Quivers’ Debut Reveals Another Promising Aussie Band

26 Apr

In recent years, Aussie bands have had a significant influence on indie music. Boy & Bear, Cub Sport, Empire of the Sun, Husky, Little May, Paper Kites, and The Trouble with Templeton are just a few of the many indie bands from Australia that have lots of fans worldwide. But how many bands do you know from Tasmania? For me, there’s one: Quivers.

Quivers is a five-piece band that was founded in Tasmania’s capital city of Hobart. Tasmania is an island state, located 150 miles south of the Australia. The band plays catchy jangle rock, with some elements of shoegaze and lo-fi vocals that are deep in the mix at times. After Quivers released its debut album, We’ll Go Riding on the Hearses, the band relocated to the city of Melbourne.

The album’s unusual name comes from a tragedy experienced by lead singer-songwriter, Sam J. Nicholson, who lost his brother, Tom, to a free-diving accident. The album served as the emotional outlet for some of Nicholson’s grief.

We’ll Go Riding on the Hearses was originally issued in 2016 as a handmade cassette, with different covers on the limited edition copies. In early 2017, the band decided to release a CD of the ten tracks.

Track highlights: My favorite song on the album is the fourth track, “Chinatown.” The cut starts with strummed guitar and pensive vocals. After several minutes, it transitions to a more up-tempo arrangement featuring crisp drumming, nice guitar work and the addition of backing vocals.

The title track is sprawling and jangly. It’s melodic, with harmonized backing vocals and softly thundering drums. There’s organ in the lead break and even some light brass near the end.

“Pigeons” is the first single that Quivers has released from We’ll Go Riding on the Hearses. The arrangement features bigger, reverbed guitars with the vocals quite low in the mix. “Driving Rain” is another highlight — bright and jangly with a straight-ahead beat.

My final favorite is “Phosphorescence.” It’s a happier tune, at least musically, with a skipping rhythm that incorporates both drums and muted percussive guitar notes. It’s also laced with big surf-y guitars with some edgier guitar work near the end.

Give this band a try. You can find them on Bandcamp and impress your friends with your amazingly global knowledge of indie music!


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s “The Tourist” One of the Best of 2017 So Far

13 Apr

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a pioneering art-rock band from Philadelphia. When it debuted in 2005, the band was one of the first to more or less bypass the traditional system of distribution through an established record label — selling albums by word of mouth generated through music blogs and smaller shows.

Today, four of the five founding members have gone their own way, leaving only singer-songwriter and lead vocalist, Alec Ounsworth. Question: does this mean that the band’s name should now be Yeah! (with Clap, Your, Hands and Say all gone?) Just wondering…

Anyway, the good news is that, if anything, the disassembling of the original quintet into just Alec and miscellaneous friends has resulted in even more creativity and cohesiveness, leading to what may be the band’s best album to-date.

The arrangements in The Tourist are sharp and crisp — with keyboards, guitars and prominent rhythms working in perfect harmony. Tracks range from guitar-driven to synth-rock, with one folk-rocker (“Loose Ends”) — all featuring Ounsworth’s unique vocals.

Track highlights: The third track, “Down (Is Where I Want to Be),” starts with a funky, off-kilter beat with pinging synths, before transforming into a guitar-driven rocker.

Tune 5, “Better Off,” features snappy, up-tempo rock, layered synths and some jangly guitar. Rich Beatles-like harmonies emerge near the end of the track.

The best song on The Tourist is “Fireproof,” a fabulous, rhythm-driven track that incorporates a muted percussive guitar, thumping bass drum, cool bass line, and shakers — with psychedelic synths and vocals that vary between frenetic and soothing.

The second to the last track in the ten-song set is “Ambulance Chaser.” There are swirling, swelling synths over strummed guitar and rapidly sung, breathless vocals. Ounsworth cynically declares, “I’ll take my medicine and you’ll just hope for the worst.”

The Tourist was created at a time of “intense soul-searching” for Ounsworth, and this has certainly served as inspiration for a true masterpiece.


Long-time Fans’ Investment in Real Estate Continues to Pay Dividends on “In Mind”

5 Apr

If you’re an indie music fan, you probably know that one of the many sub-genres of indie rock is “jangle pop-rock.” Well, if you decided to look up the definition of jangle pop-rock in the encyclopedia, you shouldn’t be too surprised to find this: see Real Estate, because the New Jersey band truly epitomizes this particular sub-genre.

