San Francisco’s William Duke Is Back with a Satisfying Indie Rock/Power Pop Album

19 Sep

William Duke was as early member of Oakland’s Bye Bye Blackbirds, appearing on the band’s firs two albums and sharing the songwriting credits with Bradley Skaught. Duke then left the band to embark on a solo career. In 2018, he’s back with an excellent mini album (or long EP) called Quatro.

The eight tracks on the CD showcase Duke’s talents as a songwriter and musician capable of creating catchy Tom Petty-like, Americana-flavored rock and power-pop. Duke is now based in San Francisco, and the mix on Quatro reflects a variety of influences beyond Petty — including cult favorite Stax band, Big Star, the Beach Boys and even a touch of the Beatles in the lengthy psych-rock trail-out on opener, “Caroline And The Silver Screen.”

The melodies are catchy and the harmonies infectious, with a consistency from track to track that means there are really no weak songs in the collection. Head over to William Duke Presents’ Bandcamp pageand give Quatro a spin today.

Track highlights:One of the strongest songs in the set is “Caroline And The Silver Screen.” It’s bright and upbeat guitar rock that’s jangly with a chugging bass. Note the previously mentioned Beatles-like psych-rock trail-out starting at about 3 1/2 minutes.

“Junk #2” is a throwback to the ‘70s, with a definite nod to Big Star. The song has a deliberate march-like tempo with chunky guitars and synth strings in the lead break. I don’t believe that the title has any reference to McCartney’s “Junk” from that same era, but I don’t know for certain.

Track 6, “As Good As It Gets,” begins as a fingerpicked ballad, then transitions to mid-tempo rock with soaring vocals and harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys.

Quatro closes with “Thank You,” a strummy and jangly number with warm and uplifting vocals that are often harmonized. We’re left with a very affirming feeling from Duke’s latest contribution to the indie music scene.  It’s a good listen.



The Chairman Dances “Child Of My Sorrow” Filled With Wonderful Lyric-Driven Songs

12 Sep

If you listen to my show on KZSU, you know that I have a weakness for indie pop-rock bands that write intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics — going beyond the simple love song formula. The Corner Laughers, Circus of the West, Andrew Bird, and Conor Oberstare excellent examples of this.

Well, another indie band that writes smart pop-rock is the Philadelphia-based quintet (and friends), The Chairman Dances. (I don’t know the story behind the band’s name. Someday, I’ll have to inquire.)

The Chairman Dances was one of those talented Philly bands that played mostly local gigs and occasionally produced an LP or EP until their 2016 record, Time Without Measure, put them on the map. That disc got a lot of play — particularly on college radio (we loved it at KZSU) — and its success gave the band a chance to go on a number of bigger tours.

For the past two years, lead singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Eric Krewson, has worked his day job and taken a self-described “sabbatical” as he wrote, rewrote and arranged a set of songs that has just been released as their latest album, Child Of My Sorrow.

Often sad, and occasionally a bit strange (or strangely funny — check out “Mascot”), Child Of My Sorrow represents a major step forward for the band. Intricate arrangements, outstanding performances (including from a number of guest artists such as Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner of Magnolia Electric Company), hooky melodies, and those lyric-driven songs make this a great contribution to 2018’s indie scene.

Track highlights: The first single from Child Of My Sorrow is “Acme Parking Garage.” It’s a driving rocker with alternating passages that play off one another, building to a big, clashy finish.

Track 2, “Mascot,” is one of my personal favorites. Maybe Eric Krewson and I have a similar sense of humor; I don’t know. This is wry story-telling pop-rock. It’s got an old-timey, almost romantic flavor as it speaks to the trials and tribulations of a person who lives his life performing in a Chick-fil-A cow suit, while his sister works as a journalist for the acclaimed Washington Post. Definitely worth paying attention to the lyrics on this one.

Track 4, “No Compass, No Map,” is the second single release from the album. It’s a melodic, piano-driven ballad with a skipping rhythm that builds to an anthemic finish.

Other impressive songs include “No One Can Hurt You (Like A Friend Can Hurt You)” — a nice little piano ballad with a bit of jangly guitar, synth, and glockenspiel. Lots of musical layers, with female harmonies blending with Krewson’s rich lead vocals.

I also like “Out Of The Lion’s Den, Into The Lion’s Maw” — which is depicted in the cover art — a cinematic number with lots of swelling keys; and the closing title track, “Child Of My Sorrow,” almost Gospel-like with its warm and reassuring lyrics.

Child Of My Sorrow is an outstanding album that you should definitely check out if you like indie pop-rock that’s more substantial than, “I love you…I hope you love me.”


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.


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.  🙂