Tag Archives: Synth pop-rock

Oakland’s Tambo Rays Ready to “Recharge” Your Batteries

28 Sep

San Francisco has long been known for its music, going back to the time of Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead. The East Bay developed its own sound — with early acts ranging from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Tower of Power and the Pointer Sisters.

So it’s not surprising that the trend continues today. One of the latest releases from a band that’s part of the Oakland music scene is from the Tambo Rays. The synth pop-rock group is led by Brian and Sara DaMert, siblings who have deep Bay Area ties going back to their youth in Marin County.

Sara’s interests include two of my favorite passions as well — soccer and music. She was a high school soccer star — winning all-league honors for three consecutive years. That earned her the opportunity to keeping playing in college for UC Santa Cruz. But recognizing that there was no future in professional soccer for women, she turned to her other love — music.

She has played with a number of local groups, but on the Tambo Rays’ current EP, Recharge, Sara’s emerged as its lead singer in addition to a keyboardist.

The five tracks feature catchy melodies, strong vocals, snappy rhythms and lush arrangements — with lyrics that examine life’s trials and tribulations. The DaMert’s father died in 2015, so in some sense, the EP was one aspect of how Brian and Sara dealt with the pain.

Despite that, Recharge has a very positive feeling to it — with lots of good energy.

Track highlights: “Yes and No” opens the album with sunny synth pop-rock that has a punky, girl-band attitude. Bob Jakubs’ drumming is crisp and there’s a late 70s, early 80s vibe to the melody.

The third, track, “Wrong Turn,” is a mid-tempo tune that’s smooth and slinky. The song features a big arrangement with many layers of keyboards and a busy bass line by Greg Sellin, and it builds in the choruses to an anthem feeling.

My favorite song on the EP is the fourth track, “Nothing to Lose.” This is a punky pop-rock number that explodes with intricate interplay between sharp guitars and sparkling synths. There are rich backing vocals as well. The electronic drum track is a bit reminiscent of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.”

Overall, this is a fun album to listen and dance to — a fine effort from the young Oakland band. And if Sara ever pursues her third love, cooking, by opening her dream restaurant — I just may have to sample that as well.

 

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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.

 

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.

 

Another Top Indie Album for 2014

3 Dec

TV on the Radio is a four-piece indie rock band out of Brooklyn, NY. The band formed in 2001 and has released four previous studio albums, plus a number of EPs. In mid-November, the band debuted its fifth studio album, Seeds. The album showcases everything from melodious, pop-rock anthems with a hint of 1980s bands such as Depeche Mode to really nice jangle rock and even high-energy punk. Together, this makes Seeds another outstanding album in a year that’s been full of them.

TV on the Radio was founded by David Sitek, who has also worked with bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Celebration, Little Dragon, and Beady Eye; and Babatunde Omoroga “Tunde” Adebimpe, whose distinctive, warm tenor gives TV on the Radio’s vocals their unique quality.

The first single from the album was “Happy Idiot,” a jittery electro-pop number that could be the soundtrack accompanying one of those high-speed films that depict 24 hours of life in two minutes.

Another video that the band has released is for “Careful You,” a song that really harkens back to the synth-driven rock of the 1980s. The lyrics switch back and forth between “careful you” and “care for you” in this song of yearning for lost love.

“Ride” is an amazing indie-rock anthem that starts with an extended (more than two minute) piano-and-synthesized strings, ballad-type play-in — then shifts into a great rock and rock “ride,” with a strong backbeat and interesting keyboards.

“Lazerray” is the all-out punk number I referenced above, and the band does it really well. In lesser hands, this shift from 80s synth-rock to punk would feel forced, with a “Hey – we’re an 80s synth band trying to be punk rockers” vibe. But “Lazerray” is simply great, honest punk, worthy of some of the best punk purveyors.

Looking for jangle rock? Try “Could You” or “Trouble.” Both have well-written lyrics, again beautifully sung by Adebimpe.

The album ends with the title track, “Seeds.” The song is on the softer side, but with an ominous fuzz-bass synth that casts a shadow over the track, which focuses on trying to make a relationship work. Intricate layers are added as the song builds, making it a satisfying conclusion to the album.

Give Seeds a listen. Despite the quirky name, TV on the Radio is a fabulous indie band whose music has stood the test of time…with a new album that will make many year-end “best-of” lists.