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Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock

Adwaith – Bato Mato: The Welsh Trio to Rule The World

The genre-defying Welsh language trio Adwaith hit their home music scene hard in 2015 and have since brought their spellbinding sound and punching attitude to stages at Glastonbury, Green Man and many others across the UK. The larger British music scene has quickly embraced the band’s extraordinary energy and our prayers have just been answered with Adwaiths new album Bato Mato. Fresh back from their weekend at Glasto, we spoke to Gwen, Hollie and Heledd about the album’s reinvigorated sound and their hopes for carrying Welsh language music to a mass of new listeners from across the world.

James: Hey guys, how was playing Glastonbury?

Hollie: Crazy. What a mad experience.

Gwen: It’s just so massive, it’s impossible to see all the bands you want to see. But we did keep finding new things.

James: I heard that a festival had something to do with starting the band in the first place, why don’t you tell me a bit about that.

Gwen: Well Hollie and I have known each other since we were babies. We went to this Welsh festival in 2015 and after the festival, we thought; well we both play instruments, why don’t we start writing music together? We started off with a few covers, which were truly awful, what covers did we try to do?

Hollie: Oh dear, we tried to do ‘Build a home’ (The Cinematic Orchestra) and we attempted some First Aid Kit as well. But we started getting annoyed with ourselves so we thought; let’s sack this off and do our own thing.

James: Do you think those covers will ever see the light of day?

Hollie: There were no recordings of them thank God.

James: Going back to the festival where it all began, which bands did you see which really inspired you?

Gwen: I think that year Gwenno was playing and a band called HMS Morris. At the time there weren’t any female musicians on the Welsh festival scene, so seeing them made us think that it was something that we could do. So we went back and started writing then had our first gig in September 2015, which is where Hollie and I first met Heledd. We didn’t have a drummer and luckily Heledd happened to be there, so we were very lucky she came to the gig.

Hollie: Thank the lord!

James: I imagine that getting a band started in Wales must be very different to doing it in a major city like London. Would you say you guys are from a pretty rural area?

Hollie: Oh yes definitely rural.

James: Was it difficult finding places to play in the early days?

Gwen: We were lucky to have this venue called The Parrot in our town and that’s where we Hollie and I saw our first bands and eventually played our first gigs. We were very very lucky to have the venue because I don’t think we would have started a band without it.

Hollie: Definitely not.

Gwen: Or even have had the opportunity to play gigs if it wasn’t for that venue. The Welsh music scene there was very supportive of us and particularly of Welsh language music as a whole.

James: Would you say that there are a large amount of Welsh artists performing in the Welsh language now, or is it something which has yet to cross into the mainstream in Wales?

Gwen: I think it is quite hard for Welsh language artists to break out. I think our audience is mostly outside of Wales but industry-wise, it is still quite hard to get support sometimes. We’ve been looking for a booking agent for quite a while now, and a lot of them have said ‘you’re great but you’re singing in Welsh.’ So it is still quite hard but it is getting better and you see more artists breaking out of Wales and doing more gigs outside of Wales which is really nice to see.

James: This new album, Bato Mato, tell me how important it is to you.

Hollie: It’s so important to us, it’s our little baby.

Gwen: I’m hoping it exposes Welsh language music to a big audience and it’s kind of the next step now after the last album Melyn. We’re just excited to see where it takes us. Melyn took us to some crazy places so I’m hoping this will let us continue on that crazy journey.

James: What was the writing process behind the album like?

Gwen: We wrote most of it after a trip together to Siberia. We did a gig out there and I think it was just such a crazy experience from start to finish that we just couldn’t not write an album about it. We were very inspired by the landscapes and the people and these big industrial abandoned buildings. It was a bit grey and a bit bleak. We came back and we just had to write an album, it was during lockdown so it wasn’t how we would usually write together; sending ideas back and forth. It wasn’t ideal but lockdown gave us a bit of a break to work on our sound and the tracks.

James: Did the album turn out how you expected when you first imagined what it might sound like?

Gwen: I think we had a vision for it, we definitely knew we wanted it to sound a lot more developed. Compared to the last album I think the pop songs are more ‘poppy’ and the dark songs are darker. Everything is more intense and saturated. We knew we wanted to do that. I don’t think we envisioned it quite how it turned out but it’s definitely turned out better than we hoped.

