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Top Releases of the Year

This year I’m just going to have one list of releases that encompasses both full releases and EPs. Without further ado, here it is:

1. Twigs – townsppl. (Review) The most infectious indie-pop I heard all year. I couldn’t stop listening to it from the first time I heard it.

2. A Lovely Wait – Nathan Partain. (Review) Easily balances being a folk album and a worship album, subsequently transcends both genre labels.

3. Thinking about Thursdays – Lullatone. (Review) The scope of this project is massive, but the quality never suffers. Charming, endearing, thoughtful instrumental twee work here.

4. Fear Not – Cameron Blake. (Review) This album spans an impressive range of emotions, moods, genres, and lyrical places. Blake shows off his distinctiveness throughout.

5. Oversleepers International – Emperor X. (Review) Starts off as a acoustic-punk album, then sprawls outward in all directions. The one-two punch of “Wasted on the Senate Floor” and “Schopenhauer in Berlin” is the best album-opening blast of the year.

6. Two Sets of Eyes – Two Sets of Eyes. (Review) A mind-bending amalgam of indie-rock, jazz, hip-hop, and emo that has more twists than a rollercoaster. Whoa now.

7. Bright Hopes! – Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings. (Review) Another album of massive scope, Crawford’s double album of melodic indie-rock is punchy, clever, and unforgettable.

8. Listen to the River – The Collection. (Review) It’s an emotionally heavy piece of work, which is par for the course with the Collection. The orchestral-folk outfit’s songwriting vision is as clear and strong as ever.

9. II – Alex Dezen. (Review) A veritable jukebox of ’70s and ’80s pop styles matched with Dezen’s eye for lyrical detail and ear for inescapable melodies.

10. Tambaleo – Matthew Squires. (Review) Squires’ left-of-center, idiosyncratic vision of indie-pop is on full display here. I didn’t hear anything else like Tambaleo all year.

11. Wives’ Tales – Illustrated Manual. (Review) A moving, carefully-crafted set of acoustic singer-songwriter/folk tunes.–Stephen Carradini

Winding on out of each year, the reflection of great music begins. Here are my picks. That being said, I do hope that you find a bit of something new that brings you cheer heading into the 2018!

10. Jenny ScheinmanHere on Earth. It’s a rare feat to bring true roots Americana to life. Jenny Scheinman does just that in her album Here On Earth. History brought to life musically, this is an experience not to be missed.

9. This Pale FireAlchemy. Singer/songwriter Corban Koschak performs as This Pale Fire from Auckland, New Zealand. His subtle, nuanced acoustic music is finding wings around the globe with soulful melody and emotive vocal delivery, bringing to mind early years of Michael David Rosenberg.

8. Cyclope EspionFriday Night Epitaph. The best music tells a story. Finding a voice in America, French-born Cyclope Espion’s Friday Night Epitaph is the story of New York City. With every raw, Dylan-esque moment, this album is “Indélébile” from start to finish.

7. DoubleVeeThe Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider. This is trippy indie at its finest. With shimmers reminiscent of Oingo Boingo, this is musical deliciousness not to be missed. Jack the Rider emerges out of Norman, Oklahoma–not normally known as a spot for a concept album. But to say any more about the album might take away from an initial listener experience with Alan and Barb Vest.

6. Charles Ellsworth Cesaréa. Ellsworth’s 2017 record found him back at Flying Blanket Studios working with producer Bob Hoag. This partnership helped shaped the evolution of many tracks that populate Cesaréa. Travels and journeys forge this singer/songwriter’s journey through life. This is the third full-length album by the artist who left the wilds of northeastern Arizona to finish film school in Utah, only to uproot and end up in Brooklyn. It will be great to hear what the next five years in his life sounds like.

5. The American WestThe Soot Will Bring Us Back Again. Matthew Zeltzer (guitar/vocals) and Maria Maita-Keppeler (vocals, violin) are The American West from Portland, Oregon. Their “post-Americana” sound envelops each track off their debut album The Soot Will Bring Us Back Again.

4. Trevor James Tillery Together, Alone. With some of the most stunning artwork of the year representing an album of pure social analysis, this Nashville-based singer/songwriter proves that each carefully-chosen lyric can paint a picture in music. Undeniably outstanding.

3. Jason Van WykAttachment and Opacity. These two albums of piano is the storyteller for a look at relationships. This two-part masterwork is composition at its finest.

