Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

June Singles 2: Less Whiplash, Mostly Indie Pop and Folk

June 20, 2018

1. “Muanapoto” – Tshegue. Dense, groove-heavy African rhythms power this unclassifiable tune, which falls somewhere between LCD Soundsystem electro, Afropunk, and The Very Best. May I repeat: those grooves. You’ll get moving on this one.

2. “Like the Night” – Moonbeau. This electro-pop jam played for roughly three seconds before I thought, “Oh yes. Ohhhhhhh yeahhhhhhhhhhhh.” The airy arpeggiator lead hook is awesome, the verses are perfectly done to build tension, and the chorus brings that hook back in excellently. The vocals nail it, too. If you love JR JR, Hot Chip, and the like, you’ll be absolutely all over this track.

3. “Happy Unhappy” – The Beths. The Beths are jumping in with Alex Lahey and Marsicans as purveyors of incredible, indelible guitar-pop in big batches. This second single I’ve heard from then is just everything I’m looking for in power-pop: thick guitars that yet don’t cover up the vocals, blast-off drums, big low end, and giddy enthusiasm. The fact that the giddy enthusiasm (check the “oh-ah” section) is deployed in a lyrical set complaining about being happy (ha!) is just rollicking fun.

4. “Forever” – The Gray Havens. TGH has moved from piano pop through expansive folk-pop to full-on indie-pop in this latest track. This jubilant track grows from a peaceful opening to include enthusiastic horns, a soaring vocal line, and punchy percussion. Fans of Graceland will hear some resonances there. It’s a blast.

5. “When I Look Back” – Lev Snowe. This track has some psych guitar touches toward the end, but for the majority of the piece it’s a hazy, dreamy, friendly indie-pop effort. Snowe’s fusion of fuzzed out bass (or guitar masquerading as bass), glittery synths, and even-keeled vocals creates a fun but not unserious atmosphere.

6. “I’m the Wolves” – St. Jude the Obscure. Turns a Band of Horses-esque dusky rumination into a full-on dance party–it’s sort of like when The Arcade Fire busts out “Sprawl II” in the middle of The Suburbs. It’s thoughtful, but also got a lot of kinetic energy going on.

7. “Setting In” – Ditches. Starts off with layers of squalling feedback, but quickly abandons this intro for a loping, scuffling, laidback indie-pop song. Fans of formal songwriting, Cut Worms, Grandaddy, The Shins, and more will love this delicate, melancholy, lovely tune.

8. “Ask Me Now” – Wes Allen. I love melodic percussion–xylophones, marimbas, and vibraphones create such a warm, enveloping mood for songs. Allen includes some melodic percussion in his reflective, somber pop song that calls up elements of Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, and other peaceful singer-songwriters of the era. It’s a rumination on a breakup, like so many others, but Allen’s well-turned vocal performance sells it.

9. “Our Conversation on July 7th” – God Bless Relative. World-weary folk-pop that yet retains a sweetness in the arrangement. The electronic drums give this a unique vibe before opening up into a full-band jam (including some of the best handclaps ever used in the service of sadness). One of those tunes that feels like it’s always been around and you’re just hearing it again–it’s that mature and well-developed.

10. “Tiananmen Square” – Cameron Blake. The ever-excellent Cameron Blake’s video for his moving tune “Tiananmen Square” is powerful. The clip shows a lot of historical footage of China ostensibly surrounding the 1989 student protests held in the titular location. The most intriguing part of the video is that, while I’ve seen the iconic tank man picture, I’d never seen video of the ensuing moments: tank man keeps moving in front of the tank, then climbs up on the tank (!!) and attempts to talk to people inside the the tank (!!!) before getting down off the tank and resuming his protest. It adds even more gravitas to an already incredible moment. Blake’s huge crescendoes only help with this feeling.

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June Singles 1: Whiplash

I have been piled under by work recently, so I’m making a good faith effort over the next few days to get out from under a ton of great singles. I’ll be posting singles in roughly the order they were sent to me, which means that these posts will be more eccentric than I like them to be–this one goes from instrumental post-metal to acoustic singer/songwriter back-to-back. Whoops. Enjoy the tunes, regardless.

