Tag Archives: alternative rock

Hot Young Band, Night Talks, Making Waves in SoCal Indie Music Scene

31 May

Dating back to the 1960s, when legendary bands such as the Doors, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield emerged from the Southern California rock scene, L.A. has always had a sound. This has continued to now with indie artists such as Warpaint, Best Coast, Silversun Pickups, Local Natives, and Jenny Lewis calling the L.A. area home.

In 2017, you can add a new young band to that list — Night Talks — which just released its debut album, In Dreams.

The four-piece alt-rock group fronted by lead vocalist Soraya Sebghati brings a fresh new sound to the L.A. music scene. Sebghati’s versatile vocals range from angelic to edgy a la Evanescence. She’s backed by an outstanding trio of players that includes Jacob Butler on guitar, Josh Arteaga on bass and his brother, Cris, on drums.

In addition to solid guitar-driven foundations, In Dreams’ numbers often include layers of synthesizer — giving the tunes a full, rich ambiance. And always, Sebghati’s confident, expressive vocals distinguish the album from the ordinary.

Track highlights: The album is loaded with songs that could be considered standouts. My four favorite tunes on the album didn’t even include two that the band has released as video singles, showing how consistent the band’s quality is from top to bottom.

“Mr. Bloom,” the band’s second single is an excellent place to start. It’s an explosive, driving alt-rock track that features a sterling vocal performance by Sebghati, backed by sharp roaring guitars and uplifting harmonies in the chorus.

“Black and Blue” features a playful synth-pop melody with a captivating stop ‘n’ go beat. “Glass” slides over to the dreamy side, with its glistening guitar chords and spellbinding vocals. Butler’s guitar work on this track is outstanding as well.

“Jungle” is the band’s latest music video. It’s an ominous-sounding tune with synths that are almost theatrical at times. The album concludes with the title track — a gentle, swaying slow dance that showcases Sebghati’s softer side.

In Dreams is an outstanding debut from a band that promises to be around for a long time.



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.


The Wet Secrets — Another Reason Why Canada Is Such a Great Country

1 Feb

Oh those Canadians! So many bands from north of the border bring a uniquely Canadian attitude to their music: fresh, friendly and fun loving. The Wet Secrets, a six-piece alternative, dance-rock band from Edmonton, Alberta, offer all that and more. So it’s a party!

The band released its debut album in 2005. They followed that with another album in 2007, and then took a break while principal vocalist and songwriter, Lyle Bell, focused on other musical projects and another founder, Trevor Anderson, directed some film festival caliber movies.

In early 2014, they got back together for their third album, and they followed that in 2016 with their most recent release, a four-song EP, I Can Live Forever.

The Wet Secrets’ sound is punky and bold with an in-your-face attitude. The arrangements go beyond typical rock, often including brass and stinging synths in addition to guitars, bass and drums. The combination definitely gives the band a unique vibe.

Most of all, it sounds like they’re having fun — and that’s always a good thing for rock ‘n’ roll.

The four-track I Can Live Forever EP begins with “I Can Swing a Hammer,” a tom-tom driven instant alt-rock classic, with tambourine thrown in for good measure. Like on most of The Wet Secrets’ tracks, all the band members contribute to the vocals, giving the song a big sound with great harmonies.

“If I Was a Camera” is built on a mesmerizing stop-and-go rhythm, with brassy and airy synths and the repeated line, “Take off your clothes!” What else would a camera want?

The closing track, “Quelle Surprise,” features mellow synth swells, swirls and squiggles floating over a pulsing bass line. The whole thing has a 1980s vibe — but incorporates The Wet Secrets’ horns and the always-prominent rhythm track.

If you’re having a party this weekend as part of your Super Bowl pre-game fun, you might want to add a couple of tracks from this fun Canadian band into your mix.


Allyson Seconds’ “Little World” Delivers Psych and California Power Pop

21 Dec

Sometimes a dash of goodness, a taste of something uplifting, is precisely what you need. And such is the case with the new album from Sacramento artist, Allyson Seconds. Seconds’ sophomore effort, Little World, features 11 tracks of indie psych-rock and power pop with a generous dose of the California sunshine that’s found year-round in her hometown.

