Sometimes all it takes to start a band is good old fashioned free advertising – maybe not in your local newspaper these days, but on Craigslist. That’s how Sam Deffenbaugh (singer/guitar) and Daniel Rodriguez (drummer) met up to play some music together to see what would happen. A little later, another Sam (Plotkin, who was Deffenbaugh’s roomie in college and plays bass) was invited into the fold and Hello Stranger was born. And now this Los Angeles trio has put out their debut release Long Division; a stylistically eclectic album that deals with personal doubt, political turmoil, loss and as the band puts it – “humanity’s inevitable domination by AI overlords.” Hmm, sounds sinister… cool, I think?
Recorded at Catacomb Recording in LA and mastered by Piper at Neato Mastering in San Francisco, Long Division is a mix of hard rock, indie and folk ranging in influences from such bands as Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Coldplay, Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins. “The Flood” is a great, aggressive hard rocker with clean, unfiltered vocals. I like the effects on Deffenbaugh’s guitar and the powerful energy at the end makes for a great opening number. “All The Things I Am Not” takes on a more adult contemporary approach to rock. It sounds like a good candidate for a crossover hit with its likable appeal. “Smiling in the Night” has a familiar sound and I also think this one is a contender for the charts – it has all the necessary components.
On “Virginia” there is a lighter sound in the beginning, the guitar hooks are great and the light-hard dynamic between the verses and the chorus make for an enjoyable listening experience. Deffenbaugh’s guitar solo sort of has Edge’s sound, too (the guitarist from U2). “Breakthrough” was simply fabulous. A harder edged tune with great twists and turns in the drums parts and overall tempo. The instruments break, which comes later, really switches gears into fifth. Fantastic ending, too! “Little Old Me” is another fantastic exploration into the band’s harder and funkier styles. The rhythm of guitar, catchy rhyming of lyrics and melody in the chorus and the guitar solo also hold up well. The darker lyrics on this song, as on “Breakthrough,” describe more of the band’s ideas behind AI overlords taking over and political turmoil.
“I Don’t Speak for You” starts off somber and introspective with a tense chorus later on and an abrupt ending. Seems somewhat of a kind of protest song. “We Don’t Talk About Them” is another great tune, in my view. Think of this one as one part old school (like Morrissey), meets up with the newer sounds of Muse and Radiohead. This one really had a dark, sad tone, but a kind of sad that makes you feel good. “Celebration” incorporates elements of jazz in the beginning with beautiful tones of the guitar and then a switch into an alt-rock style. The band’s transition from one style to the other works flawlessly here.
“Ovation” features a “1-2-3” fast beat progression and high energy with all instruments coming across strong and full. Deffenbaugh really exercises his vocal range effectively between tenor and falsetto. On the last number “Victorious” more of that crossover appeal comes through, tapping into the contemporary vibe that I think most listeners would enjoy. Overall, Hello Stranger works tight and well together as a trio and Long Division is a consistent album that’s well balanced and well produced. For a couple of strangers who took a chance on Craigslist to jam out, luck was surely in their favor.
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