Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

James Apollo’s distinct musical vision pays off in spades

June 30, 2014

angelorum

This is Independent Clauses’ 2000th post! Thanks to everyone for sticking with us for 11 years!

Some of the best records are growers: stuff that doesn’t strike you immediately, but works its way into your ears and heart. On the other hand, some grab your attention immediately and don’t let go. James Apollo‘s Angelorum smacked me across the face and demanded that I pay attention. It’s the rarest of rare: a record that has immediate appeals and slowly unfurling charms past that first look.

Apollo commands attention by perfectly executing his distinct and unique vision. Angelorum is a subtle, complex record made from Motown horns, slinky cabaret vibes, Kinks-esque garage rock and unassuming instrumentals. Yet this mix never sounds uncomfortable: Apollo’s identity is strong, clear, and focused. For example, “Two Lane” is an sexy, confident track that relies on a quiet guitar line, occasional bass hits, and Apollo’s smooth vocals. The title track follows “Two Lane,” and it’s a calm tune led by piano and bass. Thanks to Apollo’s style and an excellent production job, these two songs fit perfectly next to each other.

Apollo also knows how to subvert expectations: “Neverland” opens with the rock-est guitar riff of the collection, but it’s eventually buried under bass, shakers, vocals, and vibraphone. It powers the song, but not in the direction you’d expect. “Chestlodge” starts out with a dramatic piano arrangement, then decides to just stay a dramatic instrumental. “Spinnin” throws down some ragged guitar-rock drumming, then almost entirely removes the guitar to create an impressive, interesting tune.

Angelorum is a beautiful record in its tone: it’s at turns highly romantic, tender, pleading, and calm. It’s hard to compare it to much, because Apollo’s vision is very distinct. (That’s a high compliment from a person who listens to hundreds of bands a year.) It’s definitely one of my favorite albums I’ve heard so far this year. Basically, some words aren’t convincing as the music itself will be: you just need to go listen to Angelorum by James Apollo.

Mid-year, pt 3

June 28, 2014

Mid-year pt 3: Post-rock, etc.

1. “Grey Lion” – Cleanup. Remember when The Appleseed Cast was putting out astonishing post-rock records like Mare Vitalis? Cleanup is the heir to that major-key, vocal-friendly, guitar-centric, totally mind-bending post-rock throne. Cleanup is going to go far, y’all.

2. “Blowhole of Sorrow, Lend Me Your Ears; Drink From These Eyes These Salt‚Äč-‚ÄčTasting Tears” – The Speed of Sound in Seawater. Math-rock doesn’t just have the best names for everything, they are currently lapping the last place contenders by making things that would sound terrible in others’ hands totally awesome. Also, this is some wicked great math-rock, y’all.

3. “Sable” – Blood Party. Intense bass riffage, pounding drum attack, creepy atmosphere. This is heavy, heady instrumental rock.

4. “Shifting Sand Land” – Kraj. Instrumental post-rock free association: It kind of reminds me of a time traveler going back to the past and finding it pretty chill in the Mesozoic era.

5. “Thunder” – Liminal Digs. Free association: You’re sneaking through a town at dusk, looking for something that has eluded your grasp for years. You know it’s there, so the tension is both building and falling: so near, yet so far.

Mid-Year pt 2

Mid-year pt 2: Acoustic Happy / Acoustic Sad

1. “High Up” – Wonderful Humans. WH has it all together to make perfect indie-pop: energy, enthusiasm, twee instruments, percussive elements, and melodies galore. Wonderful Humans is really good.

2. “Big River” – Wonderful Humans. ANOTHER WH TUNE BECAUSE I DO WHAT I WANT AND IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. WHOA-OH-OH-OH, WHOA-OH-OH-OH.

3. “Clams” – Pepa Knight. Exuberant indie-pop filtered through a Hindi-pop lens. It’s enveloping and enthralling. I’ve been super pleased with both of Pepa Knight’s singles so far.

4. “Give Me a Drug that Works Forever” – One Finger Riot. Mid-tempo Brit-pop, burbling electro, and American indie-pop collide in an infectious, memorable tune.

5. “Girls” – Slow Magic. Chillwave meets The Album Leaf meets Pogo. I APPROVE.

6. “Run Run Run” – Jenny Scheinman. Scheinman has a strong voice and a deft Americana songwriting touch. You won’t be able to ignore Scheinman much longer.

7. “Black Crow” – Juliette Jules. A voice mature beyond her years, songwriting beautiful beyond expectations, and production of excellent quality: Jules has everything working for her on this gorgeous, tender track.

8. “Wedding Day” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat, and the folky/celebratory arrangement kept me involved. This is an impressive tune.

9. “Green Eyes” – Cancellieri. Originally by Coldplay, Cancellieri strips some of the pop sheen from this and gives it a romantic intimacy befitting the gorgeous lyrics.

10. “Is What It Is” – She Keeps Bees. This female-fronted singer/songwriter track is stately, composed, and elegant without becoming icy or distant. SKB creates great atmosphere here.

