Tag Archives: Indie pop-rock

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.

 

The New Pornographers Release Confident New “Whiteout Conditions”

3 May

The New Pornographers debuted in 2000 as something of a Canadian super-group, bringing together three accomplished lead singers — A.C. “Carl” Newman, Dan Bejar and Neko Case — every few years for a new album and a tour. It should be noted that while Case is often identified as Canadian due to her lengthy association with the New Pornographers, she’s American. She was born in Virginia and considers Tacoma, Washington to be her hometown.

On the New Pornographers’ most recent album, Brill Bruisers,” the band incorporated generous helpings of synthesizer into its set-list with the help of something called an arpeggiator — a hardware- or software-based gizmo that takes the notes of a synth chord and effortlessly transforms them into an arpeggio.

Whiteout Conditions, the band’s seventh studio album, again makes liberal use of the arpeggiator. And while this album doesn’t have quite as many hits packed into it as Brill Bruisers (which was, after all, about the hit songwriting factories of New York City in the 1960s), it’s still a dynamic, high-energy indie musical feast.

The album features propulsive, synth-driven pop-rock, with fabulous vocals and mesmerizing harmonies from singer-songwriter Newman, Case, and Canadian keyboardist, Kathryn Calder. Newman’s tightly packed, crisp lyrics are meaningful and thought-provoking.

By the way, absent from this New Pornographers album is co-founder, Bejar, who was busy with his other band, Destroyer, at the time this was recorded.

Track highlights: The album explodes out of the starting gate with “Play Money,” with its rapid-fire rhythm, multiple layers of sweet and fuzzy synths and Case’s lead vocals effortlessly rising and falling.

On the title track, Newman takes the lead, backed by strong harmonies from Case and Calder. It’s anthemic, with the arpeggiator creating a jittery, skittering landscape.

On to track 3, the biggest hit of this collection. “High Ticket Attractions” features Newman and Calder on call-and-response vocals, with rich harmonies and big synth chords in the chorus.

Track 10, “Clockwise,” starts with angelic backing vocals and builds into a driving road song with wonderful imagery painted by Newman’s lyric, “In the valley of the lead singers.”

The album closes with a throwback 70s feeling on “Avalanche Alley.”

While the album is weighed down a bit by some sameness from one track to the next, you’ll find Whiteout Conditions to be a great addition to your pop-rock portfolio.

 

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!