1. “Ruthless” – Terra Lightfoot. Sounds like a mashup of the vocals of the Alabama Shakes and the Southern-infused alt-country of Jason Isbell. That is high praise, y’all.

2. “Get On Board” – Pirra. This is a pop song that just would not leave my head. The tune sneaks up on you, with a subtle arrangement leading into a big, lovely chorus. There are shades of San Fran indie-pop, ’50s pop, and contemporary folk-pop throughout.

3. “The American Dream” – Crooked Teeth. The reconsideration of the American dream continues, this time in an invigorating, punchy post-LCD Soundsystem soundscape. The tension between the distorted guitar and the frantic arpeggiator is the greatest part of this song–there’s tons of space to mine there, more than LCD can take. The melodic vocal line sets Crooked Teeth apart from their forebears as well.

4. “There Is a Ledger” – Wild Pink. John Ross traded in his solo synth-pop project Challenger for art-punks Wild Pink, but this track circles back to his synth-pop beginnings. “There Is a Ledger” is a stroll through the park, with chirpy, charming bits dancing over a low-slung chassis of a song. Ross’s boyish, floaty vocals finish creating the happy mood.

5. “Cómo Me Quieres” – Khruangbin. Khruangbin is creating some of the most interesting non-neo-classical instrumental music in the world right now. And I say world because that is the scope of their music–they throw in Middle Eastern vibes, some funky aspects, vaguely surf-y moments, and a solid grounding in indie rock to create their unique, fascinating stew. Wild stuff.

6. “G.O.A.T.” – Polyphia. What if you could perform dubstep live with real instruments? What if you could mash it up with a math-rock-influenced metal band? What if you could throw some prog drumming in there for kicks? Well, if you’re somehow that inventive, you’d be Polyphia. Just wow.

7. “Crooked Lines” – Lost Like Alice. A soft, unassuming tune that sidles on in, catches your attention, and never lets it go. Ben Parker’s voice is confident but vulnerable; his low range plays like a higher Alexi Murdoch, while his higher register is more along the lines of Passenger’s dramatic performances. The guitar slots in to the mix beautifully. Solid all around.

8. “Life Comes at You Fast” – Jacob Furr. Furr’s been honing his country/folk for a long time now, and he’s earned a hard-won gravitas to his songwriting. He controls space in his vocal lines and guitar lines expertly, allowing the song to have breathing room. His vocal performance is smooth and strong.

9. “Bored in College” – James Quick. I’m not really into white-dude soul, but this tune got me. The vocal performance is carefully done, the low-key groove is impressive, the arrangement is tidy, and the overall vibe is strong. The crowdsourced video only makes it more fun.

10. “Us” – Jamison Isaak. Isaak’s EP2 has songs more atmospheric and more enthusiastic than his first outing. This is one of the latter, as a humble piano chord progression becomes the base for burbling synths, rattling lead treble lines, and other ostinato key patterns. It’s an upbeat, sun-dappled piece that takes minimalism as a starting point to build something beautiful.

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Premiere: Tiphanie Doucet’s “Under My Sun”

June 8, 2018

Tiphanie Doucet‘s “Under My Sun” is a warm, peaceful track that draws its easygoing vibes from a simple, sturdy arrangement. This track falls somewhere between indie-pop and folk: it has the acoustic instruments and acoustic-guitar focus of a folk tune, but the swaying vibe and vocal melodies point toward indie-pop.

Photo by Non Lineard Knitting.

Either way you want to slice it, it’s the careful, uncomplicated arrangement that sells this track: a simple guitar pattern is supported by deep stringed bass, restrained drumming, and sun-dappled piano keys. The pieces come together into a track that is both confident and relaxed–there’s nothing slackery about this track, but you can definitely bob your head to it. It’s much more of a pastoral track than an urban one; this is made for big fields instead of skyscrapers.

Doucet’s hushed invitation to come and be comforted only adds to the feeling of comfort and peace. Her vocal performance is compelling in its attention to detail–the ends of lines and the wordless sighs that close the song contain a lot of emotion without going for the big move. If you’re looking for a relaxing summer tune, this is what you’re looking for. Highly recommended.

