Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hit: Koltbach

January 9, 2019

Koltbach – Orange People EP. This four-song EP contains sleek, streamlined progressive trance that sounds eminently suited to driving around a city late at night (“Bones”). There’s a lot of motion here, but it’s all done in a smooth, silky way that keeps the energy going without succumbing to big EDM synth blasts. Instead, there’s a lot of atmosphere and patience (see “Superego”) in the midst of this melodic, progressive trance. Also includes maybe the chillest use of cowbell/jam block ever in “Bones.” –Stephen Carradini

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MP3s: Those Whom We Have Loved

January 7, 2019

MP3s: Those Whom We Have Loved

So even though I’m working my way towards instrumental reviews (two coming this week!), there’s still all these bands that I’ve covered before sending me great music. Here’s some excellent work in that category (and one new artist sneaking in there).

1. “Honeyguide” – Frances Luke Accord. I could listen to this beautiful slice of delicate, warm folk-pop all day. The dual vocals recall the Weepies, while the fingerpicking recalls Simon and Garfunkel. But the final product is all FLA–this duo knows what it’s doing, and you need to know what they’re doing too.

2. “Ain’t No Grave” – Zach Winters. I have always wanted to write a song that was just percussion and vocals, and I’m stoked whenever someone else does it well. Winters here trades his graceful folk efforts for a soulful gospel ballad backed by a big ‘ol group of stomping and singing friends. The melodies are chilling and encouraging all at once, while the lyrics are just encouraging. A winner from Winters.

3. “Rio Grande” – Sean Pawling. Any non-ska song that has a trombone play the hook melody has my attention. Pawling’s folk tune here has the trombone, yes, but also has commendable lyrics about immigration, funky Cake-like synth, and a catchy vocal melody in the chorus. Fun, but also meaningful!

4. “Bad Lover” – Jeremy Tuplin. Tuplin’s smooth, mellifluous baritone voice is in the lead on the track, and rightly so. The rest of the lightly chipper indie-pop tune keeps out of his way so that he can work magic with that lovely set of pipes.

5. “Often Seen Together” – The Hasslers. The Hasslers live in a world where no genres exist. This is ostensibly a country ballad in its lyrical content, but it’s got funky guitar and bass, got some major soul horns, some slick acoustic-pop vocal delivery, and a bunch more packed into it. If you like good music from the acoustic side of the musical spectrum, I dare you to dislike this song. Highly recommended.

6. “God Once Loved a Woman” – Frog. Frog is a wildly inventive guitar-rock/jangle-pop band and their latest effort Whatever We Probably Already Had It shows off their unique take on guitars and vocals. But it’s the lyrics in this one that are wild: this is an anachronistic update of the story of the virgin birth. I’m not sure whether this is irreverent or reverent in the ways that Frog know how to be reverent, but it’s thought-provoking nonetheless.

7. “Hidden Worlds” – Teen Daze. This newest Teen Daze song is amazing: it’s got funky bass vibes, compelling drumming, dreamy-but-not-washed-out synths, and a propulsive vibe. It sounds like a rejuvenated Teen Daze that’s calling back to his early chillwave days but incorporating the complexity of his most recent outings as Jamison Isaak into the mix. It’s an astonishingly good song. I am super excited for the new Teen Daze record coming out this year.

8. “Again Again” – Mon Draggor. A perfect fusion of burbling electro pop and downtempo acoustic work, Mon Draggor makes sadness sound super-danceable. Sure, maybe the dancing is by yourself in a fairly dark room, but it’s a beautiful fairly dark room made more beautiful by the excellent tune.

