If the past few years have taught us anything, it is how to improvise. The mesmerizing Scott Metzger, jam band member extraordinaire, played a sold-out acoustic show at Joe’s Bar in 2018. It was a hint, years before the pandemic ground touring to a halt, that his genius had begun to find a new light. Now, Scott Metzger’s Too Close To Reason embraces usin its brilliantly unique sonic tapestry.
The twelve-song debut release on Royal Potato Family reflects Metzger’s pandemic retreat to Brooklyn, where he embraced his acoustic guitar. The instrumental compositions reflect the artist’s array of influences, as Django Rheinhardt and Chet Adkins are reborn and transformed here. Each note heard on the record is Metger except his fiancée, violinist Katie Jacoby (The Who).
Opener “Appreciate Wattage” feels like an homage to the best of what Joe Russo’s Almost Dead brought, set into a fresh headspace. Nearly ethereal, it drifts into a down-to-earth “Don’t Be A Stranger.” This track wraps its dischordant surprises into progressions that blossom into nearly Spanish-style breakdowns. “Asking For A Friend” claims its place, unfolding a fuller compositional narrative in over four minutes. Nuanced, each restrained lift heightens the immersive nature of this record.
“Talk Like That” is the best of the record. Smooth, sultry, bling, the tango vibe with jazz style seems sheer perfection. Like breathless lovers, each note has room to breathe, resonating with the journey we are all on. Lulled, “Damage” disrupts us into a fading cacophony. Why? Maybe we should ask the universe for the point of the pandemic. Or maybe, the simplicity of “DREAMROOM” drops into “Waltz for Beverly” as we dance, one step at a time, back towards togetherness.
It’s easy to forget Metzger’s role on stage as a live music improvisation magician when listening to this recorded incarnation of the soul. “When Katie Smiles” reveals his love for his fiancée, set to music. Touching and authentic, emotion oozes from each measure. Their duet, “Only Child” reveals the power of their connection. This intimate pas de deux feels like we have been invited in, sharing in lovers’ secrets whispered on a warm summer’s day.
Closing with “At Your Service” realigns us all for the next chapter in Scott Metzger’s story. Drifting back towards traveling music, we all look forward to what will be ahead. But thanks to Manhattan’s East Village and Joe’s Pub, Scott Metzger’s generationally-excellent, standout instrumental album Too Close To Reason is here.The album arrives March 4. —Lisa Whealy
Someone told me that singer/songwriters are out of fashion right now. Independent Clauses is always here to support those who feel they’re out of fashion. Here’s 10 singer/songwriter (/folk/alt-country/-ish) tracks I’m loving right now.
1. “God’s Country” – Thomas Dollbaum. Damien Jurado has an outsized place in my personal musical history, and so anyone who’s on his wavelength is on my good list. Dollbaum’s deliciously mopey voice and loosely-held-together indie rock is on that wavelength. Highly recommended.
2. “Light of Dawn” – Riches. Beautiful pastoral folk with an expansive approach: the vistas seem to sweep out before the listener. The high-pitched vocals add a unique touch to the arrangement.
3. “Sit Shiva” – Gabriel Kahane. Grief, family, religion, history, technology, and more in a delicate folk framework that would make Paul Simon and Joshua Radin equally happy.
4. “Mrs. Dixon” – Keston Cobblers Club. Langhorne Slim fans will find the jaunty-despite-tragedy vibe here much to their liking. Bits of Beatles and even Mumford and Sons float in and out about the meticulous yet casual arrangement.
5 “Heaven and Light” – River Whyless. A charming folk-pop tune with tabla percussion and vibes for days.
6. “Vampira” – Grace Joyner. This song may be about the real Vampira, but I’m willing to bet there’s a friend Grace Joyner is singing to. This specific type of grief (watching a friend suffer) is given a fittingly gutwrenching indie-pop track, whether it’s a ’50s star or a friend. Grace Joyner’s voice, even multitracked and autotuned, is just wonderful.
7. “Soft Attraction” – Knuckle Pups. Did you like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in 2007? Did you like The Yellow Dress in 2014? Are you sad that this specific type of dour indie rock is not really in favor? Welcome to the Knuckle Pups bandwagon, friends. There are plenty of us here.
