This is a combination essay and music review. If you’re more interested in Jenny and Tyler’s latest music than the state of the music industry, skip to the paragraph starting with “So you may be thinking”.
I know three things about the current state of the music industry:
1. People want to hear new music.
2. Business models are changing.
3. Music bloggers haven’t stopped writing about music.
The forward-thinking indie-folk/indie-rock duo Jenny & Tyler understand all of these trends and have come up with an impressive way to respond to all three. Album One [Patreon] gives the people what they want in a way that makes monetary sense for the duo and in a format that bloggers can write about. Everybody wins!
The thing J&T use to pull this coup off is right there in the title:Album One [Patreon] is only available if you’re a patron of Jenny and Tyler’s Patreon account. (However, you can see a trailer for the album on Facebook.) For those unfamiliar with Patreon, it’s a subscription service where fans of an artist can pledge to pay money to the artist on a set schedule (per month, per piece of media, etc.) in return for a reward. Jenny and Tyler are using Patreon to record and release a new song at the incredibly prolific rate of one a week, every week. All listeners who subscribe to the Patreon get to hear and download these songs. [I pay $5 a month–roughly $1 per song, or basically iTunes rates. (Remember iTunes? Good times.)] As a result of this process, Jenny and Tyler are guaranteed some monthly income and listeners get 4-5 new Jenny and Tyler songs a month.
So that’s how Jenny and Tyler give the people more new music in a sustainable way. But Patreon music is tough to review: the music lives behind a paywall, arrives incrementally over a long period of time, and often represents the sort of work not really intended for review (such as demos, never-gonna-be-released b-sides, live takes, etc.). To compound these logistical troubles, most music reviewers don’t have enough business income to subscribe to the Patreon account of every band they want to review music from. As such, this is the first Patreon account I’ve ever covered at Independent Clauses, despite the fact that I know the service well enough to fund a non-IC project of my own.
Jenny and Tyler have so far made two savvy moves with their Patreon:
a. releasing high-quality, “real” songs and
b. packaging the first 10 songs they released on Patreon as an album.
In eschewing goofy b-sides, live recordings, listener updates, and other types of content that can all (very satisfyingly) populate a Patreon, they are experimenting with how they get paid for the main work that they do.* Making Patreon central to their work instead of peripheral to it is an important, savvy move. They are certainly not the only people doing this, but it makes the other savvy move even more smart. By packaging their songs released on Patreon as an album, it shows off that the work they are doing on the Patreon is not extraneous to their discography: if you want to be a person following J&T’s full discography, Patreon is the way they are releasing this latest era of their work. It is an important message that helps let people know that the duo is serious about Patreon and hopefully will transform more people who were initially skeptical into subscribers.
The second thing it does is show to the media and bloggers that they want this work to be considered for media in the same way as a studio album. (And I know how to review albums.) The album has credits, liner notes, lyrics, album art, and more–all the materials I would expect from a studio album. I’m picking up this review of my own accord instead of getting a pitch from J&T, but I would love to see musicians compile content from Patreon accounts as J&T have done and then take the next step of pitching it to me for review. I want this to happen because it meets this blog’s goals: it gives me more stuff to review, keeps me on the cutting edge of developments in the field, and allows me to help artists (by promoting the artist’s money-making Patreon). I have always wanted to help artists here at Independent Clauses–in an era where “go buy this” is archaic and press quotes are getting less valuable than they used to be, I’m looking to find the best ways to help artists get up and on in their careers.
So you may be thinking: “Okay, so, cool, music business, yes, neat, but I’m reading a music review blog. Is the music good? Is this just an odds-and-ends affair? Is the quality low?” To wit: yes, no, no. Album One shows off the increasingly mature songwriting and rock-solid production skills of Jenny & Tyler. The song-a-week constraints that they’re working with don’t diminish the quality of the songwriting or recording one bit: instead, these songs are sharp, well-arranged, and carefully developed.
