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Month: January 2013

The Duke of Norfolk: On seizing the day (and rowboats)

When I’m not covering music at Independent Clauses, I’m helping make other music: I’ve been booking/managing Oklahoma alt-folk singer/songwriter The Duke of Norfolk (aka Adam Howard) for the past two years. Because a review of his EP would be rather self-serving, here’s an interview in celebration of his new EP Le Monde Tourne Toujourswhich releases today through Mint 400 Records on all digital retailers.

Download the single “Thanatophobia” for free.

IC: Le Monde Tourne Toujours is your first release since a series of 5 EPs all named after birds. How did you decide to end that series and release this standalone EP?

AH: When I started planning that series I had a body of songs I had written specifically for the series. All of them fit loosely around the idea of birds naturally reacting to the changes in weather by migration. I grouped the songs by sub-themes and plotted out the series. So, in a sense, the series’ end was planned from its beginning. The second part of the question is a little more complicated.

The bird EPs were intended to lead up to my debut album, which is to be comprised of select songs from those EPs re-recorded for a unified feel. Before my tour last summer I started those recordings and then I toured those songs for the whole summer. So when I returned from the summer and took a look at my half finished recordings, I realised that I was rather burnt out on those songs. So I decided to take a break from them. And that’s essentially what this EP is, a break.

You’ve experimented with a variety of different sounds, from electronic to stark acoustic to piano-based. How did you choose the sound palette for Le Monde?

My reasoning for the experimentation that you’re talking about is twofold. I wanted to experiment for my own sake, to practice recording and composing with different sounds and to figure out what I can make work and what I can’t. More than that, though, I wanted to establish early on that my releases won’t all have the same sound palette and I don’t want people to expect them too.

The sound palette for Le Monde Tourne Toujours is by far less intentional. I sort of just let it happen. The first song that I recorded on the EP was ‘A Dream Waltz’, the fourth track, and I arranged and composed it on the fly. After I had mostly finished that recording, I used that as the sound palette for recording the rest of the EP.

Your output can certainly be considered prolific. How often do you write? How many songs do you have unrecorded at one time? How do you decide which songs go on what releases?

I feel like I don’t write often enough, but at the same time, I would never have time to record all the songs that I write. On a good week I might write three or four songs that I am happy with. But on a bad week I usually at least start writing a song or two that I may or may not give up on.

I don’t know how many songs I have unrecorded… at any point it could range from ten to fifty, depending on how much I remember. When I started recording the bird EPs, I had close to fifty songs. Right now I have probably fifteen that I plan on recording at some point.

As far as what goes on what release, it’s mostly just what fits thematically with the rest of that release. A lot of the songs I write with a specific theme in mind, but there are still a lot that I just write.

What are the songs you are writing now sounding like?

The songs that I am writing now involve a fair bit of fingerpicking, so the guitar is not as forceful as it is on some of my other songs and mostly they deal with ideas of home and travel and the uncertain future.

Le Monde is about seizing the day. How did you decide to write on this topic?

Like I’ve mentioned before, Le Monde is something that I kind of just let happen. So it was mostly songs that I had already written that I liked enough but, for the most part, hadn’t yet recorded. Because seizing the day is a concept that I think about quite often, a lot of my straggling songs dealt with it and when I grouped up this collection it was sort of at the heart of all of the songs.

Related question: How do you write lyrics? Do you write them all at once, or do you do it spurts, or does it vary?
It varies for sure. I think that my favourite songs have all been ones that I’ve written in like fifteen minutes… but there are definitely songs that I spend weeks on.

You toured the nation this past summer; what was one great story or performance from those 73 days?

A lot of things happen when you travel the country in a van for 73 days. So the summer was full of stories and, naturally, also full of performances. But one of the many memorable stories took place when we were driving through the Catskills. It was one of the members of our little company’s birthday and we were on the lookout for something out of the ordinary to do to commemorate that when we spotted a slew of rowboats banked by a quite picturesque lake. We found one that wasn’t tied up and risked the possibility of getting shot for thieves to borrow it for a cruise around the lake.