On Real Estate’s fourth album, In Mind, the band once again offers a variety of the most sunshiny, feel-good, jangle pop-rock anywhere. But the band has undergone some changes lately, and this ensured that In Mind isn’t just a rehash of its very successful Atlas album.

For starters, Real Estate now has a new lead guitarist. Julian Lynch has replaced founder, Matt Mondanile, who wanted to spend more time with his other project, Ducktails. In addition, the band chose well-respected producer, Cole M.G.N. (Beck, Julia Holter, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) to oversee In Mind. These changes allow the band to delve more deeply into the psych-tinged rock of the late 60s and 70s — recalling the Byrds and even The Beatles at times, with one track that has a three-minute trail-out reminiscent of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

Track highlights: The album opens with “Darling,” which is classic Real Estate — a lightly tripping tune with crisp drumming, a great bass line, and breezy synths and vocals. Not to mention a really cool music video featuring a horse. Check it out.

“Stained Glass” builds from a harpsichord intro into bigger jangly guitars that harken back to the Byrds in the late 1960s. Staying in that era, “Two Arrows” is the tune that begins with a languid jangle, but finishes with a psychedelic guitar and organ jam that increases in intensity over the song’s final three minutes before suddenly cutting off — a la the Beatles’ “I Want You.”

There are several more very worthy tracks on the album, including bassist Alex Bleeker’s “Diamond Eyes,” but I’ll finish my list with the closer, “Saturday.” This has a deliberate chamber-pop piano intro, but then ramps up in tempo and energy into a quintessential Real Estate jangle with a warm lead vocal and rich harmonies.

In Mind is an outstanding album with a lot to like from a very accomplished name in indie music.


Henry Jamison Debuts with Little-Known, but Highly Worthy EP

29 Mar

Think of it as an appetizer — a tasty treat designed to tickle your ear lobes, as you wait for the satisfying main course to come, most likely later in 2017.

Henry Jamison is a young singer-songwriter based in Burlington, Vermont. His father, a classical composer, introduced Henry to music when he bought him his first guitar. He was on his own to learn how to play it, but it soon became clear that Jamison had a true gift, and his talents are on full display on his debut EP, The Rains.

Jamison’s style is what I’d call alternative folk-pop. It’s not your classic folk of the 1960s and 1970s, and definitely not freak folk. The songs are warm and melodic, featuring Jamison’s rich tenor, guitar and/or banjo, but also synth soundscapes and even some noise on a few tracks. The arrangements are simple, yet precise, and the poetic lyrics are honest and authentic to the emotions being expressed.

Track highlights: “Dallas Love Field” is wistful and wonderful. Jamison’s easygoing vocals tell the story of love found and lost, backed by an energetic drum track, guitar and a hint of pedal steel whining sorrowfully in the distance.

The second song on the five-song EP is “Real Peach,” a slightly slower ballad with an airy synth bed, strummed guitar and a touch of banjo in places. I believe this is the first single.

“The Rains” features fingerpicked guitar in a lilting melody with ghost-like backing vocals supported by an intriguing, circular rhythm.

The fourth track, “Through the Glass,” is a swaying, introspective tune that describes a bad breakup. Unfortunately, it’s got a word in it that we can’t play on the air, so you’ll have to get the EP to listen to it.

The EP wraps with “No One Told Me,” which finds Jamison harmonizing with a female vocalist over a steady timekeeping rhythm and swirling synths.

In short — this is an EP that identifies Jamison as a highly talented artist with a lot for listeners to look forward to.


Conor Oberst’s “Salutations” Updates and Expands 2016’s “Ruminations”

22 Mar

Salutations is a revelation. Last year, Conor Oberst recorded a ten-song album called Ruminations that captured Oberst at his lowest and most lonely — full of doubt, despair and despondence over the challenges we all face in life. Oberst’s lyrics were raw and revealing, and he performed the songs using just a piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica to accompany his vocals. But the plan had always been to take those tracks and layer them with full arrangements.

Salutations is the result. It’s alternative rock that veers from My Morning Jacket’s edginess and Dylan-esque folk-rock to crystalline Bright Eyes ballads. The 17-song set includes the ten songs from Ruminations, plus seven new tracks found only on this album.

