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Author: Stephen Carradini

Premiere: “Bloodstream” by Paper Man

I’ve always admired Clem Snide’s surrealist honesty; the band’s dreamy alt-country is/was equal parts earnest confessional and stream-of-consciousness metaphors amid generally light-touch arrangements. Paper Man’s “Bloodstream” evokes Clem Snide’s earnest lyrics and beautiful light-touch balladry.

Brian Sousa’s vocals jump out of the speakers with the urgent sincerity of a man who has gotten rid of all self-delusion. The lyrics reflect the vocal tone, as Sousa (ex-Strangers by Accident) starts off with “I don’t know if I’m a good man” and gets more incisively self-aware from there. The lyrics are addressed to a lover, a no more lies, here it is conversation that takes great risk to deliver. The clear and present vulnerability of laying it out there–a “Why would I do this unless I really, truly wanted to make this work?” feel–creates a love song without saying “I love you.” “I’ve got nothing without you” and ruminations on the future when they’re old are as close as Sousa gets to the stating the heart of the mood that his tone and the arrangement create.
The arrangement is truly lovely. The fingerpicked guitarwork is winsome while the bass, strings, and subtle percussion fill out the arrangement perfectly. The touch is light while still keeping the drama high. The musicians carefully balance the heaviness of the lyrical revelations with the underlying hope that impels the revelations in the first place.
“Bloodstream” is out today, from the forthcoming album Bad Karma.

Killa Maus and the Desert Rats emerge in a big swirl of desert strut

Killa Maus is one of those Arizona artists that defies genrefication. Part blues, part jazz, part spoken word with a big swirl of desert strut might be the best way to describe the music. The eleven songs from Killa Maus and The Desert Rats are a ticket to sonic paradise.

The man behind the art, Jesse Morrison aka Killa Maus, wrote and co-produced the album with Tony Brant. Brant is also an engineer at Highland Recording Studio, tackling the mixing board on this complex record. Billy Sutherland joins on stunning guitar, with Killa Maus adding bass, keys, guitar and his signature vocals. Ethereal, funky, and jazzy each describe the soundscapes that are achieved here. Opener “Picture” struts in with that throwback vibe, but just teases out groove to slide on into the next track. 

“Magnificent” flows with its horns and heavy bass line. The jazz oozes here, laced with the trademark Killa Maus falsetto. This feels like a New Orleans party until the abrupt end. Slipping into “Such A Mood,” featuring vocalist Haley Green, the tension builds to perfection here. The narrative seamlessly flows through follow-up “Hano Culture” featuring Human. These two tracks reflect Maus’s ability to create a completely relatable narrative experience. 

“Hold Strong” featuring Laura Hamlin shifts gears, revealing the depth of musical talent lurking in the desert. This sweet sonic treat with an Americana flair defies the notion that this album can fit into a box. Expectations are blown out of the water on this bit of brilliance. Tracks like this highlight mixing as a craft, and Brant handles the changes masterfully. With its tone of defiance, “L.W.Y.D.” hits the 80s rock vibe superbly, intentionally or not. This is one of the most lyrically meaningful tracks as well. 

The next section of the record is a sonic party, and sequencing plays an integral part of the listening experience. “Loosey Goosey” leads the chill out conga line. The angsty build leading up to “Sunshine Dayz” featuring Cori Rios slips a Caribbean cool in as well. Simple, like hitting the pool, the “Good Cookin’” party is back with horns. “Moonshine” seems reminiscent of the sonic palette of Pink Floyd’s Animals. Its ethereal rock mix fits here. Saying goodbye to a new friend can be difficult, as “Sonia” soars with its strings. The sweetly simple lyrics of love surround a chorus with subtle instrumentation.

Firmly nestled in the list of “best things I’ve heard in 2021” (even though the album came out in 2019; but who’s counting?), Killa Maus and The Desert Rats is brilliant!Lisa Whealy

July 2020 Singles 2

1. “This Train” – Opus Kink. Opus Kink has a delightfully fractured sense of pop music, splicing in all sorts of weird things to create their own unique mix. This one includes “Tusk”-esque horns over hectic punk energy poured into a wiry post-punk/indie rock scramble. The vocals are equal parts calm doom and frantic hurtle. It’s one of the weirdest, best songs I’ve heard in a long time. The lyrics are a blast (and put people on blast). Highly recommended.

