Double Trouble

Let’s talk about indie rock.

It’s a genre, or even, if you prefer, a subculture that gets a lot of bad rap thanks to the modern day hipster culture dousing it in pretentiousness. “Oh, you haven’t heard of them,” a hipster might say about such an artist as they adjust their square black glasses and sip their (ironically mainstream) Starbucks latte. To most of us, hipsters have been given a negative connotation (and to be honest, while I have met plenty of people who might classify as hipster who are quite nice and not like the stereotype, the general case is not too far off from what you see in movies and the media), and this negative connotation has bled over into things associated with hipsters. For example:

Starbucks is now associated with hipsters and rich white girls, and not in a good way. Though it doesn’t help that honestly their coffee isn’t that great.

Pictured: the face of subpar coffee (on a good day)

Thick-rimmed black glasses now make people think you’re a douchebag, as do sweaters and plaid shirts, especially when worn with skinny jeans. The latter is a concept I don’t understand, because they just don’t look comfortable in the least. Also, how do you put anything in the pockets?!

iPhones, though to be honest I’m extra biased as an Android user who can’t get used to the iOS interface, which is why I was loathe to switch to a modern iPod until I absolutely had to.

And, the ultimate example, indie rock, which the stereotypical hipster wants you to believe isn’t for you unless you’re as underground as they are (you aren’t). If you as a mainstream person know an indie band then they probably aren’t new and unknown enough for a hipster to like. And if you don’t know them, and the hipster does, then you probably don’t want to, because the general feeling you’re going to get is that they’re too pretentious and deep for you to understand. Never mind the fact that they’re probably about as deep as any mainstream band.

It’s this latter example that can be problematic, though. First off, it means we forget that ALL bands started off as indie bands. They weren’t signed to a record label, they played in garages and small unknown clubs and bars and at friends’ parties until they finally got noticed by someone with enough power and interest to help them hit the big time. Even The Beatles got their start in now-famous venues like The Cavern Club in Liverpool. But when we’re confronted with the hipster ideology that the more unknown an artist is, the better they are, and that knowing these artists is some kind of exclusive club for pseudo-intellectuals with superiority complexes, we forget that a lot of indie bands are really, really good, and that they can most definitely go on to become the next big thing.

This is really a great disservice to the indie rock scene and the artists that are a part of it, because it keeps people from discovering some really phenomenal new music and it keeps these truly talented artists from getting the exposure they deserve. It’s why clubs like NYC’s The Bitter End are so important, especially with other famous clubs like CBGB’s now closed. They provide a place for these groups to get exposure, and the more famous clubs open them up to a wider audience, as more mainstream people might go for the sake of saying they went to a club where such and such got their start and end up seeing their next favorite band.

It’s that unexpected encounter that leads me to this post today. A week or two ago I was at The Bitter End to see an indie rock duo called Sirsy, who I will cover in another post. But I’ll say now that their set was phenomenal and both members are lovely people who truly know how to give fans a memorable experience both on and off stage.

At any rate, I was there in time to see the act that went on before them, and I’m really glad I had that chance, because I’ve been listening to them on Spotify ever since, and hope to purchase their work very soon (preferably in person at their next Bitter End appearance).

I’m talking about a band called Nalani & Sarina.

Nalani and Sarina Bolton are twins and appear with their backing band to put on some pretty kick-ass performances. Articles I’ve read say they’re identical twins, though that’s not quite true; Sarina plays her guitar and ukulele (yes they are among those few who play ukes in rock and it’s great, but we’ll get to that) left handed, though I don’t know if she is primarily left-handed or if there’s another reason for it.

One of the great things about Nalani & Sarina is that there’s no gimmick. They happen to be twins, and from a marketing perspective that’s a great hook; people love when bands have family connections. Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes were married, Halestorm’s singer Lzzy Hale and their drummer Arejay Hale are siblings. Hooks like that are what make a band stand out. But in this case, it’s really just something that happens to be a fact. They’re twins. But the real hook is that they’re talented as hell. They don’t need to have a hook outside of that. At 22, they already released an EP (this year’s Scattered World), a year after they dropped their full album, 2014’s Lessons Learned. Yes, I know, prolific and talented are not by definition the same — but more prolific artists also happen to often be more talented. When you’ve got ability it has to go somewhere, and generally it’s going to go into new material. The Beatles released 13 albums from 1963 to 1970,including the American Magical Mystery Tour, which has since become one of the officially accepted Beatles’ album canon. That’s three albums shy of two albums a year, which especially by today’s standards is a pretty crazy amount. Stephen King has released at least 54 novels and almost 200 short stories since 1967. Including his short story collections, I’m pretty sure his releases average out to two books a year, which is even more impressive than two albums a year if you know what goes into writing a book.