To create Salutations, Oberst had a lot of help from many accomplished musicians including The Felice Brothers, Jim James, M. Ward, Maria Taylor, and more.

Track highlights: The album opens with a rolling, swaying, world-weary ode in three-quarter time called “Too Late to Fixate.” Oberst’s warbling vocals are accompanied by accordion and a bit of fiddle.

Track 5, “Next of Kin,” is a very Bright Eyes-sounding tune that didn’t change very much from Ruminations. The following track, which is new to Salutations, turns the heat up a notch. “Napalm” has an almost Southern Rock quality. A lightly tripping organ serves as a welcome counterpoint to an edgy guitar and Oberst’s almost shouted vocals.

Track 10, “Tachycardia,” recalls Oberst’s headline-grabbing courtroom travails and health insecurities in general. Again, he relies on accordion, organ and Dylan-style harmonica to accompany the 1960s-sounding number.

My final favorite from the album is “A Little Uncanny.” A raspy electric guitar underlies the biting, cynical spoken lyrics about famous people such as Jane Fonda and Ronald Reagan, and a verse that mentions tortured souls such as Robin Williams and Sylvia Plath and how they dealt with fame over time.

Overall, this is one of Oberst’s most ambitious and interesting works to-date.


Shane Leonard’s Kalispell Offers Highly Accessible Folk and Americana

10 Mar

Kalispell is the folk project of Wisconsin-based singer-songwriter, Shane Leonard. His latest album, Printer’s Son, ranges from very pleasant folk to Americana, with a touch of bluegrass at times. Leonard is a gifted multi-instrumentalist who plays the banjo, fiddle, keyboards, and a wide range of percussion instruments — in addition to singing and, of course, handling the songwriting.

Also onboard with this project was Brian Joseph, who’s best known as the producer for another big name in music based in Wisconsin — Bon Iver, led by Justin Vernon.

As is often the case with indie artists, finding financing for the album wasn’t easy. Leonard conducted a Kickstarter campaign and raised the additional $15,000 he needed to make it happen. Which is great because Printer’s Son is really an enjoyable listen.

Track highlights: After an instrumental opening to the album, the “Windfall” single is excellent. It’s mellow, melodic folk-rock, with an intricate interplay between bass and drums.

“Beautiful Doll” is next and it showcases Leonard’s virtuosity as a banjo player with a long, almost clocklike bluegrass intro that leads into vocals featuring Heather McIntire with Leonard on backing vocals. Incidentally, the cello solo is by noted indie artist, Ben Sollee.

Track 6, “Gary, In,” builds into a beautiful, rolling epic that’s reminiscent of some of Gordon Lightfoot’s catalog. Finally, Track 7, “Parting Ground,” is wistful and rambling, with both strummed and picked banjo, piano, and woodwinds — plus the occasional cry of a pedal steel guitar far off in the distance. A heartfelt ending to a very nice journey.


Seattle’s Headwaves Releases Its Debut Album

23 Feb

Seattle has long been a hotbed for indie music. One of the latest Seattle-area bands to release its debut album is Headwaves.

Headwaves is a quartet led by singer-songwriter, Ryan Barber, and guitarist, Larson Haakenstad. Their debut album, which has largely flown under the radar since its release in the fall, mixes bright synths with Haakenstad’s accomplished guitar work to deliver a set of seven accessible pop-rock tunes. All of the songs are built on strong rhythm tracks, giving the melodies structure and substance. Headwaves isn’t an easy band to categorize, but you’ll probably enjoy their music if you like MGMT, Broken Bells, or Portugal. The Man.

Track highlights: The self-titled Headwaves album opens with a very strong 80s anthem called “Mama.” The song features swirling, glittery synths set over pounding drums.

My second favorite song on the album demonstrates the incredible range the band has. “Western Life” is set to a stately, march-like rhythm with a pulsing synth bass, fuzz guitars and hazy keys blended together in this anthem to endless youth.

“Left Right” shows off some fancy steppin’ within a synth-rock landscape. One final standout to note is “Working Overtime.” With its laid-back groove and conversational vocals, this track really reminds me of Broken Bells.

Overall, Headwaves is a very strong first effort by a band with a lot of potential.