“Under My Sun” is the title track of Doucet’s upcoming album, which was produced by Simone Felice and David Baron. Under My Sun will be released August 3. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you’re on the New York/New Jersey area, you can catch Doucet live before the record drops:

June 21st Fox and Crow, Jersey City , NJ 8pm
July 2nd Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3, NY 8pm (Tickets)

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Premiere: Salim Nourallah’s “Relief”

May 29, 2018

Salim Nourallah‘s “Relief” is a tense song about seeking peace. Nourallah is looking for relational harmony, striving for goodwill between people in relationship and throughout society.

The problem is that he’s not finding any of that peace he’s looking for; he’s offered no relief. The resolution comes when he chooses to give relief to people instead of only seeking it. Lyrically, this is a strong offering–Nourallah’s words keep the song moving, even amid the slow tempo and atmospheric arrangement.

Salim Nourallah wearing sunglasses and a black pea coat, walking down a suburban sidewalk with grass on both sides and large trees in the background. A car is parked on the street.

Salim Nourallah. Photographed by Casey Pinckard.

The arrangement is a deft, careful one. The song was written on piano, but the final version of this track doesn’t bring in the piano until midway through the song. The first, piano-less half of the song relies on ’90s lead guitar sounds, stark percussion, grumbling bass, and distant atmospheric melodies to create the atmosphere he’s looking for: it’s an arrangement that could be peaceful, but has tough edges instead. The entrance of the piano mellows out the tune for a while, but the gritty bits remain throughout. If peace is elusive and difficult lyrically, so it is musically.

Fans of ’90s Brit-pop, ’00s Grandaddy-style alt-pop, and ’10s singer/songwriters (Peter Bradley Adams comes to mind) will enjoy this tune quite a bit. “Relief” appears on both the EP North (out June 1) and the full album Somewhere South of Sane (out sometime in Fall). Both releases are on Palo Santo Records. You can catch Nourallah on Twitter and Facebook.

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Singles: Instrumental

1. “New Moon” – Daniel Bachman. There’s not a much more relaxing instrument than the Bontempi Organ Bachman plays here. Similarly, there’s almost nothing more relaxing that listening to someone play acoustic guitar in the woods while relaxing. This track gives you 13 minutes of both of those things. It does build to a less-than-chill climax, but this is ultimately a long, expansive, exploratory guitar ramble by someone who’s really good at it. (It doesn’t sound like a bad jam band, is what I mean.)

2. “Quebec (Climber)” – Bing & Ruth. A swirling, whirling, propulsive piece that straddles the line between ambient and neo-classical. There are elements of the great, cloudy mountains of sound that John Luther Adams created on Become Ocean, grounded by piano and what sounds like clarinet. Very unique and interesting.

3. “Render Arcane” – Cruel Diagonals. Elements of drone, ambient, and soundtrack music are to be found in this unique instrumental track. There’s some sonic elements that set the scene of a forest, as well as the pitter-patter of melodic percussion (marimba) and ghostly manipulated vocals to further the feel of deep woods. Some industrial-style clanks and bonks are introduced, making me think that perhaps a machine is chasing our protagonist. Under all that, there’s a subtle but real groove that marks this as fascinating work.

4. “Loop 019” – J Foley. This track is from Drone Loops EP 1, which is a pretty descriptive title. This track is a bunch of distorted guitar, looped, chopped, layered, transformed, and droned. The tape hiss and tape chops create a bit of percussion, but mostly the internal inertia of the guitar recording keeps this thing humming along. It’s a bit doomy, but it’s actually way more zen than I expected. It’s sort of like a more minor-key School of Seven Bells with no vocals, maybe. Either way, it’s good. If you like heavy, dark post-rock, conceptual work, or weird drone/ambient stuff, you’ll be into this.

5. “Chasing the Path” – Grej. Music for modern dance is almost always interesting, as the structure and style of the piece are  driven by and intertwined with the contours of the dance. Grej’s Chasing the Path is a long work created for dance; this 13-minute opening track is a piece primarily for piano and cello with some of the melodic percussion that is Grej’s specialty woven in. The lines and long and legato, flowing peacefully until about eight and a half minutes, when the pace picks up and the mood switches to a more ominous, foreboding one. Fans of composed music will find this to be a compelling work.

