I mentioned recently that lo-fi records often have the benefit of being “all of a piece”; the tendency for lo-fi artists to write, record, and release in rapid succession lets listeners get a sense of how artists feel at a given point in time. This look-in isn’t only reserved for lo-fi artists; Jenny & Tyler have been putting out songs almost weekly for about six months, courtesy of a studio they own.
Their newest album is the latest batch of work from that burst of disciplined, hard-working creativity. Jenny and Tyler recently mentioned on their Patreon that they aren’t very good at naming things, which is why their latest album is called Album Two [Patreon].
I have a humble suggestion for a name: Jenny and Tyler Fight the Darkness. Every song on this record is about fighting through hard times–eight out of ten songs mention the words “dark” or “night”. The other two are powerful opener “Who I’m Not,” which is about struggling to feel like a real person while constantly on the road, and closer “Rejoice,” which is about trusting and rejoicing in God to get through hard times. This album is for those struggling personally (“The Sun Will Rise”), relationally (“I’m Sorry”), spiritually (“Now When the Dusky Shades of Night”) and/or existentially (“In These Bones”).
These struggles are real, pitched on massive and intimate scales. On one end, there’s the cosmic sweep of God fighting evil in this mortal plane amid the lives of his people (“The Sun Will Rise,” “In These Bones”); on the intimate side, there are liner notes showing the tiny details of life (“Written on 7/11/2017 during naptime after doctor’s appointment” and “Started writing on 9/29/2017 in guest bedroom while feeding Mary at 6a”) that are no less a struggle at times. The lullabies and assurances written for their children (“Baby I Got You,” “We Will Be Here For You”) also show off the intimacy of these tunes.
The tension between epic scope and intimate detail continues on into the music. “In These Bones” is one of the best, most mature expressions of their indie-folk/indie-rock fusion they’ve yet produced. It starts off all ominous vibes and fingerpicking before building from that small kernel to a huge “whoa-oh-oh” section accompanied by thrashing cymbals, thrumming bass, and distant distorted guitar. It’ll get your blood pumping.
It’s followed up by “Now When the Dusky Shades of Night,” an old hymn sung in duet style against gently fuzzed-out electric guitar fingerpicking. It’s the sort of recording that makes it feel like Jenny and Tyler are in the room with the listener. These two extremes show that J&T have honed and are honing their sound to become consistent and recognizable across many different arrangements and settings.
Other highlights include the straight-up folk-pop of “When I Hold Your Hand I’m Home” and the sun-dappled, Jack Johnson-y, lightly funky groove of “Baby I Got You.” Both are throwbacks to their very earliest albums–it’s a great thing to hear that sound not be completely be abandoned. “Rejoice” is a solo tune from Jenny that shines in its melody as well being a fitting end to the album. Fans of Sandra McCracken will enjoy this one in particular.
This latest Patreon album is available if you become patrons of Jenny & Tyler’s. They will be re-recording tracks from Album One, Album Two, and the upcoming Album Three to develop into a full-length, public release record, so you’ll hear some of these tracks in the future even if you don’t join the Patreon. However you hear these tracks, you should get excited about them if you’re into indie folk or indie rock. Jenny and Tyler are producing high-level work at an astonishing clip, and listeners are the winners.
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.
Jenny and Tyler‘s work has moved from sun-flecked acoustic pop to full-band, emotive indie rock over their discography, and 10,000 Miles (Live in 2015) solidifies their mature approach to songwriting. Where their most recent studio release Of This I’m Sure showed their diversity of songwriting and arranging, this collection shows that they can really knock the songs out of the park live. They also show off how to make a live record that really works.
This album could be attributed to Jenny & Tyler featuring Andrew Picha, because their drummer is a game-changer. Picha’s thunderous percussion performances give “Song for You,” “My Dear One,” “Of This I’m Sure,” and “Faint Not” huge swells of dynamics and extra shots of adrenaline. These songs have percussion in the studio versions, but Picha really makes the songs come to life in this setting. The album isn’t all their loudest songs at maximum volume (although I, and probably Andrew Picha, would be totally okay with that); full band interpretations of the tender “In Everything You Do” and the yearning “Beloved One” are given extra dimensions by thoughtful, interesting percussion work. “Beloved One” is a particularly excellent take, as Picha delivers the churning drumbeat that underpins the legato vocals expertly. (Jenny and Tyler’s vocals are on point, as ever–their voices just sound so good together.)