It’s not that exciting of a story and there were plenty more adventurous things that happened, but that one felt sort of like I was in a Mark Twain story for a few minutes.

What are your plans for the rest of 2013?
2013 is going to be busy for me, though not as busy as 2012 appeared. I am planning to record my debut album, at long last, start recording my sophomore, and play a few shows but I’m also working on some other projects. I am helping several friends by recording and producing some of their songs, and I’m also planning on writing an album that I’m going to release under some other name detailing a friend’s experience living in Moscow.

Le Monde Tourne Toujours is available for purchase on digital retailers, as well as for streaming on Spotify and Bandcamp.

Brave Baby makes a defining statement

Indie rock is not a very good term. As I have noted before, it doesn’t really delineate anything very effectively when used as a blanket term. But there is a sense in which “indie rock” means something: it’s that type of music which The Walkmen, The Arcade Fire, and Brave Baby play. I mean, how else can you explain those first two bands? And Brave Baby is in the same mold.

Brave Baby
‘s debut Forty Bells is not just good: it sets the bar for the rest of the year’s releases. With crashing, glorious tunes like “Foxes and Dogs,” “Cooper River Night,” and “Lakeside Trust,” the trio has made a huge mark on my mind to start off the year.

Lakeside Trust” is the most immediate of the tunes, as it meshes jangling electric guitar, steady acoustic guitar, impressively spry bass lines, driving drums and a horns-like synth into a tune that feels like the Arcade Fire and Fleetwood Mac got together with Springsteen to make a tune for your American convertible to blare with the top down. Special notice needs to be given to the bassist, who really makes the song with his swagger. At track four, it’s the first real sign that Brave Baby has something special going on.

Cooper River Night” incorporates some Walkmen yowl and ominous-or-is-it? guitar jangle into their sound, foregrounding the excellent vocal contributions. (I hummed this one for a while.) But it’s “Foxes and Dogs” that leaves the deepest impression. The mid-tempo tune starts off with a choir, clapping and world-weary lead vocals before exploding into a tune that gives “Lakeside Trust” a run for its money in epic scope and sprawl. The synths (or are they horns this time?) play a huge role here, pushing the tune over the top. It’s the sort of song that makes the world seem a bit brighter than it was before you were listening to the tune.

Other tunes have memorable turns as well: “Last Gold Rush” has a really nice bass and drums groove, while title track “Forty Bells” has a powerful vocal hook. “Grandad” has a lackadaisical vibe that is vaguely reminiscent of the band Grandaddy, which is a cool coincidence.

Forty Bells is a sweeping, moving album that feels like a complete statement. I review a lot of albums that are trying to get there, but Forty Bells is a fully-realized album that does what it wants to do. Love it or hate it, but this is Brave Baby. I love it, and I think a lot of other people will like this too. Do yourself a favor and meet up with “Lakeside Trust.”

Nightlands’ Oak Island displays a unique voice(s)

I’ve had an absolutely madcap time trying to fit the work of four days into five. This would usually call for my power music, but instead I’ve had the lush, mid-tempo Oak Island by Nightlands on repeat. I’d like to say that I did this perfectly to try to calm the clatter in my head, but the real story is that I can’t get “Other People’s Pockets” out of my head.

Penultimate tune “Other People’s Pockets” is indicative of the tunes that Dave Hartley (The War on Drugs’ bassist) has crafted on the album. The album relies heavily on walls of vocals cascading over a beautiful, lackadaisical indie-pop background that foregrounds mood over virtuoso playing. I absolutely adore vocal harmonies, and Hartley provides them here and elsewhere in spades. Opener “Time and Peace” offers another inviting atmosphere, this time pairing Hartley’s multitracked vocals against a thrumming bass line and a quick tempo for a memorable tune.

The rest of the album unfolds between these two pillars, delivering more quietly rapturous moments. It’s difficult to explain how music this carefully crafted in a studio can feel spontaneous and unscripted, but there’s a sense of breezy ease throughout the album nonetheless. Some may say that the vibe is a little too easy in the middle of the album, but I like the consistency. None of the tunes stick out positively, but none fall apart and stick out negatively, either. It’s a strong album to listen to from start to finish, and there can never be too many of those.

