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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.