That old trope that “he/she could sing the phone book and I’d listen” does belie a fundamental truth: some artists connect with us in amounts that far surpass the normal (some would say appropriate) level of interest. Singer/songwriter David Wimbish is one of those for me. He exploded into my listening world with The Collection’s self-titled record, which I called “the most exciting album of the year” in 2011. Wimbish informed me about his more bluegrass-oriented group ElisaRay, and I found All Creatures thrilling as well.
The Collection is a new-folk group, based in the singer/songwriter tradition. Wimbish is not the primary songwriter here (Tommy Chesebro writes most of the songs and sings lead), so the trio’s primary sound on All Creatures is slightly different. The album is bluegrass-inspired, as guitar, string bass, banjo, and fiddle dominate the proceedings. Oh, and vocals; the group harmonies here are absolutely delightful. One of the most sublime moments in the whole album is the half-song “Intro,” which pairs a plaintive guitar line against three-part harmony. It falls in that perfect space between a hymn and a folk tune, as it segues perfectly into “Anxious,” one of the most singer/songwriter-oriented tunes on the album. Their voices are simply shiver-inducing; that element alone is enough to recommend this album to you.
“Rocks in My Stomach” is a downtrodden country tune, augmented by pedal steel and echoing percussion. It comes to a crashing conclusion, with Wimbish summoning a powerful roar from within him. When Wimbish puts his mind to something, he is a commanding presence. That roar also makes an appearance in the conclusion of the title track. “All Creatures” melds a gentle guitar line, swooping strings, and restrained vocals to allow for a cathartic conclusion. Oddly, the tune doesn’t include the banjo, making it the most like The Collection of the tunes here. I love it for that.
But Chesebro’s songwriting has its own charms aside from the influence of David Wimbish’s songwriting style. “Brother Caleb” uses interactions between the fiddle, bass and banjo to stand out, while “Hoping” is a heartrendingly beautiful boy/girl love song duet accompanied only by acoustic guitar. “Profound Distractions” employs a rattling, shuffling snare in its bluegrass/country amalgam.
It’s worth noting that “Outro” is a reprise of the gorgeous melody from “Intro,” but played on a piano; it sounds even more like a hymn than it did the first time. All Creatures doesn’t just get better from beginning to end, it gets better as you hear it more and more. This is an album you can live inside, and not just from a musical perspective; there’s a lot going on lyrically that I haven’t even touched on. It’s a beautiful, powerful release, and one that deserves your attention. Maybe you’ll become as taken by David Wimbish’s skills as I am.
I had a strange life of music in the early 2000s; my listening habits tied together the fringes of the pop-punk, emo, pop-rock and acoustic scenes. Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good covers the general sound, but I listened to stuff that never made it to the radar. So my nostalgia is not for any particular band, but a sound, and City Reign has churning, yearning, melodic yelp of a sound.
Because I was (and still am) obsessed with Appleseed Cast’s “Fishing the Sky,” Deep Elm Records was a staple of my listening in the early 2000s. They’re offering their whole catalog of releases for $5 each for the rest of the year. Top picks: Too Young to Die sampler, There Should Be More Dancing by Free Diamonds, Mare Vitalis by Appleseed Cast, We’ve Built Up to NOTHING by 500 Miles to Memphis. But there are literally dozens of gems in their catalog, so you should just go nuts.
Autumn Owls’ video for “Byways of the Lifeless” caused me to realize that by the mid-2000s, most videos stopped having their credits in the bottom left corner at the beginning. The fact that this one does was a blast from the past in the best way. Also, the hectic sense of motion is reminiscent of early 2000s videos.
Pan’s These Are the Things I Love and I Want to Share Them With You is a perfectly-titled record. It’s an exuberantly happy record, full of soaring guitar melodies, ethereal builds, group vocals and fast tempos. The band doesn’t like calling itself post-rock, but it does have tendencies in that direction; it also has tendencies toward Fang Island-style rock tunes. They even throw in the acoustic track “Mom and Me vs. You and Dad,” but (true to form) the guitarist strums frantically while the band sings wordless melodies loudly. Even though the title sounds antagonistic, the song is so giddy that it must be about board games.
