Tag Archives: indie pop

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.


Beach Fossils’ New “Somersault” a Must for your Summer Soundtrack

25 Jul

Beach Fossils is an indie rock trio out of Brooklyn, New York, led by frontman, Dustin Payseur. Formed in early 2009 and known initially for a lo-fi, hazy vibe, Beach Fossils has embraced more of a jangle-rock sound in its current album, Somersault, the first new release from the band in four years.

The album incorporates a number of instruments that Beach Fossils hasn’t used much (or at all), including harpsichord, piano and even flute — plus ample servings of strings. The additional creativity in composing and arranging has paid immediate dividends with Somersault earning largely excellent reviews.

Pitchfork described the album as containing “Dustin Payseur’s most nuanced songs to date.” Paste said, “Thanks to a rich sonic palette and more dynamic songwriting, (Beach Fossils) has turned in their best collection of jangly indie rock songs so far.”

If you enjoy bands such as New Jersey’s Real Estate, I promise you’ll like the latest from Beach Fossils.

Track highlights: Somersault opens with a glistening example of jangle-pop that’s every bit the equal of anything Real Estate has done — with all due respect to Real Estate’s excellent releases. “This Year” moves with pace and energy created by Payseur’s bouncy bass line, topped with the welcome jangle of Tommy Davidson’s guitar. It’s the album’s lead single, and a good one.

The second track transitions to a bit of a breezy, jazzy feeling. “Tangerine” features vocals from Rachel Goswell, guesting from the band, Slowdive. The strings give the song a polish and timelessness that recall sunny afternoons spent on distant beaches.

“St. Ivy” evolves beyond the usual jangle-rock into mid-tempo dream pop that sounds like it came out of the late 1970s a la Hall & Oates. There’s jazz flute in the lead break and then the song flows into the Valley of the Beatles, with rich strings and a George Harrison-like lead guitar part. This represents a new level of sophistication for the band.

Track four offers another crystalline jangle-rock standard called “May 1st.” The album continues with one delight after another and more than enough variety to avoid repetition, including its share of more serious lyrical messages and even some rap.

The second-to-last song is yet another highlight, a jangle-rock epic recalling Fleet Foxes’ influence called “Be Nothing.” The track builds to a big jam that shows the range Beach Fossils has as the band continues to mature. Somersault is clearly worth your notice.


Margot Polo’s Fun New Synth Dance Pop Is First Indie Summer Single of 2017

7 Jun

If you’ve ever visited the San Luis Obispo coast, you know it’s pretty much a slice of heaven on earth. Miles of sandy beaches, drenched in Central California’s abundant sunshine. Waves lapping lazily on the shore. The Avila Beach pier, extending out into the shimmering azure water. Morro Rock standing like a sentinel at the entrance to the bay. Rolling golden hills rising in the distance.

This idyllic environment can shape a person’s worldview — and that certainly seems to be the case with local band, Fialta, and now a new solo project by Fialta guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, David Provenzano.

Recording as Margot Polo, Provenzano has captured the essence of the upcoming summer of 2017 on the West Coast on his digital single, “Sweet California,” the first release from an album planned for sometime in 2018.

The catchy indie synth dance pop tune features swirling synths, a buoyant bass line, sweet harmonies, and even wistful whistling that seeks to convey the magic of this special place. The tune was written by Provenzano, with help on some of the lyrics from his wife, Sarah Shotwell, who plays keyboards, glockenspiel and sings in Fialta. While Sarah will contribute vocals on upcoming Margot Polo tracks, backing vocals on “Sweet California” were done by Becky Filip of the Honey Trees.

Margot Polo is a side project for Provenzano, who will continue to write, record and perform with Fialta going forward. But it will be interesting to see where his path takes him as Margot Polo as well. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.

If you’re interested in previewing or purchasing a digital copy of “Sweet California,” you can go to Margot Polo’s Bandcamp page.


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.


