Review: Slothpop and more at White Rabbit

Arrah and the Ferns, not in purple.

Saturday, Nov. 19

White Rabbit.

Musically, it was a strange mix of bands that gathered this past Saturday night at The White Rabbit, but as Slothpop lead singer Ko Newborn said at one point during her set, it was kind of a “women’s night.” That’s primarily because three of the four bands to play that night—Slothpop, Arrah and the Ferns, and The Embraceables—were fronted by female vocalists (sorry, Chandelier Ballroom). That, seemingly, was the only thing the three bands had in common, for they were scattered pretty disparately across the musical map.

Indy’s own Slothpop play a sort of well-orchestrated, new-age rock featuring a violin, keyboard/synth and—at times—two guitarists. This band is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated and innovated acts in the city. Apart from one or two brief moments of technical difficulties that seemed to disconcert them a bit, they played a very smoothly organized set of songs that seemed more like musical suites than individual compositions. The only exception seemed to be the track “Kokoro,” a disco-ish track off their self-titled debut album.

Lead singer Newborn’s piercingly-atmospheric voice leads the way over a really lush, string-oriented sound. Truly notable Friday was the guitar work of Dan Zender on his black and white Fender Stratocaster, displaying a tremendous level of skill and timing with some trance-inducing arpeggios. When Ko takes the keyboard, the songs become almost mood-scapes, but the band always manage to keep the tunes grounded, occasionally changing pace right back into straight up, 4/4 rock. For example, “Sinking When You’re Floating,” seems to change right into a slow dance song with a big band beat.

Playing before Slothpop were Arrah and the Ferns, a band who hails from Philadelphia via Muncie. Frontwoman and lead guitarist Arrah Fisher plays a hollow-bodied Ibanez and sings with a sweet, country-western lilt in her voice that turns into a sexy sort of Parton-esque growl when she delivers certain lines. With strong, Southern rock guitar work, the band have an upbeat, alt-country vibe which is further underlined by Fisher’s songs; they deal mostly with the pain of unrequited or badly-requited love, heartbreak, and the search for independence. In one song she proclaims her inability to fit into a monogamous relationship (“All I wanna do is f—-, f—-, f—-, f—-, f—-“).

Prior to Arrah was an act that almost defies categorization: The Embraceables. This kooky, Chicago-based band showed up dressed in purple; lead-singer and keyboardist Maggie Kubley dressed in a shiny purple dress, her female supporting vocalist in a purple oxford and tights, and her male vocalist in a purple headband, wristbands and a purple unicorn T-shirt. Kubley’s vocals seemed made for the theater, as did The Embraceables entire act; they seem to love being on stage, like precocious participants in a high school musical. Though they seemed to be having a lot of fun, covering songs like Ginuwine’s “Pony” and uttering quirky quips to the audience about harpsichords between songs, I have to admit they were less than remarkable from a musical standpoint.

Bloomington-based Chandelier Ballroom warmed up the night, but I’ve got to give these chaps an apology for arriving to the White Rabbit just as they wrapped up their last set. Audience members seemed to have been uniformly impressed, however, one attendee even describing them as “having a kind of Strokes thing going on,” while praising their experimentation. Word has it the addition of the band’s new drummer has signaled the arrival of a new era and allowed them to expand a bit musically. Special thanks to Steve Elmlinger for getting me up to date on the details. Hope to catch you guys next time!

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