1. “Old Hope” – Angelo de Augustine. It’s like Elliott Smith is alive. Maybe there’s some Joshua Radin and Nick Drake in there, but mostly the whispered vocals and style of acoustic guitar remind me of Smith.
2. “Amarillo” – Anna Vogelzang. Combine the charm of Ingrid Michaelson with the full arrangements of Laura Stevenson, and you’ve got a little bit of an idea of Vogelzang’s talent. She’s one to watch.
3. “Red River” – Tyler Sjöström. Fans of Mumford and Sons will love this theatrical, finger-picked folk-pop tune.
4. “Forever Gone” – Andrew Marica. The morose romanticism of Damien Rice + the distant reverb-heavy atmospherics of Bon Iver create this downtempo ballad.
5. “Delilah” – Tony Lucca. This one’s pretty boss: Wide-open, sneering, engaging full-band country-rock with an eye toward Coldplay-style, radio-friendly vocal melodies. Also, there’s some awesome saloon-style piano playing.
6. “Angel Tonight” – Peter Galperin. Musical adventurer Galperin moves from his bossa nova experiments towards ’80s country-flavored classic rock. There’s some Springsteen, some Paul Simon, and more all combined here.
7. “Time” – Night Windows. Acoustic-based indie-pop a la David Bazan that teeters on the edge between twee and melancholy.
8. “I Got Creepy When Lou Reed Died” – Red Sammy. The husky, gravel-throated country of Red Sammy gets an electric makeover for this tribute tune. The title a weird thing to chant, but you’ll probably want to sing along repeatedly to the mantra-esque chorus.
Folk music can sound like any season: spring (The Tallest Man on Earth), summer (Josh Ritter), fall (The Head and the Heart), and winter (Bon Iver). Matthew Oomen is from Norway, and his acoustic-led singer/songwriter tunes definitely take inspiration from the arctic surroundings and lean into the wintry side of things. In contrast to Bon Iver’s impressionistic emoting, the strengths of Oomen’s Where the Valley Is Long lie in spacious arrangements, distinct rhythms, meticulous performances, and crisp production.
“Master’s Row” opens the album with precise, separated acoustic guitar and banjo fingerpicking, stating very quickly what sort of album this will be. Oomen comes in with gentle whispered/sung tenor vocals, then brings in a swooping cello. The overall effect is a romantic, wintry vibe: the space in the arrangements gives room for listeners to breathe, and the gentle mood has wistful, amorous overtones. The song would fit perfectly in a day where you cuddled up with your lover next to a warm fire as snow falls.
The rest of the songs doen’t stray far from that mood, creating a warm, open, resonant album. “Called to Straw” is one of the slowest on the record, leisurely creating a beautiful atmosphere with the banjo, guitar, and dual-gender vocals. “Camp Hill” is an instrumental track that excellently displays the melodic gift that Oomen has. Some may find that the dominant fingerpicking style can result in some difficulty of differentiation between the tunes, but the specific mood of the album is so consistent that it’s just as good to me as a whole unit as in individual bits. Where the Valley is Long is a beautiful, enchanting, comforting album of pristine singer/songwriter folk. Fans of Young Readers, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Joshua Radin’s early work will find much to love here.
Jesse Marchant‘s self-titled record is far more masterful than a debut would usually be, because Marchant has released several albums under the JBM moniker. (I’m particularly fond of Not Even In July.) Marchant’s first offering under his real name brings his powerful brand of serious music to great results at two different poles. When I first reviewed Marchant’s live show earlier this year, I compared him to a mix of Gregory Alan Isakov and Jason Molina. Here he largely separates those influences, splitting his wistful/romantic and churning/tension-laden elements into different tunes.
