Tag Archives: indie rock

The Naked Sun Is Another Great Indie Band from Rockin’ Philadelphia

17 May

Philadelphia has become a hotbed of indie rock. From big names such as The War on Drugs, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Kurt Vile, Dr. Dog, and Bardo Pond — to more recent additions or lesser-known (but still great!) acts such as The Chairman Dances, Hop Along and Beach Slang, the City of Brotherly Love has become the City of Bodacious Rock.

Now another band needs to be added to the list: The Naked Sun.

Debut album, War With Shadows, offers a 10-song set of power folk-rock and Americana. The band is led by Andrew (Drew) Wesley Harris, who handles the songwriting, lead vocals and rhythm guitar. He’s surrounded by five other superb musicians: Tim Campbell (lead electric and pedal steel guitar, plus backing vocals), Alan Sheltzer (piano, organ and synths), Ken Letherer (bass), Dave Gladney (drums), and Nerissa Jaucian (backing and sometimes lead vocals).

The album was produced by Brian McTear, who also works his magic with The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile — giving War With Shadows a professional polish.

Early reviews have labeled the album as guitar-driven rock that’s “restrained and subtle.” It’s certainly that, and more — a wonderful debut from a group proving that they belong as part of this city’s vibrant indie rock scene.

Track highlights: The album opens with “Do You Wanna Dance?” a song that immediately illustrates the band’s versatility. It’s a rock song driven by a pulsing beat laid down by Pat Kerkery (The War on Drugs) — but it also includes strummed guitar and some sort of airy flute-like music that floats throughout. There’s a bit of a jangle at times and a really nice guitar solo in the lead break.

The first single is a more traditional rocker, “Holdin’ Back The Heart.” The song has been around for years and apparently has closed many of the band’s live performances. The tune shows off the incredible harmonies the band is capable of producing.

“Rose Gold” definitely crosses over into Americana territory with a piano-based tune that has a nice alt-country sway. The lead vocals are almost a duet between Harris and Jaucian.

“Purple Sunset” features a fingerpicked, chimey guitar — together with some jangle and piano — and shifts between softer, more introspective moments and harder, driving sections.

War With Shadows wraps with “Clouds,” an uplifting closer that includes an opening cello part along with piano, guitars (including pedal steel), and drums. It’s a very nice finish to a highly satisfying album.



“Sloan 12” Is Solid Indie Rock from a Canadian Band with a 27-Year History

2 May

Sloan 12 is the twelfth album from the Canadian power-pop band, Sloan.

Coincidentally, this is a 12-song set of indie rock that showcases the distinct songwriting talents of all four band members. Guitarists Patrick Pentland and Jay Ferguson, bassist Chris Murphy, and drummer Andrew Scott each contributed three songs to the new release.

The musical mix on Sloan 12 ranges from big, guitar-driven anthems to 1970s-style progressive pop and even some folky pop-rock that’s reminiscent of the Byrds or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSN&Y).

After 27 years, the four original band members are still part of the band. The only change is that Sloan has added Gregory Macdonald to play keyboards when they record or tour. Murphy and Pentland sing most of the lead vocals, but when the band is performing one of drummer Scott’s songs, he not only sings the lead vocals, but also steps out front on guitar — with Ferguson and Murphy switching to the bass and drums, respectively.

With that kind of songwriting and multi-instrumental talent, you might assume that you’re in for a treat. And Sloan 12 does not disappoint.

Track highlights: The album opens with “Spin our Wheels.” With its searing guitars, driving drums, and big ‘classic rock’ backing vocals, this is a great anthemic power-pop single.

“Right to Roam” is reminiscent of one of those catchy progressive pop songs that became a hit with the rise of FM radio in the 1970s.

“The Day Will Be Mine” is another catchy song that offers potential as a single — with its crunchy guitar and soaring lead vocals.

“Essential Services” is really nice piano-based pop with sweet harmonies and a lightly skipping melody, enhanced by Beatles-like harmonies.

Finally, my review wouldn’t be complete without writing about “44 Teenagers,” the closing song in the set. It’s a more pensive rock tune that starts like the rich folk-rock of the 1960s, but shifts to a heavier sound in the middle. Lyrics reference the death of Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie from brain cancer.

Sloan 12 reflects the maturity of more than a quarter of a century writing, performing and playing together. It’s a solid indie rock album from this veteran Canadian foursome.

Anton Barbeau’s Jangly “Natural Causes” Is Easy on the Ears

11 Apr

Sacramento-born and now based in Berlin, Anton Barbeau is an exceptionally creative and prolific artist who explores the boundaries of musical inventiveness. Natural Causes is his latest album — officially released this Friday, April 13th — a shimmering collection of intelligent psyche-pop, art rock and general quirkiness.

The 15 songs (including four short tracks of less than 30 seconds that provide an intro, outro or bridge for the collection) offer a nice mix of jangle rock, throwback psychedelic rock and progressive rock — featuring a rich 12-string guitar, Mellotron and analog synthesizers.

