Scott Windsor and his band make bright, dreamy pop that's one part Coldplay, one part Oasis and one part Boy George. The lyrics are well crafted but the songs in general are only serviceable; the sound is what this music is all about. Enlisting programmer James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens) has resulted in a more electronic, keyboard- and synth-heavy album than Windsor's previous work, but his angelic, reverb-drenched singing remains an important focus of the production. With the exception of the beautiful, acoustic "Tests On My Heart," the songs play out mostly as sonic dreamscapes, even the most uptempo ones. The danceable "Again and Again," the rocked-up "Crooked," the contemplative Radiohead-inspired "Idle and Waiting" and the U2-like drone of "Thinking of You" contrast nicely and the CD hangs together well. Catchy hooks are the main missing puzzle piece. With some more of those, Umbrellas have as much potential as anyone to reach the level of some of the above-mentioned bands.
Alec Gross & the Districts, Win?orLose?
Alec Gross combines Americana and heartland rock with a strain of folksy gentleness and a knack for melody. Raw honesty is the first and deepest impression that these songs make. Gross sings them in an emotional, slightly quavery voice reminiscent of Michael Stipe. Themes of lost love and disappointment predominate. "Broken In Two" declares: "Break me in two/One for me and one for you/One man to lie and say he's true/The other will leave but he'll still love you." And the simple, deadly refrain of "Cold Apples" cuts right to the heart: "I will wait/But not for you." But the songs take every possible viewpoint on the matter. "Joni Mitchell Was Right (1-2-3)" is a funny depiction of glimpsing a former lover looking oh-so-fine, while "Blue-Ribbon Baby" finds the beauty in sad resignation. "Piscataway" and "Just a Boy" are effective, Springsteen-esque depictions of moving away and growing up.
My only criticism is that in the harder-rocking songs the arrangements and guitar sounds are rather old-fashioned – I don't dislike them, but a more modern sensibility in that area might widen the appeal, especially since the songs and vocals are so winning. (The synth in "Fix My Dreams," however, which is right out of "Lucky Man," is the cool kind of retro.)
Available at CD Baby.
The Mains, The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get
This Los Angeles outfit, led by songwriters Foster Calhoun (Vegas DeMilo) and Rich McCulley, makes straightforward, crunchy, catchy pop-rock. Guitars jangle and growl, while Calhoun's grungy lead vocals alternately soar and snarl. Although it's not original, and the lyrics are often cliched, the duo makes an inspired songwriting team, working elements of the best rock from the 60s through the 90s into one infectious tune or riff after another. From ballads ("By The Way") and rumbling retro-rockers ("Rock and Roll") to delicious power-pop ("Tonight") and songs inspired by 70s classic rock ("Jaded"), The Mains give good old rock an exciting and muscular workout.
Some time around 1970, the term "rock" began to be used for guitar-heavy, rebellious-sounding pop. Listening to The Mains reminds us that terms like rock and pop, like lines of longitude, are just artificial constructs, while music – if it's solid and honest like this – is all-natural.
Extended samples available at CD Baby.