Problems That Fix Themselves – Which Is Worse. This electronic duo creates gently unfolding, melodic ambient/glitch music. They manage to make glitch not sound brittle and lifeless, especially on standout track “8:62.” Elsewhere they make circuitbending sound downright beautiful; this might be the easiest introduction to the technically and musically intimidating practice I’ve ever heard. It’s not ODESZA by any means, but fans of melodic post-dub will find connections they may not have expected.
Nate Allen and the Pac-Away Dots – Take Out the Trash. The wild songwriter behind the folk/punk duo Destroy Nate Allen! took a long, hard look at the ills of society. The subsequent musical and lyrical response was a bit darker and weightier than DNA! purveys, although the songs of Take Out the Trash still fit in the folk/punk category. Allen’s raspy voice is perfectly suited to righteous indignation, and so tunes like “West Side Blues” come together perfectly with impassioned vocals over brazen electric guitars. On the other end of the spectrum, gentler tunes like “Social Equality” aim an introspective lens at social justice with banjo, brushed drums, and acoustic guitar. It may make you laugh a bit less and think a bit more than DNA!, but the songwriting chops are just as strong (and in some places stronger) for the change in topic.
Kayte Grace — Chapter 2: Sail There EP. Kayte Grace’s country-folk-pop is a charming, romantic brew that will appeal to fans of Taylor Swift, Twin Forks, and young love. There’s infinite depth to be mined in young love, and Grace does that here, both melodically and lyrically. It’s smooth, sweet, but not too saccharine; if you’re swooning over someone right now, you’ll be all about it.
Classic-rock new kids Greylag, who have a single that you should listen to, put together a Spotify playlist of songs that influence them. The concept in itself is pretty cool, but their list is even cooler: aside from obvious influences Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, they’ve got Sonic Youth, Cocteau Twins and Kurt Vile. Get hip, y’all.
Singer/songwriter Stephen Kellogg is doing a PledgeMusic campaign to fund a four-album cycle based on the four cardinal directions. I’m all for ambitious projects and crowdfunding, so go jump on it.
The diverse Mint 400 Records, home of the band I manage, just released a free tribute to Lou Reed. You can download the short EP by clicking on this link.
A deluxe edition of Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain is getting a Nov. 11 release from Secretly Canadian. As a fan of Jason Molina’s work, this is exciting to me. Even more exciting is the new song released in celebration of the event, “Ring the Bell – Working Title: Depression No. 42.”
So I’m getting toward the end of my review year, and there’s still a few things in queue. That’s right. It’s time for a REVIEW BLITZ.
Cavepainters – For the Sea. Cavepainters subscribe to the vision of Americana that sees rock’n’roll and singer/songwriter on one long spectrum, with folk, country, jazz, and everything else just somewhere between the two poles. This vision, espoused by bands like The Low Anthem, produces a necessarily varied album that hangs together by the overall spirit of the thing. “Minnesota Blues” is a blues/rag thing, “Falling Leaves” has a Neil Young-esque vibe, and standout “This Crow Flies Alone” cops an Old Crow Medicine Show sing-along style. On the quieter side, “We All Need” and “Kid Gloves” are deeply moving singer/songwriter ballads heavy on atmosphere. “Kid Gloves” is powerful lyrically as well. Cavepainters’ Americana is passionate, literate, and knowledgeable in the genres it appropriates. If you love The Low Anthem as deeply as I do, you will find a new band to love in Cavepainters.
Destroy Nate Allen – Glow in the Dark. DNA is a rowdy folk-punk duo that’s been kicking it for a while, and GITD is a vinyl retrospective of crowd favorites. You’ll get the hilarious “My Parents Managed Apartments,” the uniquely earnest and tender “Loving You,” and a bunch more. If you’re into fast, brash, unkempt songs that you can yell along to in a basement with 30 of your new best friends, this should be your jam. If you doubt that assessment, I direct you to “Jesus, Keep Us Safe From the Cops,” which is the duo and a group of men stomping, clapping, and hollering the titular phrase with increasing frenzy. And, if you’ve gone completely and exclusively banjo, the truly beautiful title track will help you out.
Laura and Greg – Songs EP. It’s an increasingly common tale: out of the ashes of short-lived pop-rock-punk tunesmiths Automotive High School comes a guy/girl folk duo. Laura and Greg lean toward the Jose Gonzalez school of guitar-playing, with gentle yet complex fingerpicking providing the backdrop to the vocals. The titular singers share the mic, giving this duo a bit of an edge on duos that have one primary singer. Opener “Forever For Sure” expands from a little acoustic guitar line into a wide-open indie-pop arrangement, setting a great precedent for their sound. “Same World” is a cheery tune in the vein of the Weepies, while “with nothing” shows off their great skill with melody and rhythm. This 3-song tease shows some incredible songs, and I’m thoroughly excited to see what Laura and Greg cook up next. If you’re into chill guy/girl folk-pop duos, here’s another notable for your (probable) arsenal of them.
