Tag Archives: indie 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.

 

 

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.

 

Mac DeMarco Delivers His Best Work Yet on “This Old Dog”

13 Jul

Mac DeMarco is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has lived in a number of different cities including Alberta, Vancouver and Montreal — the latter in which he began his career as a solo artist. He released his first album, 2, in 2012, and followed that with Salad Days before his current release, This Old Dog.

His music has been called “slacker rock,” a pretty decent description of his usual laid-back, breezy style with self-aware and frequently personal lyrics.

However, DeMarco is anything but a slacker. This Old Dog is a 13-song set on which DeMarco wrote and arranged the songs, played every instrument, sang the vocals, produced, and engineered every track. Musically, there’s a lot of strummed guitar and simple rhythms that are created with anything from a bongo or woodblock to an electronic drum kit.

Known for his outrageous sense of humor in his shows and interviews, in This Old Dog DeMarco has delivered a very professional, compelling album.

Track highlights: The album opens with “My Old Man,” a catchy, yet disarming, tune featuring a strummy guitar over a gentle drum machine track. The lyrics are intimate, commenting on how much DeMarco increasingly sees his father (whom he doesn’t have the greatest relationship with) in himself.

“Baby You’re Out,” is a bouncy and sunny folk number with a hint of Matt Nathanson.

The fifth track, “One Another,” is jangly with an easy skipping rhythm and a breezy chorus. On the lengthy “Moonlight on the River,” DeMarco transitions from a laid-back airy melody into jarring psychedelic effects after reflecting, “I’m home, with moonlight on the river/Saying my goodbyes/I’m home, there’s moonlight on the river/Everybody dies.”

On the final track, “Watching Him Fade Away,” DeMarco deftly sings a measured ballad a la Paul McCartney over a muted, processed keyboard of some sort.

Overall, This Old Dog is a very creative, intriguing album from a solid young talent.

 

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.