Tag Archives: indie rock

Portland’s Eyelids Are Back with a Half-Studio, Half-Live Follow-up to “Or”

18 Dec

Portland alt-rock band, Eyelids, is something of an indie super group — bringing together current and former members of the Decemberists, Guided By Voices, Malkmus/Jinks, and more. Throw in Peter Buck of R.E.M. as producer, and it’s hard to believe that they’ve been able to fly under the radar for so long.

The band’s latest release, Maybe More,is an album that’s half studio, half live. The first five tracks are new (including a cover of The Gun Club’s “Sex Beat”), while the last six songs are from a November 2017 live performance at WFMU, a New Jersey-based freeform radio station.

Track highlights:The album kicks off with a great opener, which could have been recorded by the Byrds in the late 1960s or Beatles’ discovery, Badfinger, in the early 1970s. “Maybe More” is melodic rock with big strummy guitars and rich harmonies over a steady beat.

“Cannon and Dee” is simple and lilting baroque pop-rock, clearly with a Decemberists influence. It’s got a medieval feeling, with woodwinds and precise orchestration wrapped around the tune.

Moving on to the third of the five new songs, “Masterpiece (Wanna Die)” has a big jangly rock sound. This one is very reminiscent of R.E.M. (or the Byrds once again) with great guitar riffs and strong lead vocals.

“Scarcity For The Fox” is interesting and experimental, with a halting, haunting melody. Unfortunately, the punky “Sex Beat” can’t be played on the radio without an appropriate edit.

The live songs from the WFMU performance include “23 (Years),” “Camelot” and “Slow It Goes” from Or, and “Seagulls Into Submission” and “Psych #1” from 854.

Overall, Maybe Moreis a nice — if short — follow-up to the Eyelids’ 2017 release, Or.



Elvis Costello Is Back With His Latest, the Sumptuous Chamber Pop of “Look Now”

5 Dec

Elvis Costello has been recording for more than 40 years, with his debut, My Aim Is True, released in 1977. Following 2010’s National Ransom, he seemed to suggest that his recording days might be behind him.

But Elvis Costello is back in 2018 with a sumptuous and ambitious collection of chamber pop-rock. Look Now is a 12-song set that includes songwriting collaborations with the likes of Burt Bacharach and Carole King.

The songs on Look Nowfeature some compositions that Costello (real name: Declan Patrick MacManus) has been working on for many years. Consequence of Sound described his work as “swanky and sophisticated,” and that’s an apt description for the work — which not only showcases Costello’s crooning vocals, but also has incredible performances from his long-time backup band, the Imposters.

Track highlights:The album opener is big, bold and brilliant — a true epic. “Under Lime” has a classic Elvis Costello sound that could have been recorded at any time throughout his decades-long career. The song features luxurious chamber-rock, with a big chorus and Beatles-like hooks when Costello sings “…and the band starts to play.”

“Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter” is a song that Costello co-wrote with Hall of Fame songwriter and gold record recording artist, Carole King. The track is jazzy and artsy, with many of the traits of King’s hits that she penned in the Brill Building in NYC in the 1960s.

The fourth song on the album, “Stripping Paper,” is something that Costello could only have written after a long and fulfilling life. In the piano ballad, he sings about the simple act of stripping old wallpaper and reliving some of the most important moments of his lifetime.

“Unwanted Number” has a throwback feeling to the soulful hits of the 1960s. The subject matter is about a teenager dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

Track 7, “Mr. and Mrs. Hush,” is a prancing promenade that’s funky and soulful. It’s reminiscent of some of the things that Bowie recorded in his heyday, with brass accents and female backup singers.

Overall, Look Now is a very enjoyable Elvis Costello experience — glad he’s decided to keep recording new music!


The Latest from Australia’s Paper Kites Is Sprawling, Cinematic 80s Rock

28 Nov

The synthesizer first came into general use in music in the late 1960s, pioneered by R.A. Moog (the Moog Synthesizer). By the 1980s, the introduction of relatively inexpensive digital synthesizers from Yamaha and others ushered in a new musical era — one that saw pop-rock make heavy use of the versatile “instrument.”