Hollie: When we went to the studio we had loads of weird instruments that we had no idea how to play, just to see what sounds we could make by experimenting. You can probably see one of them behind Gwen right now.

James: Oh yes, what is that, Gwen?

Gwen: It’s a Zhongruan, which is a Chinese instrument. It’s very bizarre looking and I’m still not really sure how to play it.

James: I’m sure you’ve noticed a big shift in the music scene where bands are becoming more experimental with their sound, breaking down the barriers of genre and even working against their own established sound. Has that resonated with you guys with the new album?

Gwen: I think all of our music tastes are very different and diverse, so it made a lot of sense to write an album that wasn’t genre specific. I think that’s how you make and keep music exciting.

James: What’s next for you guys? Are places like London becoming your new home or are you more interested in trying to break a bigger music scene in Wales?

Gwen: We want to make Welsh music a big thing. World domination is the end goal. I think that the Welsh language in music has previously been frowned upon by people outside of Wales and people in Wales. So that’s really urged us to want to spread the Welsh love and to play Welsh music around the world, and then to open doors to other bands to do the same.

Heledd: I feel like we definitely want to stay in Wales too and create a bigger scene there, and also inspire more people there to want to embrace music.

James: I mean I for one would love to see more bands singing in their own language. I love bands who sing in their own accents and so to make your language a part of your music is really great. So what’s the immediate plan after the launch of the album?

Gwen: We’ve got a little tour lined up and some festivals coming up soon, with hopefully some gigs abroad by the end of the year. Just to gig the album as much as we can.

James: I’ll be sure to catch you guys playing soon. Any upcoming gigs in London that I should know about?

Hollie: Oh yes! Moth Club on Tuesday the 5th of July. Come down!

Adwaith’s new album Bato Mato is out now via Libertino Records. Catch them at Moth Club on July 5th. Tickets on DICE.

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Indie/Indie Rock Punk/Rock Reviews

Fucking Hallelujah: Children of the Pope

The Children of the Pope—judging from the band’s name alone, you know you’re in for something good. Taking “fucking hallelujah!” as their slogan, they describe themselves as a “…religious group from South America and Europe currently based in London.” The band’s intense love for “…dirty guitars, manic shouting, and surrealist melodies,” culminates in just the sort of sound that would have gone over big at the Troubadour in ’68, and holds audiences spellbound today. The band’s rise since their formation in 2018 (in the “grimiest parts of South London,”) has been meticulously documented on video and film by Lou Smith, and they’ve shared stages alongside the likes of Insecure Men, Brian Destiny, and Honkies.

Their latest single “Junkie Girlfriend” is out today on Isolar Records. At first listen, it’s a tune that manages to be simultaneously fresh and nostalgic. Opening with jangling guitar and backing vocals reminiscent of early Beatles stuff, the Parlophone sessions …but no, wait, breaking away in a sharp shout from the sha-la-las come lyrics to shatter the illusion of finding comfort in nostalgia because here we are again, in the same old narcotic mess, the girl with the golden arm and the needle sticking out of it.

Children of the Pope filmed live at Venue MOT by the South London scene’s documentarian-in-chief, Lou Smith.

Beneath the upbeat vocals, the neat, almost martial drums, the jangling tambourine and bright guitar trailing down like drops of mercury, it’s all fun and games until somebody shoots a mainline, as the narrator notes of his paramour’s coping mechanism: “the way you smile at me/when you find your vein again.” Rather than getting tangled up in typical romantic tropes, the lyrics offer a gritty perspective into a fraught relationship and all the vacillations and sadly unanswerable questions that go with it: “What can I do/Over you?

Have a look at the band’s manifesto:

Manifesto!’ by the Children of the Pope.

