Usually I put lists in order by preference- the band I’m most enjoying goes first. This month, I wanted to put them all first, so I put them in alphabetical order. Check them all out- you probably won’t like every single one (the genres range from Bryan Kitchen’s mellow ambient to Remainder 3’s heavy post-grunge), but you’re bound to like two or three.
Bottom Line: Kitchens is armed with highly absorbing ambient guitar epics that unfold elegantly. His songs get better each time you hear them.
Album: Southern Glitch EP
Website: www.purevolume.com/remainder3 + www.remainder3.co.uk
Bottom Line: Smashing Pumpkins-esque slabs of grunge chased by moody, melodic, temperamental sections in a great example of true post-grunge.
Band: Ringer T
Genre: Mellow indie / folk
Album: This Place
Bottom Line: Caught between folk and pop-rock, this band makes some seriously beautiful and lightly rocking music that’s perfect to chill to. It’s your call on which side (folksy or poppy) is better.
Times are weird. None of us argues that fact. May I say, then: thank God for the likes of Whiskey Myers. Releasing the self-produced, self-titled Whiskey Myersis just what the reality-starved might crave.
Here at Independent Clauses, Stephen Carradini immerses himself in classical and electronic music while I embrace more “traditional” sounds of folk, Americana, jazz, and blues. Whiskey Myers is none of these, releasing this genre-twisting country-rock through the band’s Wiggy Thump Records in partnership with Nashville’s Thirty Tigers.
Authentic grit rising from Cody Cannon’s lead vocals can overshadow the fact he’s on guitar as well. Cody Tate handles the lead guitar, vocals, and rhythm guitar, but the songs are a group effort. John Jeffers shares lead guitar, slide guitar, lap steel, and vocals, creating a massive guitarmaggedon sound. Jeff Hogg’s drums and Jamey Gleaves’ bass work drill down the backline, illuminated by Tony Kent on keys, percussion, and cowbell.
They make magic. These twelve tracks are old school country-rock with an aura of Gregg Allman’s ghost. “Glitter Ain’t Gold” opens the album, setting a defiant tone. It’s musically tame but holding back with palpable tension. Music like this is not normally my thing, but Whiskey Myers defies normalcy.
“Hammer” is a stunner in the traditional blues-rock style, built around the soaring female vocals that weave throughout the lyrics from one of the McCrary Sisters. Her voice is stunning, her aching emotions intertwined with an eerie dark Nashville vibe. “Bury My Bones” as a follow up is an emotional wringer, evoking the empty streets of everywhere in the world we see right now in our new reality. Wow.
Though this album dropped in the fall of 2019, the newly-relevant “Little More Money” roars into this moment like a freight train. Probably the most sonically country of the efforts here, each lyric speaks to the insanity of this time we are in globally. Its upbeat tempo cannot hide the fact there is nowhere to run, right? Thematically consistent, “California to Caroline” hits the escape button again, an anthem to empty hook-ups. Feeling seeps out as each mile passes in this road song.
Soaring with “Die Rockin” seems like a natural progression, shifting gears into a genreless space that outlets like Rolling Stone have praised. Battle cry or celebratory rebellion, there’s a southern revival grind grooving under these marching orders. This is the first cut where lead guitars really stand out, shredding this barn-burning rocker. Achingly sweet, “Bad Weather” is stark in its “after the storm” imagery of love’s lost hopes and dreams. Ghosts lurk on this record, and Randy Scruggs seems to drift here, with songwriting that brings to mind John Paul White. One of the best of the album, even from a non-fan of country music.
Sequencing is a palpable part of this record, and sticking the rock gospel single “Gasoline” in the heart of the record makes sense. There are no preconceived ideas of what this album is supposed to be, since it is self-produced. Redefining the band’s identity somewhat, “Bitch” sits in that same space, strutting with an almost Def Leppard rock feel. Country? Nah, this is a masterclass in musicianship by six men who know themselves intimately and don’t seem to care what anyone thinks. Does “Running” mean that acceptance of this fact has settled in? Gang vocals and a skipping tempo feels to me like they might not care what others think.
