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Month: April 2011

Woolly weeks and Scales of Motion

It has been a wild and woolly couple of months here at Independent Clauses (and by that, I mean in my life, as I am currently the only breathing part of IC). I have not listened to as much music as I would have liked. I have fallen down on the hobby. I would say the job, but I still go to work every day.

I’m not really sure what I mean by woolly, other than alliteration.

All this to say, I haven’t heard Scales of Motion’s Nocturnes near as much as I would like to have heard, and that disappoints me. I’m going to see them on Saturday at Norman Music Festival, and I would suggest you do the same. Their brand of indie-rock splits the difference between rhythmic, mathy post-hardcore (which was their roots – this band’s been around a long time) and pop melodies. The sheen gets knocked off some of the melodies, and some of the rhythmic stuff isn’t as intense as it used to be.

Instead of being lame, this is a good thing. The songs all resonate, whether accenting one side or the other of their sound. I’ll give it a more thorough review sometime, but here’s what I want to say: it’s good. Buy it. Go to their NMF4 show on Saturday. You’ll like it. Also, the artwork for the album is gorgeous. Top of the year so far.

The Imaginary Orchestra makes real chamber pop songs that charm

I listen to enough music for two or three people, between my real job and this venture. It takes an incredible song to enamor me for much longer than a few days. The Imaginary Orchestra‘s “Unbaptized Believer” is one of those such songs.

It’s not a perfect song. The three-piece Imaginary Orchestra recorded the tunes on “Hellow!” crowded around a single microphone, giving the album’s chamber-pop tunes a earnest immediacy and not hiding any flaws. Songwriter Steven Eiler has a couple moments where his voice doesn’t nail the note, and there are things here and there that would be scrubbed out of a studio recording. But the rawness of the track is part of what makes it glorious.

“Unbaptized Believer” is about the push and pull between organized but stale religious ceremony and unorganized but alive experience of religion. Any religious topic treated with dignity and thought keeps me coming back to the tune, but this particular issue is something I care deeply about. Eiler gives the lyrics a passionate treatment that doesn’t get maudlin or preachy, and that’s very difficult.

Another point of entry is the music itself, which is primarily acoustic guitar, bell kit, violin and three voices. The instruments enhance and augment Eiler’s passionate lyrics and melody without being invasive, and contribute quite a bit of emotion to the tune. There’s a moment where all three members of the band just go for it on a section, and it’s shiver-inducing (“by our names,” for those keeping track at home).

Yes, the whole song comes together neatly in a raw, honest experience that is way more interesting to me with errors and warts than hundreds of other perfect tunes.

The rest of the tracks on “Hellow!” shine with a similar sparkle, only a little less brightly. The title track features a complicated but not unfriendly vocal arrangement and contrabassoon, which is impressive on both counts.  “Lord Who Hears, Please Lend Us Your Ear” is another beautiful tune in the vein of “Unbaptized Believer,” while “Holy Ground” and “No Time Is Enough” are each a minute and a half of thoughtful musing. “At the Bottom of the Hill” is the most pop-friendly tune here, kicking off with a “ohhhhhh, WHOA-OH-OH-OH!!” vocal line and continuing in a pleasantly upbeat way.

The Imaginary Orchestra’s “Hellow!” is a raw, honest recording of ten very thoughtful tunes. Whether having fun with arrangements or delivering impassioned performances of well-written lyrics, The Imaginary Orchestra does everything they do with gusto. This results in a set of lively, engaging tunes that will keep you coming back for more. I look forward to more from The Imaginary Orchestra. Get the whole set for free at the above link.

Football, Etc.’s late ’90s emo sounds great, hopefully wins new fans to the genre

Some bands hate being pigeonholed. Some bands invite it. Football, etc. says straight-up in its press materials that it plays late ’90s emo. The info is sort of unimportant, because they make it clear from seconds into the first tune that this is Mineral, Promise Ring and American Football territory. They love the sound, so they’re making more of it. Nothing wrong with that at all.

So, there’s your first barrier: do you like late ’90s emo? Are you down with the prettier side of guitar-based rock? If yes, continue. If no, do not.

The second barrier: Is Football, etc. good?

The band certainly has a lot going for it. They have a strong female vocalist who fits in well to the sound. They write solid songs that fit neatly within the constraints of the genre. They reference Lambeau Field in a song title, which makes me giddy. The three musicians all know their stuff, chops and pedals included. This sounds right.

As to innovation? Closing track “Mouthguard” features some excellent, quick-paced guitar work that held my attention tighter than anything else on the album. Unfortunately, “Mouthguard” is only 1:24. The rest of the tunes will be beloved by those who miss the days when bookish dudes played wistful rock and ruled the open road, but could shoot over the heads and/or under the radar of those unfamiliar with the genre.