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Video: Matt C. White’s “Oath”

January 2, 2019

“Oath,” the first music video from Matt C. White’s debut album Wallow in the Hollow, comes alive, casting a spell over fans. Taking symbolism normally associated with fear and death,  these Matt C. White and Lana Boy-directed visuals produce characters who come to life along with the music; dancing on the rooftops and celebrating. The video, produced by Elna Street, is layered, much like the song. Music can bring the dead to life, and voodoo works well as a futile gesture of control. The song “Oath” is a contradiction musically from lyrical content, vocal delivery, tempo, and stark instrumentation stylistically. At first glance, the spell is cast, leaving a fine marriage of visuals that are unexpected and work well with a great song. —Lisa Whealy

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Rose Door by Charles Ellsworth and Matt C. White

December 18, 2018

Occasionally musicians meet in life, finding a common thread which begs to be explored deeper. Such is the case with talented songwriters and troubadours Charles Ellsworth and Matt C. White, whose solo talents have listeners ready to embrace their recent collaborative quartet of songs on the EP Rose Door via Burro Borracho Records.

The two skilled songwriters have come together on this collaborative release to create simple acoustic magic. Ellsworth and White, from the back countries of Northeastern Arizona and North Carolina respectively, found each other in New York City. Their combined folk rock energy is the foundation of this rustic indie folk-rock. It’s rough around the edges in all the ways that listeners love. Ellsworth and White are prolific songwriters and perform in various projects, but something really special happens when their two guitars come together in such an artful and honest way. Adding their talents are Chris Heinrich on the pedal steel guitar and Meg Webb on fiddle; the ears of Bob Hoag of Flying Blanket Studios helped define each note in the sonic landscape.

The EP opens with “Rose Door,” whose beauty is pure and simple; compositionally complex, this song begs for a warm place to call home beyond just the listeners who embrace instrumental music. Rustic and real, there is no hiding, nor any need for lyrical clutter. An authentic invitation, this is all listeners need to walk through the door. When I spoke with Ellsworth recently in Brooklyn, he commented on how the cut remained an instrumental: his friend Matt said it spoke, and it really did not really need lyrics. Quite true.

Sliding into White’s “Morning Glory Fool,” there is a shift in tone, a definite folk energy that brings to mind his debut release Wallow in the Hollow. This is music that demands attention: a deep vocal resonance surrounded by a rich instrumentation, earthy and real in the fiddle performance.

“Blossom in the Sun” from Ellsworth offers a contrast–or maybe it’s just a glimmer into the other side of both of these artists? The song has a rock vibe, held back with a tension that feels real like warmth from a sun we only hear about. This is songwriting that gives listeners the scent of flowers on a warm summer day, swaying in a mountain storm as the thunder rolls in.

Closing out the quartet is the bookend of “Foxglove in A Major” as the wraparound acoustic guitar instrumental. The authentic sound of fingers picking strings brings it back to the final downbeat. A classical guitar vibe creates a progressively elegant closing to an EP which defies being stuffed into a genre box. The whole of the EP sings eloquently in a voice which goes further than any single track could. Listeners can hear and feel the connection by opening up the Rose Door by Charles Ellsworth and Matt C. White. — Lisa Whealy

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Independent Clauses 2018 Best-Of

December 12, 2018

This year of Independent Clauses was a strange year, as it was firmly a transition year. My tastes were changing, my writing patterns were changing, and my listening habits were changing. Because I didn’t do a lot of the normal reviewing that I usually do, I’m not doing a regular best-of list. Instead, I’m listing my top 20 artists based on volume of listening as tracked by Last.FM. This isn’t a list of my favorite albums of the year, but it is a list of what I listened to most this year. Without further ado:

20. Jessica Curry – So Let Us Melt. A beautiful video game soundtrack that blends gentle electronica, orchestral work, and choral reveries.

19. pg.lost – Versus. A thunderous, pounding post-rock album, heavy on the rock. It’s great to work out to.

18. invention_ – Chillhop/trip-hop beats that are silky smooth and jazzy/stuttery in turns. Great to sit back and relax (or work) to.

17. Shingo Nakamura. Smooth, silky, occasionally haunting progressive trance. I listened to a lot more Nakamura than this spot on my list shows, as the primary thing I listened to of Nakamura’s was a two-hour best-of mix. If we were to look at an amount of time spent listening versus number of tracks, Nakamura would be very high on the list.