If you’re into lush, highly orchestrated indie-pop/indie-rock, you should check out the unique voice(s) that Nightlands uses on Oak Island.

Quick Hits: Automotive High School

The Vaccines’ first album scratched an itch I didn’t know I had: hooky, buzzy, speedy rock that fell between pop-punk and pop-rock. Since finding what I didn’t know I was missing, I’ve been loving the style ever since. (I must sadly admit that I am remiss in not having checked out their recent follow-up yet.) So it was with great joy that I came across Automotive High School, which plays a similar brand of hooky, buzzy rock.

The band’s Demo 2 kicks off with the perky “Look. It’s Gone.”, which marries playful verses to a driving, insistent chorus. The high vocals and treble-happy guitars in the former section both give off a charming vibe, which turns ominous and desperate for the chorus. They nail the transition between the two moods, as well as making each chorus feel a little more dark than the last. It makes for a striking tune that grabs attention. “Wonder Sings” ratchets up the playfulness, with the lead riff sounding like a children’s sing-song melody being blasted through a Sleigh Bells speaker. Closer (I know! I was sad too!) “Planks” is more like the first tune than the second, sticking to a mid-tempo romp vaguely reminiscent of Menzingers’ unusual quiet/loud structures. There’s still a bit of sing-song in the vocals, which works perfectly here.

This three-song demo couldn’t have piqued my interest more. I want to hear more Automotive High School, stat. If you’re into loud, fun, buzzy rock, you’ve got to hear this band.

2013 Singles Jam, v. 1

Fusing the rhythms of The Tallest Man on Earth to the full arrangements of modern folk-style indie bands like The King is Dead-era Decemberists, Sukh’s “Kings” is an immediately comfortable and lovable folk gem.

Ra Ra Riot has me dancing like a fool to Prince-style falsetto in my office. Also, the phrase “robot hearts” appears. Yes. Yes, indeed.

Ugly Kids Club has been a bit of a chameleon, exploring mega-fuzzed out pop a la Sleigh Bells in as many ways as they can. “Get It All” gives their crunch a bit of new wave touch and a bit of AFI-style anthemic gloom.

First videos of 2013!

Since I loved Megaman and Sonic the Hedgehog when I was growing up, chiptune has a special appeal to me. Add punk rock into that mix, and you’ve got something I can’t resist. Anamanaguchi has indeed made a career out of combining these things, but they’ve upped the ante in the video for “Meow” by paying tribute to all the video games I loved as a kid. This is just … I can’t even explain how much I love this.

With a band name like The Suicide of Western Culture and a song titled “Love Your Friends, Hate Politicians,” I didn’t expect thoroughly unmitigated joy out of this tune. But that’s what this duo delivers, offering up a thrilling, joyous electro-jam that’s reminiscent of Dan Deacon’s amazing work.

Bono and Glen Hansard decided to go busking together, which is amazing in and of itself. But the best part of this video is at the beginning, where Glen clearly motions to a guy off screen to come up and help play “Desire.” It’s Eoin Glackin, who I’ve been covering for a while now. Mind be blown.

White Blush beautifully walks the line between electronic pop and soundtrack music

I’ve always found myself pulled between two sides. I’m an editor/writer; I create technical writing and fiction; I have friends and family in the extreme liberal and extreme conservative camps. I span many distances, with the moderate center being my home. This goes for my taste in electronic music as well: I am thoroughly on board with electronic music, as long as it retains some sense of being remotely a pop song. I’m not into deep house trance and such, which is very definitely music but perhaps not actually a song. So I’m (surprise) on the fence about White Blush‘s self-titled EP, as it makes overtures toward being both a project that creates discrete song-style entities and one that creates free-flowing music.