2. Grover AndersonFrom the Pink Room. All listeners gravitate toward great songwriting. From The Pink Room is the third album from the folk singer/songwriter from historic Murphys, California. The album blends great storytelling in a true troubadour fashion with country flair. Anderson is a man to watch.

1. Polyrhythmics Caldera. Genius takes all forms, but rarely does that put nine musicians of incredible caliber into a creative space–the album is named Caldera after the form left behind from a volcanic eruption. On their fourth studio album, the Seattle-based band is all about that jazz. But that foundation allows the band to stretch into rock, funk, blues, and R&B forms. Their sound expands like the caldera that is the album’s namesake.

I hope to hear your favorites from this year’s IC. Have a prosperous 2018! –Lisa Whealy

Fear Not: An album of immense scope and distinctive vocals

Cameron Blake‘s previous album Alone on the World Stage was aptly titled: the music was mostly Blake’s voice accompanied by a single instrument, while the lyrics were often internally-focused. Fear Not is Blake at the opposite end of the spectrum: a crew of almost fifty musicians rushes from Tiananmen Square to Jerusalem to Baltimore to rural farm country to send the titular message to all of humanity. It is an album of unprecedented scope for Blake. The risk pays off in spades, as this is Blake’s most distinctive, accomplished work to date.

Blake’s voice remains front and center through it all. His low, drama-laden voice is a singular one that I can pick out instantly wherever I hear it. Blake’s vocal performances are the type that’ll grow on you; his tone is often-brash, he pairs a love of unexpected chord changes with unexpected vocal melodies, and he is unafraid to roar. Those who love atypical vocal presentations like those of Frightened Rabbit, Damien Rice, The Walkmen/Hamilton Leithauser and others will find much to love in Blake’s voice.

One of the big transformations in this record is Blake’s comfort level with the vocal lines he writes. He’s never been afraid to go for a soaring line, but here he is clearly in the zone. Between the rock-solid pop lines of “The Only Diamond,” the thrilling theatrics of “Old Red Barn,” the powerful emotion in “Tiananmen Square,” and the subtle inflections in the delivery of “Philip Seymour Hoffman,” Blake shows that he can confidently use his voice in a wide array of situations.

It’s good that his voice is versatile, because this album is a whirlwind of moods. “Sandtown” is a ten-car pileup of thrashing drums, skronking jazz horns, and vocal howls that seems to accurately describe the chaos of a Baltimore police raid. On the other end of the spectrum, the title track opener is about as delicate as the album gets, with an angelic choral backdrop and cello supporting Blake’s voice and piano. “Queen Bee” is a train-whistle folk-rock rave-up, while “Old Red Barn” is a jubilant dixieland track. Several of the tracks slot into his core sound of dramatic singer/songwriter tracks with folk influences (“Tiananmen Square,” “Wailing Wall,” “Monterey Bay”), but the diversity here is huge.

And yet, as much as “Queen Bee,” “The Only Diamond,” and “Old Red Barn” are a blast, it’s “Tiananmen Square” that is the standout here. The hugely emotive song is based on fingerpicked acoustic guitar, filled out with trebly piano keys, noodly lead guitar, solemn cello, reverent vocal melismas, and thoughtful drums.

Blake’s voice swings from calm to booming in the huge conclusion to the song, as the strings ratchet up and the drums push hard. The reason for the drama is the story of Tank Man, who defied Chinese tanks in 1989. Blake draws the listener into the story, then poses and answers a central question to the listener: “Was I born for this? / I was born for this.” The global scope of the incident and the personal nature of the questions in light of that important event are expertly juxtaposed. This tension between the lofty and the minor is balanced in the lyrics throughout the record.

Cameron Blake’s Fear Not is an intense experience of great scope and depth. It is an album that is in turns wrenching and fun. Its impact is in clear relationship to its scope: there’s a lot to hear here, and a lot to think about once you’ve heard it. If you’re into adventurous work from a thoughtful writer, Fear Not should be on your must-hear list for the year. Highly recommended.

Fear Not comes out tomorrow.

Mid-October Singles: Acoustic

1. “Anywhere, Everywhere” – The Singer and the Songwriter. This is top-shelf folk-pop that draws on all the tropes that make folk-pop so good but puts the band’s own spin on it. (Those vocals! Those stuttering horns!) Highly recommended.