It should also be noted that Picha’s drumming isn’t notably different than the original version of the track, but the recording of this album is expertly mixed and mastered to show off a different side of the tunes from the studio version. Songs never sound exactly the same as they do in the studio on stage, and the engineering team of Trent Stegink, Shane D. Wilson, and Bob Boyd decided to embrace that instead of trying to replicate the studio sound (which often ends up being clunky). Instead, the engineering here is bright, clear, and drums-forward, which gives the songs pop. Some live albums can sound muddy or distant, and none of those sonic missteps are present here. This recording is high quality.
J&T have an increasingly deep discography to draw from, so they had to make some cuts to get 10,000 Miles down to 16 songs. Thankfully, it seems that my interests and their interests align: excellent opener “Song For You” is the fourth different version of it that you can hear (if you include the 7 Songs version), “See the Conqueror” and “Psalm 46” are treated to beautiful acoustic versions, and even fan favorite (but now out-of-character) “One-eyed Cat” makes an appearance with a charming spoken introduction. There’s something for every J&T fan here, whether Of This I’m Sure was your first introduction or if you have early albums by them that can’t even be purchased online anymore.
This album is a must-have for any fan of J&T, and a great introduction to their work for those uninitiated. Even if you own their previous acoustic live album 7 Songs, 10,000 Miles builds on it in every way by including great arrangements of a full band, funny/serious stage banter, and impeccable song selection. Jenny and Tyler are working at a really high level right now: if you’re into earnest, acoustic-based indie-rock, you should check this record out. You can pre-order the record at iTunes now.
Disclaimer: This is an expanded version of a review that I originally posted to their iTunes pre-order.
Rob Williams‘ Southern FMis a quirky, impressive record that takes something familiar and makes it unusual and interesting again. Williams offers acoustic-driven work that falls in the timeworn space between folk and country, but his inherent charm and unique rhythmic sensibility make it all seem fresh and new. The most important element to Williams’ success is the idiosyncratic vocal lines delivered by his round, mellow tenor: instead of long, flowing melodies, Williams chops his lines into unusual patterns and shapes. This creates an endearing off-the-cuff, ad-hoc feel to tunes like the pickin’-and-grinnin’ “Best I Can Do,” the enthusiastic “Where You Hang Your Heart,” and the on-your-toes singalong “You’ve Been a Bad Christian.” Nothing feels forced in his delivery, even when his vocal patterns are at their most complex–it all seems to just float along on the airy, effortless arrangements.
Williams’ charms don’t just stem from his quirky delivery: he can write remarkable songs. “Sometimes It’s a Song” is a poignant, evocative ballad that never drags or commits navelgazing, while “Henry and Maria” is a lovely tale delicately told. It’s the melodies, the structure, and the arrangements that make these songs shine. “Sometimes It’s a Song” is sold by a beautiful piano performance and strengthened by just-the-right-amount of percussion; “Henry and Maria” displays some nimble acoustic guitar work and perfectly-placed accordion. (I’m a sucker for an accordion.) Williams knows what his songs need to sound their best, and as a result the vast majority of these tunes shine. With Williams’ comfortable voice, unique vocal lines, and well-suited arrangements all contributing, Southern FM becomes one of the most enjoyable listens of the year. Check out the album and keep Williams on your radar.
(This one comes out December 14, so it’s not technically an ICYMI, but it fits with the rest of the reviews I’m running today.)
You don’t have to listen beyond Of This I’m Sure‘s first track to hear how Jenny and Tyler‘s sound has progressed and matured from Open Your Doors–everything on the title track sounds tighter, fuller, and more urgent. In that way, it echoes some of the drama of Faint Not–they even re-recorded “Song for You”–but with a maturation of lyrical themes and arrangement styles.
