Bay Area’s Thunderegg Delivers Heavenly Assortment of Indie Rock in “Cosmos”

13 Nov

“Space bar rock.” That’s one of the terms San Francisco-based Thunderegg uses to describe its music on the group’s Bandcamp page. I’m not sure whether that refers to the computer key I’m tapping between words as I write this, or whether it relates to someplace you’d go for a drink on a journey across the universe — like that cantina on the planet, Tatooine, in the original Star Wars.

I prefer the latter, envisioning a wild and wooly space bar filled with all sorts of creatures rocking out, so that’s what I’m going with. Which makes “Planetarium, Pts. 1 & 2” — the opening number on Thunderegg’s latest release, Cosmos — particularly appropriate.

The heavenly, 7-minute track is celestial and dreamlike, featuring jangly guitars, swelling synth strings and a harmonium, plus a rich mix of harmonized vocals reminiscent of the lofty sounds of the Moody Blues in their heyday. It’s an epic tune, one of a number of standouts on the album.

Thunderegg traces its origins to the East Coast in the mid-1990s, with an early connection to Yale University. This is perhaps reflected in the intelligent, insightful lyrics of the songs. For a number of years, founder and lead singer-songwriter, Will Georgantas, produced mostly lo-fi recordings on a four-track cassette recorder. However, Cosmos is anything but lo-fi. It’s a well arranged and produced album with a highly appealing collection of 11 songs that show just how much the band has grown and matured over the years.

Track highlights: I’ve already told you about the fabulous opener, “Planetarium, Pts. 1 & 2.” Track 3, “I Turn Automatic,” is easy-going, guitar-driven rock — jangly with a simple beat and almost spoken vocals.

“Pleasant Hill’ shifts to folk-rock with liquid guitar, harmonium, mellow vocals, and lots of Bay Area references. Track 6, “Stupid Town,” tackles the problem of being different, which often leads to bullying and a miserable existence in a “stupid town,” until the subject of the song realizes that “out there glistening is someplace new.”

“Where Are The Cars” features a deliberate beat, chugging guitars and bass — building into a rock anthem. “I Almost Cry” is jangly, 60s-style Brit-pop. And track 10, “Lucky So-And-So,” is another throwback, baroque-pop/folk-rock tune that could have been recorded in the 1960s by Simon & Garfunkel or Peter, Paul & Mary.

In short, Cosmos is an amazingly varied, exceptionally enjoyable album that’s excellent from start to finish. I didn’t know about Thunderegg before Georgantas reached out to me. But I’m very glad that he did!

 

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Karla Kane’s “Goodguy Sun” Takes a Wistful Look Back at Summer

8 Nov

Singer-songwriter, Karla Kane, who had her solo debut late last summer with King’s Daughters Home For Incurables, is back with a fresh single that feels perfect for the autumn of 2018.

“Goodguy Sun,” was written by legendary English songwriter, poet and author, Martin Newell, associated with the UK band, Cleaners from Venus.

Performed together with Corner Laughers bandmates, KC Bowman and Khoi Huynh — as well as guitarist, Bradley Skaught, from Oakland’s Bye Bye Blackbirds and Gina Sperinde, “Goodguy Sun” offers up wistful, slightly melancholy, sunshiny pop — with a longing look back at the warm, wonderfully long and leisurely days of the summer just past.

Kane’s mellow vocals — accompanied by Sperinde’s rich harmonies, Huynh’s melodic piano, Kane’s ukulele, Bowman’s bass and melodica, and a snappy snare drum rhythm track courtesy of Skaught — create a very appealing throwback sound for this standout tune.

Flip “Goodguy Sun” over (does anyone ever turn singles over anymore?) and you’ll find the b-side, or in this case, the bee-side. “Sisters of the Pollen” is a song that Kane wrote and produced along with Huynh to call attention to the critical plight facing honeybees and other pollinators.

Sung almost in a round with sweet harmonies and handclaps, this song is catchy like a bug in your ear. Buzz buzz.