8. “and you’ve got nobuddy” – Evan J Cartwright. This sort of hi-fi, intimate, feathery, spartan work calls to mind Florist. This is searing and endearing: immediately resonant and yet still with depth.
9. “Lost in the Fog” – Sonny Brazil. The wistfulness of Irish folk plus the western atmosphere of pedal steel create a lovely, lilting track that conjures up visions of lonely leavetakings.
10. “Holy Golden West” – John Calvin Abney. Thirteen years ago John Calvin Abney helped me record an album of songs for my family and friends. Since then, Abney has become a road warrior and a master of the songwriting craft. This piece melds indie-pop and alt-country via strong instrumental contributions and Abney’s excellent vocals.
1. “Look See” – Ryan Dugre. A delicate, mysterious acoustic guitar rumination that (I swear this is a compliment) sounds like a six-string version of a Legend of Zelda jam. Highly recommended.
2. “White” – I Just Came From the Moon. This is a fluid, effortless mash-up of ambient, trip-hop and jazz that ends up sounding like a thoughtful post-rock piece. Lots of attention was paid to getting the tension and pensiveness just right.
4. “Moving Further Than Before” – Talmont. Triumphant horns, hip-hop drums, funky bass, and more create a swirling, enthusiastic vibe. Martha Gibbons’ powerful voice is the cap on the excellent track, giving it an old school soul feel.
5. “The Bell Tolls for You” – J.D. Wesley. The raw soul of singer Wesley weaving his heart through “The Bell Tolls For You” generates a magnetic pull into the monochromatic universe that producer, engineer, and videographer Tyrone Corbett of Corbett Music Group creates. A multifaceted industry veteran, Corbett and fellow songwriters Clarence Penn and Joseph Guida collaborated on this track of haunting lyricism: both transcendent and hopeful. Like Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come,” Wesley’s spiritual vibe elevates the already outstanding imagery in this track. –Lisa Whealy
6. “Baby’s Breath” – Great Lakes. Warm, comforting alt-country that evokes the great early Dawes records. The vocals are earnest and easy. The guitar tones here are just absolutely perfect. The backline thrums excellently. It even has a magnificent guitar solo! What more can you ask for in an alt-country song?
7. “Radium Girls” – Charming Disaster. Elia Bisker and Jeff Morris return to grace the universe with their eclectic artistry: this one a danse macabre wrapped in stunning theatrics that elevate the poetic musicality. The duo teases audiences with this delightful immersive experience from the upcoming albumOur Lady of Radium. The Marie Curie-inspired, stop action-type animated feel the video portrays lends itself to a horror story feel. The clock’s incessant time-keeping partnered and juxtaposed against a simple bass line points out how each moment slips past us, despite our frantic efforts to show up. Look for all of Bisker and Morris’ projects here: Charming Disaster | Funkrust Brass Band | Sweet Soubrette. –Lisa Whealy
8. “Manatee” – Russ Kaplan+7. An elegant, complex piano composition that balances composerly attributes with the songwriter’s ear for melody.
9. “Ode to Joy – Recomposed” – Nick Box, Alicia Enstrom. A beautiful, unexpected composition that leads the listener on an orchestral three-minute journey before announcing the triumphant, iconic theme.
10. “Comfortable Loneliness” – Hello Meteor. I’m not sure if vaporwave has a positive or negative connotation anymore, but I love the stuff. The faux-classy synths indicative of vaporwave meet serious Teen Daze-esque chillwave vibes for a very good time. Very relaxing and lovely.
11. “Angel” – DJ Python. 10 minutes of subtle groove with flecks of tropical house, ’80s synth, vaporwave, and more. Carefully rides the line between dance and meditation. Or: why not both?
I’ve been cautiously wandering over toward experimental music over the past few years. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to grok the glory of dissonance the way that much experimental music does, but there are tour guides along the way that show me a little better how it works. David Parker‘s “Improvisation 9 (Burnout – Renewal)” is one of those guides.