Take it seriously or snap your fingers at it, react as you please, but, have a think. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle—are we still in the thick of it? Its plot still a daily truth for millions? Sure. It’s prescient as hell, always has been. Even before it was written it was true. We’ve been post-Eden longer than memory reaches; it gets a little tiring, out here in the moral desert. To find such substance, such brazen intention, in a rock n’ roll outfit during an era when minds have become so collectively warped that it’s somehow considered acceptable to call Maroon 5 a rock band, is a welcome oasis indeed. As Pete Townshend said: “All good art cannot help but confront denial on its way to the truth.” Denial is a real blood sport these days, and the Children of the Pope are confronting it head-on, in the quest for some kind of truth. It’s out there somewhere. We just gotta keep looking for it.

“Junkie Girlfriend” is out today on Isolar Records. You can listen to (and buy!) the single at the link below. https://childrenofthepope.bandcamp.com

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Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock New Wave Punk/Rock Why We Love

Why We Love: Pons

Pons. From left: Jack Parker (drums), Sebastian Carnot (drums), Sam Cameron (vocals/guitar). Photo courtesy of IDIOTEQ

I’ll start off this article with two words: two drummers. I’ll add another two for good measure: no bassist. That’s right, Pons is a three-piece band featuring a guitar, vocals, drums, and more drums. They’re truly a sight and sound to behold.

Pons formed in North Carolina in 2018 shortly after the two founding members graduated high school. The two members in question are Sam Cameron, who sings and plays guitar, and Jack Parker on drums. Shortly after, the duo released their debut EP, titled They Look Like People. The EP features five loud, noisy, raw tracks that only hint at the power Pons was yet to harness. 

The start of Pons: Jack and Sam circa 2018. Photo courtesy of Pons’ Instagram

At first, progress was slow for Pons due to Jack attending college at the University of Vermont, where he became part of the short-lived but very popular emo band Boys Cruise. However, behind the scenes, the duo was still keeping the flame of Pons alive. After releasing a few more songs and embarking on a mini-tour in early 2019, the floodgates opened. That summer, Pons released Dread, their second EP. With this EP, they went on their longest tour yet, traveling from North Carolina all the way to Canada and back. This ambitious outing showcased the incredible work ethic that powered the band, and it was only the beginning.

As fall came around, Pons continued to build on the momentum of the previous summer. Sam moved up to Vermont in order to continue working on new material and play shows in the area. They also expanded, introducing auxiliary percussionist Sebastian Carnot, also known as DIE the Monk, at a show in September. While based in Vermont, the trio built up a reputation for pulling out all the stops live. One of their most popular antics was ditching their instruments and shouting lyrics discordantly over a pre-recorded backing track, wading out into the audience and dancing maniacally as they did so. The addition of a second drummer also meant that their shows became even noisier.

After releasing their debut album Intellect in 2020, Pons once again made a drastic move: they relocated to New York. Despite the high saturation of strange and unusual bands in NYC, Pons immediately stood out due to their raw power and noise. They began playing shows all over the country, darting from one state to another on a whim. Oftentimes, they would pay visits to Vermont, where they were still heroes of the underground. This included playing a show at Higher Ground with Vundabar.

Fast forward to today, and Pons are often cited as people’s favorite band to see live. Their commitment to their sound, style, and persona has also helped them stand out in a world where weirdness is often watered down and turned into a commodity. Their fierce work ethic also makes them stand out as a beacon for other underground bands that are looking to make a name for themselves on the road. Even if Pons’ music isn’t your cup of tea, their determination and passion will have you keeping your eyes on them.

The band’s latest single, “Leave Me To My Work,” is out now on all streaming platforms.

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Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock Reviews Why We Love

Why We Love: Glasvegas

Glasvegas circa 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I’ll never forget when I began listening to Scottish band Glasvegas. In seventh grade, I started branching out from the music I heard in the car or on the radio and almost accidentally started listening to them. My dad had received their 2008 self-titled debut album from my uncle, and because of that, I began listening to it. I immediately fell in love with the atmospheric, dense sonic world that Glasvegas created on the album. Songs such as “Geraldine,” “Go Square Go,” “Daddy’s Gone,” and “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry” tackled emotional themes while enveloping the listener in swirling guitars, rumbling bass, and simplistic yet effective drums. Although singer James Allen’s vocals were obscured by such a thick Scottish accent that I often had to look up the lyrics to understand what was being said, I still adored the album and still do to this day.