Kane notes that “Sisters of the Pollen” was, of course, written in the key of B. In the trail-out, you can hear Richard Youell’s field recording of three queen bees piping. This is a queen bee’s way of communicating her intentions to others in the hive. You’ll have to trust me on this.

Kane’s new “Goodguy Sun/Sisters of the Pollen” is the first in a series of singles that will be coming this fall from Big Stir Records. The tunes are available at the Corner Laughers web page.

 

New Zealand’s The Beths Deliver Punky, Poppy, Guitar-Driven Brilliance

2 Nov

The Beths are an energetic, guitar-driven alt-rock band from Auckland, New Zealand that delivers songs ranging from melodic power pop to punky on their debut album, Future Me Hates Me.

The four-piece group is fronted by singer-songwriter-guitarist, Elizabeth Stokes (the only Beth in the band) — with support from Jonathan Pearce on guitar and vocals, Benjamin Sinclair on bass and vocals, and Ivan Luketina-Johnston on drums and vocals.

The ten tracks on Future Me Hates Me focus on twenty-somethings striving to find their places in life and love, unsure of what paths to take and what the ultimate destinations might be. But don’t give this record a spin expecting heavy pontification and angsty yearning. Stokes has just the right light touch with the lyrics — never taking herself too seriously and often demonstrating a wry sense of self-deprecating humor along the way.

In the meantime, the Beths can really play — with a range that does justice to each song — whether it’s on lighter tracks or on one of a number of driving rockers on the album. Stokes’ vocals are consistently catchy and accomplished throughout.

Track highlights:The second song on Future Me Hates Me is the title track. It gets off to a roaring start with fuzzy guitars, contrasted with Stokes’ vocals that alternate between laid back and somewhat sweet. Stokes laments, “Sometimes I think I’m doing fine/I think I’m pretty smart.” But, she laments, “Then, the walls become thin/And somebody gets in/I’m defenseless/But it won’t happen again,” before adding, “It probably won’t happen again.”

“You Wouldn’t Like Me” features everything from handclaps to rapid, palm-muted guitar chords, intercut with full power-pop guitars — in a song that has a distinctly punky feeling.

Track 7, “Happy Unhappy,” is an up-tempo bouncy pop-rock tune that builds into a guitar-driven finish with nice backing vocals.

Although not the closer, the ninth track, “Whatever,” could serve as an anthem for dealing with life’s heartbreaks and disappointments — with a dash of acceptance blended with indifference.

Overall, Future Me Hates Me is an album that I think you’ll really like.

 

Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann Returns With a Strong Solo Folk-Rock Release

17 Oct

Archers of Loaf is a 90s guitar rock band from North Carolina. According to a 1995 story in the Stanford Daily, the name was inspired by a neighbor of one of the band members who had a longbow and would shoot at targets in his backyard.

One day, the band member watched his neighbor shooting a loaf of bread at a target. The effort was futile because the loaf would “just hit the ground about 10 feet away, and (the archer) would go pick it up.” But apparently, it sparked the creative process for the band that would become Archers of Loaf.

While the band broke up in 1998 (although it has done some reunion tours in recent years), lead singer-songwriter, Eric Bachmann, has gone on to have a successful solo career — in addition to recording with the band, Crooked Fingers.

Bachmann is back with his latest solo release, No Recover, in which he’s accompanied by ex-Archer and long-time friend, guitarist Eric Johnson. The atmospheric folk-rock blends acoustic and electric guitar with subtle synths and rhythms — plus lots of rich harmonies. There’s a sense of sadness and weariness throughout, but an underlying hopefulness as well.

Overall, No Recoveris a very nice collection of songs in the easy folk-rock genre.

Track highlights:Opener, “Jaded Lover, Shady Drifter,” is an obvious standout. A rapid tapping rhythm underlies a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, with Bachmann’s majestic vocals soaring high above. A few synth trimmings and rich harmonies in the chorus add to the layers of sound.

Next up is “Daylight,” an uplifting ballad with an intricate, repeating, bell-like synth track and whimsical vocals. There’s a throwback feeling to this one, like something out of the 1970s when FM radio crossovers began to make it onto the top hit charts.

