Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Sinatras

September 21, 2019

Lisa has been holding down the fort on reviews lately, as I’ve been hammered with work in my day job. In lieu of new music, I have a few posts that I’ve been sitting on that are unlike most IC posts. Now would be a good time to unleash them, though! I’m clearly not getting anything else done. This below list of fictional artists started as a joke between several friends and I, thinking about all the ways that names of bands can often tell you what genre they belong in. So, without further adieu: all the Sinatras.

Blank Sinatra – Puddle of Mudd mentored them
Clank Sinatra – on tour with Nine Inch Nails
Crank Sinatra – dubstep 4 life
Dank Sinatra – acoustic guitar, cajon, and stand-up bass
Drank Sinatra – Trying to get Lil Jon to listen to his mixtape
Frank Sinatra – actually Frank Sinatra
Flank Sinatra – actually a livestreaming video game player
Gank Sinatra – goofy, nerdy indie pop
Hank Sinatra – Nashville’s finest
Jank Sinatra – Biggest influence: Weezer
Lank Sinatra – Tall, skinny, and very into Death Cab
Manx Sinatra – Female rapper?
Planck Sinatra – Science-obsessed minimalist techno
Prank Sinatra – on tour with They Might Be Giants
Qank Sinatra – Sun Ra-style wild instrumental space stuff
Rank Sinatra – Weird, spooky solo art rock act
Sank Sinatra – R&B bangerz
Shank Sinatra – golfcore
Stank Sinatra – also on tour with TMBG
Skank Sinatra – the inevitable ska band
Spank Sinatra – spiky hair early ‘00s pop-punk
Tank Sinatra – easily the most metal name on this list
Thank Sinatra – twee tunes on an ukulele
Wank Sinatra – provocateur Prince knockoff
Yank Sinatra – trying to be part of Daddy Yankee’s posse

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The Wood Brothers invite fans into musical history with Live At The Fillmore

September 19, 2019

1805 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, better known as The Fillmore, first opened in 1912. A part of rock and roll history, the venue is the perfect place for The Wood Brothers‘ new album Live at The Fillmore via Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers. 

For the most part, I am not a fan of live albums. I am often unsatisfied. The Wood Brothers took on the responsibility of capturing an authentic musical experience from a room where Hendrix, Joplin, and Muddy Waters left their vibe in the air–a daunting task. Yet the way these fourteen genre-defying tracks sound, maybe there were some angels at the soundboard. 

What makes this a must-have live album? There is something pure here in songs like “Chocolate On My Tongue” that feels like being there. Honest and real, like life can’t be better than this moment. With a simple guitar and a reverent audience, being part of this transformative moment brings a tear to my eyes, reminding me there are a million reasons to live. That feeling is why I love live music, period. “Sparkling Wine” shines, catching the ghost of Jerry Garcia in the room. I’m no Deadhead, but this cut is alive with something otherworldly. Bassist Chris Woods shines here. 

The other thing that makes a good live album? Well, The Wood Brothers have never been better. Out of fourteen songs, some definite stars stand out. Cris Wood’s fuzzed-up bass licks in “Snake Eyes” drive the tempo, wrapped in Oliver Wood’s excellent guitar runs. A masterclass in ramping up the tempo, each chorus roars with gang vocals into a crash. “Keep Me Around” pulls in a feel-good stroll and displays stunning songwriting. Pure and simple, the pacing is sweet. (Shout-out to drummer/keyboardist Jano Rix on sitar!) In contrast, “Raindrop” oozes with imagery and metaphor over a dirty bass grind. 

There is a new sadness to “River Takes The Town” in the aftermath of Dorian’s devastation. Always poignant, this now takes on a whole new meaning. The Wood Brothers brilliantly follow up with the snarky strut “Glad,” whose fuzzed-out guitars seem to ooze sarcasm. Further rejoicing in the gift of breath, this celebration fits with a roar of the crowd. Rix performing both drums and keyboards makes a new cacophony, translating his work from the studio onto the stage. Pleasingly, this album is fourteen tracks rich with musicality, not filled with incessant jams. The Wood Brothers are having fun sharing their joy with those of us that couldn’t be there, isn’t that what I am hearing? 

