For me, Feist set the standard for mature female-fronted indie-pop. Charming, interesting, and occasionally deep, Feist relies on traditional songcraft as opposed to tricks or gimmicks. (No hate: I love a good gimmick.) But there’s something classic about Feist, and anybody I can find to compare must necessarily be on top of their game. It’s incredibly impressive, then, that Grace Joyner‘s debut EP has a clarity of vision and excellence of performance that would put her in Feist’s category.
What Young Fools does best is convince me. Joyner’s songs sound mature, bright, and real. They don’t feel like ephemeral pop songs or ponderous singer/songwriter tunes; these are songs with weight and heft, but also a light touch. If Joyner didn’t apply to modern indie vocal melodies and styles, these songs could easily be confused for songs much older. Opener “Other Girls” features piano, gentle drumming, and flutes for color; “Young Thing” and “Be Good” have the pad synths and separated beats of an ’80s Police-style song. (“Holy” does sound like a Killers or Bravery track, but it’s an outlier.) Their traditional style, however, makes them endearing–not cliche. Joyner’s songs are excellent because they perfectly compliment the real star: her voice.
Joyner’s alto is awesome because it’s flexible. “Other Girls” sees her using in a near-formal capacity, full of trills, swoops, and vibrato. “Be Good” sees her adapt a speak/sing style, while “Love of Mine” shows off her poppy side. But it’s “Young Thing” that shows her voice’s versatility and unique qualities. The standout performance sees Joyner getting emotional without getting theatrical, which is an impressive feat. Using little shifts in tone and register, Joyner puts on an evocative display without going into Adele-style range. It’s impressive, and more than any other track makes me excited for Joyner’s future work.
Grace Joyner’s first step out from background vocals position is an impressive one. Young Fools is an accomplished, mature, exciting release that displays impressive songwriting skills. If you’re a fan of Wye Oak, Feist, Waxahatchie, or even She and Him, you’ll find a lot to love in Grace Joyner’s work.
Independent Clauses is but one man right now, and I can’t get to everything. Here are some really quick hits on stuff I like but haven’t had a chance to cover in detail.
Shine Your Light – Gap Dream. Burger Records loves garage-rock, but Gap Dream goes against the grain for some psych-influenced pop-rock. The tunes here are smooth, powered by shimmering, pulsing synths and trilling, chiming guitars. These are really fun tunes that take some of the irony out of indie-rock’s version of pop-rock. Perfect driving music, excellent chilling-out music.
Light on the Lake – Signals Midwest / Banquets – Banquets. I didn’t listen to a lot of punk rock this year for a bunch of silly reasons. These two bands, whom I dearly love, bore the brunt of my sabbatical. Both are really talented bands that deserve the attention of those who love muscly punk rock that doesn’t get too abrasive and keeps an artsy streak.
Spooky Action – The Fierce and the Dead. If a punk band and a post-rock band were in a head-on collision, the resulting fusion would sound as frantic and expansive as this album. If you’re into post-rock but think it can get way too navel-gazing sometimes, you should hear the pounding riffs and rhythms this English band throws down.
Unravel – Debbie Neigher. Neigher is an alto singer/songwriter with a mature approach to songwriting, along the lines of Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, and Feist. She relies heavily on keys–but not necessarily piano–which creates a nice vibe to her work.
Save Your Heart – Lights & Motion. If you like your post-rock in major keys, with huge crescendoes, and with jubilant conclusions, Lights & Motion is far and away the best at that. This is beautiful stuff that intends to make you sigh with wonder. You know who you are.
Multiple Releases – Qualia. Dan Leader put out six releases in 2013 under his post-rock moniker. Similar to Lights & Motion, but with a pinch more nuance and minor key action, this is still incredibly beautiful work. If you’re into it, there’s a ton of it to be into, so jump on that.
Falling in Waves – Black Birds. These Australians marry guitar crunch and heavy reverb for a post-shoegaze throwdown. If you’re into rock riffs without a blatantly self-indulgent rock’n’roll attitude, check it out.
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.