11. “Confederate Burial” – Snowblind Traveler. Snowblind Traveler matches up the icy arrangements of For Emma and the traditional melodies of old-school Americana to great effect.

12. “Blue Valentine” – Bloom. If you’re a fan of the sad but not hopeless sound that Pedro the Lion made, Bloom will scratch your itch for it with this beautiful track.

13. “Hold on to Your Breath” – Sleepy Tea. These Aussies live up to their name with a relaxing, refreshing vibe reminiscent of a slightly more energetic Parachutes-era Coldplay. Just a beautiful track.

Mid-Year pt 1

June 27, 2014

It’s the middle of the year! Independent Clauses always gets more music than it knows what to do with, so mid-year and end-of-year are a good time to clean out the files and point out all the amazing things that I missed the first time around. So here goes three days of that! These singles could have been released yesterday or months ago; these and the following posts are not time-sensitive whatsoever.

Mid-year, pt. 1: Rock, etc.

1. “A Place Called Space” – The Juan Maclean. LCD Soundsystem is gone, but The Juan Maclean is still around to fill that rubbery, propulsive dance tune-shaped space in our hearts. THE JUAN MACLEAN FOREVER.

2. “Mama Gold” – North by North. Pounding, fuzzy guitar, yelping vocals, heavy low end? Welcome to rock’n’roll, people.

3. “Blood::Muscles::Bones” – Street Eaters. This punk band is composed entirely of distorted bass guitar, drums, female vocals, and male vocals. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

4. “Everybody Pretends” – Ostrich Run. A high-drama violin riff kicks off this dark indie-rock tune. The vocals keep me going the rest of the way.

5. “Serious Things Are Stupid” – Cayetana. The rise of Cayetana in the punk scene has been fun to watch, as innate songwriters start to match the talent with the ability. Impressive tune here.

6. “Dirty Roofs” – Edmonton. Do you like The Offspring? You’ll love Edmonton, which sounds similar, but with a heart that The Offspring haven’t had for a while (/ever).

7. “You’re Cold” – The Black Tibetans. Stuff that Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) produces is starting to be as distinctive as Stuff Steve Albini or Jack White does: rifftastic, slightly scuzzy, classic-rock-inspired blues heaviness with melodies galore. The Black Tibetans deliver on that promise.

8. “Every Night, Every Day” – The Sheens. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it just sounds right. Here we have female-fronted rock with punk and new wave-y overtones, and it’s just a ton of fun.

9. “Hi-Lo” – North Elementary. Check that opening riff on this power-pop tune. The vocals and arrangement have some Arcade Fire vibes thrown in for good measure.

10. “Pack of Cards” – Wood Ear. Straightforward rock’n’roll, Glossary-style, doesn’t get enough love here on Independent Clauses. Wood Ear throws down some organ-laden rock that just feels right.

11. “Loving You Is Hard” – The Parrots. Sometimes you just want some brash, off-the-cuff, speedy, infectious surf-rock. The Parrots are here for you.

12. “We’ll Be Fine” – Action Item. So I really like big, shiny pop-rock like Hot Chelle Rae, and Action Item delivers it in spades. HAVE FUN, Y’ALL!

13. “Always” – Annabel. Jangly guitars, tom-heavy percussion, and yearning male vocals satisfy my craving for earnest, serious indie-pop-rock.

14. “House” – Thunderhank. The tension builds and builds in this electro-influenced rock song, but it resolves in ways other than you’d expect. Keep ’em guessing, Thunderhank.

15. “Whistle for My Love” – Jimmy & The Revolvers. If the Beatles had kept cranking out the pop tunes instead of going all psych, they could have ended up here. Total old-school pop bliss (with some modern rhythms, of course).

16. “Pool Guard” – Inspired and the Sleep. Sometimes the title really does tell you everything you need to know.

MORE VIDEOS etc. pt 3

June 26, 2014

Babes describe themselves as sad and horny. I think “Dad” sticks more on the sad side of the spectrum, but the video is quirky enough to keep out of 100% mopeville. It’s now just, like, 75% mopeville.

“Daisy Garden” by The Provincial Garden is also seriously depressing, but the visuals are gorgeous while doing it. The song is lovely as well.

Spazzy, hectic rockers Hectorina show their particular brand of wild, frantic rock’n’roll in a 10-minute live clip. If you’re into theatrical, artsy, off-kilter, I-have-no-idea-what’s-coming-next music, Hectorina should be your jam.

MORE VIDEOS etc. pt 2

June 25, 2014

Do you wish that the Mountain Goats were more piano-based? If so, The Sons will be your cup of tea. Here’s a charming/goofy clip based on their song “Relic.”

I don’t care if you can guess the punchline to City City’s “I Don’t Dance” video: it’s still completely fun.

I love dancing in videos, even if it’s seriously weird. Lydia Ainsworth holds up both parts of that last sentence with “Malachite.”