16. Walk the Moon. The major-key dance-rock of Walk the Moon gave me two power-songs this year: “Work This Body” and “One Foot.”

15. Armin Van Buuren. I learned a lot about many different genres this year, and so I ended up listening to a lot of Armin and Armin’s mixes (which are attributed to Armin) to learn about trance. All the trance fans groan 

14. Olafur Arnalds – re:member. Composer Arnalds’ new album is a lovely, delicate experience that yet has depth of composition. Relies on piano, but expands into all sorts of directions, even toward post-rock.

13. Makana. I was really into Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar over the spring and summer, so I listened to a lot of Makana. For those unfamiliar, this is not the sort of traditional luau ukulele music associated with Hawaii. Instead, this is a uniquely Hawaiian, rolling, pastoral folk music with its own sort of tension and release. It’s really interesting stuff. “Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest” is the place to start.

12. Jack de Quidt. The soundtrack to a podcast that I’ve never heard, this album blends clarinet-heavy klezmer stylings with adventurous, major key acoustic composition work. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard–one of my favorites of the year.

11. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. A fascinating mix of modular synthesizer tones and indie-rock melodies, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s music is reminiscent of Juliana Barwick’s experimental work, but perhaps even weirder.

10. TrackLab. Throwing another genre in the mix, I stumbled across the chill instrumental hip-hop beats of TrackLab on Spotify. Very chill.

9. Oliver Davis. Composer Davis is one of my favorite discoveries this year. Chris Krycho tipped me off to the energetic, bouncy, whirligig sound of Davis’ orchestral work. Anyone who likes the light, enthusiastic tones of Aaron Copland (instead of the heavy, rich tones of European orchestral work) will immediately find an interest here. Also, fans of math-rock may find Davis appealing, as there’s a lovely staccato patterning to the melodies that is reminiscent of that spiky, patterned genre. It all comes together with a lot of heart.

8. r beny. While Ann Annie introduced me to modular synthesizers this year, it was r beny that made me fall in love with the sound. cascade symmetry was my favorite of the works I listened to from my-newly-discovered r beny this year, as it is just huge, sweeping, and mysterious in its scope.

7. Balmorhea – Clear Language.The acoustic post-rock of Balmorhea is both comforting and challenging–you can let it wash over you or really concentrate on it. Both ways have their own joys.

6. Odesza. The artsy post-dub of Odesza was one of my first entrees into the (mostly) instrumental electronic world, along with Teen Daze. I’ve been listening to Odesza for years, and this is representative of my long-term interest in them more so than my discovery of them this year.

5. Max Richter. Movie/television composer Richter has seen the culmination of what must have been a remarkably busy past few years in 2018, as no fewer than six soundtracks of his came out this year. Mary Queen of Scots is my favorite (and White Boy Rick was probably my least favorite, but hey, there are five others to choose from); all of them are textured, contoured works that seem to aptly but not overly reflect the tone and content of the movies they score. (Okay, you’re going to hear a lot of Scottish sounds in Mary Queen of Scots, but what did you expect? A Knight’s Tale?)

4. Sufjan Stevens. I listened to a lot of The Avalanche, Michigan, Illinois, and Songs for Christmas. This has little to do with IC’s new focus and a lot to do with my continuing love of Sufjan.

3. Lymbyc Systym – Split Stones. Combines The Album Leaf’s loosely-unspooling acoustic post-rock with MGMT’s groove and melody to create instrumental electronic indie-pop that’s dancy and thoughtful.

2. Lucho Ripley. Near-perfect ambient dreamwave. Sounds like floating in outer space, but perhaps a warm, lush, friendly version of outer space. Not nearly enough people know about Lucho Ripley. Highly Recommended.