As has been true on many of Barbeau’s 23 — yes, 23! — records, he has made good use of many talented guest artists in recording Natural Causes. These musicians include Robbie McIntosh (Pretenders, Paul McCartney), Nick Saloman and Ade Shaw of the Bevis Frond, Michael Urbano (Todd Rundgren, Neil Finn), Andy Metcalfe (Robyn Hitchcock), and local favorites, Karla Kane and Khoi Huynh from the Corner Laughers.

The result is a thoroughly enjoyable album that will grow on you as you play it over and over again and discover new musical riffs and lyrics that appeal to your various tastes and senses.

Track highlights: After a short preamble with an introduction of Anton Barbeau over a heavenly chorus, “Magazine Street” gets the album off to a rollicking start. The tune is big, bright, energetic, and strummy. Interestingly, it’s actually a fresh take on a song that Barbeau originally wrote and recorded for his first album.

Skipping ahead to track 7, “Magic Sandwiches” transports us back to 1967 for a tune that’s eerily reminiscent of “I Am the Walrus” from the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. A great psychedelic rock anthem.

The second half of the album has many of my favorites on Natural Causes. Track 9, “Just Passing By,” is bigger rock with a soaring, fuzzy guitar solo. “Neck Pillow” is illustrative of how Barbeau can write about anything — in this case, a favored neck pillow. That’s Karla Kane of the Corner Laughers singing the harmonies.

Track 11, “Creepy Tray,” is a swaying, synth-based tune with a jangly 12-string guitar and a great bass line.

The final full-length track on the album is my personal favorite, “Down Around the Radio.” It’s a fun, catchy art-rock number with circular construction featuring piano and again, a 12-string guitar. A nice tribute to the power of radio in our lives.

Overall, Natural Causes is a fine album to add to your collection from a Northern California indie rock artist.


Local Band Sky Faction Releases Fun New EP

8 Mar

Sky Faction is a five-piece indie pop band out of Oakland and San Francisco. The band says that it draws its inspiration from anime, twee, shoegaze, and mom and dad’s old vinyl record collection. And I guess that nicely sums up Sky Faction’s vibe.

The group’s current self-titled EP has a nice energy to it — featuring jangly guitars and bright vocals from lead singer and keyboardist, Lillian Yee, and rhythm guitarist/synth player, Sally Jati. Other band members include: Rex Padayhag on bass and backing vocals; lead guitarist, Roberto Burgos; and drummer, Rob Uytingco. By the way, Jati also does the art on the EP cover.

Formed in April of 2016, the band demonstrates a lot of potential on this EP. I’m looking forward to a full album in the future.

Track highlights: “No One Else” is a strummy, up-tempo love song that opens the EP. Female vocals are often doubled and harmonized, with piano accompaniment, clean guitar work and bells. Great pop song.

“Mar” takes us into a significant downshift, with a deliberate beat, toy piano-like keyboard and airy, dream-pop vocals. Very nice.

My other favorite on the five-song Sky Faction EP is “Feathers.” The tune gets off to a flying start with a great bass line and drum track. Once again, bells and crisp guitar work underscore the excellent lead vocals and backing harmonies.

Check out this EP on Sky Faction’s Bandcamp page — and you may be able to catch them at a live show in the Bay Area. The next one is coming up on April 5th at Bar Fluxus in San Francisco.


Buffalo Tom’s “Quiet and Peace” Shows a Band Coming to Terms with the Passage of Time

26 Feb

Buffalo Tom is a Boston-based alt rock/power pop trio that rose to prominence in the mid-1980s and stayed there throughout much of the 1990s. Guitarist-lead vocalist and main songwriter, Bill Janovitz; bassist-vocalist and sometimes songwriter, Chris Colbourn; and drummer (and band namesake), Tom Maginnis, had several Top 20 albums in the 1990s. Big Red Letter Day peaked at #8 on one chart in 1993 and Sleepy Eyed reached #4 in 1995. Some songs even were heard from time to time in trendy television programs of the day. Then, life happened and the band took a well-deserved ten-year hiatus.

Buffalo Tom’s newest album, Quiet and Peace, is its third since returning to the music scene in 2007 — and it’s one of the best. The 11-song set draws upon the band’s rich alt-rock heritage and even foundational rock pioneered by 1960s bands such as the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield (the inspiration for the other half of the band’s name) — while updating it with modern melodic elements. Ranging from alt rock and even punk to Americana, Quiet and Peace is an extremely satisfying collection that finds the band examining how the passage of time affects everyone’s lives and relationships.

Track highlights: The album gets off to a searing start with guitar rocker, “All Be Gone.” The lead vocals sound almost Springsteen-like as they soar throughout, backed by rich harmonies. The lyrics examine the album’s theme about the passage of time. “Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead/Save up the minutes like flowers before they’re all dead.”

Track 3, “Roman Cars,” written and sung by bassist, Colbourn, is the first single on the album — and it’s a really good one: melodic folk-rock with guitar and Hammond organ. Buffalo Springfield would be proud!

“Freckles” is a fun and energetic song — an Americana-style toe-tapper that builds around piano, acoustic guitar and drum rim shots keeping time — until it reaches its jammy conclusion.