On the album, Seconds plays and sings with an amazing all-star cast of talent, starting with Anton Barbeau. The Sacramento native, who now lives and works most of the year in his adopted home of Berlin, Germany, wrote and produced all of the songs — in addition to performing as a multi-instrumentalist on each of the tracks. Other key contributors include Allyson’s husband, Kevin, of the hardcore punk band, 7 Seconds; Colin Moulding, noted bass player and singer-songwriter for XTC; Kimberley Rew, vocalist for Katrina & the Waves; Nick Saloman of Bevis Frond; and Karla Kane, lead vocalist and singer-songwriter for The Corner Laughers.

Many of the melodies have a Beatles-like feeling. Songs are melodic and catchy, yet also intriguingly complex with effects and unexpected sidetrips into an edgy guitar riff or otherworldly psychedelic landscape.

Barbeau’s lyrics are smart and savvy, with many appealing turns of phrase that paint compelling word pictures.

Standouts include: “Dust Beneath my Wings” — the best on the album — with layers of noise added to Wurlitzer organ, guitar and strings. Seconds’ vocals are simple, throaty and earnest, drawing you into the story. The lead break gets very noisy and psychedelic, with a little Beatles-style backwards talking or singing.

The title track, “Little World,” features a rapid drumbox beat and pulsing fuzz bass, electric piano, and toe-tapping melody. “Octagon” is a simple, sunny ballad that will stick with you long after it’s finished playing.

“Great Blue Heron” is mysterious with multiple musical layers including 12-string guitar, bouzouki, organ, and strings. There’s a bit of a Middle Eastern flavor in places. And don’t overlook the last full track on the album, “Apples Are Falling.” The song has a stately tempo and again, a Beatles-like flavor. Seconds’ vocals are weighty, but warm. There’s a trumpet solo in the lead break. And if you listen closely, you can hear the apples falling from time to time.

By the way, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you’d like to see Allyson Seconds live —together with Anton Barbeau, and The Corner Laughers — they’ll be at the Neck of the Woods in San Francisco this Thursday, December 22nd at 8 p.m. Don’t miss it!


Great American Canyon Band Releases Excellent Debut Album

9 Jun

There must be something about Baltimore. The same wonderful, vibrant city that produced the dream-pop duo, Beach House, has now launched another intriguing duo that calls themselves, Great American Canyon Band.

Great American Canyon Band consists of husband and wife, Paul and Kris Masson, joined by several other musicians when recording or touring. According to the duo’s website, Paul and Kris traversed across the country for several years — spending time in Athens, Georgia; tucked away in the Hollywood Hills in Southern California; and enduring a cold winter in Chicago. They released an EP in the spring of 2012. But Kris and Paul eventually returned to Baltimore, where they recorded and released their debut album, Only You Remain..

It’s not easy to define the band’s sound in a single statement. The sweeping soundscapes that come and go in the duo’s ten-song set pay homage to the shoegaze genre. But a number of the songs also have an alternative rock edge — with a radio-friendly sound that beckons the listener. The final element is an indie folk influence that can be heard in the comfortable instrumentation used in the arrangements. However one wants to label the sound, it’s compelling music that speaks to the soul.

Only You Remain opens with the positive affirmation of the title track. A rapid bass line provides the song’s driving force. A big, airy cathedral-like chorus returns again and again. Paul and Kris sing the power lead, “Time will only try to break your heart/This world will only try to break us apart/It will never break us apart, break us apart/Will never break us apart, break us apart.”

“Crash” is the lead single from the album. It’s a slow-burn torch song, with Paul and Kris singing to one another, “Don’t let me fall through/As I crash into you.”

The third track on the album is another of my favorites. “Come Home” starts with four slow stanzas of a chorus singing majestic, reverbed “Ahhs.” But then, the duo bolts into a bounding romp that features a great bass line, thumping bass drum, tambourine, and a catchy guitar riff that repeats infectiously.

One other track I’ll mention is “Broken Glass.” This features Kris on the lead. It’s slower and more reflective — with big power chords, organ, and ultimately a huge ending. It definitely leaves an impression.

Only You Remain from Great American Canyon Band is a very promising first full album from a duo with a lot of potential. I can’t wait to hear where their travels take them in the future.


St. Vincent’s Latest Is Quirky and Fun — Her Best Yet

27 Mar


St. Vincent’s music is an acquired taste. Pitchfork describes her latest, self-titled CD as “bold and almost jarringly confident. (It) does not sound like it was recorded here on Earth.”