MTNS – Salvage EP. Four songs (and a remix) of chill, smooth electronic pop that draws equally from R&B and indie-pop for inspiration. If you like atmospheric tracks that are simultaneously claustrophobic and expansive, hit up “Lost Track of Time”; if you like sexy slow jams, hit up “Lost Track of Time (M-Phazes Remix).” They go most indie on the acoustic guitar-driven “Crave,” while “Fears” is electro goodness. For fans of James Blake, et al.
Are you tired of married duos singing folk-pop? ME NEITHER. The latest guy/girl duo in my inbox is Davy and Amelia, to go along with Jenny & Tyler, The Gray Havens, Destroy Nate Allen!, Venna, The Weepies, the Civil Wars, et al. Davy and Amelia’s Norah June EP leans more toward the stomping, clapping, upbeat party-folk of The Lumineers and especially Twin Forks instead of the quiet, introspective tunes of The Weepies. They also celebrate giddy romance and young married life, which sets them apart from sadder couples.
“The Summer,” “Mountain Movers” and “Norah June” (the name of their baby!) all have rousing, celebratory arrangements; “The Summer” and “Norah June” are upbeat right from the word go, while “Mountain Movers” builds to its shouted-group-vocals conclusion. “Cause Daddy’s only 22, Momma’s 21/some people say we got married young/you are the treasure of our unbreakable love/hey!” goes the chorus of “Norah June,” which means not only are they giddily in love with each other, they’re singing songs to their baby. I think that’s absolutely adorable, but I think that might send the more cynical among us running for the exits.
The songs themselves are great, full of strong instrumental and vocal melodies. The songs are predominantly based in acoustic guitar, although “Mountain Movers” shows off their elegant, cinematic piano skills nicely. If you’re not into the genre, then these four tunes won’t be exciting to you. But if you’re a fan of pop skills applied to romantic lyrics and folky arrangements, you’ll love Davy and Amelia. I look forward to hearing more about this duo in the upcoming year. Just in case you needed proof of how cute this duo is, here’s their band photo:
It appears that I can’t get enough of guy/girl duos. Venna, Jenny and Tyler, Destroy Nate Allen!, Matt and Kim, and Mates of State are some of my favorite bands that I’ve covered here at Independent Clauses, and each fall into the aforementioned category. You can add The Gray Havens to that list, as their EP Where Eyes Don’t Go has swept me off my feet.
The duo fits somewhere between Mates of State’s piano-heavy indie-pop and Jenny and Tyler’s pop-folk. Dave and Licia Radford combine ukulele, piano and acoustic guitar to create pop songs with folk instrumentation that are near-impossible to wrest from my brain. From the perky, Weepies-esque strum and clap of “Let’s Get Married” to the orchestrated sweep of “Where It Goes” and “Music from a Garden,” The Gray Havens show their melodic talents in diverse ways. Dave Radford is the primary vocalist, and his smooth voice fits perfectly in the genre; his rhythmic and tonal flair in delivering the melodies is one of the most engaging elements of their sound. Although featured less, Licia Radford’s soprano voice is charming as well (“Let’s Get Married”).
The duo has more than just pretty melodies up their sleeves. “Silver” incorporates a horn section and accordion, which are both sure-fire ways to get me on board with your tune. While “Silver” is the most triumphantly catchy tune of the bunch (due to the horns and some great background vocals), the most unique tune is “Train Station,” which actually mocks up the sound of a train moving with guitar rhythms and percussion. But even with their arrangement skills, the simple “Let’s Get Married” is the tune that I keep humming to myself. It’s just wonderful.
If you’re into precise, upbeat indie-pop with an acoustic bent, you need to check out The Gray Havens’ Where Eyes Don’t Go. Their infectious melodies and creative songwriting touches make for a very engaging listen. Expect to hear much more from this duo in the future.
Three releases on my slate all include the word “giants,” so I thought I’d put them together in a post.
I relish the folk-punk/acoustic-punk releases that come my way (e.g., Attica! Attica!, The Wild, Destroy Nate Allen!), so the great folk/punk of Among Giants‘ Truth Hurts caused great excitement when it crossed my proverbial desk. Singer/songwriter Greg Hughes’ rapidfire vocal delivery is the predominant characteristic here, as what Hughes lacks in traditional vocal tone he makes up for in melodic and lyrical enthusiasm. Standout tracks “A Letter,” “Cross Your Heart” and “Get Your Shit Straight” all rely on fast tempos, sing-along melodies and distinctive chop strumming for their power. Most of the tunes are upbeat musically, but the lyrics contrast the optimistic sound.
