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Interview

Little Monarch on Touring, Talking Heads, and Artistic Evolution

Little Monarch is a project spearheaded by Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Casey Kalmenson, along with keyboardist Lanita Smith and guitarist Nick Setter. Known for breezy self-reflective anthems like “Strike,” “Treading Water,” and “No Matter What,” Little Monarch’s eclectic catalog masterfully fuses elements of indie pop, disco, house, and R&B into uniquely expansive soundscapes that feel like inhaling the California sea air.

Their latest single, “For a Moment You’re Mine,” finds Kalm directing her gaze inward in a far more slow, lush, and textured dream pop soundscape.

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Kalmenson to discuss the new single, the evolution of Little Monarch over the years, and her recent tour with Gracie Abrams.

Where did you grow up and what sort of music was playing in the house? 

I grew up in West Hollywood. Musically, my parents are a bit older so my dad was into Bing Crosby and Sinatra, and mom was a big Rolling Stones fan so there was a lot of Rolling Stones playing in the house along with other classic American standards and some musical theater. I got super into Talking Heads as a teen. I was so fascinated with how music could sound like that and how lyrics could come together that way. I was also into a lot of Reggae. So it was a mixed bag of everything, really. 

What came first for you: teaching music, gigging, or songwriting? 

Definitely writing. The teaching just came along as a way to support myself and continue to be inspired by encouraging others to chase their dreams. The touring came later, and it’s been great to tour as an instrumentalist with younger artists. 

How did the Gracie Abrams gig come about?

The 360 touring company who manages her actually reached out to me initially and it was a great fit. The tour was fantastic too. Everybody was just so happy to be around people who wanted to hear music, and her fans are awesome. It was like a big slumber party. 

What are some key influences on your band’s beachy house sound?  

That one definitely circles back to Talking Heads. I’m very drawn to esoteric themes cloaked in this fun pop package. There’s some really great hi-fi lo-fi producers like Ethan Gruske who worked with Phoebe Bridgers, and I love how textured his work is. I love Beach Boys too. I can’t talk about music I love without talking about California bands like the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and Beach Boys. I have a very wide spectrum, and it’s kind of like my diary. 

Your latest single “For a Moment Your Mine,” is very different from your other singles, almost like a dream pop ballad. What made you decide to veer in that direction? 

That definitely came out of a slower period throughout the pandemic and it felt great to make a song that was very lush and layered. I initially didn’t intend to release it at all, but I just really thought it was beautiful and ultimately came to the conclusion that it would be such a waste to hide it away. I think it’s definitely a one-off for my sound, I don’t think my signature dancey sound is going anywhere, but it was still nice to put out something that sounded a little different. 

How has your collaboration with your bandmates evolved since you first formed? 

We’re definitely a lot like family now. Obviously, they still write and collaborate on stuff but it’s not as much of a traditional band structure as it once was. It was just a little hard to maintain as people were getting older and families were happening. But I still wanted to keep this alive, which required me to spearhead a lot of the management. It’s definitely evolved for me as a space to showcase everything that I’m working on. 

How has your creative direction changed in the past few years? 

I think I really used COVID as a time to reset and share what I was doing in the studio without overthinking. And that opened up a new mindset for me that I never had before. So I’m definitely grateful for that period. I don’t think I slowed down, but recognized that I had an opportunity and a window of time to improve on my craft. Now I feel like I’m finally in a place where I’ve processed a lot and am ready to really hammer down on the ethos of my music, which is all about brushing it off and picking myself back up again. 

What was the most recent show you went to? 

Jungle. They played the Greek and they’re one of my all-time favorites, so it was incredible.  

How many guitars are in your collection? 

My first electric guitar was a red Gretsch Electromatic that was really great tone-wise because I was super into jazz. Now I have a D’angelico XL which is also red. I have an older Strat that’s kinda cool, a baby Taylor, an Italian parlor guitar that’s been refurbished with a rubber bridge. And then there’s the main acoustic which is a road-series Martin. I also randomly have a Jackson that my grandma got me when I was a kid. I think I’ve invested enough stock in guitars, but I can ALWAYS use more pedals. Pedals are like my love language. 


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Categories
New Music Review

KEANA Relinquishes Emotional Stagnation with “Teardrops”

If Alison Goldfrapp and Portishead conceived a baby while Björk watched, the end product would no doubt be rising dream pop virtuoso KEANA. Based in Los Angeles, KEANA is best known for her delicately fluid and imaginative universe of trip hop and electronic ambience; a crystalline dream sequence-like universe she carefully crafted as the sole writer, producer, and sound engineer of her work.

Her previous singles “Lilac” and “Sway” received critical praise for her hard-hitting atmospheric soundscapes and mystic lyrics, garnering praise from respected publications such as Earmilk and Atwood Magazine.

Now, with her newest single “Teardrops,” KEANA tackles the importance of self-love and positive affirmations in relationships against the backdrop of dynamic percussive sounds and ethereal vocals cushioned in layers of lush synth-lines and subtle horns.

“‘Teardrops’ speaks about realizing someone can only love you as much as they love themselves,” KEANA reveals. “The story is about being in a relationship with a “Fixer-upper,” this person seems put together on the outside but deep down they’re filled with insecurity and fear which often gets taken out on the partner. Eventually I take comfort in feeling my emotions and wish the other person would do the same.”