Times are strange, and we all know that “Kentucky Gold” is getting a lot of folks through this crazy time we are in. (The Whiskey Myers tour in support of the album included distilleries!) Closer “Mona Lisa” speaks to connection on a spiritual level, and in a sense speaks to the times. Despite the March tour dates being canceled due to our current state of affairs, Whiskey Myers will be hitting the road soon, it appears. Stay tuned, stay irreverent, and immerse in the vibe of Whiskey Myers. —Lisa Whealy
Breakups are tough, no way around it–but there are things that are harder. When Jacob Furr sings “Does love still sit on our front porch / although your chair is empty?” in “Drift Away,” he’s not referencing some girl who ran off (or that he chased off with bad behavior); he’s talking about his wife, who died of cancer suddenly. I’m not a man to spill other people’s news, so here’s a long article about the album’s backstory from the Dallas Observer. But I mention it because it gives an accurate perspective on Trails and Traces.
With such heavy subject matter, it’s particularly impressive that these alt-country songs are so nimble, light, and upbeat. I don’t mean that we’ve got party rock going on here, but that songs like “Mockingbird,” “One More Round” and “Blakes Song” all rely on swift fingerpicking, major keys, gentle moods, and an overall melodic feeling of wistful calm. To have gone through the wringer and come out alive and intact is one thing; to be able to sing calmly, even hopefully, about it is another thing altogether.
There are some louder country-rock tunes here: opener “Branches” and follow-up “Lines” both get that Texas feel into the full-band arrangements. “Branches” has a wide-open rock feel, while “Lines” gets some honky-tonk vibe going on. Single “Falling Stars” is led by a squalling, reverb-heavy guitar line that evokes The Walkmen (a cross-genre reference, but an apt one). The end of the wrenching “I Remember You,” one of the few times that the depths of sorrow and angst emerge, is a crushing stomp populated by towering distorted guitars, staccato drums, and howling vocals. So there’s definitely some oomph and crunch here, if you’re into that.
But I’m most excited about the calmer tracks: “Drift Away,” “Sunrise Slow” and the three I mentioned earlier, where Furr’s wandering troubadour spirit shines. When Furr lets his voice and guitar do the heavy lifting, the songs push past their rock counterparts in moving quality. “Drift Away” is not the saddest sounding song on the record, nor is it the most devastating in lyric (although it’s pretty close). It does have a expertly nuanced vocal performance that grabs me and vaults the song above its counterparts into a highlight. “Blakes Song” pairs a beautiful guitar line with a mournful vocal line. These are gorgeous songs that are so neatly constructed that you can miss the depth if you don’t pay attention. Listen close.
“Mockingbird” closes the record on an upbeat note. It’s particularly telling of Furr’s intention with the album that he didn’t close with “I Remember You” or “Blakes Song”; he could have sent the listener away with a brutal reminder of loss and the difficulties of this world. Instead, he closes the whole album with a proclamation: “I sing to break the dying calm.” There is a darkness and a heaviness to death, and it affects the living. But it doesn’t have to define the living, as Furr knows. It’s a wonderful thing to discover; it’s an amazing thing to leave a listener with.
Furr labels Trails and Traces as Americana, as many people have been doing these days. He does bring in elements of folk-rock, country-rock, and folk fingerpicking; maybe that sound is what Americana means these days. Regardless of the genre labels, Trails and Traces is a powerful record about life and death that doesn’t get bogged down in morose musings–a rare and remarkable release, indeed.
Having just taught an entire unit of classes on authenticity in music, it’s prescient that Nikki Lane‘s Walk of Shame is next up on my slate for review. The primary draws of Lane’s debut album are her voice and ability to create songs that are a dead ringer for old-school country tunes from that ambiguous past that reviewers liberally reference.
