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Late November Singles 1: Acoustic!

November 22, 2016

1. “Home Away” – Valley Shine. This song excellently combines two things I love: enthusiastic folk-pop and Graceland-style African music influences. It’s the sort of jubilant yet suave work that transcends genre barriers and should be appreciated by people across the pop music spectrum. Just a fantastic song.

2. “Brother” – Jack the Fox. Doesn’t need more than an acoustic guitar, some warm pad synths and an arresting voice to totally take over a room. It’s quality on par with Josh Ritter and Fleet Foxes, but doesn’t sound like either artist.

3. “One Day I’ll Be Your Ears” – Mateo Katsu. Ramshackle, enthusiastic, chunky, herky-jerky acoustic indie-pop from the school of Daniel Johnston and Page France. It’s the sort of charmingly off-kilter work that lo-fi was meant to celebrate.

4. “Lil to Late” – Brother Paul. Here’s a fun, easygoing acoustic blues shuffle with hints of rockabilly, vintage country and self-deprecating humor sprinkled throughout. It’s topped off with just the right amount of Motown soul-style horns.

5. “The Time It Takes” – The Show Ponies. This Americana outfit sounds like a Joe Walsh moonlighting as the leader of a Nashville country outfit: saloon-style piano, radio-rock ramblin’ vibe, and male/female duet vocals straight off your local country radio. It’s not usually what I’m into, but it hooked me and kept me.

6. “Return to the Scene” – Aaron Atkins. Weary yet sturdy, this alt-country/folk tune ambles along on the strength of great rumbling bass lines and a convincingly-achy vocal performance.

7. “Phoenix Fire” – Simon Alexander. From the Josh Garrels/Hozier school of intense singers comes this thoughtful, mature pop song with a great chorus.

8. “Melody, I” – Pluto and Charon. A warm, intimate acoustic performance that retains the fret squeaks and string buzz. It’s more rough in its fidelity than Damien Jurado ever was, but it has a similar sort of vibe in the dignified vocals.

9. “Waterski to Texas” – Budo and Kris Orlowski. Now this one really does sound like Damien Jurado, but the latter-day Jurado. Budo and Orlowski walk a fine line between big, sweeping arrangements of singer/songwriter work and a very personal, even raw, emotive quality. The vocals here are particularly fine.

10. “Gold Ring” – Redvers Bailey. This one’s a lovely, romantic, gently layered song that floats somewhere between Josh Radin’s delicate work and the wide-eyed wonder of “Casimir Pulaski Day”-style Sufjan Stevens.

11. “High Rolling” – Jake Aaron. This acoustic instrumental manages to be complex and inviting at the same time, subverting expectations by not just jumping to the highest treble notes for the lead melody. By keeping the melody low and close to the fingerpicked foundation of the piece, the tune feels both comfortable and complicated. It’s very worth your time, even for those who aren’t generally into acoustic instrumentals.

32 Songs I Loved in 2015 (In no particular order)

January 1, 2016

Here’s a non-comprehensive, unordered list of 32 tunes that I just really loved in 2015. They approximately go from fast and loud to quiet. Happy 2016, y’all.

Let’s Go Jump Into the Fire” – Devin James Fry and the Namesayers
Glass Heart” – Magic Giant
Seven Hells” – Quiet Company
Shiny Destination” – The Rutabega
The Fringe” – Sego
In the Woods” – Bobby’s Oar
Run with Me” – Heather LaRose
Don’t Go Quietly” – Light Music
Marina and I”  – The Gorgeous Chans
Bad Blood” – Fred Thomas
Golden Coast” – Billy Shaddox
Flare Gun” – In Tall Buildings
All This Wandering Around” – Ivan and Alyosha
See You Soon” – Valley Shine
Through the Night and Back Again” – Michael Malarkey
By the Canal” – Elephant Micah
Everglow” – Jared Foldy
Father’s Day” – Butch Walker
Muscle Memory” – Laura and Greg
Odell” – Lowland Hum
Waking Up Again” – Emily Hearn
Pilot Light” – The Local Strangers
Death Came Knocking” – B. Snipes
Hold On” – We are the West
Money in the Evenings” – Hermit’s Victory
California Song” – Patrick James
Winter is for Kierkegaard” – Tyler Lyle
Paperback Books” – The Pollies
Closet” – John Vournakis
Ein Berliner” – Jacob Metcalf
Spring” – Sam Burchfield
Vacation” – Florist

Premiere: Valley Shine’s “See You Soon” from LOCA EP

October 27, 2015

valleyshineloca

Some tunes are slow burners, and others smack you in the face with their immediacy. Valley Shine‘s “See You Soon” is the latter: the verse melody is so infectious, carefully delivered, and beautifully arranged that it gave me goosebumps on first listen.