1. The Album Leaf – All but The Endless Soundtrack. I’ve always liked the Album Leaf’s acoustic post-rock and occasional electronic bits, but this year I really fell in love with their gentle melodicism, flowing vibe, careful texturing, and consistent development of their sound over time. Their deep discography allowed me to click once and listen to several hours of excellent music that helped me lock in to the zone for writing. They’re the standard-bearers for me in the realm of instrumental acoustic post-rock. By track volume, I listened to them almost twice as much as I did the next artist.

Bonus: here’s my Spotify Wrapped. The top five songs are a Walk the Moon song and four Lucho Ripley tunes. I have no idea how “Rock” ended up as my top genre.

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Listening to: So Let Us Melt

December 4, 2018

So Let Us Melt by Jessica Curry. Great instrumental music: it’s a video game soundtrack that blends the sort of eerie electronic music you’d expect with full choirs, orchestral instrumentation and strong melodic development. I have no idea what the lyrics are, so warning on that. But otherwise it’s really intriguing.

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Listening to, Late November edition

November 28, 2018

1. I saw Pick of the Litter on an airplane a few days ago. Even with plane noise and one earbud not working, Helen Jane Long‘s soundtrack is lovely: it’s part whimsical pizzicato-style work (a la Lullatone) and part gently emotional film score. I can’t find it anywhere online at the moment, but if you watch the film you should keep your ear (or ears) out for it.

2. Shuja Haider’s article in Logic about the birth of house music is fascinating. Even more fascinating is what Haider credits as the first house track: “Acid Tracks” by Phuture (1987). Haider is right to note that “aspects of EDM are uncannily similar to acid house as it was heard thirty years ago in Chicago”; the seminal “Acid Tracks” is work that would be credited as incredibly artful and mature minimalist electro / progressive house by contemporary standards if it had been made today. Truly amazing, truly innovative, truly bold to stand the test of time so sturdily.

3. The 14 minutes of Tony Anderson’s “Immanuel” combine traditional Christmas music, ambient pad synths, and gently propulsive minimalist electro for a track that combines new and old seamlessly. It is a beautiful piece that puts me exactly  in the type of mood I want to be in at Christmas: reverent, hopeful, and comforted. I want to find more Christmas-oriented work like this; anyone have any suggestions?

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Listening to: Ólafur Arnalds

November 14, 2018

I really enjoyed Ólafur Arnalds’ early work; I almost caught him live at SXSW 2013. But since then I’ve lost track of him, until Jeff Hinton alerted me to re:member. Arnalds’ delicate, occasionally whimsical work is piano-based but expands outward into what could even be called post-rock at times: “unfold” is light and airy, while the title track opener reminds me of the lighter end of Sigur Ros’ work. There’s a lot to unpack here, and I don’t think I’m done writing about it. But in this new realm of experimentation I thought I’d mention that I’m listening to it.

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The Roving Ear

November 3, 2018

You can listen to many of the pieces and artists that I mention in this essay at a Spotify list of the same nameThis 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.

So what I have been listening to that I’m so captivated by? I’ve become taken with a fairly wide variety of longform instrumental music. The range is wide: mid-century minimalism, ambient, progressive house, instrumental trance, chillwave, instrumental acoustic work, acoustic post-rock, indie video game soundtracks, podcast soundtracks, and a post-metal track here and there. (I’ve also been really into Tshegue, but their African dance/garage rock/rap is an outlier in my current musical habits.) Some of my favorites this year have been Lucho Ripley’s discographyThe Album Leaf’s whole discography (minus the newest album, ironically), Split Stones by Lymbyc System (2015), Diminuito by Rolf Lislevand Ensemble (2018; h/t my good friend and collaborator Chris Krycho for this one), Oliver Davis’ discography (ditto), Jack de Quidt’s Marielda (2016; h/t my geek-out partner Jeff Hinton), and Spotify playlists of instrumental trance music. I work really well to playlists of instrumental trance music, incidentally.