First the easy stuff: Lane’s husky, dusky drawl does reach back to the time of Loretta Lynn and other full-voiced singers. It’s mesmerizing in both its evocative quality and its rarity; you just don’t hear singers that sound like Lane that often. She celebrates the unique qualities of her voice, using her pipes to roar on tracks like “Lies,” get indignant on “Hard Livin’,” and deliver an earthy gravitas to the romantic “Comin’ Home To You.” It’s possible to enjoy this whole album simply by listening solely to the vocals.
But she’s not singing a capella, of course. The tunes are definitely country, but it’s a modern approximation of what old-school country should sound like. There’s nothing wrong with that at all; that pretty much what Jack White did in collaboration with the aforementioned Lynn.
It’s not all up-down bass lines, plucked guitar strings and pedal steel (okay, there actually is a lot of that third thing). The title track is very nearly an early ’00s retro-rock song, what with the organ, rumbling toms, syncopated distorted guitar and charging chorus. The only thing that marks it as a country song is her drawl, giving the song a fascinating flair.
“Sleep For You,” “Blue Star in the Sky” and “Look Away” are more traditional country tunes, adhering to strictures of the slow-dance two-step that was quite popular in the Texas of yesteryear. “Coming Home To You” is reminiscent of Kenny Rogers. “Come Away Joe” sounds like country as filtered through Coldplay (no, for real). The songs all sound like modernized, hi-fi versions of themselves and that’s not a bad thing; if they literally sounded like their time-period, people would be confused. But it certainly doesn’t sound like Taylor Swift, either; be it far from me to claim that.
Nikki Lane‘s Walk of Shame has good songs, a good vibe, great charm and repeat factor. It’s not for those who are (still) allergic to country, but if you’ve got country kickin’ around in your heart, you need to be on this train.
Writers at Independent Clauses have been following Sleep Bellum Sonno since their first release Ascertain, which was a pretty powerful post-hardcore affair: intense, moody rock instrumentals punctuated by screamed vocals and the occasional breakdown. As SBS has matured over the last five years, they’ve spent more and more energy on the moods of their songs and less on the overt aggression. This has enabled their music to become intense in a completely different way.
The two songs on their split with Joie De Vivre show that they can run people through the emotional wringer without using massive riffs or hardcore breakdowns. Opener “Do You Hear That Old Ship’s Song” uses enough reverb and space in the arrangement of the song that it has the feel of a tune leaking out from an old ghost ship at the bottom of the ocean. The group male vocals at the end singing “whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh” certainly help this mood as well.
The band does venture into double-throated screaming, as both vocalists get their yell on here. One’s tone is more of a MeWithoutYou-style yeller, while the other is a throat-shredding screamer; the former is more appetizing than the latter, as it fits better with the tone and timbre of the song. The move away from aggressive instrumental work should also prompt a shift away from the brutal vocals, I hope. It would work better for the songs.
They show that they understand this principle in the second and final track “All I Can See Is an Open Road.” The track is more uptempo, delving into some dissonant chordal work and intense sections of rock. But even when they crank up the instrumental intensity, they dial back the vocals to a roar instead of a throat-shredding scream. It works very, very well, making the latter a more effective track than the former. “All I Can See Is an Open Road” is just as intense as anything they’ve put out before; they have just channeled their fury in a different direction and to a different outlet.
Both of these tracks are excellent post-hardcore pieces. Sleep Bellum Sonno continues to progress in their songwriting, and I see nothing but good things for them if they press on. Pick up their half of the split here.
Raintime evokes confusion with latest album, but brings home heavy metal in the end.
Raintime is a very strange band. In one sense, they are a hard-core metal band ready to annihilate with mean guitar solos and head banging fury. On the other hand, they are a bit cheese-ball.
After listening to the first song on the album entitled “Flies & Lies,” there is definitely something left to be desired, but after that, Raintime continues to impress with further tracks on the album. This album floats somewhere in between heavy metal and something more progressive and technical. Guitarists Luca Michael Martina and Matteo Di Bon do not fail to make an impression with their skills.