It turns out that I was not alone in my love for the album. After its release, it ended up going platinum, a big feat for an indie rock band. The band had actually formed years earlier in 2003, slowly working and building a fanbase over the years through constant touring, free demos, and a music video for the demo of “Daddy’s Gone.” This slow build in recognition meant that the album was a deserved smash hit, and Glasvegas enjoyed the benefits their self-titled album reaped.

In the years that followed, the band released two more albums: EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\ in 2011, and Later…When The TV Turns to Static in 2013. Sadly, these albums did not perform as well critically or commercially as the debut album. Following the release of Static, the band’s output dried up with the exception of a small tour in 2014 to support the album. As the years went on and the band continued to remain silent, it seemed as though they had broken up. Allen’s struggles with drug use also painted the future of the band in a bleak light.

However, the band suddenly reemerged in 2018 to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the debut album. They went on tour and re-released the album with a gold cover. They also released demos of the debut album to all streaming platforms. Then, three years later, the unexpected occurred: Glasvegas released their fourth album. Titled Godspeed, the album contains eleven tracks, two of which serve as interludes. Each of these tracks creates a world that not only harkens back to the debut album but also expands on it. The track “Stay Lit,” despite the title, is actually an acoustic guitar-driven track that has a morose, haunted feel to it. “In My Mirror,” one of the standout tracks on the album, pulses with a sense of urgency and contains some of Allen’s most impassioned vocals to date. “Dying to Live” runs in a similar vein, with Allen practically spitting out the lyrics in desperation over a tense instrumental. The tracks “Keep Me A Space” and “My Life Is A Glasshouse (A Thousand Stones Ago)” echo the first album with their sweeping textures and grand soundscapes.

It is nothing short of staggering that Glasvegas were able to make such a quality album after eight years. However, it is also not outside of the band to pull something like this off. After all, this is the same band that existed for five years before their debut album, slowly honing their sound and polishing their craft. Clearly, work ethic is a major part of Glasvegas’s ethos, which is something that must be admired. Many other bands would have folded under lesser circumstances, but with Godspeed, Glasvegas proves that they are made of tougher stuff.

Glasvegas’ new album Godspeed. Photo courtesy of XS Noise

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Indie/Indie Rock

Bishopskin: I Was Born on an Island

“No one can be free who has thousand ancestors.” I’m paraphrasing L.M. Montgomery, but it’s dead true. We’re shackled to the past because it’s what has melded the present. We’re chained to its rhythms. However many centuries away we are from the nomadic tribes we are descended from, the same drum beats, the same voices, get us going. Bishopskin riff off of that immutable bond, creating music that contains both the glassy slickness of modernity and the essential, humming, throb of music at the beginning of language. Music for music own’s sake: music, as Iggy Pop has said, for “the sheer joy of just making a neat noise.”

Featuring lead singer Tiger Nicholson and guitarist James Donovan (of HMTLD) the band put on gigs that are a bit like attending a ceremony of pagan worship: imagine the theatrics of Jim Morrison with the musical agenda of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, combined with what the band cite as their chief influences: “ancient folk songs…and ancestral worship music.”  High priests of the electric church of rock n’ roll, indeed.

The band’s first EP, Ye Olde Britland Isle, was released in 2020. Their latest single, “I Was Born on an Island,” is out today. The track opens with a lone voice, droning a hypnotic, unintelligible chant. The lone voice is soon joined by other voices, creating a cascade of urgent, beautiful tones, woven like a tapestry over a steady drumbeat. Haunting and surreal, the layered vocals showcase what a brilliantly flexible instrument the human voice is, as well as revealing the uncanny power in the sound of chanting. It triggers a reaction reaching far back into the subconscious, beyond memory, into the parts of our brains we share with lizards. It is supremely fitting that, “I Was Born on an Island,” was chosen for the group’s latest single, “due to the intense emotional reaction it elicits from the audience at live shows…”

Bishopskin Live at the Columbia, Filmed by Lou Smith.

A lockdown project that turned into an extended venture following rapid fanbase growth, Bishopskin are currently immersed in recording new material, bringing in collaborators such as Alex White of Fat White Family, Duc Peterman of HMLTD, and Seth Evans of Black Midi.