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Singles: Folk and stuff

May 28, 2018

1. “You, Forever” – Sam Evian. If you somehow crossed Spoon’s minimalist arrangements and the quiet version of Conor Oberst’s vulnerable vocals in front of a Motown producer, this genreless song might appear. It’s a slow burner, working its way into your ears steadily over the unhurried three and a half minutes.

2. “I Don’t Mind” – Aaron Ward. There aren’t enough songs in the world about friendship. Many of those that exist would bring a party connotation to the line “Meet me for a pint / we’ll throw it down.” But this intimate folk/singer-songwriter track (that features a big crescendo to the finale) is about getting vulnerable in friendship, sharing tough emotions and being there for each other. Those are the sort of friendships I want. Here’s to friendship, and to this powerful, vulnerable track.

3. “Roll Around” – Kate Vargas. This sounds like a lost Tom Waits tune in its clanking, vaguely cabaret arrangement. Vargas helps the comparisons with her scratchy, intense voice and the lyrics of tough living (“You can’t get lower than the ground / but you can roll around for a long time”). Very unique.

4. “Soggy Humans” – God Bless Relative. The yearning, searching vocal performance steals the show in this one, even though there’s some tasty organ, strong drumming, and solid bass work in this West Coast Country/folk-rock tune. The tune has the easygoing spirit of the Laurel Canyon folks, but a bit more melancholy than you’d expect. Kinda like what Dawes has been doing lately, but more compelling.

5. “sure, bert” – Tyler Berd. Troubadour folk meets introspective bedroom pop in a collision of styles and expectations. The song sure seems oblivious of that though, as it confidently and earnestly wobbles its way through the slight 1:47 runtime. RIYL: early Bright Eyes, Angelo de Augustine.

6. “Love Me Now” – Ziggy Alberts. Cross the simplicity of Jack Johnson and raw emotion of Ray LaMontagne and you’ve got this Ziggy Alberts tune. This is strong acoustic pop songwriting, right here.

7. “Waiting / On My Own” – Duke Bluebeard. These two tracks are meant to be listened to back-to-back. The first has a folky-to-Brit-pop transition in the middle, while the second is a little bit more introspective and dark in mood. Both feature high-pitched male vocals that convey a lot of emotion and thoughtful arrangements.

8. “Standing Still” – Rebekah Rolland. Fans of Gillian Welch and Sarah Jarosz will love this relaxed folk tune that focuses on Rolland’s lilting, engaging voice. The trumpets and piano interaction will make fans of Sufjan’s Michigan sit up and take notice. In short, if you’re anywhere on the folk music spectrum, you should be checking this out.

9. “Easier (feat. Molly Parden)” – Sons of Bill. I know I throw the word “lush” around a bit too much when I hear songs like this, because I want to say things like, “OK, so, some songs are lush, but not this lush. THIS is lush.” There’s not a gap or space anywhere in this folk tune–it’s all full of cascading guitars, big-yet-friendly percussion, cooing vocals, and even more guitars. The effect is glorious.

10. “Married Young” – Elise Davis. A beautiful, tender depiction of young love, flush with dramatic strings, big wordless vocals, and enough pathos to get me a little misty-eyed. Anyone who’s ever been young and poor and in love will recognize this immediately, whether or not you got married.

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Singles: More Indie-pop

May 25, 2018

1. “Superficial Feeling” – Written Years. This song covers all the bases, stealing bits of electro-indie-pop, big-moment indie-rock and M83-style indie-dance. The song also does pretty much everything right: The arrangement is a slow-burner that heats up to maximum, the vocals are right-on, and the overall effect is perfect.

2. “Future Me Hates Me” – The Beths. I love the deliciously-fuzzy guitar tone and the impressively strong vocals in this power-pop/pop-punk tune. The ascending main guitar riff is also ace.

3. “Number 5 Radio” – Fairburn Royals. In the fine tradition of breaking the fourth wall, this stellar tune is a power-pop song about how to write a power-pop song (in five simple rules). The song itself follows its own rules, and the resulting song is indeed really excellent. Highly recommended.