“Waylaid” is brighter and more upbeat — with fingerpicked guitar and a bouncier, rhythmic feeling. There’s a ringing electric guitar in the lead break. And the lyrics offer a nice sentiment — “There’s no lesson to be learned from our mistake/Just a chance you have to take.”

Track 8 of the 9-song set, “Wild Azalea,” offers some incredible guitar fingerpicking in a song that almost has a chamber-folk feeling. Chimey, with slightly Americana feeling vocals — it definitely hints at Bachmann’s North Carolina heritage.

If you’re looking for something folk-centric to enjoy on a leisurely Sunday morning or on a rainy day this winter, No Recoverwill off you a very pleasant 35 minutes.

 

New Spell’s “Of Time – Part II” Casts a Spell with Its Intricate, Dark Dream-Pop

2 Oct

New Spell is a San Francisco-based duo known for dark, dynamic, cerebral dream-pop. The pair’s music is intricately layered, with multifaceted textures from synth-centered soundscapes to complex rhythms and crystalline vocals.

Singer-songwriter and keyboardist, Leanne Kelly, serves as the unifying force behind the duo’s sound. Jacob Frautschi handles the drumming and producer, Max Savage, also contributed to the latest release with additional synths, guitar, piano, ukulele, and glockenspiel as needed on the tracks. Other guest artists contributed performances to the EP as well.

Of Time – Part II is the follow-up to New Spell’s Of Time – Part I, released in 2017. Both collections demonstrate Kelly’s skill in creating vivid worlds and telling stories through her music and lyrics — with soaring vocals and powerful keyboards. This is not your typical synth-pop — it washes over you — immersing you in the experience, while touching you with lyrics that examine what it means to be human.

Track highlights:The first song on the EP is stunning. “You Win” explores the role of honesty in a relationship, with the repeated phrase, “And so, lies, you win.” Kelly’s voice over the swirling, swelling keyboards is strong and piercing, buoyed by Frautschi’s urgent, tumbling drumming.

Track 2, “Like Water,” is more pensive and moody — with reassuring synth strings and Kelly’s doubled vocals. The brief lead break is intriguing, almost jazzy, mixing synth arpeggios with crisp drumming.

The last of the four songs on the EP is the title track. “Of Time” is set in 3/4 time, dancing and floating along with the help of a toy piano, strummed guitar, brushes on drums, and Kelly’s wistful vocals. It’s fragile and uplifting as it examines our relationship with the passage of time.

Kelly has also included acoustic versions of two of the compositions, “Of Time” and “Like Water,” on the EP. This is another strong release from a Bay Area band that you may not be familiar with.

 

Iron & Wine Releases “Weed Garden” EP as a Companion to his “Beast Epic” LP

26 Sep

Samuel Beam, who records and performs as Iron & Wine, has just released a six-song EP of tracks that were originally written for 2017’s Beast Epic, but could not be finished in time for that album’s release for a variety of reasons.

Called Weed Garden, the reference is not to the well-known plant with its medicinal and recreational properties, but rather to Beam’s willingness to go a bit “into the weeds” to cultivate these unfinished tracks and bring them to fruition.

Weed Garden is true to Iron & Wine’s honest folk-rock heritage, featuring songs ranging from Americana-flavored, “Waves of Galveston” — which has been a favorite at Beam’s live performances for a number of years — to the intricate chamber-folk of “Milkweed.” All of the songs have merit, and to my ears, at least three of the tracks clearly stood a good chance of earning a place on Beast Epic had they been ready in time.

Track highlights: The EP opens with “What Hurts Worse,” a melodic tune featuring acoustic guitar and piano underscored by the constant beat of tom-toms.

“Milkweed” is the track I mentioned above, an intricate, layered chamber folk composition. It contains rich string parts, both plucked and bowed — and relies on a complicated time signature.

The closing track on the EP is “Talking to Fog,” a plaintive and peaceful song that shows off Beam’s accomplished fingerpicking and rich, throaty vocals.

Overall, I recommend Weed Garden as a nice companion to what was one of Iron & Wine’s stronger album releases in recent years.

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.