I Was Born on an Island’ is out today, on the non-profit label Isolar Records. You can purchase the single here: https://bishopskin.bandcamp.com/releases

You can follow the further adventures of Bishopskin on Instagram, @bishopskin, and @isolar_records.

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Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock New Wave Pop/Indie Pop Why We Love

Why We Love: Young Guv

Ben Cook, the man behind “Young Guv”

Instagram has changed my life in many ways. On the bright side, it has given me many international opportunities, such as writing for this brilliant magazine. On the negative side, it has rendered my attention span so useless that chances are, I reached down and stared at my phone screen before I even finished typing this sentence (I actually didn’t. There is hope for me.). However, in the former category, I have been introduced to countless new songs and bands thanks to a mixture of advertisements and random posts on the site. 

Recently, I was scrolling mindlessly through my phone when I stumbled across an artist by the name of Young Guv. I vaguely recalled having seen the name before, but I hadn’t investigated further because I figured he was just another rapper. However, I stopped on the post that had come up in front of my indifferent eyes and took a listen to the clip. Immediately, I emerged from my stupor as the chorus of the song, which was called “Only Wanna See U Tonight,” floated into my ears. The song had the trappings of late 70’s power-pop mixed with the sheen of mid-90’s alt-rock. Shining guitars popped out over crisp drums, melodic bass, peppy tambourine, and the almost saccharine vocals of the project’s mastermind, Ben Cook.

Stunned, I played the clip over and over again before it occurred to me that I ought to go and listen to the actual song. I listened to it a few times and enjoyed it greatly. It almost felt like a guilty pleasure; surely this was some cynical cash grab. The production was too clean, the vocal harmonies too ear-catching, the guitar tone too sunny. However, over the course of the past month, “Only Wanna See U Tonight” has repeatedly floated back into my head until I relent and listen to the song again.

I then took the big risk of exposing myself to the rest of Young Guv’s catalog. From the beginning, I was worried that Guv’s other songs wouldn’t stack up to the pop glory of “Only Wanna See U Tonight,” so I approached them with trepidation. I was proven joyfully wrong. “It’s Only Dancing” brings the energy of the earliest days of new wave, with guitars caked in the chorus and the drums providing an insistent and instantly groovy treadmill for the song to run on. The song brings to mind Joe Jackson, Rick Springfield, and Bruce Springsteen. If you told me that this song was from 1981, I would absolutely believe you. Even the production works on that level, which is a surprising feat in a world where a lot of pop stars try to ape the 80’s “sound” by throwing atmospheric synths on their music.

Other gems in Guv’s catalog include “Lo Lo Lonely,” which cranks the distortion to a point reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub and Weezer. Emphasizing the influence of the latter band, Cook’s vocals ooze through the song like Matt Sharp’s on The Rentals’ sophomore album Seven More Minutes. Moving in the complete opposite direction is “Caught Lookin’,” a song that sounds like what you’d get if you stuck Mac Demarco in a DeLorean. Gently plucked acoustic guitars meet swirling synths and grooving bass. The overall feel is funky and suave, which is punctuated by female backing singers and a subtle drum machine that hits at just the right moments. An airy saxophone firmly ends any debate.

Overall, Ben Cook and company have shown that they can write some real fine songs. They accomplish the difficult task of writing guitar pop that isn’t overproduced but doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia. Their next release, a double album consisting of Guv III and Guv IV, is expected on March 11th through Run For Cover Records.

Young Guv, courtesy of Run For Cover Records
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Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Reviews Why We Love

Why We Love: Buerak

Russian post punk is a genre that has slowly but surely permeated American musical taste. Some early examples include the dreamy Motorama and the grim but vibrant Human Tetris. I was introduced to the genre through the latter after stumbling across arguably their biggest hit, “Things I Don’t Need,” on YouTube during the summer of 2018. Immediately, I fell in love with the song. It had everything a fan of post punk wants: gloomy bass lines, spectral guitar riffs, cryptic vocals delivered in a baritone, and hyper talented drumming that even a machine would struggle to replicate. From that song on, I began delving deeper into the genre.