Bonus: each of the ten tracks on “The Draft” is named after a football term (“Safety,” “Incomplete,” “Sideline,” “Hail Mary,” etc.). It also serves as a mild subversive tactic in showing how much the English language has been changed by sports phrases, as each of these terms (except my beloved “Lambeau”) has a double entendre to an event or emotional state. Super-cool.

Football, Etc.’s “The Draft” is a good album that will thrill fans of the genre. The songs are strong enough that they may be able to bring new fans into the fold, if people haven’t heard it. It has been almost ten years since people were rockin’ this thing. I certainly enjoy “The Draft.” I hope other people do as well. You can hear a preview here.

And if you’re in Norman for Norman Music Fest, you should check their set at Opolis at 6 p.m. Friday, April 29. I will be there. I am excited about it.

Of the Vine makes reverent, moving post-rock

Post-rock band Of the Vine‘s self-titled debut album is 25 minutes long. It is broken up into five songs, but the distinctions are relatively meaningless. This is best experienced as one 25-minute opus. And opus it is.

The thing that sets Of the Vine apart from other post-rock bands is their use of real piano. They treat the upright as a vital part of the sound, not just atmosphere. You may say that other post-rock bands have done this, and I would agree. But the weight that members give the ivories in their compositions differentiates.

I do not mean weight in a percentage amount; the piano is not a heavy hitter in several of these songs. But when it appears, there is a feel of awe and reverence surrounding it. It’s not reverence for the instrument itself, but an underlying feeling that compelled the notes. This transfers over to the rest of their composition: The guitar carries the mantle when the keys are not around, and the rhythm section is imbued with a welcome sense of drama. But it stems from the upright.

It’s this reverence that makes the album so incredible. It’s inescapable; whether distorted guitars are hammering away Explosions in the Sky-style or single-note clean guitar melodies are abounding, there is life here. There is something other that comes through.

The band’s name and liner notes point to the fact that they are Christians; I’m one, too. It is refreshing to hear a band that claims the name of Christ make truly excellent music. Most Christian music is garbage, and to hear people combating that is a joy to my soul. Religious or no, I would wager that any fan of post-rock will hear the life that bursts through the tunes.

And they are brilliant tracks, constructed with an ear toward drama and mood. The whole album builds and ebbs, ranging from elegaic piano to a metalcore breakdown (their words, not mine). What’s most incredible? Those two parts I described are back to back in “War.” And it works perfectly.

Of the Vine’s post-rock is some of the most moving music I’ve heard all year; they draw on incredible songwriting skills to make varied and interesting pieces that never miss an opportunity to awe the listener. And it’s most impressive that the compositions are what make the jaw drop, not just hooks. This is great composition. I sure hope that it takes Of the Vine less than four years to craft their next work. You can and should stream it here.

Andrea Caccese's Scandinavian folk EP is a gorgeous stunner

So much of what makes it out of Scandinavia is just beautiful. Swedish musician Andrea Caccese‘s Icarus Falling/Set the World on Fire EP falls neatly in that description.

He makes gentle, stark acoustic tracks that are just gorgeous. “Set the World on Fire” is a slowly picked acoustic tune with a cello swooning throughout. Caccese’s surprisingly solid vocals follow the direction of the instruments, creating a mesmerizing piece that is perfect to fall asleep to (if you can fall asleep in just under three minutes).

But if you hadn’t fallen asleep yet, the delicate “Playing With Ghosts” gives you two extra minutes of toy piano, reverb and atmosphere. It’s not a “song” in the pure sense of the word; it’s a two minute mood experiment. It’s like a deep breath of fresh air. It just feels right.

The one slip-up here is the end of “Stars and Satellites,” which transforms from a Bon Iver/Damien Jurado depresso-folk tune into a screeching wail with an electric guitar rush. It horribly clashes with the rest of the song, and the rest of the album. I wish I could edit the distortion out of the song, actually; the rest of the tune is a highlight on the album.

But other than that one slip-up, Andrea Caccese’s debut four-song EP is a gorgeous stunner. I’m hungrily looking forward to his next release. You can stream and download the EP for free here.

Quick Hits: Built by Animals

Last year I fell in love with the perky, poppy sound of NYC’s Built by Animals. Their brand of hook-laden indie-rock could only come out of some NYC loft; it’s equal parts confident swagger, self-deprecating groan, guitar oomph and pop melodies. They do nothing to change the formula on their three-song EP “Summer of Shmiz.” Since these are only songs number 5-7 for our boys in Built by Animals, let’s give them a pass on “growth” for this one.

The vocals are a joy throughout, whether creaking, snarling, screaming or singing; there’s enough personality contained in them to power this whole EP. But they don’t have to shoulder the load, because the tom-heavy groove and acrobatic guitar work of “Animal Parade,”  the bass-heavy and spazzy-within-limits “Ellen Page,” and the whipsawing moods of “Red-Breasted Bastard; Or, The Feel Bad Hit of the Summer” all give good reasons for repeat listens.