The lyrics brilliantly blend poetic sincerity and endearingly melodramatic stanzas. “Earlier today, I bathed myself and caressed my skin, pretending it was you,” she cheekily confesses in the opening line of the song. It’s a hilariously relatable and gorgeously windswept ode to allowing tears to flow freely in order to experience the full spectrum of human emotion.


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Categories
Albums Dream Pop

My 8 Essential Dream Pop Picks

When people think of music scenes that originated in the ’90s, the ones that often come to mind are the boisterous and upfront alternative rock umbrellas known as britpop and grunge. But one specific genre that often gets overlooked is the wistfully psychedelic-infused effervescence known as dream pop, which usually overlaps with the effect-driven, droning sounds of shoegaze.

Dream pop, known for its faded vocals and gliding instrumentals, provided a tranquil alternative to the posturing male aggression that became synonymous with later alternative rock and post-grunge. My favorite dream pop records are the ones that concoct a sonic atmosphere that floats in between the states of sleeping and waking.

These are my eight essential dream pop records that I would recommend to all listeners.

  1. Cocteau Twins – Garlands

No band captures the essence of dreams better than the Cocteau Twins. Their most popular records, Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven Or Las Vegas, had Liz Fraser’s signature operatic vocals overlapping with Robin Guthrie’s elaborate and effect-laden guitar loops. But I always appreciate hearing her voice when it’s more upfront than the instruments. The title track, “Garlands,” showcases Fraser’s dreamy vocal abilities at the forefront fully and clearly.

2. Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly

Whenever I hear Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star’s hypnotic vocals, I always feel like I’m being transported to an alternate universe or practicing witchcraft in the backwoods of my home town. The infectious psych/garage-esque track “Ghost Highway,” and the intervals and sliding guitar manipulation on songs like “She Hangs Brightly,” and “I’m Sailin'” are equally as captivating as Sandoval’s crooning voice. And the harmonic strings and organs throughout the record are just as intoxicating.

3. Mojave 3 – Ask Me Tomorrow

Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead of the popular shoegaze band, Slowdive, reformed as Mojave 3 in 1995 alongside Ian McCutcheon, Simon Rowe, and Alan Forrester. Their debut record, Ask Me Tomorrow, conjures up a dreamy, melancholic haze.

The album is riddled with sweeping harmonies and lazy-slide guitar leads on tracks like “Love Songs on The Radio” and “Tomorrow’s Taken.” An incredible highlight of the sound change is having Goswell’s gorgeous vocals at the forefront of multiple songs, no longer obscured by effects or distortion like they were on Slowdive records.

4. Julee Cruise – Floating Into The Night

You may know Julee Cruise as the singer who provided the gloomy and airy soundtrack to the David Lynch series, Twin Peaks. Her entire discography is worth getting lost in, but her critically-acclaimed 1989 debut, Floating Into The Night, is undoubtedly her magnum opus. With gliding instrumentals and Cruise’s ethereal vocal performance on songs like “Falling,” “Floating,” and “The Nightingale,” the album really lives up to its name, putting listeners in a state of floating around in weightless bliss.

5. A.R. Kane – 69

While many people look to The Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain as the arbiters of dream pop and shoegaze, A.R. Kane are largely considered to be the unsung heroes that launched dream pop into a proper movement. The duo, made up of Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala, released their debut album, 69, in 1988. With heavy feedback and dubs on songs like, “Baby Milk Snatcher,” the album blends elements of dream pop, psych rock, funk, and even post-punk. Their following record, i, is also worth checking out.

6. Lush – Gala

Before My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, and Slowdive, the band Lush was at the forefront of early shoegaze and dream pop soundscapes. Gala is a combination of the band’s first three EPs. Critic Andy Kellman described them as able “to veer from violent and edgy noise breaks to pop effervescence.”

The cracked soprano vocals from front-woman Miki Berenyi are largely obscured by echoing guitar feedback on the slower dreampop cuts like “Sunbathing,” and “Scarlet.” But on more aggressive rock songs like “Bitter,” she’s much more upfront with her delivery, which stands in stark contrast to her more restrained approach to singing on lighter cuts. The lo-fi production is another massive part of the record’s charm.

7. Galaxie 500 – Today

Galaxie 500’s mystical debut, Today, is one of my all-time favorite slowcore albums. Each song, especially the dreamy opener, “Flowers,” and the fuzzed-out “Tugboat,” remain sonically grounded with Dean Wareham’s upper-register vocals completely gliding across his lilting guitar leads and Naomi Yang’s textured basslines, all of which are soaking in reverb.

8. Broadcast – Tender Buttons

What is so remarkable about this particular Broadcast album is the fact that it was made after the departure of several band members, leaving only vocalist Trish Keenan and bassist James Cargill to work as a duo. But that didn’t stop them from making their most iconic record of all time.

Blending elements of psych pop, avant pop, and experimental space age electronica, Tender Buttons hits every nerve with static shock, drum machines, and crunchy synths on tracks like “I Found The F,” and “Corporeal.” The non-conventional instrumentation beautifully blends with Keenan’s serene vocals. It is also very difficult not to weep whenever the languid ballad “Tears In The Typing Pool” plays.