For a while, it sometimes seemed that other instruments were largely abandoned in favor of the synthesizer — to the point of excess. Now, in the 2010s, a band from Melbourne, Australia, called the Paper Kites has revisited the synthesized 1980s, but with a greater sense of discipline and purpose than in those early years.

On the Paper Kites’ latest album, On The Corner Where You Live, the band delivers a brilliant set of nostalgic 80s rock — with a hint of folk-rock on a few tunes — relying on a blend of reverbed guitar and synth. The sound is sprawling and cinematic — evoking a feeling of late nights spent under a star-filled sky. Lead singer-songwriter, Sam Bentley, paints vivid pictures with his lyrics, telling stories of life and love and effortlessly handling the lead vocals on most of the songs.

Track highlights:The album opens with two songs meant to be played back to back. “A Gathering On 57th” starts with the sound of a distant train, then serves up a melodic table-setter featuring piano and saxophone for the ten songs to follow. It segues directly into “Give Me Your Fire, Give Me Your Rain,” a slow-rolling, nostalgic soft-rocker with a big chimey guitar, syncopated rhythm and soaring vocals.

Track 3, “Deep Burn Blue,” was the first single the band released from On The Corner Where You Live.Again, a continuously chiming guitar serves as the lead element, played over a pulsing bass and swelling synth bed. The vocals are sung in rich harmonies, with lyrics about a girl who’s afraid to leave her apartment except in the anonymity of darkness.

Female vocalist, Christina Lacy, wrote one of the songs on the album and sings lead on it. “Mess We Made” showcases her exquisite voice and talents.

The eighth track, “Midtown Waitress,” harkens back to the Paper Kites’ debut full-length album, States,with its folk-rock sound. The song explores the story of a waitress trying to make it in a big city. Wistful vocals float over strummed and chimey guitars to the steady tap of a drum stick.

On The Corner Where You Live ends with the romantic and hopeful, “Don’t Keep Driving.” This is another masterfully handled tune full of nostalgia with a great 80s vibe.

The Paper Kites has been touring in the U.S. in support of their new album, but they’ve already completed their West Coast swing. I had the chance to see them when they came to San Francisco a couple of years ago and they’re fabulous live. If you’re in Philadelphia, New York or Washington, D.C., you can still catch them this week. Or maybe, wait until February, make a vacation out of it and catch them in Europe. But check those dates because many are already sold out!


Bay Area’s Thunderegg Delivers Heavenly Assortment of Indie Rock in “Cosmos”

13 Nov

“Space bar rock.” That’s one of the terms San Francisco-based Thunderegg uses to describe its music on the group’s Bandcamp page. I’m not sure whether that refers to the computer key I’m tapping between words as I write this, or whether it relates to someplace you’d go for a drink on a journey across the universe — like that cantina on the planet, Tatooine, in the original Star Wars.

I prefer the latter, envisioning a wild and wooly space bar filled with all sorts of creatures rocking out, so that’s what I’m going with. Which makes “Planetarium, Pts. 1 & 2” — the opening number on Thunderegg’s latest release, Cosmos — particularly appropriate.

The heavenly, 7-minute track is celestial and dreamlike, featuring jangly guitars, swelling synth strings and a harmonium, plus a rich mix of harmonized vocals reminiscent of the lofty sounds of the Moody Blues in their heyday. It’s an epic tune, one of a number of standouts on the album.

Thunderegg traces its origins to the East Coast in the mid-1990s, with an early connection to Yale University. This is perhaps reflected in the intelligent, insightful lyrics of the songs. For a number of years, founder and lead singer-songwriter, Will Georgantas, produced mostly lo-fi recordings on a four-track cassette recorder. However, Cosmos is anything but lo-fi. It’s a well arranged and produced album with a highly appealing collection of 11 songs that show just how much the band has grown and matured over the years.