I was originally attracted to Marchant’s music for his quiet tunes, but his noisier offerings are just as compelling here. The muscly “In the Sand/Amelia” relies on a seriously fuzzed-out guitar riff and heavy bass tones to create an emotional, powerful tune. He caps the song with a brief yet impressive bit of squalling guitar solo. “All Your Promise” has a bit of Keane-style dramatic flair to its intro, leaning on cinematic, back-alley tenion before settling into a quieter, synth-laden verse. “Adrift” starts off with a big pad synth and a serious drumkit groove; it doesn’t exactly resolve into a rock tune, but it’s pretty close.
But even “In the Sand/Amelia” has an abrupt return to quietness in its middle section. Marchant knows how to wring emotion out of a repetitive guitar riff, a mournful vocal line, and time, and that hasn’t changed here. Opener “Words Underlined” shows him in full form, building a six-minute experience out of a uncomplicated, gently strummed electric guitar. He’s still in Jason Molina territory there. He does turn his attention to less brooding tunes, like the upbeat “The Whip”–not nearing power-pop by any means, but Isakov fans will know the vibe intuitively. “Stay on Your Knees” has a bit more of a rock feel, but the swift fingerpicking pulls it from his Songs:Ohia pole closer to the Isakov one. But even within the song there are dalliances: synths appear, a piano section pops up, etc.
Marchant is building his own style here, and it’s working really well: he’s identifiable with other musicians but not copying them. Jesse Marchant is a satisfying album that should make fans of those not in the know and please those who have followed him as JBM. If you’re into musicians like Leif Vollebekk, Isakov, Molina or Bowerbirds, you’ll find a kindred spirit here.
I didn’t do much for Independent Clauses’ 11th birthday, especially after having such a huge 10th birthday event with the Never Give Up covers project. (I needed a rest!) But now I’ve got something way cool to share with you that I can call our belated birthday gift to you.
Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh Brewing, and Independent Clauses are teaming up to host a Hopscotch Music Festival day show 12:30-6:30 p.m., Friday, September 5. I am absolutely stoked. If you’re in the Triangle, you should come hang out with us. We’ll have a poster soon, along with more details as they come available. I’ll keep updating this page.
There’s a press release and everything:
Local theatre, brewery, and blogger unite for local showcase
RALEIGH—Triangle bands Bridges, Drift Wood Miracle, and The Morning Brigade will be among the six bands that Triangle performing arts staple Raleigh Little Theatre will host during the Indie Carolina Hopscotch Day Show, 12:30-6:30 p.m. on Friday, September 5. Admission is free and open to the public.
The showcase is presented by Raleigh Brewing Company and Independent Clauses music blog. Raleigh Brewing Company will be on hand to pour their beers, while Independent Clauses author Stephen Carradini curated the bands that will play. Carradini will also be the master of ceremonies.
Folk artist Cancellieri, of South Carolina’s Post-Echo Records, and Raleigh folk act Grandiflora will also play. A final special guest is yet to be announced.
“Independent Clauses covers a wide range of sounds, so I’m pleased that we’ll have folk, indie-rock, and punk bands on the stage that day,” said Carradini. IndependentClauses.com features musicians and bands that are early in their careers, particularly ones with little to no press. Started in 2003 with a focus on then-local Oklahoma musicians, the blog has expanded to be national and international in scope without losing sight of the goal: covering early-career musicians.
RLT’s Stephenson Amphitheater will host the event, allowing music lovers to bask in the (hopefully) autumn weather and relax. Bring your own blankets and picnic, but not your own booze; the seating is open, but outside beverages are not permitted. Gussy’s Greek Food Truck will be parked outside the amphitheater as well.
LINEUP 12:30 Grandiflora (Raleigh)
Imagine if Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes featured a baritone vocalist.
1:30 Cancellieri (Columbia, SC)
Gentle folk fingerpicking with smooth tenor vocals: let it transport you.
2:30 The Morning Brigade (Chapel Hill)
Swirling, mysterious, full-band folk with male and female vocals.
3:30 Drift Wood Miracle (Durham)
Melodic, noisy punk/indie right in time for the emo revival.