2. “My God Has a Telephone” – The Flying Stars of Brooklyn NY. Impressively enveloping low-key indie-soul, like a slowed-down Alabama Shakes or an acoustified Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Fans of Otis Redding and all that went on around him will love this track.

3. “Restless” – Common Jack. The confident folk swagger of Josh Ritter, the punchy melodies of the Lumineers, and a large dose of indie-pop enthusiasm create this fantastically fun song.

4. “Over There” – Dori Freeman. Trad-folk can sound a bit too dedicated to the past, but Freeman manages to evoke old-timey sounds and yet stay modern. Her clear vocals help, as does the immediate, bright recording style. If you like contemporary folk but can’t stand washboard, Freeman is a bridge between the two worlds.

5. “Wailing Wall” – Cameron Blake. A swirling pool of strings forms the backdrop for this emotional, dramatic singer/songwriter tune. Blake’s skills as an arranger and lyricist are on display here, as neither the standard piano or guitar lead the way; instead it’s just his voice, a small choir, and strings that lead the listener through.

6. “Get On” – The Northern Folk. Less satire and more bitter commentary, this folk tune swings punches left and right. Between the acid delivery of the lead vocals, the angry lyrics, a roaring vocalization section, and the unusual addition of saxophone into the horn section, this song has bite to spare. The horns do smooth it out a bit, in a jazzy way, but this one’s about being punchy.

7. “Gaudy Frame” – Monk Parker. More lazy, hazy, easygoing country for people who deeply miss Clem Snide.

8. “I Root (Trio Version)” – Michael Nau. The arrangement of a folk tune filtered through the melodic lines and recording style of a Beatles song results in a dignified, melancholy piece.

9. “Here We Are Again” – Ella Grace. This walking-speed alt-folk tune makes hand percussion sound intimate and personal instead of all of its other connotations. It also includes bird noises, gentle guitar, and Denton’s careful, almost speak-singing vocal performance. This will calm you down if you need it.

10. “Broken Bow, OK” – Aaron Rester. Fun fact: My home state of Oklahoma has a town called Broken Arrow and a town called Broken Bow, and they’re not next to each other. This alt-country/folk tune references the smaller of the two amid gravelly vocals, swooping fiddle, and plunking piano. The compelling tune lives in Americayana, an “alt-country/Americana retelling of the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana.” Whoa.

11. “Sorry” – M.R. Bennett. Fragile, delicate, and yet ruggedly determined, this spartan apology (just occasionally plucked guitar notes, Antony and the Johnsons-esque vocals, and yearning strings for the majority) is on a sonic plane all its own.

12. “Motion in Field” – Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno. Rogerson contributes the delicate, exploratory piano elegance; Eno contributes the pulsing, sweeping arpeggiator work. The marriage of the two is luscious. (Fun fact: I’ve only used the word “luscious” two previous times in Independent Clauses’ 14 years.)

2015 Albums of the Year

Instead of writing new blurbs for each of these albums, I’m going to let the reviews stand as my comments about each of them except the album of the year. Since I had so many EPs on my EPs of the year list, there are less than my standard 20 albums of the year this year.

worn-out-skin

Album of the Year: Worn Out Skin – Annabelle’s Curse. (Review) This album came out of nowhere and established itself as a standard component of my listening life. It fits on the shelf right next to Josh Ritter and The Barr Brothers in terms of maturity of songwriting, lyrical depth, beauty, and overall engagement. Each of the songs here have their own charms, which is rare for an album: this one will keep you interested the whole way through. It’s a complete album in every sense of the word, and so it was the easy choice for album of the year.

2. 46 and Raleigh– Cancellieri. (Review)
3. Alone on the World Stage – Cameron Blake. (Review)
4. Where in Our Woods – Elephant Micah. (Review)
5. Jaywalker – Nathan Partain. (Review)
6. Little Lights – Josh Caress. (Review)
7. Southern FM – Rob Williams. (Review)
8. Creeps and Cheaters – Red Sammy. (Review)
9. Take What You Can Carry – Local Strangers. (Review)
10. Roll Up the Night Sky – Dana Sipos. (Review)
11. Kind of Blah – Frog. (Review)
12. Finding Time – Andrew Skeet. (Review)
13. Spun – Moa Bones. (Review)
14. Of This I’m Sure – Jenny and Tyler. (Review) —Stephen Carradini

The Top 50 Songs of the Year Mixtape

Here are my favorite 50 songs of the year in a vague, mixtape-ish sort of order. This was one of my favorite years of Independent Clauses, so this is one of my favorite lists that I’ve made in the many years that I’ve been doing this.

