The album is not endangered, but it certainly hasn’t been as interesting to me as EPs this year. That’s not because people aren’t making good albums, but because people have been seriously upping their EP game. Still, there are a bunch of great albums that came out this year that rightly deserve praise.
10. Talker – Dear Blanca. Frantic alt-country with unusual instrumentation (saxophone!) and influences.
9. Third Generation Hymnal – Venna. Passionate, female-led modern folk that balances earnest performances and high-quality songwriting deftly.
8. Forty Bells – Brave Baby. This is what indie-rock sounds like in 2013: chiming guitars, pushing rhythms, yawping vocals, and a great sense of atmosphere to cap it all off.
7. Ripely Pine – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. In the best debut of the year, Aly Spaltro has crafts whole worlds in her songs. Her winding, unexpected, sensational arrangements are matched with her powerful, even shocking voice. Incredibly unique, incredibly strong.
6. Wolf Eggs – The Parmesans. Three guys in a room playing easygoing, charming bluegrass/folk. All the trapping you’d expect in bluegrass are here (harmonies, solos, riffing, goofy asides), and they bring poignant, romantic lyricism to the tunes as well.
5. The Weatherman – Gregory Alan Isakov. Gentleness that doesn’t fade away into blandness is rare, and Isakov has crafted a wonder of a quiet album here. These songs just make me smile.
3. Everything All at Once – Jonny Rodgers. Jonny Rodgers uses the ethereal tones of tuned wine glasses as the basis of his indie-pop sound, but the rest of the arrangements and Rodgers’ high, soaring voice complete the beautiful sound. I’ve not heard anything like this before. Throw in intimate, personal lyrics and you’ve got an impressive work.
2. The Beast in Its Tracks – Josh Ritter. Ritter is a master lyricist, and he turns his pen to the fine details of his divorce. But instead of weeping, he celebrates what life comes thereafter. It’s a rare look inside the life of an artist from an unusual perspective. The fact that he’s one of the best folk songwriters working today helps: the songs here are light but not insubstantial, upbeat but not flippant, and romantic without being maudlin. This is Ritter’s first must-own work since the amazing The Animal Years.
1. Chronographic – Filbert. As a reviewer, I have set expectations of genres. Filbert blew up my frameworks for folk, singer/songwriter, indie-pop, and hip-hop, which resulted in a breathless review that I still fully believe. “Modest Mouse + Jeffrey Lewis + backpack rap + Bon Iver = Filbert” is a reductive way to say it, but it’s still true. This was easily the most inventive album of the year.
Are you tired of married duos singing folk-pop? ME NEITHER. The latest guy/girl duo in my inbox is Davy and Amelia, to go along with Jenny & Tyler, The Gray Havens, Destroy Nate Allen!, Venna, The Weepies, the Civil Wars, et al. Davy and Amelia’s Norah June EP leans more toward the stomping, clapping, upbeat party-folk of The Lumineers and especially Twin Forks instead of the quiet, introspective tunes of The Weepies. They also celebrate giddy romance and young married life, which sets them apart from sadder couples.
“The Summer,” “Mountain Movers” and “Norah June” (the name of their baby!) all have rousing, celebratory arrangements; “The Summer” and “Norah June” are upbeat right from the word go, while “Mountain Movers” builds to its shouted-group-vocals conclusion. “Cause Daddy’s only 22, Momma’s 21/some people say we got married young/you are the treasure of our unbreakable love/hey!” goes the chorus of “Norah June,” which means not only are they giddily in love with each other, they’re singing songs to their baby. I think that’s absolutely adorable, but I think that might send the more cynical among us running for the exits.
The songs themselves are great, full of strong instrumental and vocal melodies. The songs are predominantly based in acoustic guitar, although “Mountain Movers” shows off their elegant, cinematic piano skills nicely. If you’re not into the genre, then these four tunes won’t be exciting to you. But if you’re a fan of pop skills applied to romantic lyrics and folky arrangements, you’ll love Davy and Amelia. I look forward to hearing more about this duo in the upcoming year. Just in case you needed proof of how cute this duo is, here’s their band photo:
This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.