Their folk-pop roots are becoming just that: roots. There are shades of U2 and Coldplay–as there always have been–but the biggest change is the fullness that was occasional in their previous releases is the modus operandi here. Yet it doesn’t sound like their “gone electric” album. The songs feel like a natural progression of their work over time; for example, “Where to Begin” echoes Faint Not‘s “Through Your Eyes” in sonic quality, but it expands the palette to include the subtle electronic elements that wend their way through the record. There are truly quiet moments, for those worried about a big rock shift: they’ve not completely abandoned the folk-pop that drew me to them. That’s a testament to the immaculate arranging, recording, and engineering efforts that went into this record–they’re growing without sacrificing their foundation to the new-shiny of added instrumentation.
The intimacy that characterized their previous work is retained here, but in different ways. It’s hard to argue that “My Dear One” isn’t one of the most towering tunes they’ve ever put together, but the lyrical concerns and pristine vocals point to the unchanged core of their work. Each tune is about love in some way, shape or form, which has always been at the heart of their work–however, as new parents, the love of child is included in “Where to Begin” and “In Everything You Do.” They both are honest and not saccharine, as tunes about children can be, which is a strong compliment to their ability to self-edit the massive bursts of emotion that appear as new parents. They’ve managed to change without alienating the old listeners, and delivered a spectacular album along the way. Overall, it’s a brilliant, beautiful album.
(This J&T review is an expanded and, sadly, spell-checked version of a review posted on iTunes.)
Jared Rabin‘s Something Left to Say melds Southern Rock guitar theatrics to gentle acoustic-led country tunes for a mellow, easygoing sound. The title track opens the record with the distinctive bass drum thump, guitar strum, and patterned clapping of folk-pop, but Rabin seasons his take on the genre with zinging pedal steel and a big guitar solo bridge. It doesn’t turn the song into a Southern anthem, but it does help the song fit into the rest of the record. Follow-up “Eight Trips Around the Sun” starts out with crunchy distorted guitars, but layers a John Mayer-esque vocal line on top of it to temper the arrangement. The two tunes set up the poles of Rabin’s sound (except for closer “Ride the Wheel,” which reprises the approach of “Eight Trips” but perhaps even a little crunchier).
From there, Rabin settles into his groove: “A Memory Forever,” “I Remember Last December,” and “Not Heart Broken” are emotive tunes that rely on the tension between acoustic country-pop and electric guitar-driven country-rock. The lyrics and music of “A Memory Forever” evoke the poignant side of saloon troubadours, while the ballad “I Remember Last December” amps up the country-pop melodies and arrangement. “Not Heart Broken” is an “over you” song that includes banjo and weeping pedal steel. The lyrics of love and loss evoke Taylor Swift et al, while the bit of southern rock thrown in on every track keeps things fresh. Something Left to Say is an easy listen, great for putting on while you relax on a back porch somewhere.
I’m pretty sparing with the Kickstarters I post–I don’t post nearly as many as get sent to me. The ones I do post, I’m behind 100%. I’ve covered Jenny & Tyler’s work since 2009 with great enthusiasm. They’re able to create heavily-orchestrated folk-pop (as shown on their cover of “We Will Become Silhouettes,” which IC commissioned as part of its 10th birthday) as well as intimate acoustic tunes that leave me misty-eyed. They’re one of my favorite bands I’ve covered here at Independent Clauses (another thing I don’t say very often).
Their $15,000 Kickstarter will fund their first-ever full-band tour and live record. That’s a pretty giant undertaking for any independent artist. They’ve got the normal rewards (digital download, physical albums, t-shirts, etc.) at the lower levels, but the upper levels have some really impressive stuff going on (handmade instruments!). So when I say, “check out their Kickstarter!” I really mean “check out their Kickstarter!!!!”
Again, generally I don’t do the whole salesman thing, but Jenny & Tyler!
When I was in an art-rock band in high school, we managed to agree on only three cover songs in our four-year history: Coldplay’s “Parachutes,” Fall Out Boy’s “Dance Dance,” and “Hotel California.” (If you can figure out what those have in common, let me know.) My latest endeavor with the cover song was much more coherent, as I got 22 bands to contribute to a Postal Service covers album. I’m still incredibly thrilled with the final product, although I certainly do not want to run a similar project any time soon.