2. “Methuselah Theme” – Unweather. Look pretty much anything can be a banger if it gets you going, and this piece gets me going. I love 8-bit-influenced video game soundtrack music, and this is an A+ version of that style. It’s beautiful in a very specific way.

3. “Orbiting Mercury in a Dream” – Joseph Sannicandro + Stefan Christoff. This is one of the tracks where the whole review is right there in the title. Do you want to know what this ambient track sounds like? It sounds orbiting Mercury in a dream. If that sounds appealing to you, inquire within.

4. “Akinuba / The Heart feat. Yusef Lateef” – Web Web x Max Herre. Adventurous and accessible, this jazz cut has two distinct sections (as the title notes). The first is a subtle, laid-back, winds-led piece; the second is a more interrogative, urgent groove that burbles with energy under insistent spoken word poetry.

5. “Kuyina” – Cameron Knowler. Just a lovely little flight of fancy on a guitar, a ray of sunshine 105 seconds long, a piece of the sky.

6. “Norweigan Dream” – Oslo Tapes. A five-minute psych-rock odyssey that churns and churns and churns. It’s woozy and groovy, yet also locked-in rhythmically.

7. “Tseudo” – Zahn. Some great guitar-soaring going on here in this rippin’, spacey rock track. The video is just dudes headbobbing to the track in the back of a car, which is honestly pretty perfect for this cut.

8. “Bedside Love Song” – Frank Moyo. Just an old-fashioned love song, celebrating healthy love.

9. “Amidst” – Jason Van Wyk. A murky, fuzzy, amorphous ambient piece with dark undertones and lots of static. The album art is a distant light surrounded by blackness. You know who you are.

10. “Previous Tape” – Giancarlo Erra. If creepy ambient isn’t your jam, the soft, mournful, mesmerizing tones of this ambient flutter might be.

EP: Freya Lily’s Something Calming

Freya Lily‘s Something Calming is a lovely EP of elegant piano music. The solo piano works here are uniformly beautiful, with each of the six songs pointing out a slightly different take on elegant beauty. “Shiver” is an insistent, urgent song pushed along by a speedy right hand; but while it feels like it is nearly tripping over itself, it does so without anxiety or major dissonance. It manages to feel dramatic and exciting without being stressful.

“3s and 4s” is more pensive, led by a set of cascading, melancholy treble runs. The gentle low end gives some warm grounding to the piece to balance out the gloom. “When All Is Quiet” is a wistful, nostalgic piece that slows the tempo down considerably. “Damp Leaves” is a peaceful piece with a hopeful cast; the low end and mid-range keep things moving while the treble holds an ambiguous, delicate line. All told, the title is spot-on: this is uniquely interesting, but also calming, music.

July Singles 1

1. “Escalator” by FLDPLN. Pronounced “field-plan” (although I was hoping for flood-plain, I miss the rain), this solo artist’s latest electro-pop cut hearkens back to the early days of chillwave: blown-out lead vocals, ping-ponging spoken samples, big washes of synth, heavily reverbed percussion. The screamin’ saxophone solo is new, though! Highly recommended.

2. “Everest” – JuffBass. JuffBass is back with another downtempo tune of intertwining basslines, bass effects, and kit drums. “Everest” is anchored by a notably excellent drum performance, as lines lope and play over the tight rhythms. There are some late-era Red Hot Chili Peppers vibes throughout, which is always a big plus.

3. “Start Sumpthin Up” – J3PO. Instrumental hip-hop with funk-inspired basslines, dreamy keyboards/synths, and jazzy piano runs. What’s not to like?

4. “Orlo” – Timo Lassy. Kickin’ kit drum, flashy jazz saxophone lines, and disco-evoking strings meld together into a clever, punchy cut that leaves me wanting more.

5. “12.14” – Among Leaves. This tender piano rumination with birdsong sounds like that moment in RPG video games when you step out of the long cave into the inexplicably light-dappled, cavernous, open space. It’s beautiful, mysterious, and even reverent regarding the natural world.

