Tag Archives: Indie-Pop

Story of a Song: Strange Relations, “Maria Sweet”

Strange Relations

Mainstream music’s recurring “sugar” trope has a history stretching back almost as far as the genre itself, with a stylistic range extending wide enough to include hits like The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” or Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” For those in need of a generous fix, the music blog The Grey Estates and Negative Fun Records recently announced plans to release Sugar Rush 2, an aspartame-free compilation of previously unreleased songs with a sticky-sweet bent.

The collection’s first single is a rousing two-minute blast from Minneapolis’s Strange Relations. Its two principal musicians—singer/songwriter/drummer Casey Sowa and singer/bassist Maro Helgeson—formed the group in 2013 after relocating from Philadelphia. They self-released their first full-length before signing to Tiny Engines in 2016.

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Honolulu’s Honest, Diverse DIY Scene

The Bougies

The Bougies.

It’s a warm Friday night in Honolulu’s Chinatown, and local punk band Smoke Free Armstrong are playing their final show to a packed crowd at the Downbeat Lounge, a venue that, in recent years, has been ground zero for the city’s DIY punk scene. Between songs, guitarist and singer Steve Tanji grabs the mic to offer a sincere tribute. “I just want to thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart, for letting us play for you,” he says. The crowd of kids gathered in front of the stage cheer in response. “We’ve been playing for two years, and I want to thank you all for coming out and supporting the scene.”

There is a certain poignancy to Tanji’s words. By the usual musical standards, two years isn’t a long time for a band to exist—but, in Honolulu, it’s rare to find bands who last more than a few months, let alone years. Being a punk band in Honolulu is a lot more challenging than it would be on the mainland. First of all, there’s the location—“literally in the middle of nowhere,” says longtime promoter Jason Miller, who has been booking shows in Honolulu since the mid ’90s, and currently books under the name 808shows/Hawaii Express. “It’s so much [money] up front just to get somewhere for exposure. People can go on tours, but they’re not able to do it every summer, or during spring break. They can’t just jump in the van.”

Other problems: Hawaii is by nature a transient place. People come and go from the islands constantly, making it difficult to sustain a musical project for a long period of time. The state has an extraordinarily high cost of living, on par with that of the Bay Area or New York City, but with a far smaller population, and musicians need to hold down two or three jobs just to scrape by. Instruments and amps are more expensive because everything is imported—and forget about PA systems. Nobody owns property and basements are non-existent, so practice spaces are difficult to find and pricey to rent.

As far as places to play, there are currently no DIY venues on the island, and even if there were, the owners would still have to contend with the strange-but-true fact that sound travels farther in moist air than in dry air, making noise complaints inevitable, and house shows nearly impossible in Hawaii’s tropical climate. Generator shows in skate parks and on the beaches occasionally happen, but they can be stressful to execute—especially when it suddenly starts to rain, as it often does in Hawaii. To say nothing of the fact that the laid-back nature of Hawaiian culture isn’t exactly the most amenable to punk rock.

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Eight Bands Helping to Make San José, Costa Rica an Indie Music Paradise

Los Waldners

Los Waldners

Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity and eco-tourism, making the Central American nation a great place to visit no matter what your interests. But if you get the chance to hang out in San José, you might want to consider taking the time to check out a concert. The city’s indie scene has become home to an outsized amount of musical diversity.

Thriving in the shadow of both green hills and an active volcano, Costa Rica’s busy capital of San José is cosmopolitan but, with a population of less than 350,000 in the city proper, relatively small. The city has fostered the kind of close-knit but musically heterogeneous scene that can flourish in a just-big-enough town. Indie music within its confines and surrounding principalities doesn’t have one single sound; bands range from enigmatic bedroom electropop to loud-as-hell post-rock. Still, there’s a cohesive scene, one with plenty of variety, inventiveness, and raw energy.

The short music documentary In San José offers a snapshot of the city’s music scene via interviews and live footage. But, much like this list, it’s just an introduction to a music community that’s quickly expanding. And if this Tico indie starter pack leaves you wanting more, take a dive straight into the DIY deep end in the volumes of audiovisual fanzine Súper Legítimo.

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Awkward Energy’s Jack Lewis Is Struggling to Become an “Adult”

Awkward Energy

Photo by Tasha Bielaga

Portland musician Jack Lewis is the reluctant adult. He spent his first years out of college touring as a member of his brother Jeffrey Lewis’s band, but as time went on, he felt the need to push toward something else—even if he wasn’t sure what that “something else” was.

That struggle comes across loud and clear on his song “Please Don’t Step on My Flower Bed,” when he sings, “I should start acting my age.” “Flower Bed” is one of the five tracks that make up his newest EP American Lvov: EP #1 under the name Awkward Energy. Serving as chapter one of an upcoming LP—his first release in five years—Lvov is the first of three EPs of original songs and covers that Lewis plans to release every three months before sewing them together into a full-length album later in the year. The songs are lively and effervescent, with jangly guitar and lo-fi production that echoes the glory days of indie pop.

But for all the brightness in his music, Lewis still struggles with the realities of adulthood: How is an adult ‘supposed’ to act? What kinds of things is an adult ‘supposed’ to have accomplished? We spoke with Lewis about this push-and-pull, about achieving balance in life, and what impending adulthood looks like when you’re in your 30s.

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London O’Connor Wants to Make Music for Interplanetary Travel

London O Connor

On O∆ , inventive beats and textures provide the foundation over which London O’Connor reflects on his upbringing, delivering lyrics that channel suburban boredom, the ups-and-downs of friendship, budding romance, and the pains of growing up. A kaleidoscope of tones and moods, O∆ never limits itself to a singular style or genre. Laid-back rhymes and hip-hop rhythms are flanked by ballads and easy-going electronic tracks. And even when he’s at his most heartfelt and vulnerable, O’Connor exudes an aura of cool. He’s been wearing the same yellow sweater for months now, which he says he plans to do until his music makes more money than his parents. It’s an outward representation of his commitment to his dreams.

O’Connor created O∆ in his bedroom after relocating from his hometown outside San Diego to the bustle of New York City. It took O’Connor two years to realize his vision for what O∆ should be: a sonic account of his coming of age.

We spoke with O’Connor about his work methods, his creative aims, and why he doesn’t write songs—he’s just trying to render his surroundings.

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