By: Sasha Lindsay –
Calpurnia will release their debut EP Scout on June 15th via Royal Mountain Records. There is vibrancy to the Vancouver-based quartet, an indie-rock band formed in 2017. Lead singer/guitarist Finn Wolfhard (who plays the character Mike Wheeler on Netflix’s hit series, Stranger Things), Ayla Tesler-Mabe (lead guitarist), Jack Anderson (bassist) and Malcolm Craig (drums) combine to create an infusion of jazz, classic rock and psychedelic tinges.
It is interesting the band takes its name from one of the characters in the classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird, who Wolfhard deems as underrated despite preventing the family from being completely destroyed. And Scout is also the name of the protagonist in the novel. She narrates the story from two different perspectives – one representative of childhood and the other, as an adult. The dichotomy here is relevant as this character also acts as observer to events unfolding around her. The same can be said of these musicians (their ages range from 15-17), whose album offers an authentic window into how they experience the world.
Cadien Lake James of Twin Peaks produced the album, with Wolfhard referring to the union as “one of the best experiences of my life”. Other influences include Weezer, Joy Division, Nirvana and PUP but the band lists The Beatles as number one.
In “Louie” Wolfhard laments, “I feel cold”, several times throughout the twangy, country coated first track. Here, the musical arrangement and ambience prosper in lieu of a commanding vocal presence. Although the arrangement calls for this vocal experimentation and style, when Wolfhard attempts a rasp, it is shaky at best along with mediocre transitioning from one dynamic to another. Tesler-Mabe’s guitar prowess serves as one of the most dynamic forces in the band (especially on “Louie”), as her finger-work elevates their eclectic appeal, setting them apart.
When we get to “Wasting Time”, we enter the ‘50s where a doo-wop vibe permeates with Wolfhard’s vocals sounding more energetic. Then there is a sharp transition when a guitar solo breaks up the vintage party around the one minute mark and a sped up ska-like infusion of bass mirroring guitar emerges. There is deliciousness to this sound and you can imagine it being part of a nostalgic soundtrack.
Halfway through the album, we feel as if we are travelling across the city as “Greyhound” showcases a more laid back, slightly downcast approach. Wolfhard’s voice is breezier and lethargic – he is stronger with this vocal style. It seems as if he is enjoying the view outside the bus in spite of being jaded over someone he lost: “Going to Seattle in the Greyhound/I missed school for this/Bought two tickets last September/Before your hunt for bliss”. The Weezer influence (“Say It Ain’t So”) subtly saturates the beginning of this song with Calpurnia’s guitar arrangement sounding remarkably similar to the guitar feedback in the 90’s hit. And labelmate Mac DeMarco’s distinct indie rock and jazz vibe infiltrates strongly here.
The first thirty seconds of “City Boy” has a similar sound to the beginning of “Big Me” by the Foo Fighters and is up-beat and catchy. Although impressionistic thoughts are present throughout the album, “City Boy” possesses simple, uninspired lyrics such as, “I am a city boy/You are a city girl/You date the city tool/I am a city fool”. Also, the superb production strengthens Wolfhard’s snarky delivery. Next comes “Blame”, with sped up guitars that contrast against slowed down instrumentals creating a dream pop, jazzy vibe.
Summer dusk sets in with the melodic “Waves”, a slightly hazy, sleepy song in which Tesler-Mabe’s voice stands out. Her sound is pure and clear without any special effects. You can almost visualize waves crashing against rocks here as the album comes to its close.
The Calpurnia sound is mellow, groovy and at times quirky. Images of summer in the city come to mind. This album can be likened to an oil painting with a strong sense of composition where certain colours of the palette need refining. With a solid start, Calpurnia has the tools to keep this momentum going. One thing is for certain, this band knows their sound.