It’s a great thing to show back up at work on Monday and have an e-mail from someone you haven’t heard from in a while. Jordan Herrera of whisper-folk outfit Young Readers sent over that he’s doing a Kickstarter to fund the finishing of his new record Migrator. Check the video below:
I’m super stoked to hear more Young Readers tunes in the world: I love his previous work, and I’m thrilled about the clips in the video. If you’re down for that sound, contribute what you can.
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.
This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.
The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ’em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.
Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service
Independent Clauses’ 10th birthday is coming up, and we promised loyal IC readers a present/surprise at the beginning of the year. Today is the day that we unveil that present. We are putting out a 20-band compilation album of covers from Give Up by The Postal Service called Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of The Postal Service. It will be out May 15 on Bandcamp.
We’re running a Kickstarter campaign to finish up the funding of the mechanical licenses. We’re only looking for $695, because this project isn’t looking to change the world: we just want everyone to get paid legally. So, if you want to support Independent Clauses, get some sweet free tunes, support one of the bands below, or generally be awesome to each other, you should hit up the Kickstarter Page and check out the prizes. I’ll handmake you a mix CD! With art!
Independent Clauses is somewhat of an alternate universe when it comes to music reviewing. I rarely cover the hip bands, often love things no one else does, and generally attempt to be true to what I hear. If there’s a radar to be on or under, we’re hanging out on a different screen altogether. This is more by happenstance than choice: I never set out to be contrarian. And I don’t feel like a curmudgeonly naysayer of popular music, as you’ll see tomorrow. I just have a different lens than many people. Here’s the view from that lens.
16. Elijah Wyman/Jason Rozen’s collective output: Tiny Mtns/The Seer Group/Decent Lovers. What started out as the artsy electro-pop project Tiny Mtns split into a heavily artsy electro project (The Seer Group) and a heavily artsy pop project (Decent Lovers), with the two splitting the tracks between them. Except when both kept a track and reworked it to their likings. Did I mention that this one time, one of these guys gave the other a kidney? Now you see why they get one mention.
I usually like to get this post to a nice round number, but I didn’t get it there this year. Here’s what my year sounded like, y’all! This post isn’t ranked; instead, it’s a playlist of sorts. My ranked post will come tomorrow.
I’ve gone to three weddings in May, so I’ve been thinking often about wedding music. Even though pop music has been infatuated with infatuation for as long as it’s been alive, odes to the type of committed love that marriage is intended to foster are hard to find. Even songs that are ostensibly about everlasting love do not necessarily merit wedding performance. It takes an incredibly rare sort of song to convey the intimacy and vulnerability of married love, unless you’re Ray LaMontagne–and then every song can pretty much fit.
Early Iron and Wine tracks had the intimacy down as well; and it’s somewhere between those two artists that Young Readers’ Family Trees falls. Yes, those are huge shoes to fill, but the near-reverent beauty and fragility of “All I Have” and “Naked” leave me in the same state of mind as the work of those songwriting giants. Both songs are gentle, expansive tunes that create a distinct mood without a great deal of musical elements. “All I Have” uses a steady acoustic guitar strum to imbue an elegant string section and Jordan Herrera’s quiet voice with a gravitas enviable by LaMontagne. When a choir comes in for the climax of the tune, it sounds positively revelatory. The lyrics are perfect for the sound, as Herrera nearly whispers, “If all I have is you, then the rest is okay.” It’s going on my “song of the year” list for sure.
The sparse, slow fingerpicking of “Naked” recalls Iron and Wine immediately; since Sam Beam doesn’t make ’em like that anymore, this is a wonderful thing to be bestowing upon the world. And it does feel like this song is a gift. The songs are so intimate that it feels like Herrera is cracking open the door for me to see into a corner of his life that he doesn’t show to just anyone. The fact that there’s almost no build to “Naked” over its nearly-six-minute duration just impresses me more: there are few people who can write six minutes of sparse fingerpicking as engaging as this.
The rest of the tunes are solid as well. “Wooden Frame” retains the wistful romanticism of the aforementioned tunes despite being more upbeat, while “Blame” is another bedside confessional. “Boxcar” is a swaying tune that evokes the feel of traveling in the lyrics and music.
Jordan Herrera has created more immediately lovable music in 25 minutes than many bands make in a lifetime. Family Trees is a gorgeous, heartfelt EP that will command your ears and heart. I haven’t heard a better release all year, and I eagerly anticipate more material from Young Readers. If you’re a fan of romantic, honest music, you need to download this. And it’s free. What more can you ask for?
SXSW isn’t just a music smorgasbord. Here’s the best free stuff I found:
Coolest ad campaign: “A Guide to Play Quebec City” is exactly that. The booklet introduces you to threeshow promoters, six venues, one music festival, 35 upcoming shows, six “Cream of the Crop” bands, and nine other groups from “the only 100% francophone city in America.” I feel like I could book a band through Quebec City now, and that’s pretty cool.
Coolest new service:StoryAmp is a way for artists to pitch to journalists in a consistent format. StoryAmp’s idea is to remove the “what do I say in an e-mail pitch?” problem by streamlining everything for the artist and the journalist. And both the flyer I was handed and the site it sells are gorgeous; that means a lot to me. I hope it takes off.
Coolest non-media object: It was a tie. I’m not sure how M for Montreal came up with the idea for a sleep mask, but it’s certainly memorable:
This is a pack of gum from the app iTriage:
Coolest album art: Young Readers’ self-titled EP is a coloring page, complete with crayons. Mega!
Coolest book: Rockin’ in the New World by Bob Tulipan. It’s a how-to guide on getting your band to a successful level in our new media age. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Coolest song named after a basketball player: “Monta Ellis” by Willie Joe.
Coolest album that I had to Google lyrics to determine the band name because I found the album in a venue and it was packaged in a brown paper bag: Roll the Bones by Shakey Graves.
Most confusing ad campaign: “MYSPACE IS DEAD, LONG LIVE MYSPACE.” The Justin Timberlake-owned company never explained this concept except for the tepid, “Change is coming. Loyalty will be rewarded.” Nothing seems different on Myspace today, either. Their sticker and poster campaign seems like a wasted plan.
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.