The album begins to get intense with the song “Rainbringer,” which evokes true heavy metal. This song is heavy on the growling/screaming, and it is not sung in vain. It is clearly one of the best tracks on the album.
Flies & Lies takes a rather sappy turn for the worse with “Finally Me,” a song reminiscent of an eighties hair band ballad. This song threw me for a loop in comparison with the rest of the album. Some parts of the song, including the intro, seem to be fused with the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields,” seeing as it sounds like a little pipe organ being played. It’s not very metal, but at least intriguing nonetheless.
Raintime makes me question their metal roots once more, with a metaled-out cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Is this a rock band or an eighties cover band in disguise? I didn’t like the consistent confusion I for some reason felt while listening to the entire album.
For all that is shaky about Flies & Lies, they go out with a kick-ass bang on the final track, entitled “Matrioska.” Singer Claudio Coassin’s vocals are crisp and edgy, and then shift to growling and hardcore, making for a delicious blend that finally fulfills what the listener is looking for.
For all the confusion and dislike that struck me during listening to this album, I will say that it is definitely worth a listen regardless. Purely because I did not get bored, and was anxious to hear what different element the next song on the album would bring. Every member of Raintime is talented at what they do, which makes for an interesting listen in the least.
The Vincent Black Shadow – “Metro”
Let’s get it out of the way first: I hate this band’s name. It has something to do with a motorcycle, I’m told. Whatever. What’s important is that this Canadian band has produced a song that is the missing link between No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom and Return Of Saturn. It has a great old school No Doubt feel to it and could have been a huge hit for that band. But, the year is now 2007 and, although singer Cassandra Ford’s vocals bear a remarkable pre-LAMB Stefani resemblance, VBS completely deserves huge success now. Buy their album and obsess yourself over this song, because if there’s any justice in the world you’ll be hearing it on the radio soon. It is simply the catchiest and most immediate thing I’ve heard all month. (can be sampled on #1 Hits From Another Planet)
Triple Entendre – “The Company You Keep”
This track from the LA-based indie trio is a great example of a diamond in the rough amongst droves of undiscovered acts on Myspace. Fronted by experienced songwriter Matt Muller, Triple Entendre shows an incredible amount of promise. The track here, “The Company You Keep,” was recorded after their first rehearsal, which is shocking. The band sounds as if they had been playing together for years. The songs are simple yet effective pop-rock conglomerations of catchy hooks and fun drum beats that don’t get old quickly. Though minimalist, the guitar work is tasteful and appropriate, and the bass is rock-solid. Get into it!
Seven – “City Is Burning”
Many current bands have been described as “the Blondie of the 2000’s,” but for my money Seven has come the closest. The similarity at times is quite striking (singer Annette Gil is a dead ringer, at least vocally), and “City Is Burning” sounds just like a long-lost Blondie classic. Don’t think that it’s just a savvy impersonation, though. The band is absolutely amazing… completely adept with a catchy melody and a synthesizer. Along with similar bands like The Sounds and Surferosa, these Norwegians deserve massive success. (can be sampled on #1 Hits From Another Planet)
The Shapes – “Dreaming of an M-16”
“Dreaming of an M16” is such a perfect pop song, combining pulsing synth and crunchy guitar with a dual male/female vocal that sits somewhere between Joss Stone and the Arctic Monkeys. I don’t know how it hasn’t been discovered by radio somewhere. The Shapes are a New York band, and perhaps that explains their semi-obscurity. If this band had popped up somewhere in the UK, they’d probably already be huge. Quite wonderfully, the band describes their music as “Barry White meets Iron Maiden.” That should really be enough for you to check them out. (can be sampled on #1 Hits From Another Planet)
Let’s travel back to the early 1990’s, shall we? Imagine that somewhere, a songwriter is sitting in his basement, writing songs with the shamelessly poppy, unpretentious and unabashedly amateurish energy of seminal Lookout! Records bands. Now watch him get bitten by a radioactive spider, or something equally weird, and you can start to get an idea of what the evil genius behind Shorthand Phonetics, Ababil Ashari’s songs sound like. Despite a series of lineup changes that have left the band as a solo project, Ababil has been working consistently and continues to improve as a songwriter. If you’re into lo-fi, fun songs, check out Shorthand Phonetics.