4:30 Bridges (Raleigh)
Dreamy, shadowy indie rock with a bit of an electronic vibe.
Even though spring is officially today, it iced two days ago in Raleigh. It’s been a long winter, so it’s nice to start thinking about and hearing summer (even if I can’t see it yet). Here are some summery tunes for you, with occasional interjections from fall (everything folky sounds like fall, sorry bout that).
1. “The Sun” – Sleepers Bells. Jesse Alexander keeps busy: he’s in IC favorites Battle Ave. and The Miami, as well as releasing a solo project under the name Sleepers Bells. This track combines the Titus Andronicus punk fervor of BA with the wild vocals and mournful sadness of The Miami for a completely fascinating track.
2. “Ether” – Gentle Robot. Is night-time rock a thing? (Bloc Party says yes?) If so, that’s where Gentle Robot lives: dark but not angry, melancholy but not brooding, loud but not abrasive.
3. “Raise a Glass” – Monsenior. Bouncy indie-pop that evenly balances weight and effervescence. This one never loses its grounding as a bass-heavy tune, but it’s still a ton of fun.
4. “Beauty’s Bones” – Villa Kang. Combinines giant, thwomping ’80s electro-pop beats with some wistful ’00s indie-vibes in the vocals. The ghost of MGMT hangs low over this summer banger. [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]
5. “Concorde” – Incan Abraham. No better title for this Springsteen-meets-’80s electro cut than the sadly-no-more jet.
6. “Til Tomorrow” – DWNTWN. We have entered “summery pop” season. It couldn’t get here fast enough, for my money.
8. “Dare the Dream (Challenger Remix)” – Pure Bathing Culture. IC faves Challenger give the dreamy PBC cut an even dreamier take, turning it into an ethereal-yet-triumphant take on the tune.
9. “Towers” – Orphan Mothers. Smooth, delicate R&B-esque tune with some indie-rock flair in the guitar. Remember The Antlers? They’d be jamming to this.
10. “She’s Falling” – Breanna Kennedy. It seems like I’m including one adult alternative track per mix. This week’s AA track features a nicely understated chorus; it’s great to not hear a gigantic instrumental explosion every now and then.
11. “Flaws” – Vancouver Sleep Clinic. Falsetto over electro/acoustic jams is either going to invoke James Blake or Bon Iver until further notice. Still, this is a beautiful track.
12. “Burning Promises” – GreenHouse. Piano, synths, found sound, and dry percussion come together to make a relaxing tune. [Editor’s note: This track is no longer available.]
It’s always a joy when a band from IC’s history reappears with new music. I first reviewed Justin Klaas‘ work in 2006, and 8 years later I’m writing about more music from him. What Changed? is a thoughtful, atmospheric album that challenges the boundaries between indie-rock and indie-pop. Klaas’ voice calls up comparisons to the howl of The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser, which brings passion to the work no matter what the genre.
Instead of fighting for balance between loud and soft, Klaas holds the album together with those dueling ends of his sound. The yearning “Sunlight or Moonlight?” allows tension to manifest in the arrangement, giving the reins to the vocals to complete the mood. The walking-speed indie-pop songwriting of “Wait Here” lets the vocals take the forefront, giving a different feel to the song. The delicate instrumental “Moonlight” casts a Bon Iver-esque tranquility over the record, calming the tension momentarily. The whole album holds together beautifully, drawing on imagery of evening as a guide for the listener. What Changed? is a short film shot in the dusky woods, perhaps, or maybe a night spent on the street corner under the streetlight. If you’re into low-key, personal indie-rock, you should check out Justin Klaas’ work.
I’m not sure there’s a better way to start an album of jangly guitar-pop than with a song called “The Smiths.” You should thank The Maravines for figuring this out on their self-titled record. It’s not just jangle-pop here; the sound also draws on both the lush melancholy and occasionally the rough aggression (“I Say Go”) of early ’00s emo. Still, the primary mood throughout the album is a leisurely stroll through reverb-heavy indie-pop.
