Stockton & Post — The Indie Band, Not the Street

26 Oct

Stockton & Post are a brother and sister duo, originally from Northern California, who make fun, quirky indie pop-rock. Raised in Marin County, Jake Schroth still lives here in Berkeley, while Justina has adopted Austin, Texas, as her new hometown at least for now.

Jake is a multi-instrumentalist who plays the ukulele and other string instruments, piano and even wind instruments, while Justina was credited with vocals, as a co-songwriter and for contributing “random sounds.” Living several thousand miles apart has not created much of an obstacle for the musical siblings.

They started early — learning from parents who both have musical backgrounds — and have been in and out of a number of bands in their youth. Their current EP is called Bank Robber, and has but three tracks that are definitely cool.

Track highlights: The title track starts off the Bank Robber EP. It’s got a great backbeat behind strummed ukulele, with Justina on lead vocals and Jake’s horns added in places. Jake also handles some of the vocals and the piano in the bridges. The song reminds me of early Bishop Allen (a band I really like).

“Beautiful” evolves from a crystalline piano ballad into a mid-tempo tune with drums to provide energy. Jake and Justina share the lead vocals on this one. Strings and bells add polish to the tune.

The final track of the three-song EP is “Chicken Bones.” It’s a bit of a silly sing-along, swinging along in 3/4 time. Swelling strings, brass and plucked violin (or a synthesized version of it) add dimension to the song.

I’m not sure how many places you can find Stockton & Post’s Bank Robber, but if you’re interested CD Baby seems to have it.




Oakland’s Tambo Rays Ready to “Recharge” Your Batteries

28 Sep

San Francisco has long been known for its music, going back to the time of Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead. The East Bay developed its own sound — with early acts ranging from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Tower of Power and the Pointer Sisters.

So it’s not surprising that the trend continues today. One of the latest releases from a band that’s part of the Oakland music scene is from the Tambo Rays. The synth pop-rock group is led by Brian and Sara DaMert, siblings who have deep Bay Area ties going back to their youth in Marin County.

Sara’s interests include two of my favorite passions as well — soccer and music. She was a high school soccer star — winning all-league honors for three consecutive years. That earned her the opportunity to keeping playing in college for UC Santa Cruz. But recognizing that there was no future in professional soccer for women, she turned to her other love — music.

She has played with a number of local groups, but on the Tambo Rays’ current EP, Recharge, Sara’s emerged as its lead singer in addition to a keyboardist.

The five tracks feature catchy melodies, strong vocals, snappy rhythms and lush arrangements — with lyrics that examine life’s trials and tribulations. The DaMert’s father died in 2015, so in some sense, the EP was one aspect of how Brian and Sara dealt with the pain.

Despite that, Recharge has a very positive feeling to it — with lots of good energy.

Track highlights: “Yes and No” opens the album with sunny synth pop-rock that has a punky, girl-band attitude. Bob Jakubs’ drumming is crisp and there’s a late 70s, early 80s vibe to the melody.

The third, track, “Wrong Turn,” is a mid-tempo tune that’s smooth and slinky. The song features a big arrangement with many layers of keyboards and a busy bass line by Greg Sellin, and it builds in the choruses to an anthem feeling.

My favorite song on the EP is the fourth track, “Nothing to Lose.” This is a punky pop-rock number that explodes with intricate interplay between sharp guitars and sparkling synths. There are rich backing vocals as well. The electronic drum track is a bit reminiscent of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.”

Overall, this is a fun album to listen and dance to — a fine effort from the young Oakland band. And if Sara ever pursues her third love, cooking, by opening her dream restaurant — I just may have to sample that as well.


The War on Drugs’ “A Deeper Understanding” a Cinematic Triumph

21 Sep

A Deeper Understanding is an especially apt title for The War on Drugs’ latest album. The work of singer-songwriter, Adam Granduciel, is so sweeping and cinematic that it conveys an enormous depth of field — a lens where we can look into Granduciel’s soul and become lost in the many layers of lyrical meaning and sculpted sound consisting of swirling synths, strumming acoustic and soaring electric guitars, steady bass lines and an ever-present heartbeat.