I’d love to go to a Built by Animals show, ’cause I bet they’re just tons of fun. If they can back up their entertaining songs with any amount of showmanship, I know they are. If you like your rock with sunglasses at night and a bit of NYC cool, Built by Animals can be your fix. Rock.

Video: My Head for a Goldfish

It’s always something, y’know? I was just about to say that I hadn’t heard any new rock in a long time that just grabbed me by the throat and screamed in my face, “LISTEN TO ME.” Then I opened an e-mail with the music video for “Grenades Are Not Light 4 Us” by My Head for a Goldfish in it. The Italian trio makes complicated, dissonant, structure-less, vital post-hardcore with hollered vocals and a reckless abandon. It reminds me of what Deep Elm bands used to sound like around the turn of the Millenium, only wilder. Wow.

Nobody Really could be somebody in electro-pop, with some work

I love pop songs. Doesn’t matter if the great melody is accompanied by guitar, synths or a choir of saxophones: a good pop song will make me happy. And Nobody Really, the nom de plume of Fred Soligan, is in the business of pop songs. In fact, he even goes so far as to say “I want to make you sing!” toward the end of “Aren’t You Just.”

The middle song of the three-song electro-pop EP “Who Did This?” isn’t as catchy as opener “ALARMS! ALARMS!,” which is itself nowhere near as frantic as the title would make it out to be. The mid-tempo electro-pop song resides in the Owl City vein (albeit with grittier synths). I’ve been to an Owl City concert and love me some Ocean Eyes, so I say that as no knock. It’s just what it is.

Soligan’s voice is way above the level needed to float electro-pop songs, and his vocals and melodies are two of the best assets here. The other asset is potential. That’s a nice way of saying, “Man, these songs could have been awesome if…”

And the follow-up to that common phrase in this case is, “Soligan had better percussive noises and a fuller vision for what these songs could be.” The first bit is a personal quibble: I think that the heavily processed percussion noises Soligan employs clash with the smoother synth sounds that he pulls together for the rest of his songs.

The second complaint is that there’s not a personality that can be extrapolated from these tunes. Granted, there are only three of them, and you can’t have the whole world on one small plate. But these are nice songs that don’t have any distinctive markers. Owl City is a big touchstone, as well as other young songwriters like Never Shout Never! and Mansions, but without the markers of either. I’d like to see Nobody Really transcend his moniker and become someone: find a unique stamp, a subtle twist to the sound, and make it his own. Do you play sax, Fred Soligan? I’m only part kidding.

“Who Did This?” by Nobody Really (there’s the joke full-out; I oblige) is a competent little EP of electro-pop with solid vocals and a lot of room to grow. If you’re a big fan of the genre, these three tracks are all free over at Nobody Really’s Bandcamp. Consider it a “Happy Spring!” present to yourself.

Hoodie Allen, G-Eazy and Amazon Cloud Player

So Amazon’s new Cloud Player is an awesome idea, but with one catch: their uploader is horrifyingly slow. I decided to upload 18 gigs of music, which isn’t a. all of my music or b. anywhere near 1000 gigs, which is the most amount of space offered. I did all the requisite steps, and when it started to input, it said it had 99+ hours to go. I’m thinking that it’s going to fluctuate downward, as almost all download estimates do, right? No.

It’s going to take five consecutive days.

Now, I know that I’m on a wireless connection, and they recommend a hardwire connection so that it doesn’t take over 100 hours, but seriously. Who has a hardwire these days? The whole point of this cloud is so that I can have my music on my wireless phone, or access it wirelessly from any computer in the world. This is a plain and simple case of needing the thing that the service is trying to kill.


In other news, since my Internet will be heinously slow till Friday, I’ll be doing a bunch of short stuff for the week. This is a bummer because I have a tonnnnnnn of stuff in my inbox that I want to share with you, but the glacial internet makes everything, well, slow. If I didn’t know I wasn’t going to love this Cloud Player, I’d hate it.

So, here’s the latest in indie-samplin’ rap.

Straight off Hoodie Allen’s press release: “NY is Killing Me” is a remix of the Jamie XX re-working of the Gil Scott-Heron song of the same name (SO META!).” The Gil Scott-Heron song is great, the remix is aimless, but the remix of the remix gives the first remix some reason for existing. It is rull meta up in hurr, but I like it.

Also, G-Eazy dropped his latest mixtape The Outsider recently, which features samples from Cults, Dam-Funk, Phenomenal Handclap Band and Vivian Girls, among others. The title track is free at the above link. It’s the one that samples VG. It’s a pretty great track.