Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Top 20 albums of the year: 20-11

December 31, 2012

Independent Clauses is somewhat of an alternate universe when it comes to music reviewing. I rarely cover the hip bands, often love things no one else does, and generally attempt to be true to what I hear. If there’s a radar to be on or under, we’re hanging out on a different screen altogether. This is more by happenstance than choice: I never set out to be contrarian. And I don’t feel like a curmudgeonly naysayer of popular music, as you’ll see tomorrow. I just have a different lens than many people. Here’s the view from that lens.

20. Summer of Sam – A-Okay. Lo-fi acoustic goodness that rings honest and true.

19. Ithica – St. Anselm’s Choir. I’m consistently amazed at this band’s ability to wring heartbreaking beauty out of what is basically industrial music.

18. Chris North – Lovedream. Angelic reverie comes via a bunch of guitar pedals, acoustic guitars and arresting vocals.

17. Andrea Caccese’s collected output: Songs for the Sleepwalkers’ Our Rehearsed Spontaneous Reactions and I Used to Be a Sparrow’s Luke. One man’s vision, applied to an ambient project and a indie-rock project that countered the ambience with an anthemic, U2-esque bent.

16. Elijah Wyman/Jason Rozen’s collective output: Tiny Mtns/The Seer Group/Decent Lovers. What started out as the artsy electro-pop project Tiny Mtns split into a heavily artsy electro project (The Seer Group) and a heavily artsy pop project (Decent Lovers), with the two splitting the tracks between them. Except when both kept a track and reworked it to their likings. Did I mention that this one time, one of these guys gave the other a kidney? Now you see why they get one mention.

15. Superstar Runner – Heritage/Lineage/Hand-Me Downs/Scars (Your Birthmarks Do Not Bother Me). Songwriters that forge their own path get remembered by someone. The size of that group determines their popularity, and I hope that this incredibly titled record has gotten Superstar Runner remembered by a lot more people for his unusual arrangements and song structures.

14. 4H Royalty – Where UFOs Go To Die. Hands down, the best lyrics of the year are here in this country/rock album.

13. Autumn Owls – Between Buildings, Toward the Sea. Radiohead? Is that you? No? Hey, whoa, I meant it as a compliment! But seriously, this band is thoughtful in composition and lyric, for a head-spinning, enveloping release.

12. The Parmesans – Uncle Dad’s Cabin EP. One of my favorite new bands of the year, this bluegrass outfit has serious chops to go along with its goofy demeanor.

11. Young Readers – Family Trees EP. I haven’t been floored as hard by an opening track all year as I was by “All I Have.” Beautiful whisper-folk in the vein of old-school Iron and Wine.

The Parmesans' porch-pickin' bluegrass transcends regionalism

August 26, 2012

I love complicated, in-depth, hugely orchestrated albums. (See here and here.) But I also love the simple purity of a bunch of guys in a room with instruments, singin’ and playin’. The ParmesansUncle Dad’s Cabin EP is the latter.

Since the Internet, regionalism is much less of a thing–which is why I’m comfortable telling you that The Parmesans are from San Francisco and play thoroughly credible bluegrass.The guitar/banjo/mandolin/bass/group vocals set-up is employed to great effect. They kick the short set off with “Blooming Rose,” which is pretty much a marker to establish their bluegrass bona fides. It’s got everything you need to know about their technical skill. Then it gets interesting, as highlights “The Riddle Song” and “Brahms Was a Satanist” (!) come next. The first has a jaunty mood, memorable melodies and harmonies, and a great feel. The second features the guitarist, and picks up the question of what, exactly, Johannes Brahms believed. Their, uh, unusual take on the idea is presented in a pretty hilarious way.

Two more solid tunes follow, and they cement the aesthetic and my enjoyment of it. If you’re into porch-pickin’ bluegrass, you should definitely check this out. Although I’m not sure how many porches exist in cramped San Francisco; whatever. The spirit stays the same: I mean, they have a song on their tumblr called “Heinous Pit of Death.” Yes.

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

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