The usual knocks against the post-rock genre apply here: the constraints of the genre can sometimes make the tunes seem similar, it’s harder to connect with some of the wordless pieces, the songs take a long time to get where they’re going. But Pan is not nearly as indulgent as some; These Are the Things crams 12 songs into 40 minutes, for an average of just over three minutes. “Leave Your Body” is six minutes long, but “Mom and Me” is sadly only 1:25. I could have used more of “John from New York,” which has intriguing rhythms, solid melodies and a great vibe.
I’ve been spinning this album for several weeks, and it has staying power. If I’m trying to get some work done, this is perfect power music: energetic, upbeat, but still not so intricate as to be too complicated to process in the background of my mind. If I want to relax, it’s great for that too: “The Things They Can’t Take Away” is a calming piece, while closer “Arkansas” opens with a relaxing piano before building to a massive conclusion.
Pan’s name is supposed to invoke associations with Peter Pan, and their website (was) YouAreThePan dot com. They are sharing things they love with you. Look at the joy in the album art. The title of their debut EP was Post Rock Is Not Dead. How can you resist a band that just wants you to remember the wonder of being alive?
Should you put your best song first on an album? The Finest Hour falls on the affirmative side of the argument, as “Never Heard of Dylan” opens up These Are the Good Old Days on the highest of notes. “Never Heard of Dylan” bears more than a passing resemblance to the energetic rock of The Vaccines, as the scruffy British quartet offers up infectious melodies and great guitar/bass interactions. They make the most of what they’ve got, which shows in later tunes like the slightly calmer “Reasons to Complain” and the fist-pumping “See for Miles,” which has serious Green Day vibes. They do incorporate some fun ska elements, but they work best when they’re sticking to four-on-the-floor rock/pop. And although “Never Heard of Dylan” is tops, it only barely edges the 14-minute (!) finale “Indigo Night,” which includes a shout-it-out use of the album title in its excellent songwriting. If you’re looking for a fun album, you should be all over The Finest Hour’s These Are the Good Old Days–cause they are.
Michael Glader’s When On High is a fascinating amalgam, mixing ’60s psychedelic pop, rock, modern pop, and folk without succumbing to the excesses of any genre. This creates a uniquely idiosyncratic stew that keeps its own counsel. Opener “Strawberry Eyes” is a distortion-drenched, bass-driven stoner groove that features Glader modifying his keening tenor voice. Highlight “Big Spoon Little Spoon” is a solo guitar love song with the energy of a pop song, the fingerpicking of a folk tune, and the groove of a blues song. “Chasing Footsteps in the Sand” is a rhythm-and-bass-heavy pop tune. “Is This My Afterlife?” has a distant, eerie New Orleans vibe to its doo-wop. In short, this album goes all over the place, but none of Glader’s moves feel significantly out of his control. Each tune retains a dreamy, hazy sort of mood, and that keeps the album together. I’m a big fan of his quieter stuff (“Big Spoon Little Spoon,” “That’s It”), but there’s plenty for anyone to love in When On High. [Editor’s note: Michael Glader is now known as Red Francis.]
The Weeping Tree by The Knitted Cap Club is a very stately record. The acoustic songwriting is very structured, and the emotion delivered by the female vocalist is quite measured. I don’t mean this as a criticism; fans of Portishead treasure those same characteristics. But this does go against the grain of modern singer-songwriter/folk, establishing a very formal entry in a world of passionate confessionals. The tone of the album has much in common with slowcore artists like Songs:Ohia, Elephant Micah, and Red House Painters, but with fewer self-pitying vocal performances.
Instead, the sparse but effective arrangements, which often include other voices, carry the mood of the tunes. Standout opener “Crown of Roses” features a whole verse accompanied only by ghostly multitracked voices, while “Eight-Thirteen” incorporates distant recorded voices for a similar effect. Even though the vocal performances don’t telegraph hurt, the lyrics of the album often do (“Heart Exchange,” “The Weeping Tree”), which enhances the ghostly, somber feel of the album. If you’re looking for something different in your singer/songwriter listening habits, try out this one.