I’ve been following Jenny and Tyler’s career via reviews here at Independent Clauses for a long time. Their earliest work was light, warm, fun folk-pop, while mid-era work such as Faint Not created huge, dramatic towers of sound from folk underpinnings. Album One encompasses both of these poles: “When the Sun Shines Bright” is a beachy, sun-dappled, easygoing tune; highlight “Stars Shone Over Nashville” is about as sonically thundering as anything they’ve yet put together. The rest of the album falls somewhere between: “I Miss You” is as bass-heavy as it is emotionally heavy, opener “Wrote Us a Story” has a romantic lyric and a deftly handled piano/guitar arrangement that sounds bigger than just two instruments, and “Hills and Valleys” is a yearning solo tune with Jenny behind a guitar. The quality of these songs is very high: “Stars Shone,” “Wrote Us a Story” and “When You Awake” are some of the most emotionally moving, melodically interesting songs Jenny and Tyler have yet penned.
But what’s more amazing than the previously-proven fact that Jenny and Tyler can write great songs is that the song-a-week arrangements are often complex, layered, and dense. Patreon supporters are not getting raw demos, scratch tracks, or castoff songs. Tyler is becoming quite adept as a producer and engineer, experimenting with approaches and instruments (like the electronic beats in “Home”) in a satisfying way. The mixes are well-developed, keeping the vocals at the fore but also allowing the instruments to shine. In short, these songs are the real deal.**
This approach to Patreon (and Patreon overall) is not for every artist. Some people permanently need an editor and should not be releasing as much music as Jenny and Tyler are here. But Jenny and Tyler shine in this medium: producing lots of work in a short span of time has tightened their work instead of lessening it. Their musical muscles are trained and flexed here. I’m excited to see what the next album brings. If you’re a fan of emotionally-driven folk-pop with full arrangements, you should be supporting this Patreon and getting Album One. This album specifically is a strong continuation of themes they have developed in their career, and their overall Patreon project is a thoughtful way to develop their career. It helps Jenny and Tyler be more sustainable financially, and you’ll get a lot of Jenny and Tyler music. What isn’t great about that?
*There is a longer discussion to be had here about what the role of the album is in a Patreon world, but that is an essay for another day. Suffice it to say for now: I think that you can do things with studio albums that you can’t do with Patreon albums and vice versa. Both have a place.
**Now, there’s definitely room for “definitive versions” of these songs to appear: there’s more work in a studio that could result in something closer to the hugely coordinated song choices, lyrical themes, and sonic contours of Faint Not. This is a different take on Jenny and Tyler than the studio, and it is fantastic.
“Don’t Breathe a Word” is a lovely, fingerpicked singer/songwriter tune that hits all the right buttons. Fans of the genre will note that Ben Bateman‘s high tenor vocal tone shares qualities with Brett Dennen and Passenger.
The tune could work for either artist, as well. The dreamy, reverb-heavy guitar tone and delicate mood echo Dennen’s careful touch, while the structure of the lines in the lyrics and the subtle vocal delivery reminds me of Passenger. Some subtle bass work fills out the piece to give it some heft. Overall, it’s a light, airy, romantic piece that would fit as the soundtrack to a lazy summer day,swinging in a hammock or lying down in the grass.
While you can hear the song in advance on YouTube above, it hits digital outlets on July 31st. It’s the first of six songs Bateman will be releasing monthly over the next half-year. If you can’t wait that long to hear more from him, he’ll be doing some live dates soon:
November 3rd: Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough
December 1st Great British Folk Festival
1. “Shake” – Go Gracious. Imagine if The Hold Steady and The Naked and Famous tried to write a song together. That sort of jubilant-yet-rueful mix is exactly what you get with Go Gracious’ debut tune. Summer jam for real.
2. “History Walking” – Amy O. Noodly, doodly, and propulsive, this chipper indie-rock tune pushes all the right buttons for “infectious summer listening.”
3. “Magic” – Amy Stroup. Beachy but not in the traditional ways, this tune makes the most out of a loosely funky bass line and rattling percussion. Stroup’s easygoing vocals strengthen the chill vibe.