Track highlights: I’ve already told you about the fabulous opener, “Planetarium, Pts. 1 & 2.” Track 3, “I Turn Automatic,” is easy-going, guitar-driven rock — jangly with a simple beat and almost spoken vocals.

“Pleasant Hill’ shifts to folk-rock with liquid guitar, harmonium, mellow vocals, and lots of Bay Area references. Track 6, “Stupid Town,” tackles the problem of being different, which often leads to bullying and a miserable existence in a “stupid town,” until the subject of the song realizes that “out there glistening is someplace new.”

“Where Are The Cars” features a deliberate beat, chugging guitars and bass — building into a rock anthem. “I Almost Cry” is jangly, 60s-style Brit-pop. And track 10, “Lucky So-And-So,” is another throwback, baroque-pop/folk-rock tune that could have been recorded in the 1960s by Simon & Garfunkel or Peter, Paul & Mary.

In short, Cosmos is an amazingly varied, exceptionally enjoyable album that’s excellent from start to finish. I didn’t know about Thunderegg before Georgantas reached out to me. But I’m very glad that he did!


New Zealand’s The Beths Deliver Punky, Poppy, Guitar-Driven Brilliance

2 Nov

The Beths are an energetic, guitar-driven alt-rock band from Auckland, New Zealand that delivers songs ranging from melodic power pop to punky on their debut album, Future Me Hates Me.

The four-piece group is fronted by singer-songwriter-guitarist, Elizabeth Stokes (the only Beth in the band) — with support from Jonathan Pearce on guitar and vocals, Benjamin Sinclair on bass and vocals, and Ivan Luketina-Johnston on drums and vocals.

The ten tracks on Future Me Hates Me focus on twenty-somethings striving to find their places in life and love, unsure of what paths to take and what the ultimate destinations might be. But don’t give this record a spin expecting heavy pontification and angsty yearning. Stokes has just the right light touch with the lyrics — never taking herself too seriously and often demonstrating a wry sense of self-deprecating humor along the way.

In the meantime, the Beths can really play — with a range that does justice to each song — whether it’s on lighter tracks or on one of a number of driving rockers on the album. Stokes’ vocals are consistently catchy and accomplished throughout.

Track highlights:The second song on Future Me Hates Me is the title track. It gets off to a roaring start with fuzzy guitars, contrasted with Stokes’ vocals that alternate between laid back and somewhat sweet. Stokes laments, “Sometimes I think I’m doing fine/I think I’m pretty smart.” But, she laments, “Then, the walls become thin/And somebody gets in/I’m defenseless/But it won’t happen again,” before adding, “It probably won’t happen again.”

“You Wouldn’t Like Me” features everything from handclaps to rapid, palm-muted guitar chords, intercut with full power-pop guitars — in a song that has a distinctly punky feeling.

Track 7, “Happy Unhappy,” is an up-tempo bouncy pop-rock tune that builds into a guitar-driven finish with nice backing vocals.

Although not the closer, the ninth track, “Whatever,” could serve as an anthem for dealing with life’s heartbreaks and disappointments — with a dash of acceptance blended with indifference.

Overall, Future Me Hates Me is an album that I think you’ll really like.


San Francisco’s William Duke Is Back with a Satisfying Indie Rock/Power Pop Album

19 Sep

William Duke was as early member of Oakland’s Bye Bye Blackbirds, appearing on the band’s firs two albums and sharing the songwriting credits with Bradley Skaught. Duke then left the band to embark on a solo career. In 2018, he’s back with an excellent mini album (or long EP) called Quatro.

The eight tracks on the CD showcase Duke’s talents as a songwriter and musician capable of creating catchy Tom Petty-like, Americana-flavored rock and power-pop. Duke is now based in San Francisco, and the mix on Quatro reflects a variety of influences beyond Petty — including cult favorite Stax band, Big Star, the Beach Boys and even a touch of the Beatles in the lengthy psych-rock trail-out on opener, “Caroline And The Silver Screen.”