Folk-pop duo Jenny & Tyler, who were featured on Never Give Up, have put together their own covers album in For Freedom. As the title would suggest, the 7-song album is a project that benefits International Justice Mission‘s work to end slavery. Not only do you get their excellent arrangement skills, songs you love, and guest musicians (Sara Groves! JJ Heller! A virtual choir of hundreds of J&T fans!), you get to support justice in the world. What are you waiting for?
“We Will Become Silhouettes” is included here in remastered form, sounding even more gorgeous than before. It would easily be my favorite (and not just for sentimental value; the crescendo from beginning to end is heart-pounding) except for the absolutely stunning “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Jenny & Tyler temper Bono’s original desperation with their warm, gentle arrangement skills, using oboe, clarinet, and cello to create an alternate vision of what that place we’re all looking for sounds like. If that wasn’t enough, they enlist the excellent Sara Groves and a choir of fans to guest vocal, creating a simply masterful take on the song. I could listen to this one all day.
They turn Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” from an angsty rager into a twee-pop tune, complete with glockenspiel. “The Sound of Silence” is suitably haunting, with their voices and clarinet (aside: I just love that they give the clarinet good press) giving a new tension to Simon & Garfunkel’s original. “The Scientist” includes a harpsichord/autoharp sound, but no piano; it’s an ambitious move that pays off.
Overall, Jenny & Tyler have set their unique and particular vision on these tracks, and that’s all that I ask from covers. The fact that the tunes are alternately heartbreaking and heart-pounding is a testament to the skill with which they can realize that vision. Highly recommended.
Being prolific is one thing, but being consistent while in the midst of a never-ending release cycle is quite another. Folk/pop duo Jenny and Tyler have trumped mere consistency with Open Your Doors, maturing in musical and lyrical skill while keeping a high release rate. Each song here moves me in a different way, while still holding together beautifully as an album: what else are you looking for?
Full of towering arrangements and difficult emotions, Faint Not is a turbulent record. Even the happiest of the tunes are tinged with pain; as a result, it’s a comforting listen on a hard day and tough to hear when things are going well. Open Your Doors splits the difference between those two poles in a realistic way, creating an album that can be enjoyed by those in the struggle and those in the sun.
This means that this, their most mature work, ties together fans of their two eras in both lyric and music: the charming acoustic pop tunes of A Prelude and the heavy folk/rock tunes of Faint Not. Opener “Little Balloon” is a perfect example: it begins as a gentle, sunny ditty with melancholy lyrics before unfolding into a more assured, full-band proclamation of hope.
And hope is the theme of the album. It’s structured almost as an epilogue to the storms of Faint Not; from the get-go the tempos are calm, and the mood feels like the relief of a still day after a long week of rain. There are moments of stress (“O That the Light,” “Fear Thou Not”), but the tone of the album is upwardly ascending, literally and metaphorically. The album’s third act consists of an evocative setting of “Psalm 86,” a triumphant modern hymn about the end of history (“See the Conqueror”), a reverent tune about subsequent celestial perfection (“Kingdom of Heaven”) and the worshipful piano intrumental “Selah,” which is so hushed that the sound of the pedals moving can be heard. A full listen of this album is genuinely comforting. The care with which it was assembled and ordered is evident, and it’s easily the most complete effort they’ve produced.
But the songs contained within it can stand alone as well. “Fear Thou Not” is a powerful sonic holdover from the tension of the last album, but the lyrics tell the other side of the story: instead of the narrator “Faint Not” telling her own soul to keep on, the narrator of “Fear Thou Not” assures, “For I am with thee/for I am thy God/and I will strengthen thee/Fear thou not!” The heartrending “O That the Light” is a lament for someone trapped in addiction; “You Keep Loving Me” is a stark, lo-fi tune that cuts to the core of things.
But it’s “See the Conqueror” that’s in the running for Song of the Year. The beautiful lyrics are carefully written and ordered into a specific scheme, then fit to an equally detail-oriented musical framework. The arrangement builds in tension, but the expectant sort: it’s that feeling you have when you know that the beat is about to drop and everything is about to get crazy up in the club—except it’s a folk song, and the beat is sleigh bells. (They’re that good.) It’s an exhilarating tune, and one that doesn’t drag out the proceedings. It leaves me wanting more.
