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2016 Singles: Acoustic

January 18, 2016

 

Acoustic

1. “A Better Life” – Supersmall. A good-natured, walking-speed tune that gives more than it asks back from you: you don’t have to listen hard to enjoy, but there are charms for those who listen deeply to the early ’00s, Parachutes/Turin Brakes-style work.

2. “May the Stars Fall at Your Door” – Andrew Adkins. We all need an encouraging blessing every now and then–Adkins provides uplifting lyrics with an equally uplifting folk arrangement (complete with harmonica). Totally great work here.

3. “Nowhere” – Swaying Wires. Tina Karkinen’s confident vocals give a levity to this serious, acoustic-led indie-pop tune.

4. “Know It All” – Bitterheart. Brash, immediate, strum-heavy, full-throated folk-pop that marries the enthusiasm of folk-punk with the good-hearted charm of a folk-pop tune. If all their work is like this, their album’s going to be a blast.

5. “One Three Nine” – Jacob Metcalf. Fluttering, ethereal folk that stays grounded basically by force of will, a la Andrew Bird.

6. “Chandelier” – Russell Howard. This gender-flipped cover of Sia’s tune creates a stark atmosphere by modifying Howard’s vocals and putting them over a delicate guitar accompaniment and subtle percussive beat.

7. “White Light Doorway” – Florist. The band has mastered the skill of keeping a song together while lead singer Emily Sprague purposefully sounds like she’s falling apart. The tension there is beautiful and weighty.

8. “While You Stand” – Michael Nau. The wide-eyed naivete of Page France is long gone, but the absurd ease with which Nau pens a lyric and fits it to a simple guitar line persists. It hits me.

9. “Habits” – Adrienne Tooley. Carrying that Lilith Fair torch: female perspective; sharp, witty lyricism; clear, uncluttered acoustic songwriting.

10. “Secrets” – Nick Zubeck. Laidback chill doesn’t get more laidback than this.

11. “Monde” – Stranded Horse. Fleet, powerful fingerpicking contrasts a laissez-faire vocal mood for a knotty, beautiful tune that feels like it fell out of a Wes Anderson movie somewhere.

12. “Black Gold” – Black Country. There are few substances so evocative as oil, with its viscous flow, vibrant sheen, wealth-making potential, and divisive opinion-making. Black Country spells out a narrative of the open spaces, where finding oil is the difference between emptiness of landscape and buzzing life–hanging the promise of oil over the head of a barren, windswept instrumental landscape.

13. “We’ll Get By” – The Singer and the Songwriter. One of the more un-Google-able bands working today drops a stately, moving tune that includes accordion and shuffling snare under a beautiful alto vocal melody.

14. “Wanderer’s Waltz” – Youth Policy. Here’s a wintry, stark tune composed of breathy, Elliott Smith-esque vocals, cascading fingerpicking, and a moody sense of melancholia.

15. “Ghost Blue” – Sparrows Gate. If I walked into a bar where Sparrows Gate was playing this moving, piano-driven ballad-esque tune, I hope it would be to work off a breakup instead of celebrate a success. “Gravitas” doesn’t sell it well enough.

16. “Goes Without Saying” – Melaena Cadiz. A relaxing, unspooling, wandering tune that just feels lovely.

17. “Kicking You Out” – Merival. Few things get me more than a raw, open-hearted acoustic tune with some room echo. Merival’s strong songwriting skills are on full display here, with nothing else added but some harmony vocals. As they say: all the feels.

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.

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.

DBG releases acoustic music with a brain on "Free Burma"

January 22, 2011

DBG has listened to a lot of music, or has re-invented a whole lot of wheels on Free Burma. Within the construct of a mellow acoustic pop album, he has kept the interest level high by dabbling in many different styles.

“Apples” has a distinctly British acoustic pop feel to it; think Parachutes-era Coldplay or Ether Song-era Turin Brakes. Its spacious, uncluttered sound leaves a lot of room for mood to creep in. The charming “Green” could have been written by any number of lovelorn upbeat acoustic popsters (Jason Mraz, Matt Nathanson, et al). Snare shuffle, banjo and organ anchor the American folk of “Goosey Fayre.” The title track feels a bit like a Cat Stevens tune, which fits its protest themes perfectly. “Wings” feels hearkens to upbeat moments of Simon and Garfunkel’s work. The vocal lines and harmonies throughout call to mind their work, and that’s a very good thing.

The lyrics aren’t all protest songs, although “Free Burma” is a solid protest tune. Much of the album’s content is a personal affair, espousing closely-held ideas on freedom, truth and religious concepts. They are well-written and rarely delivered with a didactic tone. These are DBG’s songs to share, not so much to preach from. This does produce a few saccharine moments (“Thank You”), but overall the lyrics and music are admirably meshed.

DBG’s Free Burma has some great tunes on it. Despite the many genres represented, the whole thing hangs together for a cohesive set of songs. Check it out if you like acoustic music with a brain.

Quick hits: Charles Mansfield

January 6, 2011

Charles Mansfield‘s voice is weird enough to be singular but not so strange as to be completely off-putting. At his low range he bites off his notes with definition; at the top he fades off into a yelp. It never devolves to a whine, which is good; the mellow songs on All the Way EP place most of the heavy lifting on the back of the vocals.

“World Not Enough” does flesh out the arrangement with strings and a drumset, but the song is still driven by the guitar and vocals. The title track is the best offering, as sparse piano and rattling drums create a unique vehicle for Mansfield’s voice, reminiscent of Turin Brakes. His songwriting is solid, but it’s his voice that’s the real draw here. All the Way EP is a good set of four songs to introduce himself as an artist. Fans of the Mountains Goats or unique voices in general should apply within.

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

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