“Happiness Jones/Express Yourself” is the one jam, easing on towards the end of the record and the show. Really, the gift of The Wood Brothers Live at The Fillmore adds to rock and roll history as one of my all-time favorite live albums ever. –Lisa Whealy

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The New Mastersounds transform beautifully and soulfully

September 17, 2019

Transformation–that metamorphosis, shaking off one form in order to be reborn–can be a tricky thing. Embracing profound change, The New Mastersounds leave twenty years of instrumental funk behind with the release of Shake It on Color Rad.

Born of the UK club scene, the band’s core is built on a bedrock of the Gibson-guitar-slinging singer Eddie Roberts’ jazz-funk groove, Simon Allen’s deadly serious acoustic drums, and Pete Shand’s beautifully meshing bass. Seasoned Leeds piano/organ player Joe Tatton rounds out the sound. Longtime contributor Mike Olmos on trumpet welcomes Jason Mingledorff (toured with St. Paul and The Broken Bones) on flute and sax into the fold as a guest.

Denver’s Color Red Studios, producer Eddie Roberts, tracking engineers Mike Tallman and Dan Cohn, mastering engineer Doug Krebs and vinyl mastering engineer Carl Saff (which I cannot speak to yet) represent the team behind this sonically impeccable release. Listeners can hear the space between the vibrations of Shand’s bass licks and the jazz-driven riffs Roberts famously throws down, all amidst horns and Allen’s steady drum beat. Each instrument resonates in an extraordinary way. This is mind blowing technical work!

This record introduces guest vocalist Lamar Williams, Jr., the son of late Allman Brothers bassist Lamar Williams. I could guess he grew up immersed in music. Shake It is a soul joyride back to a 60s R&B groove that surged through the charts. Adding Williams, Jr., with his vocal vibe reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield, shapes the sound of most of the album’s eleven tracks. From the downbeat of “Shake It,” long-time fans of New Mastersounds fans will feel the party has changed. And changed for the better, as Williams, Jr. elevates the band’s sound by adding another dimension to a band already known for its funked-up jazz groove. Williams, Jr. delivers, carrying the band’s metamorphosis into the best of R&B whiplashed through basic elements of The New Mastersounds.

Shifting to a soul vibe on “Let’s Go Back,” organ and bass dance to a dirty groove James Brown would be proud of. Even though it’s a departure from the sound the band is known for, this is just plain cool. This one’s a classic, the signature cut of the release. Truly a throwback, Robert’s guitar reverb struts with Olmos and Tatton, all while Allen’s soft steady beat keeps time. It feels like 1967, with great soul coming from Custom Records. The essence of that genius has been captured and recreated here.

“Love They Deserve” captures the funky dance groove. Getting into the meat of the record, “Taking Me Down” feels crazed, reflecting the blistering guitar-driven tempo. Jazz-driven high anxiety is incredible. The cut includes guest Jeff Franca on percussion, helping set the pace.

Transitioning The New Mastersounds’ identity effectively needed a strategy, since certainly some longtime fans would be angered at the abandonment of the purely instrumental jazz-funk fusion. That said, “Too Late To Worry” is perfection. Highlighting Jason Mingledorff’s flute as an easy transition to Williams, Jr. smooth vocals, this track seems to be a warm embrace, appeasing conflict and channeling an essence of Marvin Gaye. Shand lays down a masterclass in bass, subtly driving the frame of the composition for all other instrumentation to hang their notes on. Less funk and more jazz/soul, this is among the best cuts of the record in its pure musicality.

“Layin Low” is a pure instrumental for New Mastersounds purists. The best of what has given the band its longevity is here, but it’s a quick hit into the massively uptempo “Live Your Life Free” and its crazy Joe Tatton keyboard runs. “Permission to Land” features Franca again on percussion adding to Simon Allen’s steady backline.