There’s depth, too, in the sheer length of this album and of the individual tracks. First single, “Thinking of a Place,” is 11:11. Only one of the ten songs is as short as four minutes; most are in the five- to seven-minute range — with the album clocking in at a luxurious hour and six minutes.

So, while this is a follow-up to Granduciel’s acclaimed Lost in the Dream, you could easily find yourself lost in A Deeper Understanding of the man and his music.

The War on Drugs conjures up images of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and possibly Neil Young on some of their releases from the 1980s. But the music is not derivative in any way. It’s a precisely crafted sound that Granduciel owns. Noted music industry guru, Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, once declared in a Billboard interview that The War on Drugs should be “gigantic.” With the arrival of A Deeper Understanding, it’s certainly hard to argue the point.

Track highlights: At more than 11 minutes, “Thinking of a Place” is certainly an unusual choice for the first single. Yet, it’s an inspired selection. The dreamy music flows over you like a river, with Granduciel’s vocals and guitar solos expressing a powerful yearning to connect through love.

Track 2 is “Pain,” a song filled with shimmering guitar work and several soaring, searing guitar solos — particularly at the end of the song.

The next song, “Holding On,” shifts gears into a galloping, high-energy number that conjures images of Bruce Springsteen. The many layers of sound play off one another in a thoroughly effective manner, and Granduciel adds just a dash of glockenspiel to season the mix. Brilliant!

“Strangest Thing” pulls back on the reins for a slow, sad ballad about living “between the beauty and the pain.” Piano and synth work together to carry the melody, while a simple beat sets the tempo. Synth strings fill the choruses. If this were a portrait, it would depict a landscape full of grandeur, such as the Grand Canyon or the Amazon rain forest.

There are many more worthy tracks on the album, and with its epic length, it’s one you’ll spend hours absorbing. By the way, if you’d like to see The War on Drugs in person, they’ll be appearing at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on Friday, October 6th at 8 p.m.


Rebecca Schiffman’s Self-titled Album a Simple Pleasure Worth Discovering

13 Sep

Rebecca Schiffman is a true artist. She’s a painter, a jewelry designer and an indie musician — someone who makes music that’s at once personal and universal. Her songs are about the kinds of everyday troubles and turmoil that we all must deal with and learn from as we go through life.

Her latest album, the self-titled Rebecca Schiffman, comes at a time of big changes in her life. In the seven years between albums, Schiffman has had her songs used in the soundtrack for Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture.” Her jewelry has been worn by a number of celebrities. And she’s moved from the East to West Coast — leaving her beloved Manhattan for Southern California’s La La Land.

Oh, and she got married to a successful TV comedy writer. They met when he cast her as an extra in a music video he was directing, and their first date was earned due to a contribution he made to a Kickstarter campaign for a jewelry collection she was designing. But that whole dizzying romance thing is a separate — if well worth reading — story.

As for Schiffman’s music: it’s relatively unassuming and often slightly off-kilter. There’s a wry humor to a lot of her lyrics. The quiet acceptance of saying, “Surely, there are worse ways to die,” in her captivating “Tips for Conquering Fear of Flying.” Her self-assurance as she sings “I don’t care, I’m maniacally happy/There’s no place I’d rather be alone in New York City” in “Walking to the Subway.” The keen observation of detail in “Nico,” as she spends a night in the bedroom of a childhood friend who has left for school.

Her understated approach can make her music easy to overlook at first. But the more time you spend with Rebecca Schiffman, the more you’ll realize this is an album worth your attention.

Track highlights: “Nico” opens the short, nine-song set. Its shuffling pace, simple piano and strummed guitar perfectly balance with Schiffman’s whimsical vocal reminiscing.

“Walking to the Subway” is a confident stroll — with Schiffman’s playful lyrics complemented by organ and lap steel guitar played by Mike Bloom (Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis), who’s one of many talented guest artists on the album.

“Laura,” is the third video from the album — with Schiffman putting herself in the shoes (and in the video, the clothes) of a man bidding for Laura’s favors. I’m sure there’s a story here, but I don’t know what it is.

