Thursday, May 30 2024

Boston songwriter and performer Leah Callahan has just released her fourth album this decade, ‘Curious Tourist.’ And, it has to be said, it’s a belter! It’s been getting serious play here at TIG, and we’re really enjoying the Britpop/Shoegaze/Indie Pop vibe. The album journeys through sounds reminiscent of greats like Blur, Lush, The Cardigans, PJ Harvey, and others. But Leah, along with arranger, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and co-songwriter Chris Stern, has put together something that is uniquely their own.

Leah, who discusses the sound, says, “Although early on I was primarily an experimental musician, shoegaze or dreampop has always kind of been there in the background. My ‘90s bands played on stages with groups such as Slipstream and Medicine, and I shared a practice space with the Swirlies. So it was impossible not to have that rub off on me.”

While there are a plethora of songs ripe to be reviewed, we opted to focus on one in particular, and it’s the fourth track on the album, ‘Super.’

The track starts with punchy drums and bass behind some nice arpeggiated electric guitar. The sound immediately gives me amazing late ‘80s/early ‘90s vibes that remind me of the band The House of Love. I’m already sold, and only about 10 seconds have passed.

Then the vocals enter, and I’m fully IN! This could genuinely be Aimee Mann’s latest release – and I say that with the greatest respect for comparisons! Aimee Mann, at least to me, is one of the most underrated songwriters of the day… and ‘Super’ would fit right into her stellar catalogue. The vocals have that Aimee delivery she often used in ’Til Tuesday (e.g. ‘What About Love’), but perfectly honed in her solo material. The phrasing, the timbre… Leah nails it but brings her own melodic nuances to proceedings.

The verse cruises along, with the drums bouncing tightly and everything giving the right amount of space for the vocals to cut through. It’s indie pop at its finest… it’s clean. Melodic. Catchy.

A reference early on in the lyrics tells me I’m on the right track as the early ‘90s band Suede gets a name check (not to your taste, Leah?). The lyrics further go on to tell us that “This is a pop song, it’s a joke, and it’s so much funnier than I ever hoped.” Aha, with an acerbic wit, Leah gives away that there’s more going on here than meets the ear.

Leah Callahan

The song then hits what I would call the chorus – a section of ‘Oh Yeahs’… again, very catchy and doing exactly what it needs to, lifted solidly with the addition of some nice harmonies. But then, things take a different turn, and we move through a sequence of chords that take us into a rather more obscure pattern than you’d normally find in a ‘straightforward’ indie pop song. It’s quirky and quick enough to not break the flow of the track but does provide a clever turnaround that leads us smoothly back into the verse. However, this section would normally occur in a ‘standard’ song after the second run of the chorus. And, I have to say, it’s nice to see form and structure being toyed with like this… it’s refreshing! Anyway, back into a verse, chorus, verse, and final chorus section before we fade out.

To me, the track is what you might deem a perfect ‘radio-friendly’ single. It’s 3 minutes on the head… tick. It has a catchy, easy-to-remember singalong chorus… tick. And, it has something quirky and unique about it that makes your ears prick up and take note… tick! 

‘Super’ is a fantastic song that resonates with me on two levels: 1) as a bouncy indie pop track that sticks in your head all day, and 2) as a bouncy indie pop track that sticks in your head all day, but with something slightly more sinister going on beneath the surface… and I like it! 

‘Super’ is one of many highlights on the ‘Curious Tourist’ album. From the more straightforward indie pop sensibilities of ‘Super’ and ‘Ordinary Face,’ you can journey through dark post-punk tracks à la ‘No One,’ right through to the Nick Cave-esque atmospheric titular track (think ‘Red Right Hand’). It’s a varied ride through ‘90s styles brought up to date and given a new lease of life.

Check ‘Super’ and the whole ‘Curious Tourist’ album now if you like your music ’90s-ish but with a contemporary feel.

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Review

Summary

Leah Callahan’s ‘Curious Tourist’ album, featuring standout track ‘Super,’ merges ’90s nostalgia with contemporary indie pop vibes. It’s a refreshing blend of past and present sounds in the genre.
86%
’90S INSPIRED GREATNESS

Rating

Song Quality
Vocal Performance
Lyrics
Instrumentation
Production

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About Author

Matt Warren

Matt Warren is a Cheshire based musician who studied contemporary music and composition. When not writing for The Indie Grid he enjoys watching 'Breaking Bad' on continuous loop and going to gigs. Since a youngster his fave band have been 'The Beatles' (with 'Cardiacs' in at a close second)... and this still applies to this day.

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