4. “Molly” – Ratboys. This fascinating mixture of alt-country, female-fronted pop-punk, and indie-pop subverted my expectations at every turn. Great stuff.
5. “Small Space” – Tall Friend. Bright but with a hazy, rainy sheen, this lo-fi, unassuming indie-rock/indie-pop tune reminds me of warm afternoons on green grass.
6. “Your Voice on the Radio (feat Laura Gibson)” – Dave Depper. OH man, chipper indie-pop basically doesn’t get any better than this. The inimitable Laura Gibson on guest vocals, bouncy bass guitar, tropical vibes, great vocal melodies, the whole shebang. More please, thank you.
7. “We Must Stand Up” – Har-di-Har. Wow, is there ever a lot going on in this song. This song rockets from synth-pop to angelic folk to complex indie-pop to wubby post-dubstep and points beyond. If Muse was ostensibly an indie-pop band, they might come up with this wild and clever track.
8. “What the Open Heart Allows” – Brad Peterson. Sometimes you’ve got an inventive, layered indie-pop arrangement that is heavy on tension and it still gets outshined by a massive, soaring vocal melody in the chorus. This is a good problem to have.
9. “Shame” – Lushloss. A solid two minutes of deconstructed down-tempo rainy-day indie-pop that’s heavy on bass guitar and layering. The tune appears unassumingly and ends suddenly, making the song even more endearing.
10. “Waking Up” – Illyin Pipes. All genres can be amazing, no matter how “done” they are. This is a full-on synth-pop piece with no big quirks–ambient synths, fuzzy arpeggiator work, rattling drums, woozy vocals–and yet it sounds amazing and fresh.
1. “Into Yellow” – Martin Luke Brown. You got up early to see it. You had to hike up a mountain in the dark and you nearly rolled an ankle three times. Is all this worth it? Really? You question things. You wonder things. You start to grumble at the person who set you up with this idea. But you crest the last incline onto the peak and you see it: a beautiful yellow warming–delicate, tentative–over the horizon. And pink, and orange, and yellow again, and your heart leaps. You’d do it again. You’d do it again. You’d do it again.
2. “You Gotta Sell Something” – Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Super-enthusiastic, jaunty Dixieland folk with a viciously satirical take on the contemporary music industry and modern life in general. I don’t know how something this sarcastic can be this much fun, but it’s a party and a half over here.
3. “The Lilac Line” – Karla Kane. Has a little bit of Kimya Dawson in the quirky lyrical content, but it’s the bubbly vocal melody in the chorus that really seals the deal. I also can’t resist a well-placed accordion (a la Laura Stevenson).
4. “Collision” – Hayden Calnin. Layered drones are in right now, and saxophones are in right now, and emotive pop melodies never go out of style, and yet when you put all of them together you get something that transcends them all. If you’re a person who (like me) unironically likes Coldplay, you’ll love the vocal tone and melodies here.
5. “Prom” – Monk Parker. Anyone who loved Clem Snide is going to grab this song in a giant hug and not let go it for a long time: Parker’s vocal tone echoes Eef Barzelay’s, and the weirdly indie-fied country Parker is purveying here was what Snide was best at. This song is an indie alt-country cornucopia, really: it’s even got a theremin.
6. “On My Side” – Gordi. Is folk-pop becoming cool again? Because this is definitely a folk-pop song: all yearning melody and stomping rhythms. Love it.
7. “Soulmate” – The Shivers. You can hear Tom Waits and The Antlers in this vaguely funky, soulful (but not over-the-top soulful), piano-led ballad.
8. “Two Hearts (Two Peninsulas)” – Gifts or Creatures. A vintage-y, spartan electric guitar sound meshes with a round keyboard sound to create the basis of this interesting tune. It’s sort of indie-pop (has a lovely male/female harmony thing going on that’s like Jenny & Tyler or Mates of State), and yet seems like folk (despite the absence of acoustic guitars). Thoroughly interesting.
