Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Catalina Shortwave and their sophomore studio endeavor, ‘Radio Voodoo: Songs from the Dark End of the Dial.’ Based in Connecticut, the indie garage rock outfit is striving to create ‘emotionally intense dark themes of love, betrayal, longing, and loss.’ Their pursuit is to achieve that through ‘intelligent and accessible’ music, and they’re continuing to tour the northeastern and mid-Atlantic US in promotion of the record. Let’s dig right into it and see how Catalina Shortwave stacks up against their indie counterparts.
The group had humble beginnings, starting in a cold, dreary New England basement utilizing barebones equipment that they describe as ‘begged for, borrowed, or stolen.’ They seem to have achieved quite a bit since then, a success that they attribute to their passionate songwriting and performances. ‘Radio Voodoo’ is a indie garage rock record in every sense of the genre. One could argue that it does what it needs to well, but the first few tracks do fall into the shadow of the latter half of the record.
The album opens up with ‘Your Old Letters,’ a raw, gritty rocker that’s akin to classic Black Sabbath or similar late 1960s classic hard rock. The riffs are solid, the production is tactful, and the vocal performance is intensely good. ‘Your Old Letters’ is a fine opening for the album, introducing Catalina Shortwave’s second studio effort as a forceful, but well-executed excursion through classic, yet oddly contemporary musical musings.
‘Your Old Letters’ does, however, fall a bit short in defining Catalina Shortwave as an individual entity. It sounds a bit like the rest of classic-tinged garage rock, failing to stand out on its own merit. ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,’ does suffer from the same issue in the beginning of the song, but it does begin to pave a more notable path towards new ideas. There’s a shimmer of punk influence here, at least, in the instrumentation. I adore the lyrics; they’re the first real show of that passionate delivery and songwriting. The middle-section of the record is spoken word, and it’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s one of the coolest, suavest rock deliveries I’ve heard in a long time. More so, it’s poetic. It’s remarkably well written, making the latter pieces of ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ the defining moment of the beginning of ‘Radio Voodoo.’
‘Breakaway’ continues Catalina Shortwave’s trend of increasingly complex and original music on ‘Radio Voodoo.’ I love this, because while ‘Your Old Letters’ is an admirable effort out of the gate, it left a lot to be desired in terms of fleshing out the band’s identity. ‘Breakaway’ does this well, exhibiting some of the band’s prowess, especially that searing guitarist. ‘Darkstar’ does the same, but instead highlights an equally excellent bassist. ‘Darkstar’ is one of the most infectious rock tracks on the album - it’s a tune you’ll be returning to. (Again, I think my Black Sabbath comparison is apt here as well.)
‘Anne Boleyn’ is, however, the best track of the entire album. This punk-infused ballad is nothing short of spectacular. When you play this song... play it loud! It cements Catalina Shortwave as one of the most talented garage rock outfits out there right now. It’s worth mentioning again: this album gets better the deeper you delve into it. ‘Your Old Letters’ and ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ don’t hold a candle to ‘Anne Boleyn.’ If I had to draw a comparison of the track, I’d align it with the kind of music The Pixies have been making in recent years.
‘Black & Blue’ is a good track, but in the wake of ‘Anne Boleyn,’ it does feel somewhat empty. I’m happy the album doesn’t end on it, but rather, the soft and somber ‘Blood Orange.’ That song is a close second to ‘Anne Boleyn,’ showcasing Catalina Shortwave as a band with more versatility than you’d guess. I’d love to see them dig into this soft style even more in future releases. Check the band out below and check out the album - it’s one worth picking up to kick off the new year with a bang.