Going forward, The New Mastersounds are strolling easy in a new direction. They’re musically not settling on being just a great jazz-funk-infused instrumental powerhouse. The addition of guest Lamar Williams, Jr. connects rock and roll blood, creating soul that resonates for new generations. Wow! –Lisa Whealy

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Jacob Faurholt’s lyrical craftsmanship shines

September 12, 2019

Even though Denmark’s Jacob Faurholt is prolific via his solo project and his more eclectic experimental project Crystal Shipsss, not enough noise has been made about his skill as a songwriter. Released through Faurholt’s label Raw Onion Records, Shake Off The Fear is folk rock for the truly imaginative human. Fear is this album’s thematic compass, as the nine songs reveal a man who has lived, loves, and has grieved the loss of life. 

The record features a variety of sounds and references coming together effectively. Faurholt’s vocal phrasing and tone mirrors superstar Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones on “Stargazing”–it’s a little freaky. Nadia Sharpe Faurholt blends sweetly on the duet “Hide From The Dark.” In its authentic love, an essence of Jason Molina’s Songs:Ohia oozes through. Shifting gears, “Super Sorry” pulls in the talents of Rasmus Fink on drums and Anders Ahle on bass into this well paced tune. Fleshed out completely with Victor Kim’s electric guitar, this is a 1960’s rock and roll flashback masterfully executed. 

“The Burning Ship” features Jacob Faurholt’s banjo-driven emotion, stopping time for a moment in remembrance of a 1990 Scandanavian ferry disaster that claimed the life of his childhood friend. Authentic, hollow, with painfully stark and perfectly executed production choices by Victor Kim, this track shows how important restraint can be. Each purposeful note is steeped in anxiety, as the ghosts of troubadours like Tom Waits sway. Those solid production choices combined with Andy Magoffin’s strong mixing and mastering make this album is fantastic technical work. 

Halfway through Shake Off The Fear, standout cut “The Dark Isn’t Right” reverberates like a cinematic crash of expansive concepts set to a musical waltz. Ahle on piano and slide guitar joins Faurholt’s acoustic guitar with plaintive vocals reminiscent of the great Neil Young, creating a vibe Conor Oberst would appreciate. Hauntingly breathtaking lyrics pack a moody compositional punch. Understated, expressive genius reminds us all we are all afraid of the dark sometimes. The album’s cover art with William Kudahl’s Mars-scape layout containing a solitary guitarist pushes at Faurholt’s status as a father, partner, and leader.

Turning toward the end of a journey of self-discovery, “Dark Moons” hits quickly. In a little more than two minutes, the mood has changed. An ethereal harmony swings into the final tracks and “Satellite” is a love song whose orbit resonates. Skilled at his craft, Faurholt’s quirky imagery is sometimes reminiscent of Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. So what is binding the man together, serving as connective tissue allowing him to “Shake Off The Fear”? The joy of records like this is that there are an infinite number of answers, all meaningful and true. 

“Rainbow in the Sky” brings a forty-year-old songwriter’s evolution full circle. Acoustic guitar drives this closer, breathing sweetly the joys of love and grief to illuminate the beauty, like a rainbow after a summer rainstorm clears. Jacob Faurholt’s Shake Off The Fear may be channeling his heroes with love and blotting out fear with music. His voice as a lyrical craftsman has certainly earned him a spot in top releases of 2019. —Lisa Whealy

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Howlin’ Rain throw down a teaser of their live energy

August 27, 2019

Experiences are snapshots in time, creating connections vibrating with memories of sounds, colors, and emotions. That is, if we are passionate enough to authentically embrace each moment, immersed in its reality. Howlin Rain knows a little bit about that zen-like state of perfect improvisational freefall, inviting fans to come along for the first in a series of live records called Under the Wheels: Live From The Coasts (Volume 1).