Suddenly, in the summer of 2020, the genre exploded onto the scene. Molchat Doma, a Belarusian trio, took TikTok by storm with their song “Sudno,” a title that translates to “Bedpan.” Due to this song’s rapid climb in notoriety, other similar sounding bands were sought out and gained popularity as well. However, one band that has not truly received their dues, in my opinion, is Buerak.

Buerak is a Russian duo that formed in 2014, releasing their first singles the same year. The two members are singer/bassist Artyom Cherepanov and guitarist Alexandr Makeyev. Hailing from Novosibirsk, Russia, Buerak has been dubbed part of the “new Russian wave.” They are also notably prolific: since their founding in 2014, the pair has released six full length albums, eight EPs, and twenty singles. They have also released nine music videos.

I first came across Buerak thanks to some friends in Belfast who posted one of their songs on Instagram. Intrigued, I deciphered the Russian characters in the title and found the song, called “Sports Glasses,” on YouTube. From the very start, the frantic drum machine, insistent bass, and spider-like guitar hold the listener in their wintery grip. After a moment, the song transitions, with the drums lessening a little but not losing the tempo. 

Cherepanov’s peculiar and unique vocal delivery then takes center stage. The vocals are almost deadpan save for a few instances where he emphasizes words. Despite the urgent feeling of the song behind him, the way he sings gives the impression that he is reading rather than singing, which works oddly well. In a way, the vocals become an anchor keeping the hyperactive instruments from flying off the rails. However, at the end of the song, the vocals depart and the instruments close out the song with gusto. There is heavy use of crash cymbals on the drum machine, and the guitar becomes fuzzier, while the bass provides the powerful undertow.

The crazy drum machine patterns, razor-sharp guitar lines, and ever present bass are staples of almost every Buerak song, though many of their songs utilize other stylistic measures as well. For example, on their 2017 sophomore LP, “Modest Apartments,” more than one guitar is featured on some of the songs, creating a captivating tapestry of sound. On some other songs on the album, synthesizer comes in, taking their already 80’s-inspired sound to new heights.

Outside of the studio, Buerak is known for their energetic live shows. Despite the occasional mishap that comes with using a drum machine, the two musicians, Cherepanov in particular, get the audience frenzied and dancing to every song. Oftentimes, the crowd often sings the songs back at the band, showcasing just how popular they really are.

If you love Russian post punk, then I cannot recommend Buerak enough. Their music is similar enough to other bands in the scene to attract fans of the genre while being unique enough to stand out from the crowd. The energetic rhythms and wonderful production have always brought me back to the band ever since I first heard them back in 2020, and I have never been disappointed.

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Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock Why We Love

Why We Love: The Umbrellas

The Umbrellas, courtesy of their bandcamp page. From Left: Keith Frerichs, Matt Ferrera, Morgan Stanley, Nick Oka

I am an absolute sucker for Sarah Records bands. I first came across the label after seeing a picture of The Field Mice on Instagram. Thinking that they looked cool, and knowing that the band Seapony had covered one of their songs, I gave them a listen and was blown away. The jangly guitars, the punchy drum machines, the melodic bass, and the poetic lyrics quickly endeared me to the late 80’s-early 90’s indie band. Once I had dug through their catalogue, I began checking out the rest of Sarah Records’ roster, finding such amazing bands as Another Sunny Day, Brighter, and 14 Iced Bears. All these bands had vastly different yet oddly similar sounds, and I began searching for any sort of modern-day equivalent.

Despite my keen eye, The Umbrellas still hit me like a brick wall. Again finding them through a random encounter on Instagram, I noted the cool, understated indie-rock aesthetic of the name and decided to give them a listen. On top of this, I saw that they were part of Slumberland Records, another fantastic indie-rock label featuring, at least at some point, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Crystal Stilts. Seeing that The Umbrellas had a new self-titled debut album out, I dove in headfirst.

Immediately from the first chords of opener “Lonely,” I was transported back to the magical moment that I had stumbled upon Sarah Records back in high school. The nostalgia was visceral and quickly had me hooked. Jangly guitars bounced around a persistent drumbeat, and Matt Ferrera’s notably Field Mice-esque singing style was spot on. The lyrics are beautifully simple, describing the insecurities stemming from a relationship gone wrong. Morgan Stanley also provides vocals on this song, her voice floating ethereally through the flickering guitar notes. Overall, “Lonely” is an incredible opener, and should they ever visit the East Coast, I would love to hear it live.