I know, The Beatles and Stephen King are legendary in their fields and you can’t fairly compare indie rock groups to them, but I use them to demonstrate my point because of how well-known they are. The point is that while prolific artists aren’t by definition good, the best artists are often prolific, because, like I said, all of that creative energy has to go somewhere. So when I point out how young Nalani & Sarina are, and how active they’ve already become, on top of already praising their ability, you should be impressed.

You’ve probably been waiting for me to actually talk about the music, which I’m well aware I’m taking a long time to get to. Longtime readers (there must be some out there somewhere, right?) are probably already familiar with my writing style. If this is the first time you’re reading one of my posts, welcome! I’m verbose and take my time getting to my points, but you’ll get used to that. Hopefully you’ll appreciate the glut of information I supply.

So, here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. Genre wise, I’ve been saying “indie rock” for the sake of convenience, but it’s not quite accurate. Most of the guitar and bass parts lean far closer to funk than rock both in sounds and style. Vocally, their verses often skew towards hip-hop with more of a slam poetry cadence than the melody you’d find in rock or other genres. But their choruses come in with catchy, powerful hooks and you can see the rock influences there. They trade vocals, taking turns with verses or songs, joining together at key points and choruses, though honestly if you haven’t seen them perform it takes a careful ear to tell. The harmonies are almost blissful in how well they work, though I’d be hard pressed to describe why that’s the description I came out with.

They have a great range, too, which is important; if you can only play one style, your songs are going to get stale fast. While they have songs with strong messages of equality, particularly “We’ll Be Free” and “Love Who You Want,” both off the new EP and both incredibly catchy (especially the funk guitar riff that permeates the former), they also have songs like “Balloons,” a powerful piano driven ballad about love and life. If you’re wondering, I’m not 100% positive who performs what on the album, but when I saw them Nalani sang the bulk of the song and Sarina played the piano, another instrument they both play.

One of my favorite things is something I actually already mentioned — the inclusion of ukulele. Remember when I said that? It was a while ago. Scroll up a bit. I’ll wait.

The Scattered World EP cover

Though it’s been steadily rising in popularity, the ukulele is rarely included in rock or rock-based music. It’s been seen a lot in recent pop music; Jason Mraz is particularly fond of it, as is Meghan Trainor, and if you missed it in Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister,” you should definitely have your hearing checked. But in rock? I can’t think of anything that’s used ukulele, though that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. If my ear is as good as I like to think it is, uke is the driving instrument of the (admittedly pop-sounding) “Cliché,” from Lessons Learned, and they used ukes in a fantastic cover of “Uptown Funk!” when I saw them, following one of the most beautifully performed bait-and-switch routines I’ve had the pleasure to witness. “Traditional Filipino lullaby” my ass…

Bonus points to Nalani for playing an Ovation ukulele, which I don’t think I even knew existed but now that I do, I need one. And also to Sarina for playing a right-handed ukulele left-handed; I assume it was restrung, but it has a cut-out designed for a right-handed player, which is kind of unhelpful if you’re playing left-handed (read: it doesn’t do anything for you because it’s on the wrong side of the neck).

The Lessons Learned album cover

Like I said way back at the start, I recognize that there’s a lot of negative connotations surrounding indie rock. But if you have any taste in music, you shouldn’t let that stop you from checking out Nalani & Sarina right now.I mean, you should probably have been listening to them the whole time you’ve been reading this post, to be honest. Whatever you happen to be doing, their music makes a pretty great background, though it’s also more than worth being the thing you’re focused on. I’ve found myself opening my laptop for the sole purpose of playing their music while I’m reading a book or something, which is definitely a testament to them as listening to music while reading is something I’ve found myself doing less and less as I’ve gotten older, though I wouldn’t be able to give you a reason.

Very long story short, if you’re not already you should be listening to Nalani & Sarina. There’s absolutely nothing that would stop me from recommending them to anyone. In closing, check out the video that was just voted into rotation on MTVu’s “The Freshmen.” Congrats to them, here’s hoping the exposure launches them into the stardom they deserve!

Nalani & Sarina links:


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