The runtime of only five tracks is somewhat misleading at first glance, as this album often puts the listener at the show, experiencing an energy exchange between audience and musicians. With a no-holds-barred approach to this recording, founding member Ethan Miller’s label sets the stage to create a strong live record. Plucking from recordings coast to coast makes a musical journey for fans such as myself who have yet to experience a Howlin Rain show. Live records allow acts to embrace their improvisational side, and for Howlin Rain that’s a thread that runs through the essence of the band. 

Kicking it off with “To The Wind” as sound echoes against the crowd is a brilliant move. Expansive, dramatic, and freeform in its expression, this is jam rock at its finest. The track brings to mind great live albums like The Allman Brothers at The Fillmore. Let the purposeful chaos begin. 

From Miller’s soaring vocal delivery to the lush embrace of backing vocals, there is no doubt why “Missouri” made its way on to Volume 1. This anthem now adds the beastly shred of Miller and Dan Cervantes’ live electric guitars, and there is no mistake–this is a Howlin welcome  home.

“Goodbye Ruby” rolls effectively from backline to screaming guitars. Spontaneity oozes from this well-calibrated southern rock; Jeff McElroy’s bass is particularly strong. His backline partner Justin Smith creates an intoxicating mood with his drums. It’s wicked cool and makes it easy to imagine being there.

Volume 1 fittingly and predictably closes out with downtempo ballad “Coming Down,” signaling to fans that the party’s over for this installment. This ethereal psychedelic space is artistically stellar with outstanding guitar work. 

There are a few moments that show the inevitable limitations of live jam band recordings. The live energy of “Death Prayer in Heaven’s Orchard” doesn’t come across to me on this recording. Without experiencing the vibe and energy of a live show, some moments dance along the line of self-indulgent performance when recorded. And wouldn’t the release of a full live collection reflecting a true improvisational concert experience with Howlin Rain been more effective? I think so; now listeners are stuck waiting. However, the good news is that the second installment is due soon, out sometime this fall.

Despite minor problems, a creative improvisational thread runs through the first installment of Howlin Rain’s Under the Wheels: Live From the Coasts. And maybe anticipation is a good thing! Waiting for more music from Howlin Rain may send people back digging into a thirteen-year discography of the band in preparation for the release of Volume 2.

Volume 1 drops August 30 via Silver Current Records, offering up all the regular versions plus a trademark limited edition and deluxe/special edition vinyl. –Lisa Whealy

 

Howlin’ Rain Tour Dates 

8/28 – Los Angeles, CA – Moroccan Lounge

8/29 – Costa Mesa, CA – The Wayfarer

8/30 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s

8/31 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s

9/5 – Felton, CA – Felton Music Hall

9/6 – San Francisco, CA – The Chapel

9/7 – Reno, NV – Reno as F*ck

9/12 – Chico, CA – Argus Bar

 

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Hood Smoke’s diamond has many facets

August 16, 2019

Steven Hyden wrote in a footnote of a 2012 article on Muse that, “in the future, there likely will be an infinite series of hyper-specific subsets with finely detailed points of demarcation between micro-genres, and music that sounds like one big nonsensical but weirdly logical mess.” Seven years later, we have lived through Justin Bieber in “Despacito,” Ed Sheeran in a reggae compilation, “Old Country Road,” and other proofs that the latter part has come true: boundaries in capital-P Pop Music are nothing more than Hyden’s suggestion of “the headgear and footwear of the performers.” But does this extend to different tiers of the popular music echelon?

Hood Smoke‘s Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Wallace is an apt place to investigate this phenomenon. The press avoids genre names altogether in the top line and bills it as a “go-to summertime chill-out album,” which it mostly is (and even more so for people who chill out to big guitar distortion every now and then). Elsewhere genre names like jazz, soul, rock, indie post-pop, funk, and “a folky kindness” appear. None of these things are wrong at all, except you have to squint pretty hard to hear the jazz forebears. Still, they’re all angles from which you can look at Hood Smoke’s latest. They’re all facets of the diamond that reflect light.