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 indieclauses@gmail.com. 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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decker.’s Spiritual Awakening

September 11, 2018

A rude awakening always comes before the spiritual awakening, even for musical mystic decker. Brandon Decker has toured ceaselessly for nearly ten years since the release of his debut in 2009, with multiple albums dropped along the way. Born to Wake Up is a transcendent soundscape from a man who listeners only thought they knew. Reborn, a better man has emerged from the ashes. His sound has evolved along with his spirit.

Signed to the prestigious Royal Potato Family record label, Brandon Decker has brought his Sedona, Arizona, psychedelic folk to life.  Adding to the ambient surreal aura is cover art from Brandon Paul Shupe Art. The stunning artwork blends desert psychedelia and possibly some pea soup aesthetic into the blender of creativity. Quinn Murphy at Hamster Labs in Phoenix, Arizona helped make the artwork and layout come to life. This album, produced by Brandon Decker & Dylan Ludwig and recorded at Raven Sound Studio in Prescott, Arizona, has an added essence infused by final mastering from Dan Coutant (Caterpillars, Sherwood, among a host of others) at Sun Room Audio in Cornwall, New York.

The first sounds of “No Beginning No End”  opens the ten-song album with an expansive echo of brilliance. Some facts are clear: like a desert night, each sound is magnified, every nuance vibrating with meaning. With Brandon Decker on guitars, vocals, and percussion joined by Dylan Ludwig on guitars, synthesizers, and percussion, a skeleton of a symphony has been created. Amber Johnson (keyboards), Andrew Bates (electric bass), Zirque Bonner (upright bass), Charlie Foldesh (drums), Shawnee Snaketail (drums),  and Meliza Jackson (guitar) are the full orchestra of sound that helps create the rich lushness of this album.

Resting in the mystery is “The Strawman,” with an wide, cinematic feel; a hollow echo of lyrics create a haunting, soul-jarring connection to one of the most strikingly brilliant vocals ever felt by this troubadour.  

“Burnin Grass” is a tribute to Tom Petty that was also the lead single from Born to Wake Up. It is a solid homage to the great songwriter in vibe and lyricism, with a splash of desert folk style. Shifting gears, “The Garden” has an eclectic cool with a bass line that rolls. The intimacy of the sound’s contradiction with the lyrics is genius. In the past, Brandon Decker has written more from the dark side, a perspective that dead ends in many ways. Hope is heard on this album, with love and light breaking through introducing life anew.

The driving groove of “The Matador” is animalistic, thanks to the abundance of percussion, and the primal feel reflects the fact that this man is connected to the land.  Clearly, this an elevation of an already talented artist and that brilliance is heard lyrically. Bright vocally, this soars in triumph, an awareness that the truth is a freedom that cannot be given without sacrifice. The title track “Born to Wake Up” follows. With guitar work that feels like a loving hug, each lyric is a positive reinforcement to clear each speed bump in life, big or small, in order to become the best human being possible. Is this a new Decker, a little road weary and more introspective?

Sometimes the best new music connects a listener to memories of the past, great albums seared into the soul. “Smudge” has an aura of The Beatles with a vibe that brings to mind the psychedelic aesthetic of cuts from Revolver, Rubber Soul, and the White Album as do all of the closing songs.   Written with his son, “Mexico” is simply beautiful and in many ways reminiscent of “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon; simple, heartfelt love of father and son. Life is celebrated with breathtaking honesty.  Adding to the magic is the voice of Katherine Byrnes; heart-stopping love seems to radiate from this cut unconsciously. Knowing that the songwriter and his son wrote this song is that much more powerful, knowing the bond the two share.

An evolution has occurred for Brandon Decker. Closing out the album with “The Saint” as a tribute to his grandmother, the man has certainly shifted his perspective.  Now his ascension to another plane as a songwriter has begun, more open and authentic spiritually than on any of his previous seven releases. A bookend to close the album, “No End, No Beginning” harkens in the dawn, a chapter in the musical life of a man devoted to his son, his art, and his spirit.–Lisa Whealy

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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