When Scott Huerta began sending demos for French Cassettes’ sophomore album to his band mates last year - holed up in a tiny bedroom in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood that could barely fit his bed - he was nervous. “It was so gut-wrenching, waiting for the band to text me back,” he explains. “I was so anxious.” In a sense, he had reason to be hesitant: full of unanticipated twists and turns, off-kilter melodies and experimental arrangements, the dozen-odd songs presented a drastic and unexpected alternative to the band’s unabashed pop sound. With a new batch of songs that are as much a joy ride as a curve ball, French Cassettes are about to show the world that they’re just as smart – and as adventurous - as they are sweet.
The four members of French Cassettes, which also includes Mackenzie Bunch on lead guitar, Huerta’s brother Thomas on bass and Rob Mills on drums, have largely been friends since their teenage years in the sleepy town of Ripon, CA; the Huerta brothers grew up on an almond orchard. After graduating from high school, however, the band slowly began making their way to San Francisco, where they hunkered down far away from the hubbub of city life, just blocks from the foggy Pacific Ocean.
Soon after, they released the Summer Darling EP and their debut LP Gold Youth. Loaded with rich harmonies and stadium-sized hooks that recall both Motown’s jaunty swagger and the Strokes at their sunniest, the two releases quickly caught the ear of fans and industry pros alike. The band was invited to play Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse)’s Musicfest NW 2012 Glacial Pace Showcase as well as SXSW (2012 and 2014); they also began sharing bills with the likes of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Of Montreal and Surfer Blood. Not to mention selling out their own headline gigs throughout San Francisco.
The new material was already well under way when the band wrapped up touring behind Gold Youth in 2015; as was the case with their debut, the new material is being recorded and produced by lead guitarist Mackenzie Bunch in his Lower Haight studio, as well as in drummer Rob Mills' Bodega Bay bungalow.
While just as catchy as their previous recordings, French Cassettes’ new songs are threaded through with a sense of unease that peeks in through the sumptuous harmonies and exuberant guitar work. Huerta explained that he looked towards the past for inspiration: “Brian Wilson and (ELO front man) Jeff Lynne will slip in these sneaky shifts or harmonies, and you get chills. Their songs were full of little moments that caught you off guard,” he explains.
Huerta finds his own ways to recreate that musical melancholy. Sometimes it’s simply the force of a stray lyric - “I’m gonna die soon,” he howls in “So Good” – that puts a twist into an otherwise warm arrangement. Other times a spray of unexpected guitar will make you do a double take, or a song will pivot on a dime into a bridge. Embracing a newfound sense of experimentation throughout their sophomore release, French Cassettes retain the youthful exuberance of their best songs while rising to ambitious new heights.
- Max Savage Levenson