This is a pretty folk-heavy blog, so the folky elements were what drew me to this record. This is novel because it was the indie post-pop elements that drew me in on previous releases that I have covered; Hood Smoke has eased further and further into my own personal reviewing comfort zone with its sonic progression. And because I have an expansive mindset on what can be folk-pop and how many influences you can throw in folk before it’s not folk anymore, this can be read (in my view) as a folk album with extensions and influences that wrap in all of the aforementioned genres.

Lead single “Flown” shows how this is true: there’s a groovy guitar lead line that could fit in a lot of different genres, an organ that tips this off toward alt-country, dense guitars that push this toward indie early Death Cab-style indie-pop, and soaring male vocals that are appreciated in almost any genre. But it all flows from the sort of vibe (created by the tension between a single kick drum, the cascading guitar and bass thump) that feels like a folk-pop song, a la The Head and the Heart. This is the sort of song that embodies Hyden’s “nonsensical but weirdly logical” music; “Flown” is an excellent tune that fits very clearly in a recognizable space. But what is that space? Do we care? Is it important? For the listener, probably not. It’s a great song and worth listening to. It’ll hook you for the record.

But just in case you doubt the veracity of my claim that this is a folk record, opener “Lone Lorraine” is a folk song through and through; the only influences outside folk are maybe The Eagles and trad country (weeping pedal steel). Otherwise, this is a lot of acoustic guitar strum in a five-minute mid-tempo song about a woman. Folk percentage: 100%. “Over the Ashes” is similarly acoustic-heavy, but it’s got a little bit more radio ’90s in its veins to give it a bit of a more pop feel without going overboard. The mellow “One Shot” sounds like a lost track from Coldplay somewhere between Parachutes and Rush of Blood to the Head. “At the Lighthouse” is a bit Dawes-ian in its approach, but still chill.

But then there’s the back half of the record that’s very wide-angle, squint-harder folk: “Keeps Me Around” starts off with a single beat before pummeling the listener with ’90s guitar thunder. “What’s Fair Marie” is funky/soulful/groovy in a moody R&B sort of way. Six-minute “Astraea” is a sort of deconstructed folk that mashes up with chill R&B, some unexpected guitar chord patterns, and Counting Crows vibes to create something new and interesting–it’s like The Bends but more direct. Closer “Peppered Hills” amps up the dreamy R&B aspects of their sound for maximum let’s-get-it-on factor.

None of this means that Hood Smoke’s release is derivative–the opposite, in fact. The way that they blend these influences, elements, and cultural touchstones is masterful. The result is a highly developed collection of songs that could indeed be a chill-out album (save “Keeps Me Around”–not chill) or a folk fan’s new favorite or a good album to throw in a progressive R&B Spotify playlist. The many facets of this album will speak to different people in different ways; different things will jump out at you depending on what your interest is. Yet it’s not a grab-bag potpourri of different styles; Hood Smoke charts their own specific course through the post-everything mix that is our musical culture without losing the thread. They know what they’re about, and this album reflects it; they just happen to have a lot of people who will recognize and respect the record they’ve put out. It’s a great record, and one that you should check out.

Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Wallace releases August 23 on ears&eyes Records. The band is doing two release shows:

Jazz Estate (Milwaukee WI) August 9th, 8pm $13 (event)
The Hungry Brain (Chicago IL) Friday, August 23rd, 9pm $9 (tickets)

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Magner’s got a brand new bag: SPAGA

August 2, 2019

Rebirth can be a challenging event. Receiving new revelations from an unfamiliar creative place can be difficult territory for an artist’s fans. But sometimes rebirth can be a return to roots, as with The Disco Biscuits’ Aron Magner. His trip has returned to where his personal evolution as a keyboardist synth jam master began: on piano. With the introduction of his new band SPAGA, Magner has delivered a self-titled jazz stunner on his label AM Records.