The first act of the album leans heavily on their pop side, while the middle draws from their emotive folk-rock. But that final chapter is a new direction for the band, synthesizing both visions into something greater. And that’s ultimately the most incredible thing about this album: not only did they surpass their last work, they’re setting up another album. This feels like a full statement, but of the summing up and moving on variety; there is more to come from Jenny & Tyler, and I’m stoked about that. Open Your Doors lives up to its title and opens up their sound through a complete artistic vision. You need to get this album: it’s going to be one of the best of the year.
I’ve been following Jenny and Tyler for some time now. I’ve heard their music, seen them live and talked with them. Their charming folk-pop fell a little to the more serious side of the Weepies, and that was just great.
Faint Not blows everything out of the water. It’s almost not worth it to compare their new work with their old songs, because they’re just so much better. In one album, they’ve matured from a duo making fun and romantic music to a band crafting powerful songs.
They make this very clear on opening track “Song For You,” which unfolds from a gentle mandolin and guitar strum to a pounding, enveloping track that includes drums, bass, piano, guitar, mandolin, dual lead vocals and choir background vocals. I usually hate cymbals, but when the drummer starts mashing the crash in the high point of the song, it gives me goosebumps. When I turn it up loud, I forget to breathe.
The incredible part about the opener is that it’s not even the best track on the album. “Song For You” has powerful instrumentation, but its lyrics pale in comparison to the devastating “Faint Not” and “Through Your Eyes.” Even though “Through Your Eyes” doesn’t have as marked a music crescendo, the emotional power wrenched out in the phrase “No one else has to know/about this” is incredible. The desperate cling to hope that is “Faint Not” resonated with me almost instantly. The great piano and guitar work helped out, of course; the gorgeous music video just put it over the top.
Jenny and Tyler share the vocal duties much more comfortably on this album than in previous efforts; they’re growing into themselves as a songwriting duo, and it shows in dynamic, powerful songs that draw from raw and honest wells. There are no maudlin breakup tunes here; instead, they ask deep soul and life questions. Just an attempt at lyrical depth makes me perk up; successful shots at it are simply remarkable.
The love songs have been cut down in number, but “As Long As Our Hearts Are Beating” bears more weight than their previous charming tunes. When you’re married you get to know each other pretty well, and while it shows not just in this song, this love song seems more real for the shared experience it’s grown out of.
The songs of Faint Not are an astonishing jump from their previous work. The whole album hangs together with an excellent flow, which is the sign of attention to detail. No matter if the songs are fast or slow, these tunes make my heart pound. Their newly fleshed-out tunes are head and shoulders above their old stuff, and above almost everything else I’ve heard this year.
Faint Not is a deep, meaningful folk/pop triumph, and it’s only their third full album. You’re forgiven for the clapping and jumping around you’re doing right now. Okay, maybe that’s just me.
I’m really picky about female vocalists; it’s just the way I am. That’s why my discovery of Jenny and Tyler is so exciting. The former part of the moniker has a wonderful voice that elevates the duo’s acoustic-based folk tunes to a level that wouldn’t be achieved simply by the rest of the album alone.
That’s not to minimize Tyler’s contributions at all. He contributes the guitar work that dominates the songwriting on this album. And it’s great folk songwriting that occasionally transcends the barriers of the genre and moves into epic pop song mode (as “The Deepest Part of Me” does).
You can listen to many of the pieces and artists that I mention in this essay at a Spotify list of the same name. This essay comes as a product of a two-month sabbatical.
I love new music and writing. As a result, Independent Clauses has almost always been a blog that professionally covers the new music which I am listening to recreationally. When the music I’m listening to diverges from what I’m writing about at Independent Clauses, I shift the blog’s focus to draw my recreational listening and my writing back into line. This process is always happening at a micro level. When you’ve been running a blog for fifteen years, though, your micro changes can add up to quite a bit of change. This original scope of this blog included hardcore and emo bands prominently; our current iteration is focused mostly on indie-pop, folk, and neo-classical work. I have slowly, continually shaved off the louder edges of the reviewable range, while simultaneously pushing the quieter boundary of the reviewable range outwards.
