Indie-rock band Midcentury Llama comes from Chicago, Illinois and have just released its first, self-titled album Midcentury Llama.
The project began at the end of 2019 when all the band members found themselves together in Chicago, writing new songs as well as revisiting ideas that went as far back as high school. Though this is one of those bands that’s stingy with details (why, guys?) the main core of the group started with Sam Okrent, Eric Ganter and Frank O’Meara, later adding Sam Macduffie and Nick Witek. I can’t tell who plays what, but the band’s lineup includes guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and saxophone. At least a couple members sing and have great voices. Recording took place over the Spring of 2021, followed by live shows across Chicago.
The band explains: “Our music describes a lot of the feelings and situations that we have experienced at this stage in our lives. We’re getting used to being on our own and supporting ourselves. We are finding out what really makes strong and serious relationships. It’s harder to get by than it used to be.” They cite as influences bands like Whitney, Pinegrove and Traffic. The album was tracked at Uptown Recording in Chicago and mixed and mastered by Rob Ruccia.
“Stranger” starts off sounding very much like jazz rock or smooth jazz, then quickly takes on a funk flavor. For this I credit the saxophone and the electric keyboards. Not quite the indie rock I was expecting! But things really kick in with “Meet Your Ghost,” a mini-folk masterwork with lovely guitar along with piano and sweet, uplifting harmony vocals. There’s a sort of James Taylor meets Steely Dan precision and beauty to this tune, and a majestic sweep that reveals a musical wisdom seemingly beyond the band’s years.
“Oh Love” is a twangy barroom shuffle with an ache to the vocals that reminded me of Tom Petty, with Mike Love-like oo-mow-mow’s in the background. Another great song that I found impossible not to get swept away by. “Layla” is not the song by Eric Clapton, but more of a soulful, ’60s-sounding ode to love with sweet three-part harmonies, with the verses answered each time by the sax.
“Look To You” is the first song that sounded like indie rock to me, with prominent drum work and pleasingly distorted high end guitar enveloping more those sweet vocals I’ve come to expect. Yet another example of the surprisingly sophisticated musical palette these guys have: check out those killer choruses! “I Get Confused” ends the album with all the band’s strengths undiminished: fun jerky rhythms, killer playing and amazing vocals. This song has a slightly ragged quality that only underscores the humanity of the group.
Since the guys mentioned starting their band in high school, I wasn’t expecting Midcentury Llama to sound more like industry pros than indie upstarts, but there it is! Their music is sweet and infectious and I highly recommend getting infected by them.
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