The highlight of the album for me is “Tips for Conquering Fear of Flying,” apparently one of Schiffman’s personal phobias. The track becomes more driving than the others with intercutting between piano-inspired playfulness and tension-filled moments marked by tumbling drums and noisy, airplane-engine guitar created by Nels Cline (Wilco). If you haven’t seen this video yet, you really must catch it.

The album closes with “I’m Only You.” Although the song was written and originally performed by Robyn Hitchcock, the lyrics are a perfect fit with Schiffman’s elegantly disarming poetry throughout the album. On this track, she departs from Hitchcock’s grungy, jangly take on it by singing the lyrics with a sense of mystery and expectation over a repetitive guitar note. Chaotic brass is added near the end of the song.

Rebecca Schiffman has been out since last summer, although we only received it at KZSU a few months ago. In any case, it’s not too late. If you missed it the first time around, you really must give it a listen and consider adding it to your collection.


Fun of the Pier’s Debut “14:42” a Fun Listen — with Some Insights As Well

5 Sep

Fun of the Pier is a refreshingly different indie band from Nottingham in the U.K. The trio features Helen Luker on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar; Mark Luker on bass guitar, bass ukulele and wry observations; and Richard Snow Hattersley on guitar, vocal harmonies and all things technical.

Fun of the Pier’s debut album, 14:42, can best be described as jangle pop or Brit pop, with a leaning toward clean, crisp acoustic arrangements.

The songs’ subjects range from a musician’s lament (echoed by many music fans, myself included) about why people pay to go to a show — only to chit-chat and laugh with their friends through the entire set… esoteric observations about the time-space continuum, built around a comment that Mark once made, “In the past, it would have been the future, because it’s now.”

The point is: while your first impression of these tunes might be that they’re nice little musical ditties to nod your head to — there’s a depth of content for your brain to ponder as well. It’s jangle pop for thoughtful listeners — a lot like the music of local Bay Area band, The Corner Laughers, from which Karla Kane and Khoi Huynh provided guest vocals and ukulele accompaniment on one of 14:42’s tunes. In fact, Helen, Mark, Karla and Khoi are touring Northern California together for the next several weeks — catch them if you can! — and will play a number of shows in the UK and Germany next month.

Track highlights: 14:42 starts with “Inconsiderate,” a jangly Brit pop number with a 1960s British invasion vibe and a bouncy tempo. It’s such a happy tune that it’s easy to miss the biting commentary about certain elements of the club crowd. “Why do you do it?/What is the point?/Talk all through it/And roll your joint/Why don’t you go home?/Take your mates with you/And leave the rest of us/To enjoy a better view.”

“Lost and Lazy” is a gentle acoustic folk song with sweet lead vocals about the need for good friends in life. “Cavern Song” is bright and up-tempo with an energetic bass line, guitar and tambourine taps and shakes for rhythm. It’s short and fun with more wry observations about doing live shows.

“Stumble” is also happy and strummy, with a toe-tapping beat. “Summer Song” is one of my favorites — with a noisy start that leads into a dynamic arrangement that to me had a Moody Blues sensibility with rich harmonies, tambourine shakes and a keyboard part that sounds like a flute. There’s also a cool synthesizer lead break.

14:42 ends with a pensive closer, “I Love This Life (She Said).” It features a strummed guitar, shimmering synths and bells, plus delicate vocals about trying to find one’s way in life.

By the way, the 14:42 title Fun of the Pier chose for the album was due to the clock in the attic where they recorded always being stuck on 14:42.

Now you can impress your friends — not only with how you discovered this little-known, but excellent UK band, but also where the title of the album came from!


The Bye Bye Blackbirds Deliver Another Shot of Pure Rock ‘n’ Roll Pleasure

16 Aug

The Bye Bye Blackbirds are a rock ‘n’ roll band that harkens back to an earlier era when bands got together not to “release product” or “extend their social footprint” but for the pure pleasure of making and performing music.

Based in Oakland, California, the Blackbirds specialize in guitar-driven rock and power pop-rock with big harmonies and just the slightest nod toward the country genre at times. The band is led by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, Bradley Skaught, who’s surrounded by an exceptionally talented group of band members and guest artists including contributing vocalists. On this album, that group includes three of the four members of Redwood City’s The Corner Laughers, two former members of SF folkies Or, the Whale, and Washington D.C. musician, Olivia Mancini.