6. “Love Exists Everywhere” – Blue Reality Quartet. This spacious jam manages to sound totally comfortable and ominous at the same time. While the drums hold down a steady pace, the saxophone is mournful and eerie. The flute drops in and out. The melodic percussion lends (paradoxically) an air of dreamy miasma and earth-bound connection. The whole piece is enigmatic and yet comforting.

7. “I Am Multiple” – Farewell. A pensive, thoughtful composition that plays like ending credits to a good movie. The vocals here do an excellent job infusing emotion into the piece without going over the top.

8. “Jeu Sur La Symphonie Fantastique 2” – Ballaké Sissoko feat. Vincent Segal and Patrick Messina. Fantastic symphony, indeed. This exquisite kora, flute, and cello performance imagines a Hector Berlioz piece in a celebratory style. It’s smile-inducing and remarkable. Highly recommended.

9. “Tranquilo” – Tim Kobza. Some smooth, guitar-led jazz that goes down easy but still has expansive, adventurous keys performances. The sort of thing that is delivered so precisely and perfectly that it sounds like it’s easy but in reality it is extremely not.

10. “Simple Beauty” – Leo Motta. A rainy-day rumination that has nostalgic low-fi drumming, vintage-sounding keys, and overall good vibes. This one polishes the standard elements of lo-fi instrumental hip-hop to an even finer gleam than usual.

Jody Bigfoot and Tandaro’s Duszt conscious hip-hop shines in two forms

Change agents come in all forms, connecting us to ideas of what can be. Merging his creative flow with filmmaker Jonjames Oxberry-Hogg, Jody Bigfoot’s Duszt is both an album (with German producer Tandaro) and a feature film.

Bigfoot’s story as an artist revels in the connection between the existential and spiritual. UK born, his global travels led to an awakening while in Japan. The thematically-rich, socially conscious hip hop flourishes with Buddist, Daoist, and Zen philosophies. The album in its cinematic form flows as an immersive artistic experience from Japanese directors Kitano Takeshi and Akira Kurosawa. Filmed entirely in Japan, vibrant visuals elevate each note.

At roughly 6’6” tall, Bigfoot’s choice to film his existential commentary is visually stunning. His presence as a towering figure adds an odd perspective to the lyrics. The product is a ying/yang soothsayer’s commentary in twelve songs, a tightly constructed performance piece narrating transformation. “Where is the Style?” feels like a commentary that could live in a film noir classic, ripping apart the dark bits of society. Criticizing technology with “Temples” seems perfect, especially when paired with the film’s visuals. The musically rich “Stars’ shines, as the universal story creates a meditative experience with saxophone.

Accented by multi-instrumentalist Tandoro’s aesthetic as producer, this unique album is a vehicle for activism. Nuanced and subtle, Bigfoot’s vocal tone vibes with this creative  universe, each note resonating with purpose. The richness of this release is matched by the talented artisans that brought the artistic vision to life. It has easily found its way into my top three for 2021. Definitely add Jody Bigfoot and Tandaro’s Duszt to your consciousness.–Lisa Whealy

Quick Hits: Ben Seretan / Phraktal / Myles Cochran

Ben Seretan‘s Cicada Waves is a brilliant, low-key album that pairs delicate, improvisational piano with field sounds of a remote corner of Georgia (US). There’s all sorts of bugs, birds, trees, rain, and general outside-noise mixed only a notch below the level of the piano, giving the record a gorgeously agrarian feel.

I lived in the deep South for a while and miss these sounds; the beautiful melodies on top of these sounds only accentuate what is an unexpectedly emotional album for me. Every track is wonderful. The highlight is “Fog Rolls Out Rabun Gap,” which features a duet of sorts with a particularly vocal bird. Highly recommended. (RIP that piano though.)