4. “She Calls” – Tenderfoot. I’m a sucker for a good whoa-oh-oh vocal line, and this tune has a great one. The rest of the song is a catchy, upbeat pop-rock song that’s a lot of fun.

5. “Spoil With The Rest” – Ryley Walker. Transforms from a purveyor of pastoral folk to an explosive indie-rocker with folky leanings–it’s like when The Dodos transformed themselves from frenetic mathy duo to a more dense outfit. Walker’s voice is still relaxed and relaxing, but his electric guitar does the talking here.

6. “Necessaries” – Many Voices Speak. The band here uses reverb to turn the song into an intimate experience instead of to create space; there’s lots of wobbly sounds, bouncing notes, and the like, but it all sounds like a blanket wrapped around me instead of a giant cloud. The loose, unstressed vocals create even more of that warm feel, giving this low-key dream-pop song a magnetic aura.

7. “Blue Love” – JOYNER. Sometimes a chorus pops up and just washes over me with such unavoidable confidence that it compels me to write about the song. The rest of the tune is a thoroughly fine low-key electro-influenced indie-pop tune, but that chorus is just perfect.

8. “Undone” – Greta Isaac. Chipper, friendly, and enthusiastic are all things I look for in a great indie-pop tune. This tune nails it: the arrangement is perky everywhere, the melodies are easily accessible, and there are tons of enthusiastic choral vocals in the chorus. The light electro-pop/glitchy touches make it even more exciting. Here’s one for your summer lists.

9. “Baby” – Basement Revolver. I’m not much into rock songs with heavily distorted guitars these days, but Basement Revolver infuses their songs with so much pathos and desire that it’s hard to not empathize with vocalist Chrisy Hurn. Hurn can belt with the best of them, but her quiet voice is equally as controlled and equally as devastating. The band’s ability to match Hurn’s urgency without turning into a punk rock outfit is further impressive. Just an absolutely bang-up job on this indie-rock tune. Fans of Silversun Pickups will love this.

10. “ABOP” – tunng. Have some low-slung electro-pop from this veteran outfit. There’s an X factor here that comes of having a lot of years in the game–a lot of people can make electro-pop with acoustic leanings, but not many can make it stick.

11. “Favourite Song” – Pizzagirl. The caption on this video says “For best results listen in 1987 at night,” which is spot-on self-awareness. The big synths, the gated snares, the vocal tone, the vocal melodies, it’s all pitch-perfect late ’80s synth-pop. I’m particularly fond of the vocal melodies.

12. “Never There (for bassooning and Crooning)” – Some Professional Help. This almost exactly what it says on the tin: it is a spoken-word-and-bassoon version of CAKE’s “Never There.” As a fan of CAKE and weird conceptual ideas (and how much more a weird conceptual idea involving CAKE), this is hilariously great. Some Professional Help is also a folk-punk-ish band, but this one is literally just Scott Alexander spoofing the spoofers who are CAKE. Please avail yourself of this song.

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Singles: Acoustic/alt-pop

May 24, 2018

1. “In the Fields” – Simon D. James. Here’s a lush, sweeping tune that paints a whole landscape. The piano occasionally sounds like an arpeggiator (awesome), the violin swoops all over the place, and the drums hold everything together. It’s bright and folky, but also dense like Decemberists song. It is a great blend of tons of influences into a distinct whole. Highly recommended.

2. “I Won’t Sit Around and Cry” – Jon Patrick Walker. Solid fingerpicking, speedy vocal delivery (not quite Jeffrey Lewis, but similar), some country vibes in the guitar solo, and an indie-pop grin throughout the whole thing. If you’re a fan of folk/indie-pop, this is basically the instantiation of what that combo sounds like. Highly recommended.

3. “The Long Game” – Jonathan Rice. Like Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” this is an excellent pop ballad unencumbered by flashy arrangements or innovative turns. Instead, there’s an endearing lyrical set, a compelling vocal performance, unforgettable melodies, and a sense of pure songwriting craft. This is a great song written by an expert hand. Highly recommended.