That pretty much sums it up.

My first exposure to Annie Clark, who performs as St. Vincent, was 2007’s Marry Me. The word that comes to mind is “quirky.” Quirky and creative. And exceptionally gifted — as both a composer and performer. With equal parts Green Day and Flaming Lips.

The prolific St. Vincent followed Marry Me with Actor in 2009. In 2011, Strange Mercy was released,and I found even more to like there — playing tracks such as “Cruel.”

But her current CD, St. Vincent, is truly a triumph. While some of the tracks get a little…well, quirky, born of St. Vincent’s unique ear and energy — the set is without a doubt her most accomplished and creatively mature yet.

Over the past year or two, Clark collaborated with musical royalty in the person of David Byrne, formerly with the Talking Heads. Byrne has a reputation for being endlessly innovative. Clark did an album and toured multiple times with Byrne to support it. One of those trips led them to the Saratoga Mountain Winery, overlooking the Santa Clara Valley — where they proceeded to put on a fabulous show performing most songs from Love This Giant.

Now, Clark is in the spotlight with her fourth solo CD. And the attention is well deserved.

The CD starts with “Rattlesnake,” a buzzy, edgy number that mixes electronic music with Clark’s sharp guitar licks and distinctive vocals — filtered and distorted.

“Birth in Reverse” is one of the best tracks on the album. It’s garage-y with a driving, thumping beat. We get to hear Clark’s great guitar riffs within a very danceable tune.

“Digital Witness,” track 5, is another standout. It’s a funky, brass-driven composition that’s reminiscent of Clark’s work with Byrne. The march-like beat and catchy choruses make it a song that can be heard again and again. It’s also a song where you really can appreciate the lyrics.

The final song in the set is “Severed Crossed Fingers.” I have no idea where that title came from, but it gives Clark a chance to spin a touching story of self-discovery and determination.

If you want an album from a brilliant artist who’s still in the process of making a name for herself, this new release from St. Vincent is well worth adding to your collection. And don’t miss seeing a live show when you get an opportunity.


“Augustines” a Fresh Start for the Alternative Rockers

13 Mar



In 2011, when his band We Are Augustines released its first CD, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, Billy McCarthy’s life had been turned upside down. His brother, James, who had been homeless for some time, was involved in an altercation that got him sent to prison, and then put into solitary confinement. He died before he could be transferred to a hospital for the care he needed.

McCarthy’s mother — also a diagnosed schizophrenic — committed suicide when Billy was in his teens. “Book of James,” “Patton State Hospital” and other songs on the first album were influenced by these tragic events.

With the debut album complete, McCarthy moved from Brooklyn, New York — where the band had been based — back to California’s Sierra foothills where he grew up. He decided it was time for a “walkabout” — a break from the routine that offers a chance to wander a bit and rediscover one’s identity and purpose in life. In McCarthy’s case, this involved reconnecting with a favorite schoolteacher and returning to the school where he got the original inspiration to become a musician.

Augustines is indie alternative rock, with high-energy, soulful, emotion-fueled arrangements and vocals that really pack a punch and at times sound like a 2010s version of Bruce Springsteen.

The first single release, “Cruel City,” features rapid-fire drums and roaring guitars. Growling lead vocals and a full chorus — paired with twinkling electric piano — result in an anthem that pays homage to Springsteen’s classics of a previous generation.

The next track, “Nothing to Lose but your Head,” is even bigger — with thundering drums, a breakneck pace and U2-style guitars.

“Walkabout” is the first change of pace on the album.  It’s a piano ballad with a driving middle that showcases what McCarthy can do when he’s not belting out the vocals all the way through. There are nice transitions from slow to fast and back to slow again. “Walkabout” really captures the heart and soul of the set.

Two other songs worth mentioning include “This Ain’t Me,” which features a nice interplay of synths and bass at the start, with more layering and dynamics as the song progresses; and “Now You Are Free,” a mid-tempo rocker that concludes with the aching line, “What am I running from/Myself and everyone.”

For this album, the group decided to drop the “We Are” and just go by Augustines. It also relocated to Seattle, Washington. Augustines marks the next step on the journey to a bright future for the band.


Want to hear more from Augustines? Their new self-titled album will be featured on my radio show on Friday March 14th from 9 a.m. until 12 noon Pacific on KZSU. Find more information about the band on their Facebook page.