1. “Concrete” – New Lungs
2. “Love Your Friends, Hate Politicians” – The Suicide of Western Culture
3. “Endless Fantasy” – Anamanaguchi
4. “Beta Love” – Ra Ra Riot
5. “Roosevelt Hotel” – Cocovan
6. “Lazer Gun Show” – Hey Geronimo
7. “Little Lucy” – The Worriers
8. “Primitive Style” – Johnny Delaware
9. “Griping” – Dear Blanca
10. “Listening to TPM” – Brook Pridemore
11. “Love is Not Allowed” – Gap Dream
12. “Holy Infinity” – GOVS
13. “California Analog Dream” – Vondelpark
14. “Lakeside Trust” – Brave Baby
15. “Come Back to Life” – Hospital Ships
16. “Aaron” – JD Eicher and the Goodnights
17. “Crag” – Human Behavior
18. “Cabin Fever” – Cameron Blake
19. “Judah’s Gone” – M. Lockwood Porter
20. “New World Blue” – Eoin Glackin
21. “Do You Ever?” – Phia
22. “Simplify” – Brendan James
23. “Hiding and Seeking” – Little Chief
24. “Together Through It All” – Kye Alfred Hillig
25. “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin” – Lord Buffalo
26. “You Are the Apple” – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
27. “Diamond” – Lightning Dust
28. “Song for Zula” – Phosphorescent
29. “An Ancient Voice” – Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders
30. “These Days” – Martha Marlow
31. “American Summer” – Jared Foldy
32. “Tender is the Night” – Old Man Luedecke
33. “The Mantis and the Moon” – Son of Laughter
34. “Clean as a Whistle” – Slim Loris
35. “Cada Ano” – Fiery Crash
36. “Breath” – Filbert
37. “Suitcase Full of Sparks” – Gregory Alan Isakov
38. “In Your Arms Awhile” – Josh Ritter
39. “Let’s Get Married” – The Gray Havens
40. “The Riddle Song” – The Parmesans
41. “Everything Is Yours” – Jonny Rodgers
42. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – Fiery Crash
43. “Home Sweet Home” – Russell Howard
44. “For the Sky” – Wolfcryer
45. “Married” – Venna
46. “Glow in the Dark” – Destroy Nate Allen
47. “Lost Here” – Fauntella Crow
48. “The Fires of Time” – David Ramirez
49. “Kid Gloves” – Cavepainters
50. “Creeping Around Your Face” – Novi Split

more moving pictures

Cameron Blake, who recently released an album, got inspired by Edward Snowden and wrote an artistic defense of privacy on the Internet called “The Ballad of Edward Snowden.” It’s not just protest; it’s also a really beautiful song.

MonaLisa Twins have studied the art of ’60s pop, and boy do they have it down. Throw in a crowd-sourced video, and you’ve got a cheery 2:28 to get you through those days.

Cheery post-rock acrobats Pan are releasing a new EP. Here’s a trailer for it. I’m stoked.

I can’t figure out if Sleigh Bells are destroying pop music or remaking it in their own image or both. Still, “Bitter Rivals” is pretty catchy! On the other hand, I don’t even know what I think about the video. Negative points for the Tyrann Mathieu jersey though.

Top Fifty Songs of the Year Mixtape

I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.