I’ve been listening to Kris Orlowski tinker with his sound for a little over a year. His singer/songwriter tunes fluctuated between detailed, somber pieces and fluffy, Matt Nathanson-style pop songs in the At the Fremont Abbey and Warsaw EPs. Pieces We Are finds him coming into his own by finding a perfect collaborator in composer Andrew Joslyn.
Joslyn’s appearance in the five songs of Pieces We Are doesn’t abolish either side of Orlowski’s songwriting style. Instead, he writes intricate, involved arrangements that accentuate the best parts of Orlowski’s work and strengthen the lesser elements. This is not a “pop songwriter writes string parts” set-up; this is a composer’s work. The results are the best songs I’ve yet heard from Orlowski.
The easiest place to see Joslyn at work is in the plucky (literally) work he assigns the violins at the onset of “In Between Days.” Originally a gleefully upbeat tune by the Cure, it’s the sort of tune that could have come off as pleasant but uneventful in a folky arrangement. Joslyn keeps the instruments of the orchestra interacting with each other in a playful manner, counterpointing Orlowski’s more serious vocal delivery. The violin gets a beautiful solo in the bridge as the song floats to a halt.
“Cables” is another upbeat pop tune that benefits greatly from a perky, horn-heavy arrangement; however, this tune includes a pensive bridge. Orlowski is able to mesh the two parts of his sound more sincerely with the orchestra backing him up, which results in more fully realized songs throughout.
The attention to detail that Joslyn and Orlowski give even the fluffiest of pop tunes transfers to their darker material. “All My People Go” is a powerhouse of a tune, with Joslyn contributing tension and power to Orlowski’s skill at deploying a melodic hook within a melancholy mood. Many “with strings!” albums sound like the arrangement was pasted on afterwards, but Pieces We Are is a true collaboration of composer and songwriter: when the strings drop out for one chorus, it feels similar to when the bass or drums drop out in a punk song. When the players crash back in for a final go at the titular motif, it’s a triumphant, uplifting event.
Kris Orlowski and Andrew Joslyn have created a powerful, fully-realized set of tunes in Pieces We Are. Orlowski’s songwriting has grown to encompass multiple moods in a single song, and Joslyn adds depth to the work with his meticulously crafted orchestral arrangements. Pieces We Are shows off two musicians who are hitting their stride, which makes me excited and hopeful for their future individual and collaborative work. Download “All My People Go” below.
I’ve written about the good guys at Soundsupply before, and I’m happy to announce that their project has made it to its fifth iteration. Their newest collection of 10 albums for 15 dollars is a bit heavier than previous drops, with IC fave Polar Bear Club, Hit the Lights, and Circa Survive among the loud stuff. But they still make room for songstresses Jen Wood and Laura Stevenson; Stevenson’s Sit Resist was my fourth favorite album of 2011. I’ve been hearing a ton about Buried Beds since they went on tour with faves MeWithoutYou; and then, of course, there’s John Frusciante, who needs no introduction.
Overall, it’s an impressive collection, one that is definitely worthy of your 15 bones. I’d pay 10 bucks for Stevenson’s album alone. Check it out here.
1. Circa Survive “Violent Waves” (Self-released)
2. Hit The Lights “Invicta” (Razor & Tie)
3. Jen Wood “Finds You In Love” (New Granada)
4. Polar Bear Club “Clash Battle Guilt Pride” (Bridge 9 Records)
5. Buried Beds “Tremble The Sails” (Self-released)
6. Rodeo Ruby Love “This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things” (Pentimento)
7. Pswingset “All Our False Starts” (Topshelf Records)
8. Make Do And Mend “End Measured Mile” (Paper + Plastik)
9. Laura Stevenson & The Cans “Sit Resist” (Don Giovanni)
10. John Frusciante (from Red Hot Chili Peppers) “The Empyrean” (Record Collection)
Most of the things I choose to review at Independent Clauses are good, even if I don’t explicitly say the words “good” or “excellent” in the review. I try to reserve the words of high praise for works that truly go above and beyond the bounds that a genre has set for an artist. Come On Pilgrim‘s self-titled record clears the folk/indie bar by a long way.