I like my techno self-aware and somewhat self-conscious: I want to hear the artist fighting against techno’s conventions while also acknowledging that some of the conventions are pretty darn fun (which is why they’re conventions). Phraktal‘s Nightwalk does that: there’s a clear throughline of dusky, minor-key techno bits that would allow this out on a dance floor, but there’s a bunch of low-key reservations against the big, blaring EDM-esque techno that give this character. The titular track takes about 45 seconds of concept and dribbles it out over a nearly 7-minute span; it’s conceptually akin to deep house, but the elements of the track consistently fade away or disappear. It’s like dissolving paper, in the best way; it keeps you on your toes with interest not waiting for the drop, but waiting for whatever happens next (whatever it may be).

“Head V Heart” and “Hypnophunk” have some more traditional four-on-the-floor techno elements, but subvert them in some way. “Head V Heart” even includes a fragmentary female vocal sample (talk about conventions) but does the same fade-all-the-way-out trick from the title track. “Hypnophunk” keeps the listener off-kilter with a floating synth that is just outside the vibe of the song, slowly pulling the center off-balance. By the time “Cabal” comes around, it’s a relief to get a straightforward techno cut with some Daft-Punk-in-Tron ominous vibes. Ultimately, this a record that those pining for the dance floor will recognize, and those who like their dancefloors a little weirder will embrace.

Myles Cochran‘s Unsung is an instrumental acoustic folk-style record with some serious verve. Cochran’s approach is not traditionalist in form, content, or title. As soon as I saw “Love Is As Beautiful As Pizza” on the tracklist, I knew I had to review it. (That one is a wiggly, introspective, early-’00s, Parachutes-style rumination; which, why not?) The album is composed mostly of thoughtful, mid-tempo pieces that are long on mood and timbre. There’s a lot more texture here than pickin’–this record bears more resemblance to Balmorhea than bluegrass.

“Crab of Many Shells” accentuates unusual guitar rhythms above a moody miasma, while the walking-speed “The Window” is sort of like a dark Mountain Goats track with the piano playing John Darnielle’s voice. “Churrito” is a similar vibe, with some added Latinx influence from the title and the guitar style. Closer “It’s Like This, It’s Like That” is one of the more eerie tunes, giving the listener a weird vibe on the way out (just for fun). The arrangements are tight without feeling constrained, the melodies are vibrant without feeling traditional, and the whole work comes off like a charm.

Independent Clauses 2021 Spotify Playlist, Vol. 2

Editor’s note: This is the 3000th post on Independent Clauses! Thanks to everyone who has been with us through 3000 posts. Here’s to 3000 more. –Stephen Carradini

Stephen Carradini and I present Independent Clauses 2021 Spotify Playlist, Vol. 2. It features a diverse representation of genres covered over the past few months.  The musical selections  represent a global soundscape calling out humanity’s strengths and weaknesses as individuals and as a community.

While developing this playlist, the soundtrack from Questlove’s groundbreaking documentary Summer of Soul connected 16-year-old Stevie Wonder to the latin rhythms of Tampo’s “Keumgang.” Sly and The Family Stone vibed with Pauli The PSM’s “We Got the Beat,” transcending time and place with its universal groove.

Artists featured in this playlist include, in no particular order: @JodyBigfoot – @Killamaus – @Kaleo – @iamsupergrover – @broscomatose – @bonesofjrjones – @questlove – @hplemke – @JustinJohnson11 –  @paulilovejoy – @bencosgrove –  Avalon Skies – The Fierce Brothers. – Lisa Whealy

June 2021 Singles 2: Gold to Grim to Gold

I don’t usually header these lists anymore, but I feel like I need to give you the heads up on this one. This one starts off chipper and then goes deep into ominous, dark vibes for most of the mix. It comes up for sunlight in the last two tracks. If you’re not in that headspace, I get that! We’ll have more singles soon.

1. “Keumgang” – Tampo. This sextet plays South American cumbia and mambo in traditional ways, even down to the recording style. The melodies are charming and the vibe is impeccable. Also they’re from Finland?

2. “From a Golden State” – Grover Anderson and the Lampoliers. The third single from All The Lies That I Have Told is a tearjerking letter to a mother who died of cancer. The storytelling is impeccable, driving the mid-tempo ballad along beautifully.

3. “Vol de Nuit” – Jon Durant & Stephan Thelen. This duo blurs the boundary between ambient and post-rock to create a wind-swept, evocative, cinematic landscape that takes more than 10 minutes to fully unfold.