As the album continues, The Umbrellas show off other facets of their songwriting strengths. The song “It’s True” is a delicate, intimate acoustic ballad, with raw vocals traded by Ferrera and Stanley as melancholy chords chug beneath them. The two singers sing both separately and in harmony throughout the song, like two birds in a late summer sky. “She Buys Herself Flowers,” one of the singles off of the album, features R.E.M. style guitars throughout that occasionally show signs of The Byrds and even early surf music. Stanley’s frank vocals are on full display here, as are a set of remarkably clever and catchy lyrics. Later in the album, “Never Available” features sunny guitar arpeggios and 60’s psychedelic style percussion. Gentle keys also buoy the song and provide an extra layer of atmosphere to the song. The simple refrain of, “You’re never available,” is an instant earworm and ensures that the song sticks in the memory of the listener.

Considering that this is their first album, I am shocked at how masterful The Umbrellas’ songwriting sounds. It is impressive how well they conveyed their influences while also adding a modern touch to a classic sound. If the album was simply a shameless ripoff, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. After all, The Field Mice already existed. However, The Umbrellas utilize enough nostalgia to captivate listeners while providing enough nuance to stand apart from the crowd. I tip my hat to this great new band, and I cannot wait to hear what else they have to offer.

The Umbrellas’ self-titled debut album cover, courtesy of bandcamp
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Indie/Indie Rock

Indie Idols: Trevor Sensor

Image by Ben Rouse

An artist often compared to the likes of Bob Dylan thanks to his use of philosophical and anecdotal lyrics, it is difficult to not be transported into the world of Trevor Sensor through his debut album – Andy Warhol’s Dream. Released in 2017, the album contains some musical masterpieces and created quite the splash among fans of label Jagjaguwar, being described as “one of the most refreshing albums I have heard in years.” Having been born and raised in the desert of midwestern America – Sterling, Illinois – surrounded by prairies, where the hardware store is the town’s greatest attraction, Sensor is an unlikely hero in the music industry, aiming to divert from traditional pop music  and the traditional indie music route, while still honouring his origins. A sentiment he displays through both his music, his videos, and his methods. High Beams, the first song on the album, for instance, describes what I would argue is a feeling of being lost, stuck in the crossroads of life, a deer in the headlights, unsure of what dream to follow, and was filmed in Sterling, showing imagery of agricultural silos and factories and a pretty desolate backdrop, save for the three backing dancers, who although being quite conventional, still manage to subvert tradition by being completely out of time and uncoordinated – an extra touch that for me, makes the video more relatable. 

Since Andy Warhol’s Dream, Sensor has gone on to release a second album, On Account of Exile, Vol. 1, in June of this year. The release has a whole range of different undertones, from slight 80s rock influences in Madison Square Garden, which arguably is even reminiscent of Take Your Mama Out by the Scissor Sisters, and ends in a jazz like cacophony, to an ABBA-esque introduction and more calm happy melodic general sound of Days Drag On, while still managing to sound cohesive, thanks to Sensor’s iconic voice and his signature cultural references, such as to the infamous Zodiac Killer, arguably the most prolific serial killer in history who has subsequently inspired the 2007 film Zodiac

My personal favourite from the On Account of Exile, Vol. 1 album is Chiron, Galactus. Released as the second single of this album, it not only tells the story of the pain of being in love and the difficulties of loyalty to religion, through its lyrics, but also in its title. Chiron, in astrology, is suggested to represent having a “spiritual wound that we must work to heal in this lifetime.” This song also has an incredibly simple but emotive and hard-hitting music video, shot in monochrome, in which we watch Trevor Sensor sing, his facial expressions dramatically highlighted by a single spot-light that really emphasises the pain of the song. The camera tilts downward to reveal that Sensor is tied to his chair and as the video progresses we see him struggle to free himself, pained, angered and exhausted he gives up, just as the music slows. This cinematic video is perfectly suited to the song, and I feel like anything more than this minimalistic accompaniment would distract and overpower the song.