Carol Rhyu is the mastermind behind the project, and she creates a lush, dusky environment on the EP. This is best shown on “Jolene,” where a mechanical, post-Portishead beat is filled out melodically by all manner of synths and Rhyu’s cooing vocals. The environment could be called dark (it’s certainly not a summery song), but there’s no malice in the tune. It simply puts forward a distinctive mood evocative of night and develops it in a song-style structure, pulling together repeated parts into a semblance of verse/chorus/verse. “808 Myst,” on the other hand, is a soundtrack-style piece reminiscent of its title reference. It’s not bad at all, it just doesn’t appeal to me. I can’t hum it, nor recognize it as a discrete entity.

So it’s good for me that Rhyu skews more toward the pop end of the spectrum. “Mirror” starts off with a bouncy bassline reminiscent of goth rock, but layers Rhyu’s tentative, reverb-laden vocals over it for a nice tension. Even though the song doesn’t have a chorus to speak of, it’s still treated more like a pop tune in that she sings directly instead of treating her voice as another instrument in the mix. It ends up sounding a bit like Braids’ work, which is another band that treats pop music structures as things to be morphed and challenged in odd ways without losing their essential nature. (This is not the case with “Tru Luv,” which takes a similarly bouncy bass line and slowly builds in into an instrumental piece complete with distant cooing.)

Not being an expert in electronic music, I don’t know all the right and proper names for the genre or genres that White Blush falls into. I can say with definition, though, that Carol Rhyu can make an absolutely gorgeous song when she wants to, whether it’s in a pop idiom or not. “Jolene” is a fabulous song, one that only gets more interesting with time. And that’s the best sort of pop song.

Tyler Boone’s fresh, upbeat sound starts the year right

For the first review of the new year, I chose something upbeat and fun. Beginnings are important, you know? And Tyler Boone‘s Changing Pace is quite a good start to the year. Boone’s five-song EP features a strong beginning itself, as “Don’t Forget the Name” is a poppy, infectious tune that includes all the best parts of his Dispatch/Dave Matthews Band sound. A little bit of beach vibes, a few jammy tendencies, chill vocals and liberal doses of organ all come together for a tune that you won’t be forgetting any time soon. That is, until closer “Put It Down” rolls around. Featuring that organ again, but now with an enthusiastic horn section punctuating the proceedings, the song is even more peppy than the first. If you’re into fun, upbeat tracks, there’s not much better mixtape fodder than this.

In between the two standouts are three tracks that don’t hit as hard. “Stuck Between” and “All of This” lean more toward the rock persuasion, which isn’t as interesting to me as the pop tunes. (This style, however, may appeal to other listeners.) “Home,” at the very center of the EP, is in the poppy vein of the highlight tracks, but doesn’t have quite the same melodic impact due to its more pronounced efforts at being poignant. Boone is at his best when the vibes are just rolling off him; this recognition most likely led “Don’t Forget the Name” to be the very worthy single.

If you’re missing the summer and need a quick fix, I recommend giving  Changing Pace a spin or two.

So this is the new year!

Hello 2013! The new year has arrived at Independent Clauses, with new music, new projects and (already) newly discovered ways to waste time. Sounds good, right? Let’s get to it.

Independent Clauses’ 10-year anniversary is coming up, which means we’ll have a super-special birthday gift for you in May that I’m working really hard to complete.

I’m going to be a guest judge in SpinTunes 6! SpinTunes is a really cool songwriting contest that includes completing four songwriting tasks relatively quickly. I’ll be judging round two. You should enter! Yes, you!

Alt-folk artist The Duke of Norfolk, whom I manage/book, will be releasing a new EP via Mint 400 Records on January 29 entitled Le Monde Tournes Toujours! It’s pretty incredible. I’ll keep you posted with details.

I’ll finally (finally) be releasing a new EP as well, of my own music. It should drop in mid-February, but the details on it are much less set than the other release.

I’m hoping to establish the Independent Clauses Traveling Show, which will feature me showing up in a town I’ve never been in once a year or so and putting on a concert featuring the bands I love from that town. Details to come!

I’ll be hitting SXSW, too!

And, as always, I’ll be reviewing all sorts of new music, starting tomorrow. Here’s to a busy but wonderful 2013!