4. “Fashion” – Flowers 15. The Russian based creatives known as Flowers 15 reimagine the direction of Eastern European alternative rock with this mind blowing single from the upcoming album Friends Team. The soul of icon David Bowie fused with David Byrne of the Talking Heads graces this. Embracing the human body’s beauty with a Grecian essence of androgyny, singer and composer Vlad’s partnership with electronic composer and musician Artiom is essential to the nuanced edge the piece achieves.–Lisa Whealy

5. “The Skull” – ^L_. This track starts off with an extended barrage of gunfire, explosions, and emergency sounds before forming up into a grim, bleak, murky cut. There’s a pause, and then it takes off in a dead-eyed blast of percussive beats, distorted synths, and ominous swathes of sound. This is not friendly or happy music, but it’s uniquely intriguing electronic work. The horror of the single art adds to the feel.

6. “Emcimbinii” – DJ Black Low & Tap Soul feat. Licy Jay & Eto. DJ Black Low’s work here is a mix of celebratory vocals and chipper percussion against darkly enigmatic synths and eerie piano work. It’s a traveling party that wandered into a haunted house.

7. “A Blues for My Father” – Giancarlo Erra. Lots of ambient tunes sound like clouds moving slowly by, but the grief is palpable in this one; the slow movement of keys, gentle synths, and guitar-esque lead melodies work together for a reason, making this a beautiful, moving tribute.

8. “Of Scents and Dust” – Fallen. Have you picked up a theme yet? Here’s another ominous/beautiful ambient cut that relies heavily on reverb and empty space to create mystery.

9. “Nue Sous sa Chemise” – Thomas Simon Saddier (feat. Rem Rembuzzi). Okay here’s a song that is almost cheerful! At the very least this dreamy indie-pop track has a dancer in it; that’s gotta be some sort of penance for all the heavy tracks I’ve put forward so far. Saddier’s whispery voice fits nicely against low-key guitar and synth to create a fun vibe.

10. “Lemon Lime” – Emancipator, Cloudchord. Okay, here’s your jam: lightly funky lo-fi instrumental hip-hop with wispy flute action and a beat so leaned back it’s basically touching the ground with its head, drum-major-style. You’re welcome.

Premiere: “Oblivion” by Grace Womack

No matter how done I am with a genre, the top-shelf stuff can still bring me back in. Whether it’s folk-pop, hardcore, or piano ballads, the good stuff is still the good stuff. Grace Womack‘s “Oblivion” is that good stuff in the emotive piano ballad genre. It hits on all cylinders: the vocal performance, the lyrics, the piano, strings, it’s all perfect.

Womack’s voice is earthy and full, a disciple of the Adele school without being overbearingly similar in her delivery. The lyrics evoke the endless spans of time that come in the aftermath of an emotional event (or a pandemic!). Womack’s broad, swooping delivery matches the goals of the lyrics perfectly. The many references to Christian religion pepper the bars with interesting connections (the flood, resurrection, once was lost, river through my soul, etc.). The overall product is a beautiful ballad that I just want to hear over and over again.

Oblivion comes out tomorrow, June 25. Pre-order or pre-save it now! Check out more from Grace on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

We also had the great chance to get Grace to answer some questions for us about the song:

What prompted you to write this song? What is it about? Was there a flash of inspiration behind it?

The simple answer to this question would probably be the global pandemic hitting and ruining all of our lives, ha ha, but it’s a bit more layered than that. I had recently gone through a rough breakup, transferred colleges (for what would not be the last time), had completely changed my major twice, and had then gotten sent home from college two months into the Spring semester where I was finally making friends and doing okay for once. I truly had no idea what was going on. I moved back in with my parents and felt like I had failed at being a grown-up, even though the circumstances were well beyond my control. I remember dragging the at least 20-year-old electric piano from the game room into a corner of my poorly-lit bedroom and just trying to let it all out. Writing is cathartic for me, like it is for many writers, but this song was particularly helpful for me emotionally. It felt like I was grieving the normalcy that I had taken for granted for so long.

This song is from your forthcoming EP. What made you want to release this song into the world before the EP comes out?

