Today’s breaking news is a bit off the poprock beaten track. All the artists have something somewhat mysterious and unique going on. They want your attention but they’re gonna get it on their own terms.
Kayleigh Watson from UK indie music site The Line of Best Fit had the best description of San Francisco’s The Reds, Pinks & Purples: ‘depresso pop’. On Uncommon Weather, the band’s first long-player, these guys are so down they make Morrissey look up to me. Seriously, the style is a lofi, almost shoegazey take on The Smiths, though without being derivative. Not that this record is a total downer or anything. In fact, opening track “Don’t Ever Pray in the Church in my Street” has a great bouncy lead guitar line, almost drone-like, that could certainly get the dance floor bopping. At the other times, the band channels other indie lowkey jangle outfits like The Catherines on songs like “I Hope I Never Fall in Love.” Of course, song titles like “A Kick in the Face (That’s Life)” and “The Biggest Fan” certainly give the Mopester a run for his money. Meanwhile “The Record Player and the Damage Done” is a deceptively jaunty journey into vinyl ennui. Overall, this record is a state of mind, a mood. If you’re a bit out of sorts, feeling out of phase, Uncommon Weather will soothe your troubled mind. Turn it on and let the reverb take you away.
Hailing from Denton, Texas, population just 150,000, Fishboy sound instead like a sophisticated big city concept outfit, with recordings that vibe a pretty hip off-Broadway musical style. Exhibit A: their brand new concept album, the mock-holiday dedicated Waitsgiving. You could be forgiven for thinking that this album is some brilliant mediation on our current pandemic situation but actually the whole thing is just an unrelated flash of brilliance, another installment of the band’s bent for ‘intricately plotted’ story albums. Now there’s a story threaded through these songs here but there’s also just great songs. So listen to the whole thing for a fun show or just tune in to specific songs for some hooky tunes. Personally I love opening track “The First Waitsgiving (Waitsgiving Founder)” with its show tune feel and melodic hints of Fun and Weezer layered in here and there. Or early video “Greatness Waitress” charges along with a staccato tempo that is all caged melodic energy. And then there’s the alternative universe hit single, “The Last Waitsgiving,” a song that pays repeated listening to firmly get under your skin. Looking for something a bit more ambitious than just a collection of hummable songs? Fishboy have your album right here.
Athens Georgia’s Lo Talker have been described as folk rock and psychedelic but the harmonies and dreamy guitars remind me more of bands like Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper (in acoustic mode). The band’s debut album A Comedy of Errors has a sparse but lush attack, the overall sound tends to sneak in place, adding sonic layers and unusual elements but never crowding the songs. The formula is all there on opening track “Heaven in Drag,” a musical mélange sealed with an alluringly emotive vocal. Sometimes the sound is very poppy folk, as on “Nero in the News,” but at other times it’s just a lovely swirl of different melodic hues, a bit of keyboard, some driving acoustic guitar, as captured on “Astral Humming.” There are a few departures, like the upbeat pop swing animating “No Champagne” or even the hooky 1970s AM radio throwback style on “Automatic Love.” For a new band on their debut record, the result is strikingly coherent and established, like something they’ve been crafting for years.
I love Kevin Devine and I don’t care who knows it. I’d heard a few of the solo tunes over the years (“Bubblegum”; “She Can See Me”), I had those great Bad Books records, but it was his 2016 release Instigator was the revelation for me. I fell hard for his biting socio-political analysis and the tunes. Oh, those tunes! I was fortunate to see him play the album solo in a small club in Toronto and the performance was pure magic. Recalling his live rendering “I Was Alive Back Then” still gives me shivers. So news that Devine was hard at work on a new album got my attention. He’s been showcasing new material over this past year as he works out just how to present them and even released a few demo versions and some inspired covers to tide us over until the new record comes. You can hear them all on the very satisfying full-LP length Out in the Ether, split between five new songs and five covers. The covers are delightfully inspired reworkings of songs from indie darlings (Elliott Smith, The Strokes) and big name acts (Bruce Springsteen, Sam Cooke). But the main event here is clearly the new songs – and they’re sounding pretty damn good. “Go Haunt Someone Else” is a classic Devine pretty little tune, with nice background vocals. It works as an acoustic number but it will be interesting to hear if he expands the sonic palate on this one. On the whole the originals are wistful and longing in execution though “You’re My Incentive” hints at something that could be taken up in a more dramatic fashion, if that’s what Devine has in mind. So, overall impression: promising stuff from a guy who never disappoints.
I can’t get enough of classic poprock AM radio hits but I’m also partial to acts who bend the formula a bit, who press at the edges of convention, who push the audience to hear the familiar in a different way. The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Fishboy, Lo Talker, and Kevin Devine all defy the easy and obvious paths in songwriting and performance. Reward them with your attention.