The new album, Take Out the Poison, covers all the bases from straight-ahead rock, to Byrds-like country-rock, power pop, and even brassy glam rock.

Track highlights: Take Out the Poison begins with “Earl Grey Kisses,” a rock ‘n’ roll romp reminiscent of Tom Petty — marked by tumbling drums, crunchy guitars, a cool, intricate bass line, and Skaught’s distinctive, crooning vocals.

My favorite song on the album is the third track, “Duet.” It’s a bouncy and playful heart-tugger with handclaps and a hint of Americana. Lindsay Paige Garfield (Or, the Whale) co-wrote the song with Skaught and contributes sterling harmonies and lead vocals when it’s her turn. There’s also an electric guitar in the lead break that does an incredible imitation of a fiddle that would otherwise be there.

“Let Your Hair Fall Down” is a solid example of classic glam rock. “Alfred Starr Hamilton” represents power pop at its best, with ringing and crunchy guitars.

The title track, “Poison Love” — the second-to-last track on the album right before right before a closing reprise of “Earl Grey Kisses” — is an up-tempo, high-energy country-rock standout with a killer player piano. It’s the kind of song you’ll want to turn up when you’re traveling on one of the Bay Area’s back roads.

There are many other fine performances on the album as well. In short, Take Out the Poison is a great showcase of Bay Area musicianship that you’ll want to add to your collection. And make a note to catch The Bye Bye Blackbirds the next time they make one of their frequent appearances at a local venue.



Karla Kane’s First Solo Album Is a Wonderful, Whimsical,Yet Thought-Provoking, Collection

2 Aug

Karla Kane is the lead singer-songwriter for The Corner Laughers, a sunshine indie pop band from the Bay Area’s mid-peninsula with connections to Stanford University. I’ve written about the past several albums the band has released, and also one the band released under its alter ego, Agony Aunts.

Now Kane has taken the big step of producing her first solo album, King’s Daughters Home for Incurables, and it’s another wonderful, whimsical collection of enchanting, sometimes melancholy acoustic folk for thinking music lovers.

The 11 songs on the album lead listeners into an otherworldly landscape that transports them to distant (and not-so-distant) places and times — from medieval England to California’s golden, tree-studded foothills. At the same time, Kane’s feet are firmly planted on the ground as she addresses many of the topics of the day including feminism and our thirst for hope and respect in a too-often dark world.

The disarmingly simple arrangements on King’s Daughters Home for Incurables are precisely produced, populated with an intriguing mix of instruments and sound effects — from Kane’s signature ukulele to Richard Youell’s nature recordings (birds, bees and rainstorms) and even announcements from a U.K. train station.

While this is ostensibly a solo album, Kane makes good use of her fellow members of The Corner Laughers, as well as guests such as Mark and Helen Luker (U.K.’s Fun of the Pier), Martin Newell, Anton Barbeau, and others.

Track highlights: The title track has a lilting, medieval feeling — offering a quick trip of imagination back to olde England. Kane’s rich vocals and strummed ukulele are at their best here.

Next comes “Wishing Tree,” a bouncy, skipping, happy tune on which Martin Newell (Cleaners from Venus), contributes additional vocals and his distinctive poetry. Track 3, “Skylarks of Britain,” is a stately tune that starts in cathedral-like reverie and builds into rich harmonies and a Beatles-like arrangement.

The first single on King’s Daughters Home for Incurables is “The Lilac Line.” This is an upbeat, strummy celebration inspired by travels through Nottingham on the Lilac bus line.

“All Aboard,” Track 10, presents a soulful commentary on the uncertain age we live in. A train-like vibe is created by Kane’s piano.

Really, all of the songs on King’s Daughters Home for Incurables are excellent — full of wry observations about daily life and the occasional literary reference — so it’s hard to choose which ones to include in a review. But this is definitely an album you’ll want to add to your collection.

I’m planning to see if Karla and friends can stop by KZSU for a chat and some live performances — hopefully on September 1st — so I’ll feature the album that day or the following Friday. The official release date is October 6th.

If you’re interested, the album can be preordered at: