Renata Zeiger Delivers an Intriguing Fusion of Jazzy Indie Rock

27 Jul

Renata Zeiguer (pronounced Z-eye – Grrr) is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who plays art pop-rock with jazzy underpinnings. On “Old Ghost” you can hear the influences of her early piano lessons in Yonkers, New York, mixed with the Latin rhythms of her dad’s homeland, Argentina.

After performing and recording with a number of New York City bands throughout her twenties, she released one previous EP — and has now debuted Old Ghost, her first full-length LP.

Critics have been impressed. Zeiguer has been praised for the level of command, confidence and technical proficiency she displays in her music. As a student of jazz and the classical form, in addition to rock, Zeiguer has an amazing ability to weave the various elements together and create a rock album with a distinct difference.

Track highlights:“Wayside” starts Old Ghost with a jazzy and jangly tune. Vocals are light, airy and sweet. Some edgy guitar is added in places to give the song its unique character.

“Bug” is a very interesting composition. It’s creative, guitar-driven art-rock with swirling synth trappings, whose lyrics warn against “falling into the basement” in response to personal paranoia and other issues.

“Follow Me Down” is a laid-back and soulful torch song, featuring exceptional guitar work and nice backing vocals.

Track 8 of the nine-song set, “They Are Growing,” is an upbeat, rhythm-based track with ringing guitar and vocals that are lush and dreamy.

Finally, the last track is “Gravity (Old Ghost),” sort of slinky, melodic synth-pop-rock, with Zeiguer’s expressive vocals climbing into the highest registers.

Overall, Old Ghost is an intriguing blend of jazz and rock — something quite apart from the typical indie rock album.

 

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Fireproof Sam Delivers a Smoking Collection of Indie Rock Hits for Hot Summer Days

16 Jul

KC Bowman is one of those musicians where you could hand him a guitar, point to a microphone and tell him to fill the next hour. And he could easily do that…and much more.

The lead guitarist for the Redwood City-based Corner Laughers, Bowman is also the driving force behind a number of other indie bands, such as the Agony Aunts (the more rock-oriented alter ego of the Corner Laughers) and the Preoccupied Pipers.

And now, Bowman is Fireproof Sam, who together with the “Network Stars” — a loosely assembled group of 30 or more exceptionally talented musicians from throughout Northern California — has produced an intriguing new album  called Get Passive.

It’s a sumptuous indie feast — 20 tunes ranging from less than two to around four minutes — that cover a wide range of genres from Americana and blues-rock to a ska-flavored ditty.

Track highlights:As I said, this is truly a smorgasbord of music. Come on in and sit a spell — it’s all you can eat.

Start with a slice of the title track, “C’mon, Get Passive,” an up-tempo guitar rocker. Then enjoy “Tryna Be Bolth,” playful pop-rock that almost has a Motown feeling. It’s performed by the Agony Aunts, including Karla Kane, Khoi Huynh, Charlie Crabtree, and of course, Bowman, on lead guitar. And yes, I spelled the title correctly.

“Hide Behind My Heart” is catchy, slightly Americana-flavored pop-rock that delivers a great road-trip sound. “Obvious Scarecrow” has a funky ska groove, with a nice bumping bass, sharp guitar attacks and sax licks.

“Poisonous Peach” takes us in a folky direction, with its strummed acoustic guitar and clever lyrics. And “God Stopped Listening” could almost be a religious experience, with its full, rich jangly rock ‘n’ roll — and a great throwback sound that’s perfect for the radio.

There’s more — much more as I said — so pick up a copy and you won’t have to choose among the 20 tunes.

One important additional note:all proceeds from the sale of Get Passiveby Fireproof Sam and the Network Stars will benefit Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating stigma and promoting recovery and wellness for people with mental illness through work, housing, community and family support services. TMHA operates over 35 programs at locations throughout San Luis Obispo and North Santa Barbara counties. Sounds very worthwhile to me…plus you get so much great music!

 

Caroline Rose Completes Transition Away from Americana-Alt Country with New Indie-Rock Album “Loner”

10 Jul

Singer-songwriter, Caroline Rose, is from the small town of Burlington in northern Vermont. Like a lot of young artists trying to make a name for herself, she spent a number of years living out of her van as she toured in support of 2013’s America Religious and 2014’s I Will Not Be Afraid.  Both of those albums leaned toward alt-country and Americana.

With Loner, Rose has taken a big step in a new direction that’s more reflective of her personality, establishing herself as a promising indie rock/punk artist — with an ample helping of the creativity, confidence and irreverence of St. Vincent or the laid-back allure of Eleanor Friedberger.

Inspiration for the tracks onLonerare derived from a variety of sources: from the catchy synths one might hear on a Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears album all the way to “riot grrl feminist surf punk” and even psychobilly. The end result is a daring, boldly performed and thought-provoking album with clever, often humorous, lyrics from a talented young artist.

Track highlights:The album opens with “More of the Same,” a catchy tune featuring a staccato organ pattern mixed with milky guitar arpeggios and playful synths. Rose’s vocals are warm and slightly throaty.

“Money” is frenetic, punky psychobilly, showing the range Rose has developed since her first two albums. The lyrics explain it all…”Didn’t do it for me…didn’t do it for the love…didn’t do it for the sex…didn’t do it for the law — I did it for the money!”

“Jeannie Becomes a Mom” is a slow dance track with a great bass groove and organ stingers, together with Rose’s wry commentary on the typical suburban scene.

Track 7 of the 11-song set, “Soul No. 5,” is great synth-pop with a rubbery bass line that pulses beneath a sexy, self-aware romp. Vocals are laid-back and almost spoken.

Finally, “Bikini” is in-your-face riot grrl punk with fun dance-y synth tracks — about as far from Rose’s earlier Americana and alt country as one could get.

Now based in New York City (with a potential move to more affordable Philadelphia in the near future), Caroline Rose is definitely an indie artist you should get to know.

Eleanor Friedberger’s “Rebound” Offers Sunny Synth-Pop for your Summer

21 Jun

For a decade starting in 2000, Eleanor Friedberger was one-half of the indie rock/art pop sister-and-brother duo, The Fiery Furnaces. But as I’ve noted before in this blog, in mid-2011, she released her debut solo album, Last Summer. Friedberger followed that with additional solo releases in 2013 and 2016, and now the summer of 2018 sees the arrival of her fourth solo album, Rebound.

If you’re guessing that this is a collection of songs inspired by Friedberger’s latest relationship following a bad breakup, you’d be…completely wrong. The inspiration comes from a music club that Friedberger was introduced to on an extended vacation in Greece — with the club described as “a time warp; kind of an 80s goth disco where everyone does the chicken dance.”

The album consists of catchy synth-pop-rock interlaced with Friedberger’s accomplished guitar work. The music veers toward warm, quirky and sometimes off-kilter electro-pop with programmed drums and synths — attractively showcasing her compelling storytelling lyrics that can be personally revealing and sometimes tinged with sadness.

Track highlights:The album’s opening track, “My Jesus Phase,” is light and breezy, with a pulsing rhythm. The swirling synths sound a bit ominous in places in the first half of the song, which transitions to something more sultry and guitar-driven partway through.

The third track in the 10-song set is “Everything.” The song is about a girlfriend in Italy with a boyfriend in Greece who’s trying to have everything in her life — from performing with an experimental theater group to being a mom and raising kids. The music features a galloping beat with smooth-flowing synth chords underscored by a busy bass line.

Track 4, “In Between Stars,” has a laid-back, swaying, hooky melody and is one of the singles from the album.

“Make Me a Song,” which comes next, is a great track — syncopated, snappy, bouncy synth-pop with a great bass line, piano and guitar. You’ll be singing this one repeatedly!

The final standout track is “Are We Good?” Very interesting lyrics — “I proposed to a woman for a man last night/She said, ‘yes,’ they cried, and we kissed.” Friedberger also talks about losing her mind at a ZZ Top concert and hearing a dog that’s not even barking in the right language. The music includes synth arpeggios in a minor key, accented by guitar stingers.

Reboundshows continued growth by Friedberger — with most critics calling this her best yet, and I agree.

 

Django Django’s “Marble Skies” Is the UK Band’s Best Album Yet

23 May

Django Django is a four-piece band formed in 2009 in London, England. Hard to categorize, with music that runs from electro-pop-rock to art rock with a touch of neo-psyche, the group released its first album in 2012 and followed that with its sophomore release in 2015.

Earlier this year, Django Django dropped its third album, Marble Skies, and it shows a maturity and cohesiveness as well as a promise that wasn’t readily apparent in its first two albums.

The ten-song set draws upon the group’s usual palette of musical elements — melodies grounded in the sterling songwriting years of the 60s and 70s, 80s synthesizers, basslines and rhythms that range from disco-driven to somewhat more exotic and intricate, and solid vocals. But the set is more unified than in the past — and the result is an album that’s really enjoyable — while still offering a welcome amount of variety among the individual tracks.

Track highlights: Marble Skies starts with the title track right up-front. It’s a bright, breezy romp through 80s pop-rock with a jittery synth rhythm and vocals that are almost reminiscent of Toto or even the Moody Blues. Things get a little spacey in the lead break, but this is an excellent opener.

“Surface to Air,” a vocal collaboration with Rebecca Taylor (British folk duo, Slow Club), has a syncopated beat and stop-n-go feeling that evokes images of dancing into the night in a chic London club. This is definitely not your older brother’s or sister’s, Django Django.

Skip ahead two tracks and you’ll find a song called “Tic Tac Toe” that at first may remind you of a Devo-like number. But it’s actually fun pop-rock with handclaps, a solid backbeat and shimmering harmonies more like a 60s or 70s pop-rock standard.

The above songs notwithstanding, my favorite track is “In Your Beat,” a super radio-friendly electro-pop number with a terrific electronic groove. This is the kind of song that will be played in stadiums across the country while your favorite basketball or soccer team warms up before a big game.

There are other strong tracks on Marble Skies as well — the album is actually consistently enjoyable throughout. But “In Your Beat” alone would make this worthy of your consideration — buy it and put “In Your Beat” on repeat for an hour or two.  🙂

 

The Naked Sun Is Another Great Indie Band from Rockin’ Philadelphia

17 May

Philadelphia has become a hotbed of indie rock. From big names such as The War on Drugs, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Kurt Vile, Dr. Dog, and Bardo Pond — to more recent additions or lesser-known (but still great!) acts such as The Chairman Dances, Hop Along and Beach Slang, the City of Brotherly Love has become the City of Bodacious Rock.

Now another band needs to be added to the list: The Naked Sun.

Debut album, War With Shadows, offers a 10-song set of power folk-rock and Americana. The band is led by Andrew (Drew) Wesley Harris, who handles the songwriting, lead vocals and rhythm guitar. He’s surrounded by five other superb musicians: Tim Campbell (lead electric and pedal steel guitar, plus backing vocals), Alan Sheltzer (piano, organ and synths), Ken Letherer (bass), Dave Gladney (drums), and Nerissa Jaucian (backing and sometimes lead vocals).

The album was produced by Brian McTear, who also works his magic with The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile — giving War With Shadows a professional polish.

Early reviews have labeled the album as guitar-driven rock that’s “restrained and subtle.” It’s certainly that, and more — a wonderful debut from a group proving that they belong as part of this city’s vibrant indie rock scene.

Track highlights: The album opens with “Do You Wanna Dance?” a song that immediately illustrates the band’s versatility. It’s a rock song driven by a pulsing beat laid down by Pat Kerkery (The War on Drugs) — but it also includes strummed guitar and some sort of airy flute-like music that floats throughout. There’s a bit of a jangle at times and a really nice guitar solo in the lead break.

The first single is a more traditional rocker, “Holdin’ Back The Heart.” The song has been around for years and apparently has closed many of the band’s live performances. The tune shows off the incredible harmonies the band is capable of producing.

“Rose Gold” definitely crosses over into Americana territory with a piano-based tune that has a nice alt-country sway. The lead vocals are almost a duet between Harris and Jaucian.

“Purple Sunset” features a fingerpicked, chimey guitar — together with some jangle and piano — and shifts between softer, more introspective moments and harder, driving sections.

War With Shadows wraps with “Clouds,” an uplifting closer that includes an opening cello part along with piano, guitars (including pedal steel), and drums. It’s a very nice finish to a highly satisfying album.

 

Humboldt County’s Rachel Beccaria Is a True Songbird

8 May

As a DJ on KZSU Stanford, I get the opportunity to play a wide variety of fresh new releases from indie artists across the country, and in fact, around the world. Many of these artists are from well-known hotbeds of music: from the San Francisco Bay Area to Austin, Texas or Athens, Georgia — and from London, England to Melbourne, Australia.

But the best part of being a DJ and writing this blog is when I’m introduced to a truly gifted artist who is virtually unknown and from an area so small that you probably couldn’t find it on a map.

Such is the case with Rachel Beccaria, a Songbird from Freshwater, California — nestled deep in Humboldt County’s redwood forests on California’s rugged Northcoast.

The backstory on this young lady is that she has had little formal musical training, but has been writing poetry in a personal journal for years. Beccaria discovered her singing voice in her twenties and began writing songs that express the emotions in her poetry.

In 2016, she made contacts with a number of local musicians including Zach Zwerdling (a guitarist and lawyer, who graduated from Stanford in 1973). Zwerdling was toying with the idea of starting his own small label, Mercury Sky Records. After two years of writing and recording — using other local musicians and a local recording studio — Beccaria’s EP Songbird became Mercury Sky’s first release.

The album is a revelation — primarily downhome folk-pop, with a hint of alt country and one pop-rocker. The arrangements are clean and crisp and the musical talent is first-rate throughout. The six songs included on the EP offer a thoroughly enjoyable — if too short — listen.

Track highlights: After a short and inspirational a cappella hymn, “The Strength Within,” to open the EP, the second track, “Do Anything,” is a mid-tempo, bouncy folk-pop tune with a nice bass line and just a hint of country in the vocals. It’s the first single from the EP. Co-writer, Dominic Romano, joins Beccaria on the vocals.

Track 4, “Used Again,” illustrates Beccaria’s breadth. This one is a melodic pop-rocker, with smoldering resentment evident in the storytelling vocals. There’s some edgy guitar work and a bit of synth as well.

“Unexpected” shifts back to a confessional ballad, with strummed and fingerpicked guitar — and a shimmering synth track.

The closing number is another highlight of the Songbird EP. “Better With You” is an upbeat, toe-tapping duet with Scott William Perry, who’s from the Medford area in southern Oregon. This is a song you’ll want to turn all the way up on a road trip with the windows down this summer.

Beccaria’s Songbird EP was released at a sold-out show in Eureka’s Historic Eagle House on May 4th. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon Music and Bandcamp — as well as through the leading streaming services. Congrats to Mercury Sky Records for shining a light on this wonderful new artist.