Jason Fraticelli on upright bass and Matt Scarano handling drums fill out the trio of talent that delivers this excellent debut with Magner. Having two highly respected Philadelphia jazz musicians on the record with one of the men responsible for shifting perceptions on jam-rock fusion sets a high bar for Magner’s new work. The piano man has returned home, and SPAGA is a six-composition documentation of a new act’s birth. This record surpasses any boundaries that have been predetermined for both the genre and Magner. 

The attitude is a big part of the record. The album’s Philadelphia musicians were friends and family who recorded locally. Keeping it real, flowing, and organic seemed like the way to create a largely acoustic record, detached and unplugged from all the gadgetry that had been The Disco Biscuits’ trademark sound.

“Creed” is the first single, and it helps ease in the sonic transition. Heavy synthesizer reverberations battle the graceful elegance of piano interludes in a trancelike dance held steady with a precision backline. Full immersion into the dream that is SPAGA really begins in the elegant echoes of “Marionette in the Snow,” whose nuanced emotions reverberate from each note. A marriage of musicianship has created vulnerable grace set to music, each crescendo dropping away into space. Close your eyes and get carried away on each note.

Great musical composition is lush with contrasts, and SPAGA unfolds into a circle of purposeful artistic impressionism that feels improvisational but doesn’t contradict its deliberateness. The nature of “Four Angels” could be heaven and hell, or light and dark; yet, that would be too simplistic for so complex a tune. Ethereal, haunting, and, yes, dark. Fraticelli’s bass is unbelievable on this track, and personally I look forward to seeing a live performance of this one. 

Combinations of rhythmic syncopation on “Colors” create an interplay between Fraticelli’s bass and Magner’s piano, achieving transcendence. “Resurrection” is the strutter of the album, the most funky, genreless song of the record. Happily all over the place, this funky bit of cool is just that. The album closes out with “Nils Idea,” which takes the artist full circle. Softly drifting away with a solo piano composition, the idea that none of this would be happening without The Disco Biscuits drifting away cannot be missed. The truth is, for people like me, SPAGA’s self titled debut is the soundtrack for creation, despite the loss of former things.–Lisa Whealy

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Quick Hit: Rosenau and Sanborn

July 15, 2019

Rosenau and Sanborn‘s Bluebird is a charming update of the back-porch picker motif: instead of all-acoustic instruments, Rosenau and Sanborn play an acoustic guitar and analog synths. These are long, relaxed, warm, comforting, beautifully-lazy arrangements; the duo got together for a weekend, wrote/recorded/had fun for two days straight, and then released their output as-is. There’s occasional background noise evocative of place: a creaking chair, rain, spoken words at the end of tracks, and other bits that give this a totally-lived-in feel. The combination of the slowly, gently unfolding acoustic guitar lines with the subtle tension of the delicate electronics pushing forward elevates this from idle noodling to purposeful creation: these songs feel like they belong, like they exist, even as they float effortlessly toward whatever comes next. This is an ideal soundtrack for reading a good book on a rainy vacation day up in the mountains, which is pretty much an ideal vacation for me. So this is good, good stuff. Recommended.

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Fairmont’s archives have treasures in them

July 8, 2019

I’ve been covering Fairmont since the very first months of Independent Clauses’ existence. In recent years, we’ve gone in different sonic directions, but Fairmont is one of the few bands still in existence from IC’s first year. They’ve got serious nostalgia factor for me on top of being a strong indie-rock/dark-indie-pop band. With that as a backdrop, it should not be surprising that Fairmont’s Demo’s & Lost EP’s 2001-2005 (iTunes / Spotify) taps into some strong personal feelings.