9. “Inches Apart” – Magana. Trembling yet sturdy vocals sucked me in to this fingerpicked acoustic tune. It’s high-drama in the best way, where you feel the ache and want to know what will come next.
10. “Oh, Spaceman” – Micah P. Hinson. Hinson’s baritone pairs neatly with the trebly, soft fingerpicking of this folk tune. The fiddle and accordion add an old-world character to the piece that sets it apart from other tunes of its ilk.
11. “One More Waltz” – Redvers and Mélissa. A delicate, acoustic, love song waltz that tells the story of how the musicians met? Does it get any more romantic?
12. “The Horses Will Not Ride, The Gospel Won’t Be Spoken” – Tom Brosseau. Almost all of this song is a solo a capella piece, with Brosseau’s mellifluous voice holding the listener close the whole time. Not so many singers can do that, but Brosseau knocks it out of the park.
Tim de Vil and His Imaginary Friends‘ Beating Off the Loneliness is an indie pop album with vocals that skew toward the speak/sing of Say Anything or MeWithoutYou. The arrangements are deeply layered, compiled from acoustic and electronic instruments: some songs pile up found sounds and synths and drums and all sorts of stuff into a wistful, rueful amalgam that yet retains energy (“Purge-atory,” “The Patron Saint of Lost Causes”). Songs like “Who’s Afraid of Sarah Little” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You” are indie-folk ramblers instead of collages. These latter songs have occasional vocal melodies (“Say It…”), but the gold moments appear when lead singer Justin Robbins expertly controls the mood and tone of his spoken word–he can pack a lot of emotional power into individual lines.
Lyrically, this one is very much a breakup album, but it’s more in the mold of Spiritualized’s punchy Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space and Josh Ritter’s “everything that happened after the breakup” lyrical approach to The Beast in Its Tracks than a mopefest. (Not that I don’t love a good mopefest.) As is often the case with speak/sing work, the lyrics are dense and carefully constructed, despite sounding off-the-cuff; there are pop culture references (“Sleepy Hollow,” for example), emotional monologues, and word games to be had (like the title of “Hail, Mary”). The sum of all these parts is a fully-realized statement of an album that clearly shows Tim De Vil’s songwriting and lyrical skills. Fans of collage artists, spoken word ramblers, or experimental indie-pop will find much to enjoy here.
1. “I Wish I Was a Bird” – Luke Rathborne. Builds a cathedral of sound: a stomping, huge-screen affair that manages yet to have low-key fire embedded in it and a humble, earnest vocal performance. This sort of powerful songwriting and production is uncommon and wonderful–it’s indie-rock that manages to be slightly out of phase with the radio (it’s 8:33!) but oh-so-delightful for lovers of the genre. Anyone still rocking the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” will be all up on this, or anyone who would wonder what Josh Ritter’s “Thin Blue Flame” would be like in indie rock format.
2. “DaDaDa” – secret drum band. I listen to a lot of music while I’m reading or writing. Great songs make me love what I’m working on more. The best songs make me stop what I’m doing and just listen. “DaDaDa” is a perfect amalgam of tons of different percussion elements, low-mixed synths, and the occasional found sound/vocal yawp. They manage to make these basic, skeletal pieces of music into a deeply compelling piece of polyrhythmic indie rock.
3. “Gone Away” – Stolen Jars. Turns fluttering flutes and squealing horns into urgent indie-rock, a la The Collection. The subtle, insistent press forward that underlies this track is a rare thing to capture.
4. “People Like You” – Thumbnail. This tune strides the line between American Football-style emo and old-school indie-rock (pre-major label Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie): complex drums, semi-mathy guitar lines, soft vocals, and gentle trumpet come together into a propulsive-yet-dreamy track.
5. “Tree Trunks” – Basement Revolver. The groove locks in and commands headbobbing. The lurching, loping, slow-moving-train of this indie-rock arrangement contrasts excellently against the intimate female vocal performance.
6. “Part3” – grej. Ominous piano, layered percussion, and stabbing flutes create a tense, atmospheric track the likes of which you would hear in a suspense film.