of a better term.

There’s much more and nothing left to say about Normal. I could go on about individual tunes, but the main points have already been said: this is a beautiful album for the album’s sake that also has some great singles on it. Run Dan Run has succeeded in a rare task, and you should check it out.

Del Bel's evocative, melodic indie-rock fills holes

November 15, 2011

Broken Social Scene is gone, which means that there’s a hole in the “absurdly large, Canadian indie-rock collaborative” part of the music universe. Thankfully, Del Bel is here to take up that space, both in size and sound.

And it’s quite a collective, encompassing at least ten people (according to the Facebook page). Some of them have been in Do Make Say Think, The Happiness Project, Ohbijou and (surprise, surprise) Broken Social Scene, among other bands listed. But all this pedigree wouldn’t matter if the songs sucked. Is Del Bel’s Oneiric worth the hype?

Very yes. The members of the band draw on their extensive indie rock histories to create a diverse album of gently rolling, evocative, moving indie rock held together by a cinematic strain running through the tunes. Opener “Dusk Light” is a slow-builder that falls between The National and Portishead, but with a lilting female vocalist. “Stirring Bones” falls next, and it falls on the New Pornographers side of things, even invoking She and Him a bit. But instead of being disparate, the two seem like logical extensions of each other, both held together by legato guitar lines living just beneath the surface of the tune. Even though the first uses the subterranean guitar to press the tempo and the latter uses it to rein in the shuffling groove, the sound locks in to the listener’s mind in the same way.

It’s not the only marker that transfers across these gentle, beautiful tunes. The forlorn mood that so invokes High Violet is on display in “Beltone” and “No Reservation,” although the latter jazzes it up a bit with woodwinds and rumbling toms. The Portishead comes out in the separated beats and immense space of “This Unknown” and “Slave to the Deep.” A dash of The Walkmen’s dramatism is applied throughout, although the band never appropriates the trademark Walkmen yowl. These songs are primarily gentle, not caterwauling.

The control that Del Bel Oneiric asserts over its sound is incredibly impressive. By restraining any impulse to get frenzied, they have created a well-tuned set of songs that translate into a well-coordinated album. It’s rare that I hear an album that works on an individual song (local) level and a whole-album (global) level, but Oneiric does. Highly recommended for fans of melodic, artistic, evocative music.

Battle Ave. creates an indie-rock maelstrom

September 4, 2011

It’s very telling that Kevin McMahon produced Battle Ave.‘s War Paint, as McMahon had a hand in both Titus Andronicus releases, work by The Walkmen and Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight. Each of these bands feature an extremely emotional singer going nuts in an atypical musical setting, and War Paint is not outside McMahon’s oeuvre in that regard.

Battle Ave’s unhinged frontman is Jesse Alexander, whose anguished voice ranges from indignant slurring to full-on roar. It’s highly reminescent of Patrick Stickles’ voice (Titus Andronicus). But instead of couching it in a workingman’s punk ethos, Battle Ave. sets Alexander in the midst of an indie-rock maelstrom.

The band can get just as furious and frantic as TA (“Whose Hands Are These?”, every other song on the album), but the bands start at different ends of the spectrum. Andronicus’ pathos comes after a calming down of rage, while Battle Ave ratchets up to a cacophony.

Battle Ave. strangely calls to mind the band that Patrick Stickles least likes to be compared to: Bright Eyes. Those who love the catharsis of “Road to Joy” and the conviction of tunes like “Train Underwater” and “Another Traveling Song” will find emotional analogues here, especially in the gorgeous, horn-filled “Complications w/The Home (Hernia)”. Most of BA’s tunes blow up past the heavy end of “Road to Joy” at their apex, but you’ll feel a similar emotional connection.

In stark contrast to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, however, the songs sprawl all over the place. Their length and seeming formlessness (exactly zero choruses) call to mind Braids’ Native Speaker, although these guitars definitely go to 11 (“Puke Lust”). Because of that, it’s a tough album to grab onto. It’s not designed to be catchy, nor is it organized in easily digestible bits. This is art. The band is saying something, and if that’s not your thing, then this isn’t your thing.

Thanks to the vocal delivery, however, it’s difficult to make out what the point is. Track titles, album art and snatches of lyrics here and there make out the beginnings of a picture, but this (like The Monitor) is an album to which listeners should dedicate time. That’s an incredible artistic risk in this day and age, but I believe music is worth that, so time it will get (from me, at least).

I realize that I’ve spent less time describing songs and sounds than I usually do. I can explain that “Complications w/Traveling” is a noise-laden dream dirge, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Battle Ave.’s compositions are pretty unique, so I don’t want to waste time explaining every detail. I do, however, want to convince the people who might listen to it that they should – and the import of the album is the best way to discuss that.

The album really does have weight. The guitar tones and styles lend the album a cohesive feel, even when the band incorporates carnivalesque rhythms (as in the standout, 10-minute “”K. Divorce” (For Mildred)”). This was painstakingly written, crafted and ordered, and as a result War Paint is one of the most interesting indie-rock albums I’ve heard all year. If you’re into noisy indie-rock as art, then you should do yourself a favor and pick up Battle Ave.’s latest – you’ll find many moments of bliss.

Download the whole thing for free here.

Happy First Day of ACL!

October 2, 2009

As a significant portion of the staff is at Austin City Limits, with the most of our other members pining to be there, a list is in order.

Bands Stephen Carradini is Most Excited to See at ACL

5. Daniel Johnston. I am not so much interested in his music as I am in actually witnessing him. Read my post here for more details. In fact, reading that essay again, I really recommend you do read it.

4. The Low Anthem. I really, really can’t wait to hear “Charlie Darwin” live. It’s a heart-breakingly beautiful song. The fact that the Low Anthem will be the first band I see at ACL makes it all the more desirable.

3. K’Naan. I have never been to a rap show where I actually knew the material. This, paired with the fact that K’Naan seems effortlessly effervescent, should prove to make an out-of-this-world show.

2. Bon Iver. The only folk artist who has intrigued and excited me more in the past year is Joe Pug. And I listen to lots of folk. I hope there’s a full band, because “For Emma” without the trumpets would make me sad, and defeat some of the joy of that song. Maybe he can jack the brass section from Los Amigos Invisibles.?

1. The Avett Brothers. This is more of a pilgrimage than a dedication to their music. “Ballad of Love and Hate” and “Murder in the City” (neither of which will get played, I think) are two of my most favorite songs in the world, and because there’s a slim glimmer of a chance that one or both may be played, I’m hustling on over for the entirety of their set. Also, I hear they rip it up live, which will be fun.

Honorable Mentions: Flogging Molly, Andrew Bird, The Walkmen.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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