Amid the ever-present micro changes, there has been one major topical change. The only hard departure in IC’s existence corresponds to the only major chronological disjuncture in the largely continuous flow of content over the past fifteen years. In 2008, I caught a massive case of burnout while trying to build out a physical zine for Independent Clauses. I took six months off from posting at IC and returned with a very different focus; I featured post-hardcore wizards The Felix Culpa as the cover band for the Spring 2008 second edition of the Independent Clauses zine, while the work I posted about in January 2009 included indie-pop, singer/songwriter, alt-country, and even jazz musicians. It was a big change.
I feel another large change coming on. I say “feel” because it snuck up on me. I was just living my life, and suddenly I had been listening to things way outside the normal bounds of Independent Clauses for months. Simultaneously, I was listening to folk-pop and indie-pop less. Because I had internalized that this blog was a folk and indie-pop blog, I slowly began to write less at Independent Clauses in proportion to the decreased amount of indie-pop/folk pop I was listening to. Longtime readers will note that there have not been nearly as many album reviews at Independent Clauses in 2018 as there have been in previous years; careful album reviews have been our calling card for many years. Longtime readers may have noticed this before I did, even. It snuck up on me.
This is not folk or indie-pop’s fault; I still love those genres and listen to them often. One of the first articles I’ll be writing after this one is a review of Jenny and Tyler’s new album; if there’s been a through-line in the last decade for IC, it’s J&T. Their new album is great, and it transcends my interest in genres. No, it’s not folk-pop’s fault. As the saying goes: It’s not you, it’s me. After nine years of focus on folk-pop and indie-pop, I’ve largely said what I want to say about those two genres. I can write fairly fine-grained descriptions of songs and albums with great rapidity, having hundreds of albums and thousands of songs’ worth of experience at the tasks. But this mastery is a double-edged sword: I’m not particularly intellectually stimulated by folk-pop, indie-pop and their relatives anymore. I have been intellectually stimulated by a wide range of new-to-me genres and sounds over the past year, though. So while I won’t be dropping folk, folk-pop, and indie-pop cold turkey, I am and will be focusing my musical attention on genres outside the IC norm that have been catching my ear and intellectual attention. With that concrete and specific shift in my recreational listening, a change in the topical content of Independent Clauses is a necessary response.
I didn’t wake up at the beginning of my recent two-month sabbatical or even January 1 of this year with a sudden musical change of heart. This change began at least four years ago when I discovered the fascinating Become Ocean by John Luther Adams. The discovery of mid-century modernist classic “Canto Ostinato” by Simeon ten Holt three years ago really kicked off a burst of interest in this type of work. Both of these works fall in the classical/neo-classical genre; they are works the aforementioned Chris Krycho would prefer that I (and you) call “composed music.” There’s a great deal of contemporary composed music (both of recent history, such as that of Simeon ten Holt, and true-contemporary, the things being released in the last five years) that I am very interested in.
I’ve also recently admitted to myself a fascination with ambient work, which will be no surprise to close readers of this blog: I’ve been a fan of Teen Daze for many years and seem to get more excited about the work of Jamison (the musician behind Teen Daze) the quieter it gets. His latest venture as Jamison Isaak is fascinating, although Spring Patterns 1 may be too minimalist even for me. The joining of ambient and synthesized music has led me in the last year to the excellent modular synthesizer work of ann annie and r beny. These types of sounds have made cameos–increasingly large cameos, but bit parts nonetheless–in Independent Clauses’ coverage over the past few years. I’m ready to make them the focus of what I’m writing.