The Pooches Deliver Bright, Fun Indie Pop from Scotland

10 Nov

Scotland is known for its great bands in a variety of genres. That includes indie pop-rock legends such as Belle & Sebastian, as well as Chvrches, Camera Obscura, The Fratellis, Teenage Fanclub, and many more. Now, you can add The Pooches to that list.

Earlier this year, I blogged about the band when the group released its Heart Attack EP. Now, the boys have a full self-titled album, anchored by the very catchy “Heart Attack” track.

The Pooches were initially a solo project of frontman, guitarist and songwriter, Jimmy Hindle. He released two albums under the Pooches moniker in 2013 and 2015.

But in 2016, he added band members Gavin on bass, Calvin on drums and Andy on guitar — and The Pooches is the group’s first full-length release.

The Pooches’ sound is Brit-pop with some punky trimmings. If you’re familiar with classic rock from the 1960s — when the original “British invasion” of the American music scene occurred — there’s an eerie similarity to some of those bands, such as Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, the Yardbirds, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and many others. All of the songs on this album feature jangly guitars, catchy melodies and warm vocals — again, with just an edge of punk to them.

The lyrics are fresh, simple and honest — often with a touch of humor. For example, one of Jimmy’s early EPs was How to Fix a Broken Hearth, a clear riff on the Bee Gees song “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?”

And the tracks are almost all short — with only two songs at 3 minutes or over, and the shortest one being just 37 seconds!

“Heart Attack,” which opens the 11-song set, remains the best of the bunch. It’s sunny, bouncy and slightly jangly — with a few handclaps and great hooks throughout. The lyrics mention “reading all about the first Heart Attack single,” which is a reference to the song by the hardcore punk band from NYC that was popular from about 1978-1984.

“I’ll Be Gone” features a strumming guitar and snapping snare drum. The vocals in the chorus are pleasantly harmonized. Track 5, “The Light,” delivers a simple melody with a nice backbeat. “Everything” is more of a mid-tempo number with great lyrics, “I don’t want to be the kind of boy who thinks that everything is about him/I don’t want to be the kind of boy who thinks that every song’s written about them.” Each verse opens with a very catchy descending run of notes. Again — simple, but very compelling pop.

This continues throughout the set, including Track 9, “Be Not Fearful,” a lightly skipping tune with an uplifting message delivered against a bright strumming composition.

If you enjoy quality, fun pop, check out The Pooches.


Springtime Carnivore’s”Midnight Room” an Exquisite Experience

26 Oct

The lineage is clear from the first notes.

Greta Morgan, a talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist — originally from the Chicago area, but currently residing in L.A. — must be a close relative of Washington state’s Neko Case. Or an even closer relative — geographically at least — of Southern California’s Jenny Lewis.

All three women create distinctive, accomplished, highly melodic indie pop-rock — each with her own individual stylings — that offers the listener honest, heartfelt glimpses into their lives.

In Morgan’s case, recording under the moniker, Springtime Carnivore, her winsome, 10-song set, Midnight Room, tries to make sense of an especially life-changing breakup.

If you’re into indie music, you may well have heard or seen Morgan before — as a backup singer for La Sera, as the lead for 2009’s Gold Motel, or in other less well-known bands. But in 2014, Morgan released her debut album as Springtime Carnivore. And in just two years, she’s matured tremendously, with Midnight Room a true revelation.

Produced by Chris Coady, who’s also worked with Future Islands, Beach House, and others, the album sometimes edges into folk-rock, dream-pop or even alt country. The compositions reflect the period of time Morgan was going through — waking up at odd hours alone in her L.A. home. But the music never gets maudlin or self-absorbed. Rather, the songs connect with the listener in reassuring ways.

The album opens with the title track, “Midnight Room.” Accompanied by a richly strummed guitar and steady drums, Morgan’s throaty vocals ebb and flow, soaring in the choruses as she tries to make sense of the recent breakup.

The fourth track on the album is “Double Infinity,” an intricate, shimmering 80s ballad — backed by a persistent tom-tom beat, cascading synths, and featuring Morgan’s plaintive vocals.

