Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Sam Hale: Unafraid to Sing Out

February 19, 2016

samhale

Sam Hale‘s When in Roam EP opens with the triumphant title track, and that couldn’t be a better choice. Anchored by an indelible chorus melody that I hummed for several days after I first heard it, the enthusiastic acoustic-pop tune rambles and romps through its four-minute length. Hale’s clear, bright tenor is accompanied by Sara Clay’s similarly straightforward alto; the two voices intertwine beautifully. Hale matches the jaunty acoustic strum of the tune with fitting lyrics about wanderlust; the lyrics and sonic palette work together to create an overall experience. (There’s even a few “hey”s thrown in at the end for good measure.) The tune comes together to be a fun and meaningful tune, which is a rare thing.

The rest of the four-song When In Roam shows off the diversity of Hale’s songwriting skills while honing in on his vocals as the central element. “I’ll Wait” is a dramatic ballad grounded in piano that’s sold by a passionate vocal performance that has elements of Ben Folds’ tone in it. The guitar takes the lead again on “Atypical Romance,” which has a romantic narrative element that points toward Dashboard Confessional’s old work (although there’s more fingerpicking and less frantic strumming here). Hale closes out the set with a modern folk tune that incorporates elements of Rocky Votolato’s grim certainty and a full-band flair. Hale moves through these various styles with ease, and each song has its own charms to explore.

It’s Hale’s voice that ties each of these tunes together. He isn’t afraid to sing out on this EP, which gives each of the tunes a constant ability to explode into a huge vocal moment. There’s a fun uncertainty there–does he stay in his calm lower register in “Candle’s Wick”? When will he soar it on “I’ll Wait”? Even with the passionate delivery, he’s able to keep everything together, and he never loses control of his vocal performances. It’s just a fun EP to listen to. When In Roam is a strong introduction to a new voice in folk songwriting, literally and metaphorically.

Hale will officially release the EP at Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood on the 20th of this month. Check it if you’re in the area of Tinseltown.

Quick Hit: Steve Stanley and the Mercs

August 10, 2015

stevestanleyandthemercs

Steve Stanley and the MercsWhen in Roam is a pristine, idyllic, near-perfect early ’00s Christian punk-rock album with some country-punk leanings thrown in. If every new generation’s music serves a similar social purpose in helping us wind our way through the challenges of life, When in Roam is Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, But Three Do for everyone who was too young to grow up with Relient K. It’s remarkable how many of the sonic markers that Stanley checks off: pleasantly nasally vocals, yearning vocal lines, rapidfire drumming, guitars that span the distance between youthful adrenaline and earnest melodicism, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics documenting big emotions (“Ten Years Ago,” “Fear in a Handful of Dust,” “I’m a Ship,” okay pretty much every song).

When you throw in a production job that’s a spot-on re-creation of the sonic space that Relient K mined in the early ’00s, you have an album that is a deeply enjoyable nostalgic trip for late 20s pop-punk fans and (I hope) a thrilling experience for young pop-punk fans. I don’t know if people are still into FM Static, but they’re another sonic touchstone here. The first time I heard the sonic, emotional, and religious crescendo crest in closer “Death and Nostalgia,” I got shivers: with “It is Well” as the main line and a counterpoint of Stanley’s own creation layering on top of it, I could hear the brilliant songwriter emerging (just like I could with Relient K’s Matt Thiessen, all those years ago–and then we got the masterpiece mmhmm and “Deathbed”). I expect great things for Steve Stanley and the Mercs.

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

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