My changed music listening habits have contributed to this change in musical styles. I have a commute on the shorter side now, and thus have less mandatory solo music-listening time. I’ve also taken up listening to the Bible on my morning commute, further cutting into my new-music-listening time. Instead, I listen to a lot of new music while I work, and music without words is much easier to listen to while working. I used to listen to, think about, and draft reviews of new music while on long runs; now I lift weights, which requires me to think and focus on the activity instead of letting my mind wander. I still listen to music though; I listen to pg.lost quite a bit, and I created a workout list for myself. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever made a workout list in my life. (h/t Chris Krycho again for the pg.lost recommendation.) I will hold a torch for the iPod–I love you forever, you were truly The Perfect Thing–but I have been swayed to streaming services. I tried Apple Music and found their playlist creation tools hard to use. That forced me over to Spotify, with which I’ve made an uneasy truce. Having an astonishing supply of music at my fingertips allows me to explore and investigate quirky corners of sound and rabbit trails of artists, and that’s been a lot of fun. I found Lymbyc System that way; they are fantastic.
With a change in the type of music I’m into and a change in my musical listening habits comes a nigh-on mandatory shift in the way I work here in creating IC content. For the greater part of the last decade, I’ve spent 10-45 minutes a day reading Independent Clauses emails and listening to the new music contained in those emails. Because I have a depth of experience with folk, folk-pop, and indie-pop, I can determine my interest level for many songs in under 30 seconds. This allows me to power through dozens and dozens of emails at massive speed; I can discard stuff I know I won’t like, quickly evaluate stuff I might like, and file stuff I know I’m going to like very quickly.
My new interest in longform music foils this expectation in multiple ways. The first is that longform music might not accomplish much of anything in 30 seconds, regardless of whether it’s mindblowingly amazing or completely derivative: the Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean was the first touchstone in this major musical shift, and the first 30 seconds of the piece produce almost no sound at all. The second reason is that I have no mental shortcuts built up for this music; the cues that I look for in a folk song to let me know what’s going to happen in a minute or three or five aren’t built up yet for these new musical genres. The third reason is that with a few exceptions, I’m not currently on the email lists of people who would send me music like this. (Smalltown Supersound, Fluttery Records, and Home Normal Records are the major exceptions here.) These three concepts working together are a significant part of the reason that I haven’t been posting much at IC in the last few months before my two-month sabbatical; in the last few months I haven’t really known what I’d post about, how I’d post about it, or exactly how I’d find it. I hadn’t and haven’t figured out how to square this new stuff I’m really into with the old way of working. I need a new way of working, but I don’t have it yet.
It’s not that I haven’t picked a new way of working, it’s that I don’t quite know what I mean yet by working differently. I know that the singles review form that I’ve come to enjoy so much as a constraint and a medium doesn’t seem like it’s going to work very well for this music. In exploring works that don’t conform to the traditional EP/album format, I’ve found that these works call for different types of writing than the album review format that I, again, have loved as a medium and constraint over the past 15 years.
One of the biggest changes is related to how I find things to listen to. I haven’t been checking Independent Clauses email for a month while I sorted some of this stuff out in my brain; I find that I miss the relationships I’ve built up with bands, record labels, and PR people over the years, but I don’t miss checking the email. I use the time for other things, like staying up on professional news or getting more work in or not checking emails in the evening. The complication is that the content of Independent Clauses has been tied to a never-ending font of new music via those emails for almost the entirety of its existence. In its stead, I’ve been roving through Spotify, listening to things that span the last 60 years in genres that I haven’t heard. So it’s new-to-me music, but it’s not chronologically new music. This change alone would be enough to tilt Independent Clauses on its axis; I’ve been a fairly staunchly consistent purveyor of music-that-has-been-released-in-this-current-calendar-year for the entirety of Independent Clauses’s existence.
The reputation, professional relationships, and readership of the blog (insofar as all those exist; I’ve never been a big fish in the music blogging world and, since 2009, I have had little desire to be one) are tied to the new music concept. If Independent Clauses continues to be a record of what I’m listening to, then this won’t be a strictly-new-music blog anymore. I would have to come up with a new way of writing that addresses that new exigence: if you’re not reading this post because it’s about something that’s brand new for you to be into, what are you reading it for? Not everyone is as addicted to chronologically new music as I was for many years; it may be that the same people who like chronologically new music like new-to-them music. The point of mentioning this is that I, by dint of long experience in the old way of working, really have no way of knowing if that statement is true or not. Maybe people like new-to-them music but not the new-to-them music IC would recommend, especially as I get up to speed in some genres by listening to stuff most people knowledgeable in the genres would already know about. (i.e. I now have opinions on Armin Van Buuren, you may have heard of him? all the trance fans groan) Who can say? Let’s find out.
