The Umbrellas, “Fairweather Friend”
By Hayden Merrick · January 24, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Throughout its existence, jangle pop has accrued several regional associations—Athens, Dunedin, Glasgow—but only one location can claim to be its epicenter today. The Richmond district of San Francisco, all quiet streets and Crayola houses, is home to many of the genre’s notable proponents, including unassuming sunshine-peddlers The Umbrellas. The quartet’s 2021 debut album was a collection of pastel-hued and Pastels-imbued first takes. Its follow-up, Fairweather Friend, is more varied, taking a darning needle to jangle’s dog-eared template and stitching in bold new colors with brighter production and tighter musicianship.

At times, the Umbrellas are a punk band without distortion. They fly out of the traps on “Toe the Line,” whose galloping rhythm showcases the abilities of drummer Keith Frerichs—their not-very-secret weapon—while providing the missing link to the band’s early iteration as art rock act Toyota. On “Echoes,” meanwhile, the Umbrellas are more laid-back and groovy, utilizing jazz inversions, silky bass, and letting Morgan Stanley’s tremulous vocal intonations come to the fore. Across Fairweather Friend, Stanley projects more confidently than on the band’s debut, her vocals no longer enhancing songs but carrying them with more advanced melodies. Besides “Echoes,” triumphant breakup tunes like “Goodbye” and “Games” further evidence her development.

Still, Fairweather Friend’s finest moments are when both lead singers—the other being Matt Ferrara, whose half-sung croon resembles Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins—join forces. The lead single “Three Cheers” has Ferrara run point on the chorus before Stanley grabs the mic for a satisfying, Beach Boys-y turnaround: “Is this how it ought to be?” she wonders as chords tumble on her cue, segueing into the verse. Plaintive closer “PM,” on which Stanley and Ferrara take half the song each, works very well, but it’s the windows-down power pop of “Gone” that best implements this back-and-forth. Spurred on by shimmering guitars and Nick Oka’s punchy bass, the singers trip over one another in pursuit of answers to life’s big questions (“Do you have the answers?/ Answers beg a question/ Questions take time”), only locking into cloud-busting harmony for the chorus’s operative lyric: “‘Cause it’ll break…my heart.”

Heartbreak and its accompanying questions occupy Fairweather Friend’s center, but this is always spun with an optimistic, tomorrow-is-another-day shrug. Even the pared-back ballad “Blue” alights on the positive aspects of a breakup: “Learned to see the world again/ Brand-new sunset, brand-new sunrise/ Starting over to a new life,” Ferrara drawls over a lone acoustic 12-string. In other words, the Umbrellas are kind to themselves and any wallowing is soon whisked away by the incessant joy of their music. This may be their crowning achievement: setting heartbreak to solid gold pop without coming anywhere near cloying kitsch. Any fairweather jangler can don a Telecaster and dribble out the latter, but The Umbrellas know to take the rain with the shine.

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