Parker and guest Jonas Bonnetta (synths/piano) offer a loose, freewheeling jam here on banjo, guitar, and piano. The wide-open form crushes an acoustic Americana piece and reconstructs it into an almost painterly sonic experience. The instruments each have room to roam over a wide, mid-century minimalist canvas. The improvisational nature of the work necessitates dabbling in dissonance when one or more of the musicians does something that cuts against the work of the others. But the dissonance resolves here, not leaving the listener stranded; the piano does particularly good work in grounding the listener with gentle, subtle melodies. It’s a little more gnarly than most “meditative” music, but I found myself able to connect with it in the way I do some more traditionally peaceful meditative work. It’s a fascinating track.
Parker was kind enough to give us some backstory to the work:
“In September 2021 I spent a weekend recording and producing a new album at Port William Sound with Jonas Bonnetta (Evening Hymns). It was my first time at the studio and working with Jonas. I had come with 8 songs all written and ready to go. On the first day my plan was to open with an improvised session on a few different instruments. This is a practice I’ve learned about through artists like Adrienne Lenker and Sunn O))), and I really like the idea of using improvisation as a chance to warm up for working on other stuff, and then those warm ups end up becoming release-worthy takes.
The songs on this album are very influenced by Daniel Bachman’s Axacan (Three Lobed Recordings, 2021). Two of the song titles – ‘Grief’ and ‘Climate Anxiety’ – are a nod to his dark but uplifting album that is comprised mainly of solo guitar takes and field recordings.
Many of the ideas running through my head at Port William Sound were buoyed along and deepened thanks to the above mentioned book by Henri Lefebvre. Marxism, alienation, fetishism of money, and climate crisis are all foundational concepts that have grounded my art practice in the last year and beyond.”
Every Day Lifecomes out March 4th. Parker also has other work coming out this year: “I am part of a quartet called the Heart Structure Quartet and we are releasing our 3rd album on tape cassette and vinyl in February 2022! That’s very exciting for us. Later in 2022 I’ll be releasing an album of drone compositions including remixes by some special friends of mine (that’ll be released in July). And then in Fall I’ll be releasing a tape cassette of duets with a good friend and collaborator, pianist/synth player Del Stephen. I plan to do further recording and visiting recording studios this year, working on a lyrical album to be released in the distant future.”
August – House show, Kingston, ON, Canada. Contact David Parker for details.
Ivy Ryann’s “The Best I Can” represents the best of several different trends happening at once. First, this song documents mental health struggles: the decreasing of stigma around mental health concerns is a positive thing in society that has happened in the last 10+ years. The song is a bold, fearless indie rock track that explores unique sonic spaces, a la Phoebe Bridgers or Soccer Mommy (and the many other artists doing good work in this vein). And the no-chorus song structure is a continuation of a certain type of move away from “pop,” while still maintaining signifiers (such as the guitar tone) that connect it to indie rock. In other words, this fits in beautifully with what’s happening now, and you’re going to like it.
But “The Best I Can” is far more than a strong indie rock song about mental health. The compelling aspects here draw more on slowcore tunes (like those of Songs:Ohia) or deconstructed work (like early Damien Jurado). This tune has very little traditional structure, but it doesn’t feel contrived: instead, it reads like someone trying to soundtrack heartache and pain. Ryann’s voice leads the way, as almost 3:30 of the 5-minute song unspools before more than an occasionally strummed electric guitar accompanies the immediately engaging vocals. Once Ryann decides to kick in the band, things go maximalist: Ryann’s voice soars into a huge upper octave, the drums pound, the guitars roar, and the repeated lyrics of “I am trying / the best I can” land with enormous depth of passion.
It’s a powerful, unusual, remarkable track that struck me and then stuck with me. If you experience mental health concerns or love someone who does, this one will resonate.
We were lucky enough to get a few words with Ivy about the song:
What prompted you to write this song? What was the inspiration behind it?
I wrote this song when I hit a pretty steep decline in my mental health. I decided to leave town for a few days to clear my head. The “inspiration” behind this song is the idea that all you can do is your best. And my “best” changes on a daily basis. That made me so angry for a really long time. While I was writing this song, I started to shift that anger/self-hatred to a position of compassion and holding space for the disappointment I was experiencing in myself and in my community.
How did this song come together when you wrote it? What was the songwriting process like?
