Tag Archives: Indie pop-rock

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.

 

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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…..to 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: http://cornerlaughers.com/album/kings-daughters-home-for-incurables.

 

Austin-via-Australia Band, Go Fever, Releases an Impressive Debut

14 Jun

Acey Monaro, lead singer-songwriter of new wave indie rock band, Go Fever, has taken a roundabout way to become part of the dynamic Austin music scene.

Raised in rural Australia, Monaro dropped out of school at 14, left home shortly thereafter, and a few years later, married a much older man. By age 26, that relationship had ended, and Monaro refocused on music as her muse — writing songs and performing as a solo artist in Sydney.

On a vacation to the States, she visited Austin, and fell in love not only with its music, but also with one of its musicians, a bass player named Ben Burdick, who would become part of her new band. That decided it. She made the move to Texas permanent, recruited several more players to join her and Burdick, and began working on songs that would comprise Go Fever’s self-titled debut album.

Go Fever is a ten-song set of catchy new wave pop, with a solid alt-rock foundation and a bit of a throwback feeling to some of the tracks. Monaro’s vocals are infused with her distinctive Aussie accent, which brings to mind fellow Aussie, Courtney Barnett, as well as American vocalist, Angel Olsen, and bands such as Tennis and La Sera. Her lyrics are bold and can be irreverent at times, with the occasional word that can’t be played on the radio (unfortunately, including in the catchy, Elvis Costello-like “United States of my Mind”). The musicianship is exceptional throughout the album.

Track highlights: The first track on Go Fever is the melodic alt-rock standout, “Come Undone.” A road trip rhythm gives it a high-energy pace while Monaro effortlessly sings the vocals over piano, guitar and the occasional synth swoosh.

“Folk Zero” starts slowly over strummed electric guitars. Organ and guitar stingers build toward a big stadium rock sound by the end.

Even though Go Fever is landlocked in the heart of Texas, it doesn’t mean that the band can’t handle a little surf rock on “Savannah,” a song with a definite old-timey feel complete with a Clarence Clemons-ish saxophone solo near the trail-out.

Finally, on the second-to-last track, “Surprise! I Never Loved You,” the band travels back even further in time to belt out a sassy 60s girl-rock number, with fun lyrics and rich harmonies.

Go Fever is earning positive notices from critics and fans — helped by recent appearances at SXSW and other high-profile events. The band seems to have a lot of upside potential.

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.

 

Robyn Hitchcock’s Latest Blends Groovy Throwback Rock with Topical Lyrics

12 May

Robyn Hitchcock is a highly respected indie rock artist. Now 64, he’s been practicing his craft as a solo artist and frontman with a number of bands across five decades: with well-known UK band, the Soft Boys (1976 – 1980); the Egyptians (1985 – 1993), the Venus 3 (2006 – 2010), and him alone.

All told, he’s been involved with more than 20 studio albums — the latest being his first self-titled release of his career. I guess it’s better late than never to discover who you are.

Seriously, Hitchcock is an extremely accomplished lyricist and musician, and it shows on this album. On the ten songs, he tried to come to grips with all the global political upheaval lately, including Trump’s election in the US and Britain’s so-called Brexit from the EU.

On Robyn Hitchcock, we hear him effortlessly blend five decades of rock from the psych-rock of the Beatles to today’s alt-rock bands. Clear influences include rock legends such as the Beatles, Byrds and Big Star. Hitchcock, who recently relocated to Nashville from his native UK, used a lot of experienced session players to create a full band sound — without actually assembling a band.

Track highlights: Opener “I Want to Tell You What I Want” is driving alt-rock. Pulsing bass and muted percussive guitar sets up the rhythm. Growling guitars are mixed with a combination of spoken and sung vocals.

The next track, Virginia Woolf,” features Hitchcock’s edgy, raspy guitar. The melodic sound he achieves is reminiscent of the Beatles’ rock hits of the Revolver to White Album era.

“Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” could be performed by the Byrds, with rich Beatles-like harmonies near the end of the song.

“Detective Mindhorn” is bouncy and fun. Finally, the second-to-last track, “Autumn Sunglasses,” takes you back to the trippy psychedelic era of the late 1960s.

All along, Hitchcock keeps the music and lyrics current and relevant, so Robyn Hitchcock represents much more than an aging hippie looking longingly toward his golden past.