Hailing from Portland, City Squirrel are set to release their third album, defeat, a week from today. Once the pseudonym of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Stephan Bayley, City Squirrel have now become a full band, with Kevin Woodruff on drums and Karaneh Jahan adding keyboards, violin, and background vocals. Mitch Easter, a longtime friend of Bayley’s who played bass and mixed City Squirrel’s first two albums, plays bass on one song.
I’ve had an advance copy of defeat for a few weeks and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. Bayley’s songwriting is very cinematic, with melodies and chord progressions that flow unpredictably, but naturally and without meandering. Then he delivers a chorus that takes the song in a different, but equally satisfying, direction. They’ll stick in your head until you’re happily forced to play them again.
Woodruff’s inventive rhythms are the perfect complement to Bayley’s surging guitars, and the occasional use of vintage Moog synthesizers gives defeat a sound that is simultaneously traditional and modern. The clearest influence would be the late, great Elliott Smith, especially in Bayley’s fragile tenor, but you can also here elements of Neil Finn and Wilco in City Squirrel’s mixture of introspection and pop craftsmanship.
City Squirrel is signed to Red Pill, the small St. Louis-based indie who introduced Popdose to one of our favorite artists in recent years, Amy Petty. Download “Lockerbie” for free here and be sure to get defeat when it’s released on April 17.