4. “Hank” – Declan O’Donovan. There’s a bit of honky-tonk, a lot of Creedence, and a lot of confidence in this Southerny, folky tune. Special shout-out to the piano player, who really makes this song what it is.

5. “Time Runs Out For Narcissus” – Thomas & The Empty Orchestra. A jaunty, wholesome-sounding folk tune with swift fingerpicking, witty lyrics, and a lovely accordion. If you’re into Justin Townes Earle, Langhorne Slim, or Common Man, you’ll love this.

6. “What I Came Here For” – Luca Fogale. The delicate ease of Joshua Radin rests on this tune, what with the sprightly fingerpicking, the distant piano and the achingly beautiful melodies. The lovely layered vocal arrangements are icing on the fantastic cake. Highly recommended.

7. “Slow It Down” – Sarah Clanton. There’s a hint of Sixpence None the Richer in this dense, acoustic-focused singer-songwriter/pop song, from Clanton’s easygoing vocals to the overall taut-but-smooth atmosphere.

8. “Bare” – Rosie Carney. This one’s a quiet guitar-and-piano rumination anchored by a striking vocal performance from Carney.

9. “I Won’t Move” – Natalie Carolan. A delicate, yearning, searching piece that builds from hear-the-piano-pedals quietude to a smooth, compelling alt-pop piece.

10. “Dark Places” – Maria Kelly. Simple, quiet, and emotionally devastating, this acoustic tune is a delicate, carefully written explanation of how depression feels and acts. Kelly’s voice is alternately fragile and sturdy, underscoring the tensions in the song.

11. “Let Somebody Inside” – David Hopkins. The opening piano/synth arrangement may be a little too heavy on piano ballad conventions for some, but the vocal performance here is gripping and the chorus is just fantastic. The horn arrangement that comes in halfway through caps the song. It’s a great pop song.

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Singles: Indie-pop and such

May 23, 2018

1. “Into the Unknown” – The Lighthouse and the Whaler. Just an absolute, A+, oh-wow-2010-was-great, stomping, soaring folk-pop song. It’s like a Lord Huron and Lumineers collaboration that preserves all the best parts of both of their work. There are even “HEY”s. I’m in love.

2. “No Mamma” – Animal House (UK). This is the most infectious British guitar rock tune since Marsicans showed up. It’s got a lot of early ’00s Strokes in it, but it’s more rubbery, more bouncy, and way less preening than Casablancas and co. Yep, just a really great pop song about being young. Ace.

3. “Free Like a Broken Heart” – Birdtalker. If you like your folk/alt-country with a heavy dose of Motown soul, you’ll whip your head in the direction of Birdtalker. The dual vocals are strong, the arrangement is excellent, and the whole thing comes off like a Dawes track coming out of a historic Detroit studio.

4. “Miss Him Too” – Nate Daviau. “You miss the man you fell in love with / honey / I miss him too” is about the most alt-country sentiment I can imagine. It’s aggressive yet mopey, self-aware yet miserable. The crunchy, Jayhawks/Old ’97s-style arrangement fits perfectly with these lyrics. Daviau has a lot of swagger going on in this track.

5. “Less Than Positive” – Michael Nau. There’s some ’50s pop mixing, some loping country-style bass, some Gregory Alan Isakov vocal performance, and bright-shiny guitars all thrown together into a great pop song. If you need a smile but don’t want to go full-on happy, there’s just enough downer here to keep it real (while still being a lot of fun).

6. “Glow” – Brooke Annibale. Power-pop that doesn’t go for the Big Crunch–more like Fountains of Wayne, or Spoon, or even the fuzzed-out elements of Spiritualized. The song keeps an even keel but stays exciting throughout.

7. “Dreaming About You” – Polychrome. Dreamy electro-pop with ODESZA-style post-dub vocal blips and twiddly melodies over a thick synth base. There’s a lot of songs that could be described like that, but this is one that nails it with an X factor, where others just sound like ODESZA.

8. “Please Don’t Let My Art Die” – Marc with a C. Uber-satirist Marc with a C turns his gaze toward the hereafter and pens a plaintive, honest look at what it means to leave behind a legacy as an artist and person. It’s couched in a jangly, punchy power-pop tune that Marc has refined to a T. The a cappella bit at the end is just lovely.

