It’s the middle of the year! Independent Clauses always gets more music than it knows what to do with, so mid-year and end-of-year are a good time to clean out the files and point out all the amazing things that I missed the first time around. So here goes three days of that! These singles could have been released yesterday or months ago; these and the following posts are not time-sensitive whatsoever.
Mid-year, pt. 1: Rock, etc.
1. “A Place Called Space” – The Juan Maclean. LCD Soundsystem is gone, but The Juan Maclean is still around to fill that rubbery, propulsive dance tune-shaped space in our hearts. THE JUAN MACLEAN FOREVER.
2. “Mama Gold” – North by North. Pounding, fuzzy guitar, yelping vocals, heavy low end? Welcome to rock’n’roll, people.
3. “Blood::Muscles::Bones” – Street Eaters. This punk band is composed entirely of distorted bass guitar, drums, female vocals, and male vocals. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.
4. “Everybody Pretends” – Ostrich Run. A high-drama violin riff kicks off this dark indie-rock tune. The vocals keep me going the rest of the way.
5. “Serious Things Are Stupid” – Cayetana. The rise of Cayetana in the punk scene has been fun to watch, as innate songwriters start to match the talent with the ability. Impressive tune here.
6. “Dirty Roofs” – Edmonton. Do you like The Offspring? You’ll love Edmonton, which sounds similar, but with a heart that The Offspring haven’t had for a while (/ever).
7. “You’re Cold” – The Black Tibetans. Stuff that Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) produces is starting to be as distinctive as Stuff Steve Albini or Jack White does: rifftastic, slightly scuzzy, classic-rock-inspired blues heaviness with melodies galore. The Black Tibetans deliver on that promise.
8. “Every Night, Every Day” – The Sheens. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it just sounds right. Here we have female-fronted rock with punk and new wave-y overtones, and it’s just a ton of fun.
9. “Hi-Lo” – North Elementary. Check that opening riff on this power-pop tune. The vocals and arrangement have some Arcade Fire vibes thrown in for good measure.
10. “Pack of Cards” – Wood Ear. Straightforward rock’n’roll, Glossary-style, doesn’t get enough love here on Independent Clauses. Wood Ear throws down some organ-laden rock that just feels right.
11. “Loving You Is Hard” – The Parrots. Sometimes you just want some brash, off-the-cuff, speedy, infectious surf-rock. The Parrots are here for you.
12. “We’ll Be Fine” – Action Item. So I really like big, shiny pop-rock like Hot Chelle Rae, and Action Item delivers it in spades. HAVE FUN, Y’ALL!
13. “Always” – Annabel. Jangly guitars, tom-heavy percussion, and yearning male vocals satisfy my craving for earnest, serious indie-pop-rock.
14. “House” – Thunderhank. The tension builds and builds in this electro-influenced rock song, but it resolves in ways other than you’d expect. Keep ’em guessing, Thunderhank.
15. “Whistle for My Love” – Jimmy & The Revolvers. If the Beatles had kept cranking out the pop tunes instead of going all psych, they could have ended up here. Total old-school pop bliss (with some modern rhythms, of course).
16. “Pool Guard” – Inspired and the Sleep. Sometimes the title really does tell you everything you need to know.
The unusual title of Where UFOs Go To Die did not prepare me for 4H Royalty‘s music. I had reasonably expected some country music from the band name, but the album title threw me for a loop. Was it going to be goofy? Was it all going to be tongue-in-cheek like opener “Accordion Bus”? This band contains the guitarist of post-rock duo Lafayette (one of my favorite IC bands ever), so how does that work out?
But then “Statutes of Limitation” hits, and all the fears clear up quickly. 4H Royalty is a gritty, workingman’s rock’n’roll/country band, creating timeless, powerful tunes that would appeal to fans of The Hold Steady as well as Ryan Adams. 9Bullets once described Glossary as a “no-frills, unabashed rock n’ roll records with just enough elements of classic pop and country to keep me honest.” If you flip the rock’n’roll and country references in that sentence, it’s a perfect description of 4H Royalty. Those guitars don’t twang that often, but the voices kinda do, and all these songs are about ending up back in your rural hometown unexpectedly (that hometown being the titular location).
These aren’t woe-is-me ballads, though: the lyrics here are top-shelf storytelling. I don’t often mention lyrics in an album, because 75% of the time they’re inessential (la’s would suffice) and 15% of the time they’re slightly above average. But that other ten percent is money, and bands with meaningful lyrics are usually tagged as very important music. So be it for 4H Royalty. Here’s a clip conflating women and their namesakes that knocked me out: “Mercy, Sherry, Sage, and Rosemary/Jasmine, Brandy, and Hope/return me to sender when I start to remember/all the virtues, spices and liquors of home.” Or this one: “Brilliant social climbers know to take elevators, and I am neither for taking the stairs.” Both of those come from highlight track “Virtues, Spices and Liquors,” which is going on all my summer mixtapes in that spot where you’re trying to get the mood from “driving songs” to “chill out tunes.” It fits right in there.
It’s hard to explain the scruffy, gritty music that 4H Royalty makes. “Gritty” and “scruffy” in this case don’t mean junky garage rock, but still: their tunes have some dirt and use on them. It’s the difference between a gleaming new truck (a large number of country bands) and one that’s been used, loved and wouldn’t be traded for the world (4H Royalty). “The Black Hornet Rides Again” is a rock instrumental that sounds like the Southern Rock equivalent of a surf jam like “Wipeout!” “Fall Off the Face of the Earth with Me” is a weary love song that starts off with the phrase, “It’s times like this you really the effects the brain drain has had on this town…” “Soon Enough” is a jaded, mid-tempo kiss-off tune; depending on your point of view, “Itchy Blood” is an guardedly optimistic or kinda desperate “I still love you” note to a woman who may or may not still remember the narrator.
And it’s that ambiguity that makes Where UFOs Go to Die such a compelling listen. The band nails everything they go for (with the exception of the aforementioned confusing opener), leaving tons of space for the vocals and lyrics to take over and do their thing. The result is an album that showcases both a brilliant lyricist and veteran musicians (Lafayette’s Andrew Porter plays bass and organ, while Zach Boddicker was in the late great Drag the River). These songs are so tight that they’re past the “we got this” phase and into “how do we confidently show musically that we don’t got this in our lives?” And they do that here; it’s one thing to tell passion, but it’s another thing to tell overly optimistic, confused, underconfident, overcompensating, real passion. If that’s not an album you want to hear, this blog can’t help you much. This is easily a contender for album of the year.
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.