I started humming the tune to one of the verses while I was making a 10-hour drive out of state. I pulled out my phone and recorded a voice memo of the first verse lyrics, “I don’t know when I’ll be home//seems I left ages ago// I just need a little more time.” From there, I left it alone for a really long time. I eventually sat down with my guitar and started playing through a really simple chord progression and singing the bridge lyrics — “I am trying the best I can” — over myself. I felt like I was struggling so hard, fighting off depression, and I felt like it wasn’t enough for my friends and family. I felt like maybe everyone thought I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I ended up pretty much weeping over my guitar and singing (yelling?) the lyrics “I can’t do everything I can’t be everything,” and I started the process of self-forgiveness for being so harsh towards myself right there in that little moment. It quickly turned into a song that calmed and soothed my soul.
When you recorded this song, what kind of vibe were you going for? Did it end up sounding like you expected it to or did it come out different from what you thought it would be?
When we were recording, I told my producer, Rich Mossman, that I really wanted the lyrics to be the “star” of the song. So we left a lot of contemplative space in the song. I definitely had a vision going into this song, and I feel like we got exactly what we were looking for and more. The more we kept adding to the song I remember saying things like, “We are stepping on it too hard.” We recorded so many tracks and parts, but in reality we only used maybe 20% of the parts we tracked. I wanted the song to be so massive and so empty at the same time, but I wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish that. Somehow, after all of the “cutting away,” we ended up with a song I’m really proud of both lyrically and instrumentally.
What do you hope listeners get from the song? What do you want its message to be?
I want listeners to take away whatever they want from this song or any other songs of mine they choose to have an encounter with. I wrote this song, but the second it leaves my hands and gets into someone else’s living room, car, office, or playlist, it somewhat belongs to them in the way that they get to interpret it however they experience it best. I honestly hope nobody hears my story when they’re listening. I hope everybody feels a little self-compassion and kindness when they listen to this track. Anyone is free to listen in a way that soothes them most.
“The Best I Can” arrives Friday, February 18, while A Nonaggressive Extreme Violation of Boundaries comes out March 4. Check out more work at Ryann’s website, Facebook, and Instagram.
Jacques Greene‘s Fantasymerges ambient, trip-hop and downtempo electronica into a misty, murky, elegant collection of five tracks (six on the vinyl release). Breathy melismatics, subterranean bass, clickitat drumming and dense lead synths create a fully-realized atmosphere that honestly sounds like the album art looks. (Always nice when the sound and the visuals complement each other!)
Opener “Taurus” is about as speedy as trip-hop can get, creating a tension between the tempo and the thick waves of sonic greenery. “Memory Screen + Fantasy” dials back the drums a bit but still productively builds off the difference between beats and drones. “Relay” starts off like “Taurus” but melts into a strict techno approach with little ringing synth notes as ornaments. “Sky River ft Satomimagae” explores vocals more thoroughly, letting Satomimagae lead the way over delicate layers of her own voice. “Leave Here” wraps it up in a similar style to “Taurus,” but with a most nostalgic, wistful cast. Ultimately, these songs produce a thick, dense quilt of sound that would fit beautifully with cold weather, forests, and slow life pace. (Despite the drums.) Highly recommended.
Cemento Atlantico‘s Rotte Interrotteaims to be an audio travelogue of trips to Alessandro “ToffoloMuzik” Zoffoli’s trips to Morocco, Vietnam, Peru, Cambodia, Colombia, India, Guatemala, and Myanmar. It functions very effectively as intended: Zoffoli uses copious field recordings of nature, people, local music, and spaces as foundations for pulsing, engaging electro cuts.
I’ve not been to any of the places that Zoffoli has, but I feel closer to them through the singing of Guatemala’s Garífuna (“Black’n’Red”), Vietnamese lute (“Trung Sisters,” set to a ripping Big Beat kit attack), and Cambodian train noises giving way to flutes and sleek bass-heavy work (“Beat ’em Bang”). Each of these tracks would be perfectly suited to a club or an ethnomusicology class. (This is a good thing.)
It’s not just the evocative field recordings that make the collection so fascinating: the fusions are what make this so intriguing. “Amazonienne” is a sprightly, dance-ready techno cut that is paired with sounds of the Amazon (including singing of the Phia bird). Opener “Umm Bulgares” captures a unique moment where Zoffoli found himself watching a funeral procession in Morocco accompanied by a traditional lute and (coincidentally) a visiting Bulgarian women’s choir warming up next door. Fitting those to another Big Beat drum feel (that tambourine!) makes this an impressively beautiful and unusual electro cut.