Truth Hurts reads like a series of journal entries looking back at a self-destructive time in the narrator’s life. (“Living in a drug isn’t as fun as it seems,” Hughes memorably notes.) Other tracks plead with friends to get their shit together, acknowledge that the narrator will fail miserably in the future, and ruminate on loneliness and insomnia. Even through all of this, there’s a consistently hopeful outlook running through the album that makes Truth Hurts a raw but not dreary listen. I’ve fallen in love with Among Giants, and fans of acoustic punk should as well.
Ivy Mike‘s Giants does have some acoustic-based tracks on it, but it’s predominantly a riff-heavy rock affair. Any album that opens with a squall of dissonant distortion before dropping into a Queens of the Stone Age-esque guitar riff is not messing around. Just to make sure you know what this band is about, this power trio (!) put a picture of a Godzilla-esque monster on the album cover. They’re here to rock, and rock, and rock some more.
They live up to the billing, as they can build thunderous walls of sound while still retaining melody. “Some Kind of Way” has a Strokes-ian attitude, while the strutting guitar riff of “Monster” has all kinds of swagger. Still, they’re not a one trick pony: the middle of the album gives way to a surprisingly tense and nuanced section. The tense “Lowly Eyes” and “Light Years” show some tasteful restraint, while “Sweet Lipped Woman” is an remorseful acoustic tune at the heart of the album. They swing back to the rock in the final act with the stomping tunes “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Just Like Daughter,” before closing out the album with a gorgeous acoustic tune “Oh, Desire.”
For an album that starts off in total rock mode, Ivy Mike’s Giants offers surprising diversity in mood and incredibly strong songwriting throughout. Highly recommended for fans of rock.
It’s not just acoustic punk I love. I also have a space in my heart for good ‘ol pop-punk. Ma Jolie‘s …Compared to Giants is a great big slice of blue-collar pop-punk, shying away from nasally vocals in favor of gruff melodies and yelling (a la IC faves The Menzingers). Ma Jolie’s frantic tunes don’t make quite as big a point to make the lyrics clearly heard as the Menzingers do, but their breakneck tempos and thrilling melodies more than make up for that. The best tunes are in major keys, as the minor key tunes (“Size 10, Nikes,” “Era and the Metric System”) don’t feel as fun or engaging as happier standouts “88 MPH,” “How Far is 5k,” and “Charades.” If you’re down for some shout-it-out pop-punk that’s a bit more mature in delivery and song structure, go for …Compared to Giants.
There are plenty of male/female duos that have gotten by being cute and/or mysterious. The guy and girl in Destroy Nate Allen are not aiming for either: they’re mostly aiming for awesome. As an earnest, self-aware, fun, thrashy, acoustic folk/ska/punk band, they easily achieve it in With Our Powers Combined. If you’re into scream-it-out positiveness, you’re going to eat this up whole.
The duo has more in common with the technicolor hyperactivity that is Math the Band than the grooving pop of Matt and Kim, but fans of the DIY passion and enthusiasm of either band will find themselves loving the all-out attack of “We Talk Occasionally on the Internet” and “Boobie Bar.” The set-up for both songs is pretty simple: fast tempos, emphatic guy/girl vocals with a focus on creation instead of perfection, manic drums and guitars, and an overall feeling of undiluted excitement. This is especially interesting, considering that both tunes are about ostensibly sad things: “We Talk” celebrates a past friendship while lamenting the current distance, and “Boobie Bar” earnestly pleads for people to not go down to the strip club because “if you want a real relationship you won’t get far.”
That’s another thing that separates Destroy Nate Allen from other hyperactive duos: they’re absolutely earnest about everything and honest about their lives. Life is tough, but it can be defused by celebrating through music: “Distracted Nate-O-Bot” is about setting boundaries so that they won’t procrastinate; “Emergency” extols the virtues of spousal communication in handling difficult situations; “Hospital” sings the praises of a titular institution that removed a burst appendix from the female half of the band (as well as Catholic Charities, who paid for the procedure!). This sort of honesty is more often found in somber acoustic singer/songwriter fare, not in organ-driven punk throw-downs. And that’s what makes With Our Powers Combined so awesome: honest and earnest songwriting need not be the province of music that you can’t sing along with and dance to, and Destroy Nate Allen is making sure of that.
Not that they don’t have an acoustic song or two: “I Need to Know” even features a banjo. But it’s their insanely energetic, electric tunes that I remember most, because I love hearing them be real, straightforward, positive and still rocking. On that positive note: There are two really beautiful love songs here (“Chick Flick,” “Almost Out of Texas”). I vastly prefer them to most maudlin sap, because, well, … I’m repeating myself. Suffice it to say that the breathless enthusiasm of this review mirrors that of Destroy Nate Allen’s, and that you should go listen to their album immediately. It’s so, so good.
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.