Continuing with the weird yet intriguing dance videos, here’s “Conversations” by Woman’s Hour.

Quick Hit: Wall-Eyed

June 24, 2014

walleyed

Wall-Eyed‘s I Wanna Wreck Yer Car EP is a really fun 15 minutes. The acoustic-punk outfit pours all the ragged intensity of a punk band into an acoustic guitar, drums, bass, banjo, trumpet, and whistling. The songs retain a thrilling feeling of off-the-cuff candor in performance style and vocal tone, which makes “Exile” and “Like a Playwright” just a blast to listen to.

This isn’t the sort of outfit that prizes imperfections, but they’re certainly more interested in playing with passion and enthusiasm than laying down every rhythm 100% correctly. Wall-Eyed, in other words, sounds like your really talented friends hanging out and having a good time without worrying about anything. That loose magic is infectious. If you’re into any sort of energetic music, it’s a fair bet that you’ll be attracted to Wall-Eyed.

MORE VIDEOS THAN YOU CAN HANDLE pt 1

The best songs move me. The best music videos take the best songs and make them even more powerful. Andrew Judah, already one of the most inventive and creative songwriters I’ve discovered this year, just dropped an absolutely astonishing video for “I Know You Know” that ranks high among the best I’ve seen this year and this decade.

Exzavier Whitley’s “How Will You Be” channels Nick Drake, Alexi Murdoch and other chill fingerpickers of note. Don’t sleep on Exzavier Whitley–he’s got huge talent.

Kye Alfred Hillig performs his song “Ex” as part of an a capella trio, making the already excellent song even more haunting and unique. Hillig, people. HILLIG. GET ON HIS LEVEL.

Stellar power-pop band Bishop Allen with only 14,000 views? WHAT IS THIS?! Give them your view. You will not be disappointed.

MP3 Catchup, pt 3: Night Moves

June 20, 2014

Night Moves

1. “Capernaum” – The Collection. The Collection always blows me away with the intricate complexity of their arrangements. It sounds as if David Wimbish has found an entire orchestra to pour his heart into here; whatever’s left over is spilled out in his deeply mournful and affected vocals. The tension between chipper music and deep sadness in the lyrics is beautiful, calling up sentiments similar to Page France and Sufjan Stevens (but way more orchestral–I know, what could be more arranged than Sufjan’s work? Just listen.)

2. “I Know You Know” – Andrew Judah. Judah is one of the most inventive arrangers I’ve come across in a long time. His songs genuinely defy notions of genre.

3. “The Dusty Air I Breathe” – Clockwork Kids. Confident performances and strong production kick this riff-driven indie-rock track up a notch. The powerful vocals here are particularly surprising.

4. “Two Ships” – Field Mouse. Every time I hear palm muting and pad synths, I think Fleetwood Mac. That comparison isn’t too far off in this mystic, dark indie-pop track.

5. “Kaleidocycle II” – Cloud Seeding. Powerful, beautiful instrumental indie-rock that doesn’t turn into post-rock or electro jams is a rare animal, so get out your safari cameras now.

6. “Banks” – Red Swingline. This complex acoustic picking and arrangement by a project that generally does progressive metal basically becomes a rolling, beautiful post-rock tune with some jazzy moments. Pretty cool.

7. “Room and Pillar” – Knife the Symphony. Cincinnati’s finest, most furious punk band is at it again, serving up brutal, dissonant punk that makes me marvel at how three people make this much noise.

8. “Song 32” – The Austerity Program. I don’t need a reader survey to know the readers here aren’t usually metalheads. BUT IF YOU ARE, The Austerity Program is pretty friggin’ impressive with the riffs here.

MP3 Catchup, pt 2: Dusky Tunes

June 19, 2014

Dusky Tunes

1. “Holy Ghost” – Michael Flynn. Flynn spent more time in the Radiohead school of electronica than in the club, it appears: Haunting, hooky, high falsetto.

2. “Time Between” – Bear in Heaven. I think we have reached the point where classic rock and indie rock are essentially the same. We could put Bear in Heaven on tour with like half the bands from the ’80s OR The Steve Miller Band and it would be totally cool. This song rules, by the way.

3. “Retro” – After Party. Autotune meets gospel towering meets pulsing electro. Get your slinky dance on.

4. “God’s Oscillator” – Vial of Sound. PROTIP: If you want to catch my attention, namedrop LCD Soundsystem in your press release. Vial of Sound’s new track features some ex-LCD musicians, even though it sounds more like Daft Punk.

5. “I Never Knew” – Wonderful Humans. Big synths, big melodies, airy harmonies: it’s the formula these days. And it still works.

6. “The Dancer” – Villiers. This dark synth-pop track rides the line between ominous and sultry.

7. “Fancy” – Starlight Girls. WHOA, THEY WENT DISCO. FULL DISCO.

8. “My Heart” – Werebearcat! It’s a ballad! It’s a slow jam! It’s an indie electro track! It’s Superman!

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

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