Rotte Interrotte expertly blends cultures, sonics, and approaches to arrive at something unique and truly mesmerizing. Zoffoli’s expert hand guides the field recordings and techno stomp into a harmonious, compelling whole. If you like adventurous electronic music, this is it: sonically, culturally, and practically adventurous. Highly recommended.
1. “Torque” – Spencer Elliott (SE3). What a wild group this is: it’s a prog/post-rock trio built around an acoustic guitar with effects on, a distorted bass tone, and right-on-the-money drumming. I haven’t heard anything like this in a long time, maybe ever. Wow. Highly recommended.
2. “Happier Things” – Studio Electrophonique. Fans of The Kinks, Serge Gainsbourg, or Wes Anderson will love this piece of delicate, despondent formal pop. It’s so sad and spartan that it barely stays together (the laconic tambourine does a lot of work here), but boy, the payoff is grand. Highly recommended.
3. “Adar Newlan” – IMARHAN. A gentle, even contemplative, take on Tuareg guitar wizardry with Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals. Beautiful and compelling. Highly recommended.
4. “Down and Out” – Thirsty Curses. Always have some love in my heart for a piano-driven alt-country song about feeling like crap. Alt-country forever.
5. “Ride or Die” – Hippo Campus. This is the best song that Vampire Weekend never wrote: chipper, affected vocal; a tension between dreamy synths and bouncy rhythms; sudden switches in tone and pace. They nail every part.
6. “Cheyenne Mountain Complex” – Violetera. Tense, spacious, ominous, grumbling, and yet inviting, this post-rock piece relates to post-rock the same way post-punk relates to punk: it exists in the same sphere and employs the features of the genre, but it’s doing something else. A fascinating bit of songwriting here.
7. “47” – J. Blofeld. A wavering, quavering synth and ghostly background sounds get a four-on-the-floor traveling companion. The results are a dense techno piece that yet never feels claustrophobic.
8. “Deserve” – Animalweapon. I lived in Raleigh, NC, for four years, and I love it there. Protip: Anyone whose music video is “we wandered around downtown Raleigh” is gonna get covered. The video for this track is just that: wandering various corners of Moore Square and then ending at (what looks like) Boylan Bridge Brewpub. The “ooo I’ve been there!” game was in full effect for me in this video. The song itself is a whooshy fusion of breathy soul vocals, ambient synths, and romantic gloom.
9. “Taurus” – Jacques Greene. Punchy kit drumming, breathy sighs, and synths that sound like deep pools of water create some wild fusion of Frou Frou trip-hop and ambient.
10. “Évaporations” – Charbonneau / Amato. I don’t quite know the history of how a particularly type of bleep bloop cam to signify “outer space” sonically, other than guessing it has something to do with the sonic soundscapes of recordings from the Apollo missions. Whatever it was, there’s a way to make things sound like outer space, and Charbonneau / Amato have nailed it here. This is an elegant, mellifluous version of the outer space sound: all charming bloops, tiny beeps, and clicking percussion.
Like a warm, crackling fire on a cold winter night, Warden and Co.’s debut album Somewherefeels like home. Independent Clauses is honored to premiere the title track “Somewhere,” the first single from the trio of Seth Warden (guitar, vocals), Doug Moody (Violin, Viola, Vocals), and Brian Melick (Drums, Percussion).
“Somewhere” soars with its deep, rich, acoustic guitar. Each note reflects the essence of the song’s lyrical purpose. To say “Someday” only featuresLovella feels inadequate. Adding her vocals to these lyrics creates a dynamic sonic experience. Finally, Moody’s stunning, nuanced viola wraps this track in warmth and reinforces the reassurance that beyond what has been, we’ll feel better together again someday.
The strong engineering team (executive producer Robert Daubenspeck, co-producers Seth Warden and multi-instrumentalist Chris Carey) achieves a sonic palette that blends the best of Americana with a sound reminiscent of the groundbreaking Traveling Wilburys. Recorded at Millstone Studio, Ballston Spa in New York with mastering by Jason Brown, the eleven songs beautifully capture Warden and engineer Carey’s vision of authentic sound.