By saying I need a new way of working, I mean it–this isn’t a little change. This is a change on par with the 2008-2009 change. We’re going somewhere new.
However, because I don’t quite know where it is we’re going and what it is we’re doing, we’re not going to start doing whatever that is 100% and dropping everything else cold turkey. I’m still going to write about Jenny and Tyler, no matter what form this blog takes–their music is intellectually stimulating to me, no matter what type of work I’m writing about consistently. So there’s going to be some folk and folk-pop and indie-pop in here over the next few months and maybe even years. But as I go along further into that great future, I expect those topics to appear less and less as I get more and more acquainted with the sounds I’m interested in now.
In some ways, it’s very exciting to be starting to focus on that which is for Independent Clauses uncharted territory. I’ve been getting really excited about Lymbyc Systym’s Split Stones and Jack de Quidt’s Marielda, so much so that I’ve been texting and chatting gushing recommendations to friends about them. This is a sure sign that I’ve caught on to something I like. It’s fun to be excited and naive about new sounds.
In other ways, it’s a bit disorienting; leaving behind mastery is leaving behind a source of personal pride, professional fulfillment, and social status. None of my quotes about the composed music that I am geeking out about these days are going to end up on PR emails anytime soon, and that’s a small joy that I will miss. I will know a ton about folk conceptually but will have increasingly little to say about individual acts that will be to me suddenly and unexpectedly popular. I’ll be out of that game, even if I have my head in another game. It’s a little like retiring from one sport and picking up another. (Is Usain Bolt a potentially good soccer player? I digress.)
As I’ve been kicking these thoughts around for the last few months before and during my sabbatical, I’ve wondered about the future of Independent Clauses. Since the great refocusing of 2008-2009, I’ve never really considered shutting down the blog. It has become a part of my life so deeply that it’s almost a part of me. Independent Clauses has been in my life longer than any friend I talk to on a regular basis, and all but two of my distant we-would-be-better-friends-if-we-lived-closer-to-each-other friends. It’s been around longer than my marriage, longer than any address I’ve ever lived at, longer than my current career path, longer than pretty much everything except my nuclear family relationships and my faith in Christianity. Even in the midst of this big upheaval, I still haven’t considered shutting it down. It’s a whole other essay’s worth of content to delineate what Independent Clauses brings to my life, but there are a lot of personal, practical, and professional benefits that I have seen from this blog. Even if those all change as this big re-direction occurs, I feel confident that those benefits will reappear in new ways.
I still don’t know exactly what format I’ll be posting in, or how often I’ll be posting, or exactly what I’ll be posting about. But I know this: I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the changes, more so than I was excited about reading through dozens of emails about folk-pop bands to find the one true gem. And that’s more than enough reason to go through with this big change: it’s going to be a lot of fun. I hope that you will come along for the ride. If this isn’t your cup of tea, maybe you have a friend who might be interested in it.
Technically speaking, I’ll still accept submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org. However, I expect to check the account with much less frequency–maybe once or twice a week, as opposed to every morning first thing in the morning and last thing before leaving work. I’ll be sourcing a lot more from my own adventures in music searching, but I won’t be abandoning my knowledge that the easiest way to find something really amazing and new is to maintain an open inbox and strong relationships with people in the know. I’ll probably be a pretty bad premiere partner for the near future, as I don’t quite know how to talk about the stuff I’m geeking out on yet. (But I’d be willing to experiment, if you’d be willing to live with the results!) I’d be thrilled to have people who are interested in this type of longform instrumental music write with me–that’s another way for me to learn. While everything else about IC up to and including my relationship to the former lifeblood of this blog (email) may change in this shift, my enthusiasm for working with other writers shows little sign of diminishing. Let me know if you’re interested.
Thank you to everyone who has supported Independent Clauses in the last 15 years; if this is the last time you read Independent Clauses, I thank you deeply for your attention and your interest. If this is the first time you’ve read Independent Clauses, welcome: we’re a 15-year-old blog about under-appreciated music that’s under new management despite the same manager.
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