Sensor has also released a new single this month: Honest Abel, Old Red Tiger. A song showcasing the artist’s intellectual lyricism by referencing American history throughout, as evidenced by the title “Honest Abel” which was a nickname given to President Abraham Lincoln as he was known as one of the more truthful politicians in history, while also providing a social commentary on the state of religious beliefs in various situations in America, such as prison’s, from both the inmates and warden’s point of view. This song is a very clear example of just how weighty and consequential Trevor Sensor’s song’s can be once truly picked apart and understood. Adn is just a small taste of what we can expect in On Account of Exile, Vol. II, which is set to be released on the 19th of November.

I recommend listening to Sensor’s music on full volume as it really shows you how incredible he would be live. He is most definitely an artist that deserves far more recognition and acclaim for his great talent. And be sure to check out The Reaper Man, Sensor’s most known song, once you’ve finished this article.

Categories
Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock

Ten Years On: The Drums’ Prodigal Son, Portamento

Portamento’s album cover. Courtesy of Pitchfork

Saying that something is life changing is dramatic. However, in the case of indie-rock band The Drums, I can make this statement with absolute certainty. They shaped my music taste, influenced my songwriting, and provided the soundtrack to some of my best memories. Their self-titled debut album, released in 2010, is one of the best albums of that decade, in my humble opinion. The production, the songwriting, and all the subtle flourishes and embellishments present within those twelve songs is unbelievable, especially for a debut album. There are few other releases like it.

In 2011, the band released their second album, titled Portamento. In an Instagram post celebrating the album’s tenth anniversary, band leader Jonny Pierce mentioned how the album was considered to be a flop, a victim of the “sophomore slump.” He is not wrong in saying that. Compared to the debut album, the reviews for Portamento were noticeably lukewarm. According to Metacritic, the average score for the album was a 64. YouTube music critic TheNeedleDrop gave the album a 5/10 after praising the debut album. Fans were confused by the album, and I will not hesitate to say that I was as well. After spending so many listens absorbing the shimmering guitars, beachy harmonies, and lovesick lyrics of the first album, I did not know what to make of Portamento, and as a result, I shoved it aside.

Portamento differs from the debut album almost immediately with the song “Book of Revelation.” The production is less shiny, and the tone of the song is more sullen than even the darkest moments of the debut. Jonny is also singing in a much higher register than he did before. On the debut, his singing was safe and fit the music like a glove, whereas on this album, he is pushing the envelope. Considering how flamboyant Jonny’s live presence is, this change makes sense. It also shows that he is not afraid to take risks to get his point across. 

As the album continues, it throws more curveballs at the listener. “What You Were” and “Money” feature a much higher emphasis on synthesizers than on previous releases, with various keyboard stabs poking through the thin fabric of guitars. The latter also features some interesting vocalizations that will surprise many fans of the debut album. The dive into synths hits its peak on the song “Searching For Heaven,” which is all synthesizer and saves for some haunting vocals. 

However, ten years on, it is safe to say that Portamento has aged remarkably well, turning many of its skeptics into supporters, including me. I love many of the songs on this album. The emotion is more potent, more urgent than on the debut album. While that album dealt with love in a way that was melancholy but also tinged with sunshine. It was broken hearted but still had its composure. Portamento, meanwhile, does not hold back any punches, with its lyrics lacking the poetics of the first album but packing more of a punch, such as on the song “If He Likes It Let Him Do It.” The songs feel brutally honest, and the listener can feel whatever Jonny is feeling without any doubts. 

The music is also far more dour, but not to the detriment of the listening experience. The aforementioned “Money” was the first single off the album, and it is one of the catchiest songs The Drums have ever released. Despite its breakneck pace, each instrument is tight to the groove. The lyrics are a bit more tongue in cheek, with the chorus “I want to buy you something / But I don’t have any money” being wryly humorous and relatable.

At the end of the day, I will always adore the debut album, and it is to this day my favorite Drums release. However, I owe Portamento an apology. It is a stripped down, emotionally turbulent album, and an experience completely separate from the debut album. Once you separate Portamento from The Drums, it shines in its own light, where it belongs.

The Drums Circa 2011. From left: Connor Hanwick, Jacob Graham, Jonny Pierce