The album is purposefully cohesive; the band posted the whole release as a YouTube video so listeners could experience it as a free-flowing unit. If you’re pressed for time though, you can start at “Train Ride” (20:09) and let the dreamy feel both lull you into serenity and sell you on the album. Mint 400 Records seems to be specializing in acoustic-folk and guitar-based indie-pop albums as of late, and The Maravines are a worthy inclusion in the latter camp.
I’ve mentioned before how “The Lioness” by Songs:Ohia is one of my enduring favorites. Its raw, minimalist power is simply unimpeachable. Many have tried to appropriate that barely-contained energy, but it’s hard to emulate Jason Molina. Clara Engels‘ Ashes & Tangerines has moments that take on that hushed intensity–but in contrast to Molina, she often explodes these moments into their full potential for wrenching, dramatic conclusions.
The album is minimalist, but by no means ignorable. “Raven” begins the album with a simple plodding bass guitar strum and furious vocal performance, letting you know exactly what type of album this will be from moment one. “Heaven and Hell” introduces a delicate, forlorn piano line before opening up her voice to its full dramatic potential. The palm-muted guitar and rumbling toms of “X-Ray” go in an ominous lyrical and tonal direction, as opposed to a sad one. That’s the biggest marker of Engels’ sound: she has a lot of ominous (“Harvest”), eerie (“Decomposition”), even menacing (“X-Ray”) work on Ashes & Tangerines. By setting that tone, Engels puts herself outside the category of casual listening: this demands focus and attention. If that’s what you’re looking for in a musical experience, Clara Engels will give you a fascinating listen.
Chris Jamison puts a light reverb on his vocals in “Carousel,” the opening track of five-song EP Sleeping with the T.V. On. That effect gives his voice a nostalgic, romantic air reminiscent of Gregory Alan Isakov’s vocal performances. Jamison’s contemporary-folk has a bit more of a concrete feel to it than Isakov’s ethereal constructions: stand-up bass, shuffling snare, and acoustic guitar strum anchor the sound tightly to this mortal coil. Still, Jamison’s beautiful voice is the feature in “Carousel” and throughout the EP.
Even in tracks where the instruments are more in the fore, they play second fiddle to Jamison’s arresting voice. The subtle pedal steel of “Summer Comes Tomorrow” and the engaging acoustic work of “Joseph” can’t steal the focus from the evocative tone and timbre of the leading tenor. In that way, it’s a bit like Death Cab for Cutie–although their instrumental sounds are completely different, the focus on instruments supporting the vocal melody and performance is present in both artists. If you’re into folk-singin’ troubadours that can tell a song with the tone of their voice alone, you should check out Sleeping with the T.V. On. You’ll very much enjoy yourself.
Martin Van Ruin‘s Every Man a King has a much more muscular take on folk music. “Gold and Love and Gin” starts out with a sludgy distorted guitar reminiscent of ISIS (for real) before transitioning into a dry, clanging acoustic strum. Lead guitar, slide guitar, harmonica, background vocals and shaker-heavy drums give the song a very Western, wide-open, frontier feel. When lead vocalist Derek Nelson hollers “she’s got something strange always coming out her mouth” near the climax of the tune, it’s a genuine shiver-inducer in the adrenaline-pounding sort of way, not the romantic sort of way.
Part of their energy-creating powers come from backgrounds in genres other than folk; MVR is a new group from a bunch of Chicago music vets that have a wide range of sounds in their past (and present). “Easy Answer” is a perky power-pop tune led by neat male/female vocal interactions and bouncy bass work. “This Time Around” has similar power-pop vibes, but with a bit of Southern-rock crunch; “Wilderness” has a lot of guitar crunch going on. “Sayanora” has a ’50s ballad sort of feel to it. The drums are powerful and prominent throughout; never becoming overwhelming, but definitely giving a bit of pep to the sound in almost every tune they appear. This ain’t Bon Iver over here, just in case anyone was still wondering.