“Raised by Wolves” is the song on the album that veers closest to an alt country sound. But edgy synths, a busy bass line, and slapping drums keep the song from going too far astray of the rest of the set.

Song 7 is “Under the Spell.” I don’t know why — maybe it was the relentless bass line — but it reminded me of a classic rock anthem in the mold of Fleetwood Mac, with Morgan’s voice meeting the high standards of Stevie Nicks.

I always look at how an artist closes her or his work, and Midnight Room ends with the chilling “Rough Magic.” It’s soaringly, achingly sentimental — lonely and longing — but still hopeful. Morgan’s vocals sound like they were recorded in a cathedral, and the solitary repeated notes on her piano provide a stark contrast.

Midnight Room is one of the better albums of 2016 — a pleasure to listen to over and over again, from start to finish. By the way, if you’d like to see Morgan perform in person, your chance is coming up locally next Friday (November 4th) at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco. I promise you won’t be disappointed.


Yeasayer’s New “Amen & Goodbye” Recalls The Beatles in Its Embrace of Art-Pop

19 Sep

What would the Beatles sound like today? I believe a case can be made that they might sound something like Brooklyn’s Yeasayer, which a few months ago released its fourth album, Amen & Goodbye.

“Now, hold on a moment,” I hear you saying. “Are you comparing a relatively little-known indie art-pop band with what may be the greatest rock and roll group of all time?”

Sort of.

I’m not saying that the two bands are on the same level in terms of their impact on the music world. What I am saying is that this is where the Beatles might be today if they had been born 40 or 50 years later. Let me explain.

The Beatles started in 1963-1965 as a typical boy-pop band with formulaic hit songs that made young girls scream and throw personal articles of clothing on stage. By 1966, they had become accomplished songwriters and musicians, composing meaningful songs about life and love.

But beginning with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles crossed over into art-pop. They employed new instruments (such as the sitar), incorporated new synthesized sounds, and developed new production techniques. Plus, their now fully mature songwriting skills were consistently on display. Nothing was off limits. Baroque-pop. (“A Day in the Life”) Edgy rock. (“Helter Skelter”) Child-like songs. (“Octopus’s Garden,” “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”) Uncategorized. (“Piggies.”)

There was no “Beatles style.” There certainly was a sound, because the Beatles’ voices and the harmonies they deployed were so distinctive. But there was no box that you could fit their songs into.

Fast forward to 2016. In its fourth album, Yeasayer has continued to push the limits of its musical artistry. In Amen & Goodbye, the considerable talents of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder are on display. Keating and Wilder are both strong enough to be lead vocalists and this adds variety to their songs and strengthens the ever-present harmonies. Compositions often integrate instruments from around the world in addition to a full palette of electronic effects. And the topics the band writes about range from the threat of chemicals to modern existence to the Dead Sea Scrolls (unless the ancient texts are a metaphor for something). Somewhat Beatles-like, don’t you think?

The second track on Amen & Goodbye is “I Am Chemistry.” A mesmerizing rhythm created with electronic drum and bass is set against a wailing, Beatles-like chorus as the lyrics cite the chemicals that threat us — from DDT to C4H10FO2P (sarin gas).

“Silly Me” shifts 180 degrees and puts listeners in a dancing mood with a bouncy synth-pop number that has a strong backbeat.

Five songs into the 13-song set, we’re rerouted yet again. “Dead Sea Scrolls” has a sound that is like something out of the 1970s — except that Yeasayer has added clapping, a harpsichord-like electric piano, jazzy chorus, and saxophone solo (or something similar) in the lead break.

“Prophecy Gun” sparkles with sounds that make one think of water seeping into a cave or dripping from the edge of a snowpack. Then, rich harmonized voices backed with a synthesized orchestra carry a melody that once again evokes images of the Beatles — topped with spiraling, whistling electronic effects.

This endless unpredictability continues with “Gerson’s Whistle,” a song that’s like a trip through a funhouse alternating between the ominous and the cavalier.

With such strong songwriting, vocals and wide-ranging music stylings, one can’t help but think about the band that blazed so many trails in the 1960s.