The melodies are catchy and the harmonies infectious, with a consistency from track to track that means there are really no weak songs in the collection. Head over to William Duke Presents’ Bandcamp pageand give Quatro a spin today.

Track highlights:One of the strongest songs in the set is “Caroline And The Silver Screen.” It’s bright and upbeat guitar rock that’s jangly with a chugging bass. Note the previously mentioned Beatles-like psych-rock trail-out starting at about 3 1/2 minutes.

“Junk #2” is a throwback to the ‘70s, with a definite nod to Big Star. The song has a deliberate march-like tempo with chunky guitars and synth strings in the lead break. I don’t believe that the title has any reference to McCartney’s “Junk” from that same era, but I don’t know for certain.

Track 6, “As Good As It Gets,” begins as a fingerpicked ballad, then transitions to mid-tempo rock with soaring vocals and harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys.

Quatro closes with “Thank You,” a strummy and jangly number with warm and uplifting vocals that are often harmonized. We’re left with a very affirming feeling from Duke’s latest contribution to the indie music scene.  It’s a good listen.


The Chairman Dances “Child Of My Sorrow” Filled With Wonderful Lyric-Driven Songs

12 Sep

If you listen to my show on KZSU, you know that I have a weakness for indie pop-rock bands that write intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics — going beyond the simple love song formula. The Corner Laughers, Circus of the West, Andrew Bird, and Conor Oberstare excellent examples of this.

Well, another indie band that writes smart pop-rock is the Philadelphia-based quintet (and friends), The Chairman Dances. (I don’t know the story behind the band’s name. Someday, I’ll have to inquire.)

The Chairman Dances was one of those talented Philly bands that played mostly local gigs and occasionally produced an LP or EP until their 2016 record, Time Without Measure, put them on the map. That disc got a lot of play — particularly on college radio (we loved it at KZSU) — and its success gave the band a chance to go on a number of bigger tours.

For the past two years, lead singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Eric Krewson, has worked his day job and taken a self-described “sabbatical” as he wrote, rewrote and arranged a set of songs that has just been released as their latest album, Child Of My Sorrow.

Often sad, and occasionally a bit strange (or strangely funny — check out “Mascot”), Child Of My Sorrow represents a major step forward for the band. Intricate arrangements, outstanding performances (including from a number of guest artists such as Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner of Magnolia Electric Company), hooky melodies, and those lyric-driven songs make this a great contribution to 2018’s indie scene.

Track highlights: The first single from Child Of My Sorrow is “Acme Parking Garage.” It’s a driving rocker with alternating passages that play off one another, building to a big, clashy finish.

Track 2, “Mascot,” is one of my personal favorites. Maybe Eric Krewson and I have a similar sense of humor; I don’t know. This is wry story-telling pop-rock. It’s got an old-timey, almost romantic flavor as it speaks to the trials and tribulations of a person who lives his life performing in a Chick-fil-A cow suit, while his sister works as a journalist for the acclaimed Washington Post. Definitely worth paying attention to the lyrics on this one.

Track 4, “No Compass, No Map,” is the second single release from the album. It’s a melodic, piano-driven ballad with a skipping rhythm that builds to an anthemic finish.

Other impressive songs include “No One Can Hurt You (Like A Friend Can Hurt You)” — a nice little piano ballad with a bit of jangly guitar, synth, and glockenspiel. Lots of musical layers, with female harmonies blending with Krewson’s rich lead vocals.

I also like “Out Of The Lion’s Den, Into The Lion’s Maw” — which is depicted in the cover art — a cinematic number with lots of swelling keys; and the closing title track, “Child Of My Sorrow,” almost Gospel-like with its warm and reassuring lyrics.

Child Of My Sorrow is an outstanding album that you should definitely check out if you like indie pop-rock that’s more substantial than, “I love you…I hope you love me.”