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.

 

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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.

 

“Sloan 12” Is Solid Indie Rock from a Canadian Band with a 27-Year History

2 May

Sloan 12 is the twelfth album from the Canadian power-pop band, Sloan.

Coincidentally, this is a 12-song set of indie rock that showcases the distinct songwriting talents of all four band members. Guitarists Patrick Pentland and Jay Ferguson, bassist Chris Murphy, and drummer Andrew Scott each contributed three songs to the new release.

The musical mix on Sloan 12 ranges from big, guitar-driven anthems to 1970s-style progressive pop and even some folky pop-rock that’s reminiscent of the Byrds or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSN&Y).

After 27 years, the four original band members are still part of the band. The only change is that Sloan has added Gregory Macdonald to play keyboards when they record or tour. Murphy and Pentland sing most of the lead vocals, but when the band is performing one of drummer Scott’s songs, he not only sings the lead vocals, but also steps out front on guitar — with Ferguson and Murphy switching to the bass and drums, respectively.

With that kind of songwriting and multi-instrumental talent, you might assume that you’re in for a treat. And Sloan 12 does not disappoint.

Track highlights: The album opens with “Spin our Wheels.” With its searing guitars, driving drums, and big ‘classic rock’ backing vocals, this is a great anthemic power-pop single.

“Right to Roam” is reminiscent of one of those catchy progressive pop songs that became a hit with the rise of FM radio in the 1970s.

“The Day Will Be Mine” is another catchy song that offers potential as a single — with its crunchy guitar and soaring lead vocals.

“Essential Services” is really nice piano-based pop with sweet harmonies and a lightly skipping melody, enhanced by Beatles-like harmonies.

Finally, my review wouldn’t be complete without writing about “44 Teenagers,” the closing song in the set. It’s a more pensive rock tune that starts like the rich folk-rock of the 1960s, but shifts to a heavier sound in the middle. Lyrics reference the death of Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie from brain cancer.

Sloan 12 reflects the maturity of more than a quarter of a century writing, performing and playing together. It’s a solid indie rock album from this veteran Canadian foursome.

Husky’s “Punchbuzz” an Uplifting, Intelligent Collection of Indie Pop-Rock

19 Apr

Melbourne, Australia’s indie pop-rock duo, Husky, is back with their third full-length release, Punchbuzz.

Husky Gawenda, who sings lead vocals and plays guitar, founded the group in 2008 along with Gideon Preiss, who plays keyboards and contributes to the rich vocals. Starting as primarily an indie folk act, Husky continues to build on their folky beginnings by incorporating synthesizers and a variety of electronic sounds and effects into this solid 10-song set.

Punchbuzz was released in mid-2017 and Husky focuses most of their support for their music on the Australian market — so the album is relatively unknown in the States. But this is a cohesive collection of songs that’s well worth your time to get to know — reminding me of bands such as Fleet Foxes, Crosby, Stills & Nash at their most harmonious, the ethereal feeling of The War on Drugs, and even a dash of homage to psyche bands of the 1960s at times.

Track highlights: “Ghost” is the warm and welcoming opener — shimmering synth-pop that features soothing, mellow lead vocals throughout, with catchy choruses.

“Shark Fin” follows that up with its frenetic, Flashdance-like electronic drumbeats under jangly guitar riffs. Lots of cool harmonies in the lead break.

Another highlight on Punchbuzz is “Late Night Store,” a tune that’s light and crisp — with great changes of pace and plenty of hooks. The synths are taut and chirpy over a stop-n-go rhythm.

When “Walking in your Sleep” starts, you’d swear that Husky borrowed the guitarist from Fleetwood Mac. The guitar riffs sound so familiar. Once again, Gawenda’s vocal style is light and breezy, with bell-like keys and a 1970s feeling overall.

The closer for the 10-song set is perhaps the most fascinating track on the album. It’s experimental and ethereal, with warped synths rising, falling and swirling over a vaguely Caribbean rhythm. The lyrics are moody about lovers on a beach — with plenty of references to ghosts — ultimately tying this closer to the album opener.

There are other lyrical references such as “splinters in the fire” that carry over from one song to another as well, connecting central themes — making Husky’s Punchbuzz a tight, intelligent set of indie pop-rock that I think you just may love.

 

Anton Barbeau’s Jangly “Natural Causes” Is Easy on the Ears

11 Apr

Sacramento-born and now based in Berlin, Anton Barbeau is an exceptionally creative and prolific artist who explores the boundaries of musical inventiveness. Natural Causes is his latest album — officially released this Friday, April 13th — a shimmering collection of intelligent psyche-pop, art rock and general quirkiness.

The 15 songs (including four short tracks of less than 30 seconds that provide an intro, outro or bridge for the collection) offer a nice mix of jangle rock, throwback psychedelic rock and progressive rock — featuring a rich 12-string guitar, Mellotron and analog synthesizers.

As has been true on many of Barbeau’s 23 — yes, 23! — records, he has made good use of many talented guest artists in recording Natural Causes. These musicians include Robbie McIntosh (Pretenders, Paul McCartney), Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw of the Bevis Frond, Michael Urbano (Todd Rundgren, Neil Finn), Andy Metcalfe (Robyn Hitchcock), and local favorites, Karla Kane and Khoi Huynh from the Corner Laughers.

The result is a thoroughly enjoyable album that will grow on you as you play it over and over again and discover new musical riffs and lyrics that appeal to your various tastes and senses.

Track highlights: After a short preamble with an introduction of Anton Barbeau over a heavenly chorus, “Magazine Street” gets the album off to a rollicking start. The tune is big, bright, energetic, and strummy. Interestingly, it’s actually a fresh take on a song that Barbeau originally wrote and recorded for his first album.

Skipping ahead to track 7, “Magic Sandwiches” transports us back to 1967 for a tune that’s eerily reminiscent of “I Am the Walrus” from the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. A great psychedelic rock anthem.

The second half of the album has many of my favorites on Natural Causes. Track 9, “Just Passing By,” is bigger rock with a soaring, fuzzy guitar solo. “Neck Pillow” is illustrative of how Barbeau can write about anything — in this case, a favored neck pillow. That’s Karla Kane of the Corner Laughers singing the harmonies.

Track 11, “Creepy Tray,” is a swaying, synth-based tune with a jangly 12-string guitar and a great bass line.

The final full-length track on the album is my personal favorite, “Down Around the Radio.” It’s a fun, catchy art-rock number with circular construction featuring piano and again, a 12-string guitar. A nice tribute to the power of radio in our lives.

Overall, Natural Causes is a fine album to add to your collection from a Northern California indie rock artist.