Come On Pilgrim! is the sort of album that I and many others have cultivated a taste for over the past ten years. The folk-inspired acoustic songwriting, interesting arrangements, passionate performances, thoughtful lyrics and memorable melodies all come together to make something more than the sum of its parts. The album is also more than the sum of its predecessors. While the loudest moments are a continuation of the anthemic bent that lead songwriter Josh Caress struck on his last solo release Perestroika, Come On Pilgrim! is the work of a whole cast of musicians who push the best aspects of Caress’ previous LPs to new heights.
“Regenerator” elegantly displays Caress’ progression as a songwriter. The song starts off with a droning organ, reminiscent of the drone that marks the beautiful Letting Go of a Dream. It grows through a long, flowing, emotive section (The Rockford Files) before exploding into a howling finale that excellently incorporates some of the darker indie rock that characterized the back half of Perestroika. The result is a distinctive sound that Josh Caress has been working towards for years: beautiful, relatable, passionate, haunting.
But it’s not all Caress; as previously noted, there’s a whole band here that makes the sound. The keyboards, pedal steel and violin permeate every tune as fundamental elements. An acoustic version of “The Ashes and the Springtime (That Wild Feeling)” could be an outtake from the sparse, finger-picked Goes on an Adventure, but it is enhanced from the get-go with atmospheric pedal steel contributions. Piano carries the chorus; the violin brings in the motif that I can’t escape from this album. Caress later doubles the motif with his voice, but not before female vocals introduce the haunting lyrics: “Don’t you want that wild feeling?”
“The True New Fire” knows the wild feeling. The song takes its time to build into a soaring, wordless vocal line over rumbling toms, unfolding during five minutes. The unhurried songwriting allows each of the instrumental contributions to breathe. The results are breathtaking, like a city dweller seeing the stars in Kansas at midnight for the first time.
While those songs are impressive, the “best” tag goes to the 7 minutes and 40 seconds of “The Secret Songs,” which shows off Caress’s lyrical and vocal abilities in an absolutely gorgeous song. It’s about “That night you came over with your dress torn/and I held you while you cried”; Caress has been telling stories of emotional distress since (at least) Letting Go, but in this one everything comes together perfectly. Caress’s voice creaks in places, but it does so with confidence; the lyrics and tone of his voice sync up to deliver a powerful performance. If finding your voice in writing means coming to grips with your talents and embracing them, Caress has found his lyrical and melodic voices here.
The eight songs of Come On Pilgrim! sprawl over 40+ minutes, making this a listening experience as opposed to a quick hit. The songs are carefully, lovingly arranged, and it shows in the final product. Come On Pilgrim! is easily a highlight of the year, even in a year when Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers and Grizzly Bear released albums. I keep coming back to it over and over because it exceeds my expectations for folk/indie in almost every way.
Damien Jurado minimalist guitar + Frightened Rabbit vocals + Josh Ritter lyrics = Eoin Glackin. I love this.
Elijah from Decent Lovers rocks an autoharp next to a dumpster for a version of “I’m Happy All the Time.”
BONUS: Here’s fractured, dubby remix of the album version of “I’m Happy All the Time”! Despite the angles, it has a surprising groove.
Oh Look Out! is one of my favorite new indie-pop-rock bands, and this video for new tune “Monster Fiction” only solidifies that opinion. If you want a list of the action figures in order of appearance, check that out here. Mega-yes.
John Hodgman isn’t primarily a musician, although he did introduce They Might Be Giants on their tour dates for a while. Still, I thought his new paperback edition of That Is All was pretty funny, so I reviewed it here. [Editor’s note: this review is no longer online.]
1. “Love You the Most” – The Shams. A timeless recipe: Country music + Rock’n’roll + touring = Ramblin’ Southern rock.
2. “The Road” – Nicolette Good. Evocative vocals, intriguing lyrics, and timeless instrumentation: This is the way I imagine country music.
3. “Patterns” – Autumn Owls. Crunchy, angular indie-rock reminiscent of Radiohead’s more personable moments and Menomena’s intensely structured early work.
You know what happened 20 years ago? The ’90s. Cub Scouts thinks that means nostalgia for the decade is primed to show up right about now:
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.