Drone in indie-rock work is a funny thing: it features in some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard (The Low Anthem’s “This Goddamn House,” Headlights’ “Get Your Head Around It”) and also can kill a song entirely. (I’m eliding electronic and metal uses of the technique here, because the ways that drone works there are very different.) The Pollies‘ “Paperback Books” uses warm drone as a gentle, subtle intro–a backdrop for the tune to play out against, invoked but not integral after the band crashes in.
Jay Burgess’ voice evenly balances the quiet reverie of memory with the rueful quality of the same; it’s a tune that can amplify either uplifting vibes or the sort of desirably-sad feelings that we all look for sometimes. It’s a rare tune that can fit multiple emotional spaces with a single sonic one. That drone helps it cut both ways–it can mean stability or uncertainty, depending on how you look at it. The lyrics revel in that sort of backwards/forwards look, that positive/negative combination that we can’t avoid in life. This song is quickly moving into my permanent rotation, because it so perfectly captures a mood that I’m often looking for.
But even if you’re not the sort to get emotionally attached to your tunes (should you, mythical creature, actually exist), it’s hard to deny the skill with which this song is crafted. The alt-country band transcends the genre here, focusing on meandering-yet-careful lead vocals, soaring bgvs, twinkly lead guitar, and a reverb-laden sense of nostalgia. The arrangement is carefully layered and mixed to perfection–it feels effortless, even though there’s quite a bit going on. All the pieces melt into each other to create one sonic idea–a feat that should not be downplayed. Even if you don’t want to get emotional and “remember the days when we were just teens,” “Paperback Books” is a warm, lush tune that deserves your attention.
Do you ever just turn on a song and immediately feel happier–even lighter, perhaps? That’s the way I felt when I first listened to the opening track off Hanna Kostamaa’s self-released EP Spectrum. Even though the subject matter of “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” is not lighthearted, the sounds of the song filled my ears with whimsy.
The San Diego-based Kostamaa plays with rock instrumentation and pop melodies to create a sound that’s all her own. Spectrum combines this indie-pop/rock sound with very realistic lyrics that seem to say, “even though life isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, our instrumentation can be.”
Opener “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” is the shining single off this EP. The keyboard intro is very reminiscent of the beginning of “Cherry Tulips” by Headlights–in fact, Headlights is a really great comparison to this release. The quirky pop sound of “Always Gonna Feel Kinda Lonely” and “Lost in a Dream” contain the same whimsical instrumentation found in many Headlights songs. Both artists fill their instrumentation with the electronic keyboard, funky bass lines, and beachy Californian guitar. Hanna’s voice even sounds very familiar in tone and style to Erin Fein’s. Unfortunately, Headlights has disbanded; luckily we have Hanna Kostamaa to keep their sound alive!
The other two songs on the EP, “Claustrophobia” and “WIldfire,” have much more of a indie rock feel akin to The Black Keys. “Claustrophobia” begins with a light drum beat and quickly points our attention towards a truly funky bass line. On top of the drums and awesome bass line, Hanna layers a slightly chaotic electric guitar that takes off on solos which ooze rock ’n roll sex appeal, similar to what Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney tend to do. “Wildfire” then begins with the sexy electric guitar that “Claustrophobia” left off on. Hanna’s experimentation with badass rock ‘n roll instrumentation delightfully keeps Spectrum from being an innocent indie-pop EP. The way Hanna fully enters into two different worlds- the rock and the pop- and makes them both her own in Spectrum that really makes the unique sound of the EP stand out.
Hanna’s darker lyrics also inhibit Spectrum from being a happy-go-lucky pop collection. Even “Lost in a Dream” is not as innocent as its name and instrumentation sounds. Instead of “Lost in a Dream” being an angelic love song–which is what I originally thought it was–it speaks a much darker message.The track opens with “Meeting by the swings/ Innocence and its dream” and I thought, aww–how sweet, a love song! As the song progresses, the chorus hit me with a reality check–this song isn’t about gaining love, it’s about losing love. The chorus repeats throughout the song: “Hold on, where are you going?/ We didn’t agree that it was finished for you and me/ Hold on, why are you going?” I then realized that the first few lyrics were actually what she later describes as “Clinging onto the few good things.”
The sweet-sounding instrumentation of “Lost in a Dream” continues to the end of the song, leading us to the final, despondent lyric: “Hold on, why are you gone?” It’s as if the playful, dream-pop sound of the song is meant to lead us astray just as much as the “few good things” led her to think that maybe there’s a chance that the relationship doesn’t have to end. But all good things must end at some point.
The very realistic, human lyrics pair with the quirky indie-pop/rock vibe in a wonderfully paradoxical way. It is beautiful hearing a budding artist play around with sound, resulting in an EP that’s entirely unique. Hanna Kostamaa’s Spectrum is a great example of what it sounds like for an artist to have fun with her music and not worry which subgenre to perfectly fit into. It’s just good music. And good music should be appreciated. —Krisann Janowitz
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.