Startle it Up by Ray & Remora (Aeronaut Records)
Ray & Remora are Dan Crane and Amanda Walker, two musicians that bonded over their love of music at an Eastside club in Los Angeles. After an EP of covers of Crane’s favorite bands released in 1994 the duo added keyboardist Jeff Liffman and drummer Damon Kellard to help write the originals on Startle It Up. The band’s approach is certainly interesting enough: dream pop songs with a country touch here and an indie rock echo there, all tied together by Walker’s inviting vocals.
The Happening opens Startle It Up with subtle electric guitar, thrumming bass, lively drums and spry electric piano and synths, punctuated by a throaty keyboard solo that will get you clapping your hands and singing along with Walker’s bright vocals. Hearts Do Change starts out hushed and shadowy, Walker singing in a hushed way, then breaks out, raising her voice for all to hear as the band picks up the energy, Crane digs into his guitar and what started out sounding sad now displays new possibilities for the future. It’s Just caught my ear immediately with an air to it that reminded me of Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac or John Paul Jones’ keyboard from No Quarter, again starting out sad but building to a sense of strength, of looking over the edge of heartache and pain and diving headfirst into the unknown. Whether Walker’s heart has been broken one too many times or not, she’s willing to bare her soul to the world and sing sweetly over her and Crane’s often melancholy compositions turning everything into a fun “fuck you” to the past and creating some future pop to dance and sway your pain away.
Case in point is the title track, synths and guitars swell up around Walker’s strong vocals dedicated to getting out of a rut, changing locales, making new friends and you feel like she’s done just that with Crane as her musical partner.
Don’t Shoot Me Down will give you chills with Walker’s desperate cries, minor key synths and Kellard’s mournful pace, but then the tone changes with Crane’s invigorating guitars, Walker chanting “Don’t shoot me down” over and over until it becomes words of encouragement and catharsis.
Startle It Up closes with Honey Please, Walker’s breathtaking vocals barely adorned and accompanied by liquid keyboards and echoes, making it plain that she could sing a capella and still draw joyful tears from the listener. When the band joins in with a midtempo country-swing, smiles are sure to break out. And when the song returns to just Walker and Liffman’s spacey keys, it is the perfect ending to a wonderful album.
(Review by Bret Miller)