9. “Lake Erie” – Wild Pink. John Ross manages to sound vulnerable and confident at the same time–conveying the emotions of uncertain and confusion in a rock-solid performance. His gentle voice mixes excellently with the jangling indie-rock guitars. This song is full of happy-sad; the sort of sadness that makes some people just happy inside.

10. “Round but Jaded” – Dear Life,. Alternating between a delicate alt-pop tune and a stomping indie-rock one, this track has a lot of sonic diversity. I love a good arpeggiator, and their use of synth is the beating heart of this song. The vocals are also a unique touch.

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Matt C. White: Effortless, honest, and authentic Americana

May 22, 2018

Occasionally music transcends place, born from the essence of a musician and his roots to become something greater almost effortlessly. Matt C. White does that with his debut album wallow in the hollow., available via Burro Borrocho Records. Infused with a Carolina youth, the man who calls Brooklyn home packs a punch with this first effort.

White is a city man who has country oozing from his soul. Embracing Americana that emerges from deep woods country, his authentic connection to the land undoubtedly shaped production choices. He paints a landscape with instrumentation, creating rustic, back-porch ambiance. The simple instrumentation consists of guitar, mandolin, bass, and slide. Vocals are layered with claps and stomps. The occasional studio wizardry digs deep into a bag of tricks to make all this come to life on the record.

Matt C. White is a constant music-making machine, involved in projects from Charles Ellsworth and The C.O.O. to Grandpa Jack to Dead Seconds. After wallowing in the music, it is easy to hear why Alex Saltz was interested in this project. Saltz (Bruce Springsteen, Deer Tick, The Raconteurs) contributes analog mastering, which fits White’s style perfectly.

It’s apparent from the start is that this record has been a lifetime in gestation, as it is lyrically dense and sonically intelligent. Reminiscent of Australian blues musician Ash Grunwald, this is Deer Tick with a twang; strut in the best way. From the dark opener “Lie With Me” and its equally ominous sister “Can’t Get Away,” it almost feels like someone is looking over their shoulder, whistling down the street in the middle of the night. It is brilliant!

Each cut takes listener to a different space, mixing up the pace of the album. White connects people with his emotional reality by utilizing sequencing and pacing; tempo is punctuation, a memo for listeners to perk up and pay attention. “Now And Then” has an over-the-top happy feel that balances the dark of the previous track. Think Disney’s Snow White: the balance of dwarves whistling to keep from thinking about the queen. White lands a suckerpunch on “Year Of Dogs.” The darkly brilliant tune shows off the best vocal performance from White on the record.

Nearly halfway through, “Black Spiral” is a lyrical masterpiece that plumbs the depths of darkness amid an unusual mix that focuses on the background vocals. Resting points are huge, and “Intermission” feels like a special place to rise to the surface. It takes a moment to remember that this a trip into the Carolina woods, and “Have It” is that reminder. Taking a slide into “Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder,” it’s easy to slip back in front of the campfire. Raw, rustic, and real, this is the best of what makes American music great; mixed with restraint and mastered with a light hand, the analog feel is perfect. With heart and soul, grit and guts, this is the track of the record here, no question.

In the home stretch, “Words To Make You Stay” is a melancholy bookend to any Muddy Waters proclamation; the joy at the end of this record comes from feeling the roots of the artist that is Matt C. White. Somehow, the revival is at the river, and “Lost On the Way” proves that there is always a way back to one’s roots. Celebrating that place where he grew up, “Nightsky” is a flashback written by a man in the city; upbeat, with a celebratory vibe, it is also a songwriter looking forward, not back. “Fare Thee Well” is a fond adieu to listeners who wallow in the hollow. with Matt C. White. A flash of a song, does it really count, or is it really a wave that suggests “until we meet again”?

Occasionally a musician releases a debut album that seems effortless, honest, and authentic with a distinct voice as a songwriter and a vivid soundscape. This is that record, oozing inspiration and life experience. Streamers, do yourself a favor: listen to wallow in the hollow. by Matt. C. White vinyl-style, start to finish. Highly recommended.–Lisa Whealy

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

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