But no matter where they dally, Every Man a King is held together by an underlying folk sentiment. “American Moon” employs a fiddle and a droll vocal line to tell a heartfelt tale of woe. Sure, it’s noisier than your average folk tune, but it’s got a songwriter’s soul. And they’re the sort of people that took the time to list the lyrics to every song on their Bandcamp page. Maybe that doesn’t count for purists, but it counts for me. There’s always the acoustic Americana of “Storm Coming” and the traditional “Give Me Flowers (While I’m Living)” to settle those anxieties.
If you’re up for some folk-inspired music that steals from southern rock, indie-pop, and more, Martin Van Ruin will scratch that itch. Every Man a King is a strong, varied release that never loses its way.
The Oklahoma-founded duo of Walking Waves have an odd connection to Independent Clauses; almost exactly 10 years ago, I reviewed an emo track by the band Roma Secrets. That band broke up, but at least one band member remembered that little blog that covered them. Now that I do folk music instead of screamy emo, and THEY do folk music instead of screamy emo, it was a perfect match–again. We all grow up and chill out sometime, I suppose.
But enough preamble! Their self-titled debut album is great, and deserves applause. Leaning toward the soundscape majesty of Bon Iver but still containing the raw beauty of For Emma, Forever Ago, Walking Waves plays like a mythical middle album between the two extremes. The gentle keyboards of “Echo” lull me into a pristine daze; the folky acoustic strum and keening falsetto of “Letter” sound gorgeous in a completely different way. With Bon Iver on hiatus or something, the world could use more pristine-arrangement, maximum-falsetto, fragile-beauty folk bands.
Walking Waves’ disparate sounds hang together by the force of the mood that runs through each track: whether it’s the reverb-laden standout “Nami” or the complex math-rock-influenced guitar work of instrumental “Winterlude,” winter is a theme that persists. This is music for curling up with your significant other and watching it snow. This is music for warm fires and good friends. It’s comfortable, beautiful music that doesn’t ask too much of you but gives way more than that if you pay attention. The layers of sounds throughout are enough to keep me fascinated for a while.
If you’re into acoustic music that can vaguely be called folk, but is really about being beautiful and nostalgic by any means (and/or labels) necessary, then Walking Waves is for you. It’s easy to say they’re Bon Iver followers, but there’s so much more than that in this self-titled debut. This is a wonderful album, and I hope to hear more from Walking Waves in the future.
Devin James Fry (Lord Buffalo, Salesman) is a busy man, but he’s taken a break from those two wild pursuits to drop the pensive, ruminative Headwater Songs. The 9-song album is a pleasantly stark affair–most tracks are just his smooth tenor voice and a fingerpicked instrument (guitar or banjo). The dual tragedies that inspired this album (the fire and floods that have happened this year near Canon City, Colorado) give the album a hushed sense of calm, as if Fry is surveying the damage to his beloved hometown. Some songs deal directly with the disasters (“After the Royal Gorge Fire,” “Headwaters (Song for Gatherer)”), while others deal with the incidents more indirectly (“Real Fire”). The whole album flows seamlessly, as if the songs flowed out of Fry like the waters they chronicle. Keening falsetto, intricate picking guitarwork, and a deep sense of patience characterize these tunes. If you’re up for some gorgeous, spartan acoustic songs, Headwater Songs should be on your to-hear list.
On the far opposite end of the spectrum in acoustic music is Mutual Benefit’s Love’s Crushing Diamond, which is a full-on chamber-pop experience. Sure, there are banjos and guitars, but there are violins, electronic sounds, and intricate arrangements that create gorgeous pile-ups of sound. This is an album that washes over a room, transforming the tone from normal to slightly more warm and comforting. Jordan Lee’s gentle voice is the perfect foil for these tender tunes, bringing out all the sweetness that can be extracted from them. If Bon Iver turned his attention to love instead of its loss, or Sufjan Stevens was less idiosyncratically percussive, or if the Low Anthem indie’d up a bit more, you’d have Mutual Benefit. This is just an absolutely gorgeous record that deserves your attention. A year-end gem.
