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Bay Area Electro / Indietronica, Volume 1: New Spell, “Like Water”

Those of you who’ve never met me know that I’m a silent but deadly advocate/lover/evangelist of electronic music in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a little hard down in the amateur ranks of Bay Area music to push electropop, livetronica, and all things DJ-based or synth-y or drum-pad-tacular. Up at the top in big black box nightclubs like 1015 Folsom, The Mezzanine and rolling through the epic cavern that is Bill Graham, electronic music is alive and well.

But at the indie local level, there are a surprising number of pure “rock” bands, as well as folk, psychedelic, and other guitar-n-drums genres. As an electronic musician, I frequently go to networking events thinking “it’s SF, everyone here’s going to be into cutting-edge production and sampled beats,” only to find myself surrounded by a sound evolved less from an Ableton beat and more from The Beatles.

That’s not to say I don’t love a classic, organic sound. I listen to every genre under the sun. But it’s just the nature of me that when I truly swoon and fall in love with a track, it’s almost always electronica.

So if you’re like me, searching for the perfect synth, follow my new series here on Balanced Breakfast. I’ll take you down deep into the magical swirling mists of Bay Area indietronica, starting with a duo that may be my most most most favorite of all: New Spell.

I’ve been lucky once or twice to share a stage with this dark, dreamy almost-pop group, fronted by the mysterious, yet surprisingly approachable Leanne Kelly. She’s armed with an enviably locked-in sound that seems carefully crafted, like fine stone carved carefully in secret and presented only when it was first fully-shaped and molded. As a bit of a musical spaz who has changed my genre more times than I can count, I have a high appreciation for anyone who strikes out onto the stage with the kind of consistent confidence that Leanne’s had since the first time I saw New Spell play.

These indietronica reviews will go a song at a time, and I’ll base them roughly on what’s captivating me at the moment. So take a listen to my latest favorite of New Spell‘s, Like Water, off of their second EP Of Time, Pt. 2. It’s a track that encapsulates everything I love about expertly produced synth rock, from submerged yet persistent piano, haunting and distant strings, and crystalline but verb-y harmonized vocals whispering barely-audible poetry that twists and spins from love song to philosophical discourse to general lament.

In a small space of time, Leanne posits that “nothing is as nothing ever was,” asks “how will it end,” and punctuates the central imagery of something or someone “colorful, exquisite” by pointing out that “we’re all a little broken.” I want to ask her one day what it all means, but I’m afraid of what she’ll say because, to me, it means everything.

If you love Like Water, listen to the rest of Of Time, and if you love it as much as I do, pssssst, they’re playing live this Saturday at the intimate Amnesia in the Mission District, a club that is very, very not Bill Graham. And they’re really good live.

Oh, and if you can’t see them because you don’t live here…drop what you’re doing. Come to the Bay Area. There are wonderful dreamy sounds floating in the air. More to come…

About the author

Jason is the founder and audio producer for the energetic electro-indie group Great Highway, whose 5th album Into the Sun released at the end of 2019. He produces electronic music for his and other groups, performs several times per year in and around the Bay Area, and he's a 2-time cancer survivor. He plays saxophone, bass guitar, and sings.

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