The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ’em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.
Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service
So, back in February I announced that Independent Clauses is organizing a 20-band compilation album covering Give Up by The Postal Service as a 10th birthday celebration. Well, the full release of the now-21-band album is two weeks from today! To get everyone excited about this, we decided to drop a three-song single in advance. And that’s live today!
The good guys at Soundsupp.ly do monthly “drops” that include 10 really good albums for 15 bucks. This month they’re doing weekly Mini Drops of 5 albums for $10! This week’s is “Two X Chromosomes and a Microphone,” which features bands led by women. IC faves Venna and Secret Mountains are both included! Seriously, check it out. These guys are working hard to get good music out to the public at an affordable rate.
Fiery Crash, whose recent album CarbondaleI really enjoyed, has dropped a compilation album of b-sides and covers called Gable Woods. I highly recommend that fans of Elliott Smith check it out.
And, because I’m getting back into running shape for a half-marathon in November, it’s time for the RunHundred update.
The Top 10 Workout Songs For April
Collaborations reign in this month’s workout playlist. Justin Bieber lent Will.I.Am a hand on the latter’s latest. Italian super producer Alex Gaudino turned the mic over to Jordin Sparks. Lastly, Pitbull and Christina Aguilera urged folks to seize the day–while seizing, for themselves, the hook from ’80s classic “Take On Me.”
Here’s the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred–the web’s most popular workout music blog.
Alex Gaudino & Jordin Sparks – Is This Love – 129 BPM
Miranda Lambert – Mama’s Broken Heart – 112 BPM
Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks – 107 BPM
Will.I.Am & Justin Bieber – #thatPOWER – 129 BPM
Kylie Minogue – Timebomb – 128 BPM
Afrojack & Chris Brown – As Your Friend – 128 BPM
One Direction – One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks) – 163 BPM
Pitbull & Christina Aguilera – Feel This Moment – 137 BPM
It appears that I can’t get enough of guy/girl duos. Venna, Jenny and Tyler, Destroy Nate Allen!, Matt and Kim, and Mates of State are some of my favorite bands that I’ve covered here at Independent Clauses, and each fall into the aforementioned category. You can add The Gray Havens to that list, as their EP Where Eyes Don’t Go has swept me off my feet.
The duo fits somewhere between Mates of State’s piano-heavy indie-pop and Jenny and Tyler’s pop-folk. Dave and Licia Radford combine ukulele, piano and acoustic guitar to create pop songs with folk instrumentation that are near-impossible to wrest from my brain. From the perky, Weepies-esque strum and clap of “Let’s Get Married” to the orchestrated sweep of “Where It Goes” and “Music from a Garden,” The Gray Havens show their melodic talents in diverse ways. Dave Radford is the primary vocalist, and his smooth voice fits perfectly in the genre; his rhythmic and tonal flair in delivering the melodies is one of the most engaging elements of their sound. Although featured less, Licia Radford’s soprano voice is charming as well (“Let’s Get Married”).
The duo has more than just pretty melodies up their sleeves. “Silver” incorporates a horn section and accordion, which are both sure-fire ways to get me on board with your tune. While “Silver” is the most triumphantly catchy tune of the bunch (due to the horns and some great background vocals), the most unique tune is “Train Station,” which actually mocks up the sound of a train moving with guitar rhythms and percussion. But even with their arrangement skills, the simple “Let’s Get Married” is the tune that I keep humming to myself. It’s just wonderful.
If you’re into precise, upbeat indie-pop with an acoustic bent, you need to check out The Gray Havens’ Where Eyes Don’t Go. Their infectious melodies and creative songwriting touches make for a very engaging listen. Expect to hear much more from this duo in the future.
The Civil Wars left a gaping hole in the hearts of many when they split up in 2012 over differences in “ambition.” I would like to humbly submit that every Civil Wars fan missing heartfelt, passionate guy/girl folk songs should salve their wounded soul with Venna‘s Third Generation Hymnal: Heather and Marky Hladish’s gorgeous, winsome tunes shine lyrically and musically.
