Bright indie tones belie darker shaded lyrics.
The intriguing title to Kaplow’s latest album derives from a pandemic-driven necessity to e-mail raw audio files, AKA Stems, to his recording studio for mixing after he had finished recording his songs from home. As each song was sent to the studio for mixing, the accompanying text message would read, “Next song coming up, sending money and Stems”.
Kaplow plays most of the instruments on the album himself which range from banjo to harmonica and drums; his falsetto vocals could be described as sounding like Neil Young, only an octave higher. Musically upbeat, though not necessarily lyrically so, these songs hook into you with their melodies and harmonies leaving a lasting impression upon the listener.
The opening track, ‘5AM‘ is as light and airy as the beginning of a new day, sharing thoughts that we all might be prey to at dawn. ‘February Prorated’ with its Youngesque harmonica and harmonies laments the changes present in the Bay Area, (we’re talking San Francisco, not Morecambe), which Kaplow has experienced. ‘Little Sleep’ with its fuzz-driven guitar tone and delay effects has a Californian-Indie feel and generates an atmosphere of disorientation akin to having spent a night without sleep. Creating mixtapes on cassette was once a favourite pastime of the muso, Kaplow sings of one such compilation on, ‘Cassette’ albeit a “Dusty” one. ‘Shark Fun’ might lull you into the expectation of a gentle country-rock feel but surprises mid-way with a slightly psychedelic interlude before resuming normal service. ‘Roses’, the final track, encapsulates the spirit of this album, in that it is a break-up song with pain lying just under the surface but retains an upbeat feel musically. This juxtaposition of melancholy lyric with upbeat sound creates an interesting tension that adds depth to the songs and deserves further listening.