RIYL: Orange Juice, Sarah Records, early Creation, Mary Chain, C86, Lush
The Umbrellas are four renegade romantics crafting irresistible indie pop hymns. The band’s self-titled 2021 debut album became a breakout moment, winning critical praise and sparking an international tour. Follow-up LP ‘Fairweather Friend’ goes a step further – absorbing the sonic attack of their live shows, it balances this with studio finesse, allowing the San Francisco four-piece to become the band they’ve always aspired to be.
It's a record overflowing with highlights. The candyfloss melodies of introductory track ‘Three Cheers!’ are matched to an impactful percussive punch; ‘Say What You Mean’ finds The Umbrellas working with total confidence, letting the song ride out to its chiming conclusion, four voices working in precision. ‘When You Find Out’ offers rotating notes of guitar punctuated by a vocal that pushes past angst to accept a world full of hope. A lean 10 track affair, it grasps towards beatific pop while fuelled by a sense of risk, and the precision that comes from long months on the road.
The Umbrellas coalesced around a group of musicians who would frequent legendary San Francisco record emporium Amoeba Music. Singer and guitarist Matt Ferrera links with bassist Nick Oka, while Keith Frerichs is the powerhouse drummer. A chance encounter with Morgan Stanley singing karaoke at a Fourth of July party cemented the line-up around an avowed thirst for melody. “All of us love really earnest pop songs,” Nick points out. “I guess we got to a point in our lives where we wanted to be genuine.”
Playing shows at San Francisco’s vital DIY redoubt Hit Gallery, The Umbrellas would share line-ups with local heroes such as April Magazine and Cindy. Recording their debut album across a two-day spell at Matt’s parents’ house, the results won a devoted cult following. Yet the experience of touring bonded them tightly and allowed the volume to tick up a little higher, and higher, and higher. “I think we got tired of people saying, oh you’re so much louder than I thought you’d be!” laughs Matt. “Our early recordings are sweet and earnest… and we wanted it to be louder.”
Kicking off sessions in November 2022, the band used an ad hoc space Matt created in his basement, working across a four-month period. Sessions were a little more relaxed in terms of timescale than their debut, but The Umbrellas were incredibly focussed on the project. “We gave ourselves more space for this album,” says Keith. “We wanted time to sit on the songs, and really work on them.”
Allowing their live dynamic to bleed out on tape, The Umbrellas are at once more physical and yet also more controlled on their new album. Take opening track ‘Three Cheers!’ – the peppy, sun-soaked rush masks a barbed lyric, courtesy of Nick Oka. “It’s a pseudo-political song about power struggles that occur in a job situation, or a friend group. It’s an observational song.”
‘Toe The Line’ has an unkempt, rollicking sense of energy, the playful relationship analogy of the lyric pushed to the speed of light by Keith’s ultra-fast punk drumming. ‘When You Find Out’ meanwhile epitomises their unified, egalitarian way of making music – with The Umbrellas, each voice counts. “It sounds different from any song we’ve ever written together,” says Morgan. “It shows how much we’ve grown. Trust helps us to build the songs. It’s definitely a team effort.”
It's also a record of ambition. ‘Say What You Mean’ stretches past the four-minute mark, the viola performance informed by Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Pärt. ‘Gone’ was the first song attempted for the new album, and the last they actually finished, endless re-writes transforming it into a manifesto of control and release. Taken as a whole ‘Fairweather Friend’ is a bold indie pop triumph, crafted with purpose and attention. Taking their time over each note, the four-piece have strengthened their songwriting, adding depth and assurance while unlocking their potential. Some bonds last a lifetime – The Umbrellas are ready to capture your heart.
Toe the Line
Say What You Mean
When You Find Out