Scott Fant’s singer/songwriter tunes are rough-edged without getting gruff. Fant writes with just him and a guitar, giving the tunes on Goatweed Bouquet a raw, earnest feel. These tunes would feel at home at both a Tom Waits-ian bar (“Bottom of the Hole”) and a Budweiser-toting honky-tonk (“Don’t Touch That Dog,” “Walk in the Light”). There are also some ballads intermingled among the upbeat tunes, best exemplified by the pristine guitar work of “Adagio for the Lonely.” Shades of David Ramirez, Counting Crows, and old-school country come through in the short runtime, showing Fant a diverse and interesting songwriter. Very different than Headwater Songs in mood, these songs are meant to be heard live and maybe even sung along to–especially if you’ve got a cold beer in your hand.
The emergence of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was an incredibly important event for folk. Although the water had been getting murky for years (decades?), that heavily stylized album broke the dam that separated indie-pop and folk. Now we have Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers and Phillip Phillips and we don’t even think twice about it. My thesis here is that we can’t have “Babel” hollered through your radio without Justin Vernon mournfully ruminating over Emma. What that means for indie-pop and folk as individual genres is complex and interesting. One tiny element is that trad-folk/Americana (which is what we now have to call the stuff that most people who aren’t ethnomusicologists used to call “folk”) has received a boost from the indie-folk scene. Sunny Jim Brown playing the traditional “Darling Corey” may not have been of any interest to people who liked Belle and Sebastian in the early 2000s. Now it seems like the two are near to kindred spirits.
Which is all to say that even if Sunny Jim Brown’s Sweet Virginia EP features primarily guitar and banjo in a very traditional idiom, it’s still a blast from the imagined past. Brown’s earthy baritone imbues passion equally over the aforementioned traditional, the gorgeous original “Black Gold,” and No Use For A Name cover “Pacific Standard Time.” It hardly matters that one was written in time immemorial, one in 2007/2008, and one probably in 2012/2013. This is a testament to Sunny Jim Brown’s vision: these tunes could be disparate and disjointed, but instead they’re coherent and wonderful. “Black Gold” is the sort of fingerpicked guitar line that I got into this business to hear more of, and the world-weary vocals give the song even more to love. “Lonesome” and “Sweet Virginia” are strummers that sway excellently. You want honest, raw, and beautiful? Here you go.
These tunes feel as real and raw as For Emma ever did, and maybe as real and raw as folk did before that. What does that mean for folk in general? Well, probably that what is good never dies, it just gets pushed to the top in different amounts at different times. Culture is weird like that. Maybe in 10 years the folk moment will be over and we’ll be on to something else. What does that mean for this particular EP? That you should go listen to it right now. Start with “Black Gold,” and impress your Tallest Man on Earth-loving self.
Dan Hubbard‘s fingerpicked folk/country resonates with me melodically and lyrically. The sound of Livin’ in the Heartland is earthy, comfortable, and intimate without acquiring the hushed tone that dominates much of the personal music I cover here. The lyrics are a bit more brash than I’m used to as well, celebrating domestic life in a tone that’s much more Zac Brown Band than Bon Iver.
The vocals and guitar are so perfectly meshed on tunes like “The List” and “I Will Not Forget This Place” that it called up thoughts of Justin Townes Earle and Johnny Flynn. Those songwriters have a much more modern-folk flair to their sound, but their clarity and tightness of songwriting is echoed in Hubbard’s tunes. Hubbard’s tunes are beautiful, powerful and often seemingly effortless: the sparse “I Will Not Forget This Place” moves with a sprightly ease while still carrying dramatic heft. It’s a rare songwriter that can pull off that trick. If you’re a fan of strong, emotional songwriting that doesn’t call attention to itself, you should check out Hubbard’s Living in the Heartland.