Overnight Lows – “My Oh My”
Like another of my favorite new bands, Lucky Soul, Overnight Lows plays a classic blend of pop and rock fronted by a charismatic blonde. “My Oh My,” my (oh my!) favorite track that I’ve heard from the band, has got beautiful, almost electronic verses which give way to a singalong, radio-friendly chorus. It is an amazing pop song, and exhibit A as to why this Californian foursome should be ruling the charts. In a way their music sounds like the kind of thing that was popular in the mid to late nineties… straightforward pop/rock delivered with a timeless punch. Warning: one listen and it will be glued to your brain. (can be sampled on #1 Hits From Another Planet)
Best Element: Sounds like nothing that’s been done before
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnny Boy’s debut effort may just be the best punk album of the year. And… it’s not even punk. Like the bustling city awash with fireworks depicted on the album’s cover, Johnny Boy creates a busy, epic soundscape of trumpets, air traffic, bells… and that’s just on the first track. More importantly, the London duo carry an anything-goes attitude throughout the whole of the record, something that’s been sorely missing in modern pop music.
Nothing on Johnny Boy quite reaches the dizzying heights of former single “You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve.” It is quite possibly the most brilliant down-with-consumerism song that’s ever been recorded. From the very first listen it sounds like a long-lost classic, all shimmering doo-wop vocals and instrumental grandeur. It is undoubtedly on the short list of perfect pop songs recorded this millennium. “Johnny Boy Theme” and “All Exits Final” nearly match the success of “You Are The Generation…,” while other tracks (namely the boisterous “Living In The City” and sing-along “15 Minutes”) go for a dancier approach. Most everything on Johnny Boy sounds like nothing that’s ever been released, which is an absolute credit to those involved, given the cyclical nature of the pop scene.
The only time the record takes a dip is with a pair of tracks, “Springer” and “War on Want,” which are too sparse in actual vocals to garner much attention. More successful is “Bonnie Parker’s 115th Dream,” which sounds frighteningly like something Adam Ant would concoct if he was still making music. While Johnny Boy is a dense, sometimes challenging album, those listeners that stick around will be rewarded with one of the most refreshing pop debuts in a good long time. A-
Key Tracks: “You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve,” “Johnny Boy Theme,” “All Exits Final”
Bottom Line: If I never heard another indie song, it would be okay.
With “Breaking Habits”, Jude has created indie rock that is intricate, enveloping, personal, and emotional. Add to that some rocking out, and you’ve got the formula for a perfect indie song- which is very nearly what “Breaking Habits” is. The vocals here are stunning- beautiful, fitting, and never off, they pull at the heartstrings even more than the guitars do, which is a challenge in itself. The guitars are melodic, complex, and they have a unique sound. If that wasn’t enough, the harmonies are great, the lyrics are awesome, and when they finally rock out at the end of the song, there’s an intensity in it that cannot be duplicated by the most intense of bands- it’s an emotional intensity that comes from actually believing in the sadness captured in the song. “Breaking Habits” is a near-perfect song, and the fact that Jude isn’t signed and that they don’t even have a CD out is nearly sacrilegious. They must be heard.
Post-punk is built on timing and interactions- which is why Fingers Crossed is so good at what it does. The dark, moody post-punk of “Electro Cult” has the ticking drum beats, whirring guitars, and well-timed odd effects that make post-punk so good. Pair that with a slick set of vocals and a way-reverbed lead guitar lick, and you’ve got a song that you can dance to, or set a movie to, or chill to. It’s multi-talented because Fingers Crossed is so talented at achieving the balance between moodiness, pop sensibility, and enough creativity to sell it effectively. Certainly not the greatest post-punk band to hit the planet, but still very, very good.