1. “Nights Like This” – Icona Pop
2. “Bass, Not an 8-track” – Oh Look Out
3. “I Don’t Want to Go To Sleep Either” – FM Belfast
4. “Now That I’m Real (How Does It Feel?)” – Chad Valley
5. “Ten-Twenty-Ten” – Generationals
6. “Sticks & Stones” – Jonsi
7. “Norgaard” – The Vaccines
8. “Just Me and My Canseco Rookie Card” – Banquets
9. “Axiomatic” – Bottle Up and Explode
10. “Yeah (Crass Version)” – LCD Soundsystem (Live at Madison Square Garden)
11. “Good in Green” – Saturday Sirens
12. “A Dream of Water” – Colin Stetson
13. “No Reservation” – Del Bel
14. “Box-Type Love” – Run Dan Run
15. “What Once Ran Wild” – Wild Domestic
16. “Movement” – Dam Mantle
17. “Saw You First” – Givers
18. “Glass Deers” – Braids
19. “Cassette 2012” – Delay Trees
20. “James Franco” – Hoodie Allen
21. “Black and White” – Generationals
22. “Kam” – Oh Look Out
23. “Prowl Great Cain” – The Mountain Goats
24. “Hobo Chili” – Attica! Attica!
25. “Montauk Monster” – Laura Stevenson and the Cans
26. “Down to the River” – Cameron Blake
27. “We Will Never Have Tonight Again” – Sandra McCracken
28. “Turbulence” – Of God and Science
29. “Nothing But Love Can Stay” – Afterlife Parade
30. “Stones” – The Collection
31. “The Region of the Summer Stars” – Come On Pilgrim!
32. “Fever” – The Collection
33. “The Healthy One” – Laura Stevenson and the Cans
34. “Some Boys” – Death Cab for Cutie
35. “Girls Girls Girls” – John Lepine
36. “At the Grindcore Show” – Common Grackle
37. “Simple Girl” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
38. “Dear Annabeth” – The Duke of Norfolk
39. “Kitchen Tile” – Typhoon
40. “Women in the Kitchen” – The Fox and the Bird
41. “Song for You” – Jenny and Tyler
42. “Find You” – Brianna Gaither
43. “Someone Like You” – Adele
44. “Through Your Eyes” – Jenny and Tyler
45. “No Silver” – Chris Bathgate
46. “Shoeboxes” – David Ramirez
47. “Unwed Fathers” – Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle
48. “I Wish You Didn’t Feel Like My Home” – Matt the Electrician
49. “In Parts” – Run Dan Run
50. “Putting the Dog to Sleep” – The Antlers

Here’s your half-year, 2011

Just like IC puts out its year-end best-of list in February, my half-year best-of doesn’t hit until August. This list includes the music I covered while at the Oklahoma Gazette.

If you would like to see this list visually, I’ve created an Independent Clauses Pinterest page that also includes the best artwork that’s crossed IC’s path in 2011 and a list of best books about pop music.

16. Chad Valley – Equatorial Ultravox. ’80s dance-pop revivalism that captures both the playful nonchalance and wistful romanticism of the first disposable music era.

15. Aaron Robinson – A Dying Art EP. The Nashville songwriter comes into his own, creating a set of unforgettable melancholy tunes.

14. James and Evander – Constellating EP + 2. The true heirs to The Postal Service’s throne, at long last.

13. The Antlers – Burst Apart. Song of the year “Putting The Dog To Sleep” caps off a emotional album of indie-fied slow jamz.

12. Adebisi Shank – This Is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank. Exuberant O-prog (optimistic prog rock) that makes the very best of a trio by use of some wicked complicated pedalboards.

12. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh. A gorgeous album of secular hymns. “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes” is the quietest emotional wrecking ball of the year.

10. Cameron Blake – Hide and Go Seek. The album establishes Blake as a songwriter with a unique voice and something to say.

9. Brianna Gaither – Love is Patient. I am still blown away by the power in her voice and assured quality in her piano songwriting. Tough to believe it’s a debut.

8. Jenny and Tyler – Faint Not. They’ve upped their game from charming folk duo to serious songwriters with heart-pounding lyrics and music.

7. Laura Stevenson and the Cans – Sit Resist. One of the most complete albums of the year, as well as the most varied. Stevenson can hit shots from all over the indie court.

6. Typhoon – A New Kind of House. Horns, strings, drums, guitars, choirs: Chamber-folk doesn’t get better than this Portland outfit.

5. LCD Soundsystem – Last Show at Madison Square Garden. Not a true album, or it would be higher. The frantic energy of each tune makes this a can’t-miss for even casual fans of James Murphy’s work.

4. Generationals – Actor-Caster. Perky indie-pop tunes with undeniable charm and indelible melodies. “Ten-Twenty-Ten” is my summer song.

3. Brine Webb – O You, Stone Changeling. If emotional nakedness were the 100-yard-dash, Webb would be Usain Bolt. Dazzling folk beauty and devastating lyrics.

2. Braids – Native Speaker. Mesmerizing, wandering, evocative beauty from the only band to surprise me with a unique take on indie-rock this year.

1. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges. Stetson turns a single baritone saxophone into an art-rock band, churning out astonishing post-rock pieces at turns terrifying and rapturous.

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