A local mix: Surrogate, The Railflowers and West By Swan
Highlights of the local-CD explosion in Chico
Chico’s bands have been busy this winter. At least 10 of them have new recordings that are have just been released, or are being released over the next few weeks, in time to provide a soundtrack for a bustling spring.
We are exploring only three choice samples from the impressive bounty here, so please visit the other artists’ sites (see sidebar) and head out to the release parties to support and celebrate the fruits of the local music scene.
Diamonds and Pearls
It seems impossible that such a bright, rich, nearly perfect disc of pop songs could have been recorded locally. Where the previous two Surrogate discs were the home-recording project of front man Chris Keene and drummer Jordan Mallory, this time they utilized the full live band of bassist Daniel Taylor, guitarist/backup vocalist Michael Lee and keyboardist Daniel Martin throughout the recording. The result is the most dynamic—and marketable beyond Chico—Surrogate disc yet. The rich harmonies between Lee and Keene, a newfound rhythmic strength (hear Taylor’s fuzz bass on “Old Life”) and energetic, well-placed parts by all players have taken Keene’s well-crafted pop songs to even greater heights.
While his soft tenor vocals and the band’s overall slow- to mid-tempo lush sound is comparable to contemporaries like Death Cab for Cutie and Dolorean, Keene’s voice has moments of almost gospel soul that elevate the character of these songs about failure and redemption beyond mere indie navel-gazing.
The best example is on the slow, sad waltz that closes the EP, “Hope Alaska.” The sparse tune features muted Wurlitzer runs (and, part way in, soaring sustained organ notes) in the background, placing Keene’s rich, wonderfully aching vocals way out front: “I found a place way up north called Hope, Alaska/ The people in Hope make their wage on Resurrection Creek/ I never heard a more beautiful thing/ I quit my job the very same day.”
Surrogate’s CD-release party is Friday, March 11, 9 p.m., at LaSalles. Steve French and Dustin Ruth open. First 50 paying show-goers get a free copy of the CD. www.myspace.com/surrogateparty.
The Railflowers—the sister trio of Hannah, Beth and Ellen Knight—are perhaps the sweetest thing to happen to the local folk-music scene of late. And their recently released, self-titled CD is a welcome sight for the many folks who can’t seem to get enough of the Knight sisters’ lovely voices and beautiful vocal harmonies—reminiscent of Irish-American singer-songwriter sister-trio The Roches. They’re talented musicians as well—Hannah plays banjo and guitar; Beth, guitar and mandolin; and Ellen plays guitar, flute and shaker.
There’s something about sisters singing together, and “Mekong Moon”—featuring Ellen’s contemplative flute and the guest cello lines of Melissa “Texas” Patterson—captures that special essence that familial harmonies seem to draw from and communicate to the listener’s heart. The gorgeous “By Candlelight,” even more so, does this with its strong, crystalline, three-part harmonies: “By this candlelight/ I will write/ With your voice still warming my ear/ And your face within my reach.”
“Millie,” a playful song with interesting harmonies, and lyrics written by Kristen Adams, provides a nice counterpoint to some of the album’s more subdued pieces. And Jack Knight’s electric guitar adds just the right touch.
The Railflowers perform at Café Coda Tuesday, Mar. 15, 8 p.m. CD is available at Chico Natural Foods.
—Christine G.K. LaPado
Tied Up Is Not Tied Together
West By Swan
There are loads of bands patrolling Chico’s music scene these days—West By Swan is the Sherman tank. Armed to the teeth. Tied Up Is Not Tied Together is album No. 2 for the quartet and it’s a long time coming, painstakingly recorded and mixed by guitarist/vocalist/mad scientist Dan Greenfield over the last four years. As on their self-titled debut, West By Swan heaves massive guitar noise atop a two-ton slab rhythm section.
The obvious touchstones remain: Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Polvo, even And Justice for All-era Metallica on the breakdown on “Utilitarian.” What really gives WBS their might is how they’re able to meld the cerebral with the visceral. A lot of melody is squeezed out of the brothers Greenfield’s cascading guitars. And one could get completely lost just following the always-moving bass lines of Conrad Nystrom (I recommend doing this). With all of the power WBS generates—most notably on the glacial closer “Indispensable”—there are still moments of delicacy.
“Pocket Knife” is the record’s quietest six minutes, filled with plenty of moving parts that make their way toward the song’s soaring chorus. Vocals are almost an afterthought here among all the ear candy. But what a rush.
West By Swan performs at Café Coda Saturday, March 12, 8 p.m., with Severance Package, Jeff Lee and Nate Pendery. The new CD is available at www.cdbaby.com/artist/westbyswan and on iTunes.
More new local releases:
Eye-Que & JX, The Blacklight EP
Perpetual Drifters, Waiting For Saturn
Red Giant, split w/Silian Rail
Ruby Hollow Band, Sun Still Shines
www.reverbnation.com/rubyhollowband CD-release, Sat., March 10, noon, Cafe Flo
The Shankers, Fowl Songs