Heather Hladish’s vocals are in turns lilting (“Meet Me in the Hammock”) and driving (“Sweden is the Reason”), providing the engine that powers these tunes. Her most captivating turn comes in lead track “Married,” a performance that pulls off both vulnerability and quiet confidence with ease. “I am content with wanting” is a devastating line in its layers of meaning, and the aching delivery only adds depth. Her wonderful vocals are a consistent draw throughout the eight-song album.
The instrumentals are nothing to shrug at, either. With several veterans of IC’s beloved The Felix Culpa strumming the strings, it should go without saying that the arrangements here are gold. I’m especially fond of “Sweden is the Reason,” which employs driving rhythms, dense texture and bright horn arrangements that are each reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel. “Quitting Contest” offers us a huge, sweeping arrangement that is worthy of losing yourself in. “Danger – Past & Present” shows off their Americana bonafides, while “12 Shades to the Wind” appeals to fans of modern folk singer/songwriters.
The spartan strum patterns and arrangement of “12 Shades” are not the only attractive elements, as the lyrics are profoundly beautiful. Drawing off lyrics from the little-sung third verse of “Be Thou My Vision,” Hladish spins a tale of yearning: “Give me a vision/a beauty that kneels/sweet absolution/to cover these years.” The already-mentioned lyrics of “Married” are also impressive in their form and content; “Meet Me in the Hammock” is a very thoughtful piece as well. These are heavy, meaningful words that come off without being ponderous due to Hladish’s stunning voice.
The eight tunes of Third Generation Hymnal are all worth lauding. These magnificent melodic folk tunes are thoughtfully conceived and executed incredibly well. What more can you ask for in an album?
Impeccably written acoustic folk/pop led by comfortable, beautiful female vocals.
The only female-fronted band I’ve ever really been able to connect with was Sixpence None the Richer. Leigh Nash’s voice had a comforting timbre to it that made me a believer almost instantaneously. I routinely fall asleep to the band’s self-titled album, not so much because the music is entrancing (although it is), but because it’s not hard to imagine Leigh Nash’s songs being your own personal lullabies.
That is, Sixpence was the only female-fronted band I’ve been able to get into until now. With the release of Venna’s (also) self-titled debut release, Venna has implanted itself squarely in my consciousness.
In a way similar to Leigh Nash, Heather Hladish’s voice is a smooth, pure dream of a voice that floats over whatever music it’s put to. Most of the instrumentation on the EP is acoustic-based; acoustic guitars, violins and voices dominate the beautiful songwriting. Add to this pleasant backdrop the gorgeous vocals of Hladish, and you’ve got a winning combination, every time.
It’s not to say that the music isn’t interesting or inspiring; the songs are well-written, well-performed and astonishingly well-recorded. From the quick fingerpicking of “Big City Story” to the epic build-up of “Papers,” the songwriting is worth writing home about. It’s just that for every guitar melody or harmonica flourish, there’s an incredible vocal performance stealing the show. The burbling guitars on “Common Knowledge” could carry a song by themselves, but they don’t have to – they’ve got Heather to do that.
The aforementioned “Papers” is a brilliant entry on Venna’s EP – a seven minute epic that never gets heavy-handed but maintains the listener’s interest all the way through. Despite the brilliance of the song, the highlight here is easily “Meet Me in the Hammock (Bring Cigarettes)” – a song so entirely comfortable vocally and free-flowing musically that the whole thing seems effortless. Pair that with simple, heartfelt romantic lyrics of the piece, and it’s a knockout.
What I’m trying to say here is that Venna has the best of both worlds. They boast impeccably written acoustic folk/pop songwriting as well as comfortably beautiful vocals leading the way. Venna’s debut EP is a surprising and wonderful mixture of intriguing folk songwriting and gorgeous female vocals. This EP will be lulling me to sleep for many nights to come.
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.