Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Billy Shaddox: Bright, earnest, gentle

June 23, 2015

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Billy Shaddox‘s I Melt, I Howl contains sounds as fresh-faced as a Generationals pop song, as gently quirky as a Backyard Tire Fire jam, and as easily evocative as an Iron & Wine tune. To put it another way: Shaddox’s work lives in space created by drawing a triangle with points at good-natured AM radio rock, unpretentious folk, and earnest indie pop. His songwriting prowess shows through not in complexity, but in making simplicity sound just the way I want it to sound.

It all starts with Shaddox’s effortless tenor voice, which is often so at home it seems like he opens his mouth and notes just tumble out. They land in a comfy bed of leaves: from road-friendly, ’70s folk-rock vibes of the title track opener to the gently grooving rock of “Golden Coast” to the resplendent melodic acoustic guitar work of “Who You Were,” the arrangements here can’t be ignored. “Who You Were” in particular points out the fusion between his comforting voice and unassuming arrangements, as he takes an old chord progression and presses it into service of a nostalgic, yearning tune. With his voice, gentle keys, and some color electric guitar chiming off in the distance, old pieces feel fresh and bright again.

It’s that sense of brightness that most marks I Melt, I Howl. Even on the more downtempo songs, Shaddox makes sure that there’s light coming in around the edges. It gets its street cred not from being edgy or heavily imperiled in turmoil, but by employing traditional pop songcraft in an impressive way. This has elements of tons of American songwriting genres, as I’ve mentioned already–but it’s not a grab bag. The overall mood ties these songs together into an elegant collection. If you’re looking for the soundtrack to a charming summer trip, or a tender summer romance, you need to look into Billy Shaddox’s I Melt, I Howl. It will stick with you.

Edward David Anderson: Taking the best of what was, making the most of what is

June 3, 2014

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If you didn’t hear about Backyard Tire Fire while they were alive, that’s pretty sad but I won’t blame you. My favorite song of theirs was called “The Daze,” which was a song about a band that seemed suspiciously like Backyard Tire Fire. Their brand of perky indie-pop-rock was a ton of fun. But all good things go solo, and now Edward David Anderson has released a solo album. Lies and Wishes is a folk album (because most solo albums these days are, I suppose), and it’s pretty great (because of course it would be).

My favorite BTF song was roughly autobiographical, so it’s fitting that my favorite EDA song off Lies & Wishes is also (probably?) autobiographical. “Son of a Plumber” abandons some of the folky, rolling acoustic strum in favor of a slightly toned-down version of the perky indie-pop that BTF was so good at. When Anderson yawps, “hey!” and lets an accordion solo take over, it sounds just perfect. It’s a song that seems like it always has been and always should be. Even if it doesn’t sound folk, isn’t that the definition of folk?

But the rest of the album holds a little tighter to the folk sound. The opener/title track has cascading fingerpicking reminiscent of early Iron & Wine, framing Anderson’s evocative, occasionally creaky tenor well. “I Missed You” has some downtrodden country strum and sway; “Taking It Out on You” adds some Dawes-esque guitar crunch. “Fires” is a conflicted love song that leans in towards romantic, adult alternative territory (which is not a complaint from this blogger). Closer “The Final Melody” is a perky fingerpicked number that recalls Justin Townes Earl, New Orleans blues, and a cheery chorus fitting of BTF. It’s a perfect mix of the old and new. (Check that whistling!)

If you’re not obsessed with purism in your folk and instead mostly see it as a lens from which to see a variety of melodies and lyrics, Edward David Anderson will charm your socks off. Lies and Wishes is a laidback, enjoyable set of folk/indie-pop tunes that takes itself realistically: not over-serious, but not undervaluing, either. Anderson knows what he’s about, and it shows here. Very enjoyable.

Quick Hits: Feldiken

January 12, 2011

There are few things I love more than a song celebrating life. There are plenty of break-up songs and misery tunes in the world, but not enough songs championing good things. Feldiken (the man) is on a mission to change that.

Feldiken (the musical project) has a new EP called Common Splendor, and it is six songs of relentless positivity. His sound primarily stays in the upbeat, bright-eyed pop that he showcased on his debut album Small Songs About Us. The notable exception is “Together in this Groove,” which is a surprisingly coherent and entertaining dance track. While the songwriting style hasn’t changed too much, the lyrics are much more memorable this time around.

Title track “Common Splendor” tells short stories of people taking care of other people, and it’s sincere enough to defeat any accusations of kitsch. Instead, the lyrics are genuinely uplifting and beautiful. “Everybody Loves You” does get a bit saccharine, but it’s redeemed by the funk-inflected pop of “Everything for Everyone.” It’s still not for everyone; I mean, it’s a funky song about helping people. There is no irony here.

Feldiken’s voice is solid, his songwriting is tight, and the EP wooshes by in with a grin and a dance step or two. Fans of Backyard Tire Fire, Bishop Allen and Guster will embrace Feldiken, as will anyone who loves an optimist.

Feldiken plays enthusiastic, upbeat, optimistic acoustic pop (emphasis on the adjectives)

March 14, 2010

I expected Feldiken to be some sort of techno project from Europe, based on the name. I could not have been more wrong. Feldiken is a Brooklyn-based innocent, buoyant pop band that sounds like an even more optimistic Backyard Tire Fire (yes, I know, that is somewhat difficult to fathom). With bouncy bass lines, organ and accordion accompaniment, lyrics bordering on naivete (in mostly a good way) and harmonies so comfortable that I feel like I already know them, it’s pretty hard to make a case for Feldiken to be anything but a straight-up pop band.

Small Songs About Us is acoustic-based pop, similar to Joshua Radin’s wide-eyed optimism. But where Joshua Radin takes turns for the depressive, Feldiken never goes there.  The only remotely sad moment on the album is “Too Good,” where he recites a list of awesome things that are happening in his life and how he’s worried because they’re all too good to be happening. Bro, I’ll take that problem any day of the week. “Not Like Clockwork” is almost depressing, but the chorus comes around to realizing “Oh! I have friends, sunshine, laughter and a woman! And that makes my life better!” I am not exaggerating.

And although it does sound oppressively happy, it rarely reaches that point because the acoustic songwriting is well-grounded, unendingly melodic, and incredibly comfortable. The only point where it gets unbearable is “Rockin’ All the Way,” which feels like a kid’s song because it calls out the instruments as they enter the song. I just can’t bear it.

Thankfully, the sunshine is tempered in points throughout; “Like a Flower” has pensive moments, “This Bridge Won’t Burn” has a bit of a distorted edge to it, and “Like a Flower” has some doubt in the lyrics. “Like a Flower” is the winner here, as it evokes Josh Radin in all the right ways but remains true to the Feldiken aesthetic.

Take this away from this review: the acoustic pop here is so upbeat and charming that it makes zydeco (“Never Really Knew”) seem like a totally legitimate move within the sound the band has established. I like it a lot in small doses, especially “Too Good” and “Like a Flower,” but after a full album it’s hard to stomach. If you like happy music, you need this.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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