The band marries delicate folk-pop with joyous indie-pop with such skill that it seems obvious, which is the first sign that there are a lot of non-obvious things going on. Digging into the song reveals sonic and structural complexity, from the many melodic lines the vocals deliver to the delicate balance of intimacy vs. oversharing in the lyrics (they fall on the former side, of course). The overall effect of the tune is remarkable: it’s the sort of thing that you want to play for everyone you know; that soundtracks the joyful conclusion of indie movies; that rolls your windows down almost of its own accord. It’s a powerful tune, but it’s also not trying to hard to be that. These are the sort of songs that I started this blog to cover: songs I can’t stop thinking about. Cheers, Valley Shine.

The tune comes off their upcoming Loca EP, which is just as gush-worthy as “See You Soon.” “To the Sea” presents a different side of Valley Shine’s sound: one that does reach for the epic sweep. The broad, wide-open sound evokes big emotions but stays grounded (through great banjo use!) in it all. It’s reminiscent of the Oh Hellos or Jenny and Tyler’s work. The delicate “If I Was a Bird” strips out the indie-pop affectation and reveals the oh-so-satisfying shuffle-snare country/folk roots of their sound (they even throw in some Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”-esque booms, to prove bonafides).

Jenna Blake leads the song, with Sam Sobelman providing the harmonies. The two switch off throughout the EP, with Sobelman taking the reins for the Beatles-esque opener “Sugar Dream” and “See You Soon” and Blake taking the darker “Don’t Let It Slip Away.” “To the Sea,” naturally, has both of their vocals together in a choir-esque arrangement. It’s like if Fleet Foxes got really, really stoked about something, or maybe if they met the Polyphonic Spree.

I can’t talk about Loca without returning to the term “immediate.” Everything about the five songs here just jumps off the page and demands your attention. They have diverse arrangments, generic range, varied vocalists, and impeccable melodicism. Valley Shine sounds like a band that has been around a lot longer than it has: they’ve created the sorts of songs that can hold up for a long time. This should be the start of something big for Valley Shine. Highly recommended.

LOCA drops Nov. 3 on iTunes. If you’re in Southern California, you should check out their EP release Nov 7 at Hotel Café in Los Angeles.

Summer!

July 22, 2015

Summer! (Mid-month MP3s)

1. “Marina and I” – The Gorgeous Chans. The syncopated guitars, perky horns, and enthusiastic attack of this track took all of 1 second to steal my Vampire Weekend-loving heart.

2. “The Fringe” – Sego. If you miss James Murphy slurring into a microphone over rubbery bass and insistent dance grooves, Sego is LCD Soundsystem’s musical, lyrical, and spiritual successor. “You Wanted a Hit,” indeed.

3. “Even Fireworks” – Pushing Static. This electro-pop/dance-rock fiesta makes me want to crank the volume knob way up.

4. “Island” – Hey Anna. If Braids drank a Red Bull and went to a beach party, they might come up with this fragile-yet-peppy indie-rock track.

5. “Inside Your Heart” – Hectorina. Their previous work is chaotic, fractured, ecstatic, and mind-bending; this track sands down some of the eccentric flair and reveals the ecstatic rock band at their core. (The fact that their beating heart sounds like Prince is perfect.) Everybody clap your hands.

6. “That Kind of Girl” – All Dogs. The sort of melodies that I’d expect from a emo-focused band fused in to a huge punk-rock/pop-punk/power-pop stomper. It just works perfectly.

7. “Sleep Talk” – Diet Cig. The idiosyncratic indie-pop quirkiness of the Juno soundtrack + confessional pop-punk + female vocals + intimate lyrics = excellent track.

8. “Island Kids” – Holy ’57. Sometimes a chorus just works so perfectly that it feels like I’ve know it forever. The perky tropical indie-pop builds through the verse to a speak-sung chorus that just knocks it out of the park. Re: your summer parties.

9. “’82” – Death in the Afternoon. This electronic cut is a lot more breathy, chill, and smooth than I thought death would be.

10. “Good” – Ehmandah. This, right here, is a modern day (some might even say musically progressive) gospel tune. Get in on this infectious, irresistible vibe. Everybody clap your hands.

11. “Sugar Dream” – Valley Shine. The band’s press photos capture them lying on a bed of brightly-colored candy and showered with an absurd amount of confetti. These are excellent visual representations of their Beatles-on-a-sugar-high sound.

12. “Reach Out” – The Bone Chimes. The arrangement of this orchestral-folk-rock tune is clean, bright, and carefully organized: the band builds anticipation from the first reverbed guitar note to a big conclusion.

13. “Sensual People” – Lylas. If hypnotic groove is one of the things you seek in an indie-rock tune, Lylas’ dense textures, ostinato rhythms, and slowly-unfolding song development will catch your ear.

14, “Up of Stairs” – James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg. Watching two talented athletes go against each other can excite, but only rarely does that interaction produce beauty. It’s much more likely when two talented musicians play off each other, which is the basic premise of this track: two incredibly talented acoustic guitar players push each other and come up with relaxing, impressive acoustic gold.

15. “Repeat” – Sye Elaine Spence. An unconventional acoustic strumming pattern and a strong focus on Spence’s enveloping voice create an immersive, unique experience.

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

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