Independent Clauses in the early 2000s was a punk/emo/indie-rock blog, and Fairmont in the early 2000s was a punk/emo/indie-rock band. Their 3 Way Split EP that opens this archival collection displays all the hallmarks of early ’00s punk/emo–punk guitar crunch, highly emotional (and occasionally morbid/violent, in the now-uncomfortable style of the era) lyrics about broken relationships, and blazing synthesizers (oh yeah synth-punk! You were a thing!). If you were or are into early Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, or the like, you’ll be into the first bit of this collection for sure. The Hand That Holds The Knife Must Be Cold & Steady EP continues the dramatic lyrics and introduces a lot more screaming into the mix–this is definitely heavier than the first EP, so the previous RIYLs plus Thursday apply.

The three demos that close the first side of the collection shift suddenly into Fairmont’s indie-rock phase; the crunchy punk guitars are replaced by more jangly guitars, the vocals are less aggressive, the melodies are subtler (and at the same time, more indie-pop-oriented), and the tracks are much more indicative of the Fairmont that exists now. The demos aren’t dated, but I assume they’re later than the punk phase. “The Amazing Plastic Boy” is the first vocal performance of the collection that really feels like Fairmont–this performance is still a little raw around the edges, but you can hear Fairmont’s sound coming together through this track. (And that’s the fun of the archives!)

The back half of the collection is mostly short tracks of acoustic-related work; this acoustic phase is what made me interested in Fairmont way back when, so I enjoyed these tracks quite a bit. Interestingly, one non-acoustic standout from this side is an electric version of a song that I loved then and now in its acoustic form: “Rebuilding Home”.  “Rebuilding Home” was one of the first songs that I really stored away and kept with me for years from Independent Clauses; it’s a little piece of my personal and professional life that I go back to every now and then, even 16 years later. This noisier version is very demo-y, with crashing drums, practice-space mixing, and other novelties that result from demoing. The charm of the song is still in there: the melody, the earnest lyrics, etc. It’s a good one.

If you’re a hardcore Fairmont fan, this will be a fun trip into the archives. If you’re a fan of early ’00s punk/emo, the first half of the collection will speak to you. If you’re interested in acoustic-fronted indie-rock, the back half will be your jam. For me personally, it’s a big memory trip and a lovely way to say “Thanks, Fairmont.”

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Premiere: Alexandra’s “River Snake”

July 1, 2019

While I’ve been focusing on instrumental work recently, I’ve been dabbling back into music with vocals. The artsy downtempo electronica of Alexandra’s “River Snake” is not purely instrumental, as the vocals play a key role in the mood of the song. But the arrangement is deeply important to the song–perhaps even more so than the vocal melodies. By focusing on sonic elements that are highly evocative and association-laden, the song marries the historic with the futuristic and wraps it in mystical vibes.

The track begins with church bells–a staple of ancient life–then introduces a fluttering flute and 1950/1960s voiceover tone that are highly reminiscent of NASA space exploration narratives. This tension between the ancient and the new, the natural and the technological, persists throughout the tune in a productive tension.

After the introduction, a persistent, urgent synth like a dull bell emerges as the pacesetter for the track. Over this urgent line float in layers of vocals, some manipulated and some not. High-pitched synths that evoke theremin and more spacy vibes collide with these collaged fragments of vocals and merge into a piece that joins the past and the future. To further make this marriage or natural and technological clear, Alexandra ends the tune with distant, wailing, undulating vocals that are traditional to many styles of music placed over the sound of water lapping the shore. It’s as if Alexandra has become the titular river snake and the process of becoming was the preceding electronic sounds.

The overall effect is one of mysticism and mystical moments–even though Alexandra tells me that the piece is about “‘perennial fear’ growing like a mold inside the subject’s body, a reflection of unrequited love and separate emotions,” the feelings I get are more of reverence for the process of amid the difficulties and uncertainties of life. It’s a beautiful, exciting, complex, fully-realized piece of work.

“River Snake” comes from upcoming full-length Ecdysis, which drops July 26. While the Ecdysis release show is TBD, you can catch Alexandra on August 17th & 18th as part of Spirit House Music Fest at Azøth in Portland, OR.

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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.

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