I wanted to release this song separately because of how much it means to me. It feels very vulnerable to put some of my heaviest emotions on display in this format, but I also know that there are other people in every walk of life who feel this same sense of confusion and fear of the unknown, especially now. Every painful emotion is worse when you feel like you’re alone in it, so I wanted to release this as a sort of comfort for anyone who ‘s going through similar stuff as we try to emerge out of this past year and a half. The song has also found a sort of re-birth for me personally during this transition period. It’s really hard when, after staying inside and having a solid, tangible reason to be depressed or anxious for all this time, suddenly the barriers and restrictions are lifted and you’re catapulted back into a normalcy that you forgot how to navigate. It really does feel like oblivion, with no direction or precedent to rely on. But even regardless of the current timing, I think this song catches peoples attention because it has a timelessness to it. At one point or another, whether you lost your job or broke up with someone or moved across the country, we’ve all felt this way before, and I hope people find solace in that relatability.

This song isn’t lightweight, lyrically speaking, and musically it has such a gorgeousness to it. Was it fun to record in the studio? Did the finished song come out like you imagined it would, or is it totally different? How so? What was the recording session like for this song? Any great stories from the studio for this one?

Thank you!! This was actually the first one we recorded in the studio, meaning it was the first thing I’d actually ever professionally recorded, so it was a really cool experience for me. I used to do live theatre, so I remember the way your stomach ties up in knots right before a performance, but, for me at least, that feeling would always immediately go away the second I stepped on stage. Recording this was a pretty similar experience for me, emotionally, to that feeling. I was so anxious the night before and even all the way up to stepping into the recording booth, but as soon as I started to sing it through, all of that kind of melted away. You’re definitely right about this song being pretty heavy, so I just let myself enter the headspace I was in when first writing this song back in my childhood bedroom, and it all just kind of came out. There’s something about singing, specifically my own lyrics and melodies, that just puts all of the anxiety I deal with at ease, and the recording process for this song really helped me to discover that. Hearing it all come together was such a surreal moment for me. It truly feels crazy to hear such professional musicians play stuff that you wrote. It was like every little instrumentation and harmony that had only ever lived in my own head was finally coming out of a speaker.

You are a great lyricist — it’s obvious you work hard on that craft. What’s your favorite lyric line in the song? Why is it your favorite?

Thank you! Writing lyrics is my favorite part of the songwriting process by far. I’m an English major, too, so I’m really a writer at heart. As for my favorite lyric, that’s definitely a hard one. I think, if I had to narrow it down, it would probably be in the bridge when I say “I’m losing all sense of control, dried up the river flowing through my soul. But four wise men once said just ‘let it be,’ but I can’t help but wonder who you are without me.” These lyrics really summarize my feelings when writing “Oblivion.” I felt so lost and confused about where I was going and like I had lost a part of myself. I felt numb and scared and like the spark that existed somewhere in my brain was gone. And, of course, there’s the subtle nod to The Beatles, whose song “Let it Be” served as a sort of calm-down song for me over the course of the summer (and my whole life, ha ha). My “Mother Mary” came in the form of my mom who let me vent about every little detail of my feelings every chance I got, and my dad, who once held my big ol’ 19-year-old body and let me bawl in his arms like a baby about a teenage boy who he knew all along wasn’t “the one” no matter how hard I argued. I’ll never be able to repay them for their love, but I do try to through my lyrics. I think these lyrics, and honestly all of them in the song, reflect this feeling of forgiving yourself for feeling and allowing yourself to be unashamed of emotion. I would beat myself up for crying or for transferring schools or changing my major over and over but this song just allowed me to feel my feelings to their fullest extent without apologizing for it.

What do you hope the message of this song is to those who hear it?

I just want it to give people hope. Hope that they’re not alone, and that it’s okay to feel lost and to let yourself sit in that emotion for however long you need to. We’re so surrounded by this culture that tells us to go! Go! Go! But that’s ultimately just not realistic, and there’s going to be times the world forces you to slow down, even if it feels like punishment. I learned so much about myself and my relationships during what I would say was the hardest period of my life so far, and I hope people find some kind of hope in that. Art comes out of oblivion.