Track 6, “Lonely Fast and Deep,” is punky and shows off the great guitar work that the band can bring to its songs.

But I’ve got to admit, I think my personal favorite on the album might be the closer, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.” It seems sad, lonely and hopeful all at the same time — and the band’s ability to hand off lead vocals between Janovitz and Colbourn, backed by a fabulous chorus of voices, is exceptional. Plus, the lead character in the song is “Tom,” which makes it a perfect cover for the band.

Whether you know Buffalo Tom from its time in the 1990s or this is the first you’ve heard of them, Quiet and Peace is an album you should check out.


The Wooden Sky’s “Swimming in Strange Waters” Captures 2017’s Angst

31 Jan

The Wooden Sky is a Canadian indie rock band from Toronto. The group’s music is a mix of alt-rock and folk-rock, with a psychedelic edge to their music and just a hint of Americana at times. Don’t be expecting banjo and pedal steel guitar, however — the sound is truly guitar-driven rock.

The title of the latest release, Wooden Sky’s fifth full-length album, is Swimming in Strange Waters. It’s adapted from a line from Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi classic novel, Dune. “Survival is the ability to swim in strange waters.”

For many people, 2017 was that kind of year. It saw us thrown into the deep end without a rope or life preserver. U.S. politics turned upside down. In Canada, the citizenry has dealt with a number of crises from oil pipelines to an influx of refugees. Frontman and lead vocalist, Gavin Gardiner, also was facing a number of personal issues in his own life.

This resulted in an album that’s full of energy and angst. There are a lot of big guitars, organ, other keyboards, distortion, and noise. Gardiner has a distinctive vocal style with a notable Southern drawl and a rawness that works well with the band’s almost live, big stadium sound.

Track highlights: “Swimming in Strange Waters” is shimmering and atmospheric with growling and ringing guitars and alternating keyboard layers including a distinctive high-pitched organ. Gardiner’s vocals are similarly growled, reminiscent of Jim James of My Morning Jacket or Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs.

The third track starts off with a drum riff and bass line that’s almost identical to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The song evolves into an easy-going stroll with a warm folk-rock feeling and some noise layered in.

Next up is “Deadhorse Creek.” This tune is the closest thing to Americana in the set, with Gardiner’s vocals straining until they distort. Harmonized vocals in the chorus take some of the edge off.

On the fifth song, we get to hear Wooden Sky at its most naked, honest and vulnerable in “Born to Die.” Gardiner sings, “Life is just these questions/And we’re never certain why/We were born to die.”

The second-to-last song on Swimming in Strange Waters is “Matter of Time.” This track veers almost to alt-country, with a swingy, relaxed feeling until building to a bigger rock sound toward the end.

If you like bands and artists such as Phosphorescent, Kurt Vile, My Morning Jacket, and The War on Drugs, you definitely need to check out Wooden Sky’s Swimming in Strange Waters.


Destroyer’s “ken” Is One of Dan Bejar’s Best Albums in Many Years

17 Jan

Dan Bejar has been recording and performing as Destroyer for more than 20 years. The Canadian artist has been prolific, with 12 full-length albums to his credit — not counting his work with the popular New Pornographers, of which he is a founding member.

But as familiar as his distinctive, slightly dry and somewhat quirky, narrative vocal style can be — with nods to artists such as David Bowie and even Leonard Cohen — his lyrics are consistently designed to take you out of your comfort zone and challenge your thought process.

Bejar’s latest, ken, is no exception. The title is borrowed from the working title for Suede’s ballad, “Wild Ones,” from 1994. Bejar has been quoted as saying he was thinking about the last years of Margaret Thatcher’s 11-plus-year reign as prime minister of the U.K., from 1979 through 1990. Assuming that’s the case, it’s interesting that Bejar has incorporated some tasty synth-pop and delicious brass flourishes, which make it seem like ken could have been one of Bowie’s artsy masterpieces from the 1980s.

Destroyer’s work isn’t meant to be easy to consume, although this album has several extremely catchy, melodic tracks such as the first single release, “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood.” But Bejar’s work — especially on this album — slowly gets under your skin until it’s affecting you in profound ways.

Track highlights: The second song, “In the Morning,” is a march-like, anthemic rock number with searing guitars and oblique references to the “Death Star in bloom.”

“Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” is as big a “hit” as Bejar has had in many years. It integrates a mesmerizing synth bass line, synth strings, an out-of-sync beat, and smooth vocals with just a touch of trumpet (or synthesized trumpet).

“Cover from the Sun” is next with a bit more than two minutes of wide-open, uplifting, jangly, fun rock ‘n’ roll that takes Destroyer in a very different direction from what we’re used to.

Track 9, “Ivory Coast” features a big pulsing synth with leisurely liquid guitar chords in the choruses. The album closes with “La Regle” Du Jeu,” with jittery keyboards overlaid with swelling synth strings and an 80s pop melody confidently sung by Bejar.

Critically acclaimed by most of the online music publications, Destroyer’s ken is an outstanding addition to indie rock’s solid 2017 portfolio.