Tag Archives: indie rock

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.

Wesley Stace or John Wesley Harding — Either Way, New Album Is Fine Folk-Rock

24 May

UK-born Wesley Stace has released approximately 20 albums and a handful of EPs since the late 1980s. For much of that time he recorded as John Wesley Harding, a stage name taken from Bob Dylan’s 1967 album of the same name.

Today, Stace has also become a successful novelist using his given name. As a result, he has released several albums under the Wesley Stace name as well.

Which brings us to his latest release, which he calls, Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding. That’s the actual title. While it’s certainly a mouthful, it sounds like Stace wants to make sure that both long-time and new fans know that it’s his album. As well they should, because it’s quite nice.

Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding varies from folk to gentle rock with a touch of Americana or alt-country. Stace is backed throughout by an alt-country band from Minneapolis — the Jayhawks. Together, Stace and the Jayhawks offer a lot of catchy melodies and comfortable arrangements with a 70s mellow-rock vibe — to support Stace’s sharp, well-turned lyrics.

Track highlights: The second tune on the album, “You’re a Song,” is gentle, Americana-flavored folk-rock. It features a strummed acoustic guitar, player piano, a toe-tapping beat, and jangly guitar — with a bit of pedal steel in the background.

“Track 3, “Better Tell No One Your Dreams,” is more of a rock number with fuzzy guitars, piano and a simple backbeat.

The fifth track had me thinking Stace must be a fan of Big Star, a somewhat obscure rock group from the 1970s that recorded on the Stax label. The crunchy guitars on the song were almost identical to the sound that Big Star favored.

The ninth song veers more toward alt-country, with warm lead and backing vocals, and again, a “crying” pedal steel guitar in the distance.

The album wraps with, “Let’s Evaporate.” One of the official audio tracks released to support the album, it’s up-tempo rock with a plinking piano and “oooh-oooh” harmonies accompanying Stace’s lead vocals.

If you enjoy folk-rock with bit of a throwback sound, you’ll like Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding.

 

San Francisco’s New Spell Delivers Spellbinding Dark Indie Synth-pop

16 May

New Spell is a San Francisco-based duo consisting of songwriter Leanne Kelly on lead vocals and keyboards and Jacob Frautschi on drums. The two have been together for awhile as New Spell has progressed through several evolutions, arriving today at a sound the band describes as dark indie synth-pop.

On New Spell’s Of Time – Part I, Kelly creates swirling soundscapes with her layered synths and spellbinding vocals — with a sense of mystery and edginess to a number of the tracks. The arrangements are intricate, with precision production. Lyrics are cerebral and thought-provoking.

Of Time is a four-song EP that will be followed at some point by a full album. If the songs on this EP are any indication, that should be a very exciting release to look forward to.

Track highlights: “Rain” is a propulsive track that opens Of Time with skittering synths accompanied by Kelly’s strong, slightly ominous vocals. There’s also an awesome rhythm-driven bridge.

“The Space Between” features a bouncing, pumping rhythm mixed with a fuzzy synth bass and piano. The vocals are lightly tripping, with distortion added at times and rich harmonies in the chorus.

“Never Change” slows the pace with sustained synth chords, a deliberate tom-tom beat and airy vocals that soar into lush harmonies. Brass-like synth accents are added at times. The entire track is reminiscent of a Naked and Famous song, with a lead break by Kelly near the end that could be Keith Emerson’s keys from legendary Emerson Lake & Palmer.

The final track on Of Time is “Familiar Tune,” and this is definitely lighter and more delicate overall with playful keys and fragile, warm crystalline vocals. Synth orchestration envelops the melody.

New Spell is a local band that’s definitely worth your time. By the way, they’re currently touring and will be in Sacramento, Mountain View and Los Angeles in upcoming weeks. Check out New Spell’s Facebook page for details.

 

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!

 

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s “The Tourist” One of the Best of 2017 So Far

13 Apr

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a pioneering art-rock band from Philadelphia. When it debuted in 2005, the band was one of the first to more or less bypass the traditional system of distribution through an established record label — selling albums by word of mouth generated through music blogs and smaller shows.

Today, four of the five founding members have gone their own way, leaving only singer-songwriter and lead vocalist, Alec Ounsworth. Question: does this mean that the band’s name should now be Yeah! (with Clap, Your, Hands and Say all gone?) Just wondering…

Anyway, the good news is that, if anything, the disassembling of the original quintet into just Alec and miscellaneous friends has resulted in even more creativity and cohesiveness, leading to what may be the band’s best album to-date.

The arrangements in The Tourist are sharp and crisp — with keyboards, guitars and prominent rhythms working in perfect harmony. Tracks range from guitar-driven to synth-rock, with one folk-rocker (“Loose Ends”) — all featuring Ounsworth’s unique vocals.

Track highlights: The third track, “Down (Is Where I Want to Be),” starts with a funky, off-kilter beat with pinging synths, before transforming into a guitar-driven rocker.

Tune 5, “Better Off,” features snappy, up-tempo rock, layered synths and some jangly guitar. Rich Beatles-like harmonies emerge near the end of the track.

The best song on The Tourist is “Fireproof,” a fabulous, rhythm-driven track that incorporates a muted percussive guitar, thumping bass drum, cool bass line, and shakers — with psychedelic synths and vocals that vary between frenetic and soothing.

The second to the last track in the ten-song set is “Ambulance Chaser.” There are swirling, swelling synths over strummed guitar and rapidly sung, breathless vocals. Ounsworth cynically declares, “I’ll take my medicine and you’ll just hope for the worst.”

The Tourist was created at a time of “intense soul-searching” for Ounsworth, and this has certainly served as inspiration for a true masterpiece.