The Umbrellas

2nd Grade, The Smashing Times

Thursday, June 13
Doors: 7:30pm | Show: 8pm


The Umbrellas are four renegade romantics crafting irresistible indiepop hymns. The band’s self-titled 2021 debut album was a breakout moment, winning critical praise and fueling tours with everyone from labelmates Papercuts to Fucked Up. Follow-up LP Fairweather Friend goes a step further – balancing the rambunctious sonic attack of their live shows with studio craft and 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 addictive, upbeat 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-taking and the precision that comes from long months on the road.

The Umbrellas coalesced in 2018 around a group of musicians with connections to the legendary San Francisco record emporium Amoeba Music. Singer and guitarist Matt Ferrera had previous links with bassist Nick Oka, as well as the powerhouse drummer Keith Frerichs. 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. The experience of frequent touring bonded them tightly and allowed the volume to tick up a little higher (and higher…) and and feeding a desire for their next record to more closely mirror the energy of their live shows. “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, which allowed the sessions to be a little more relaxed in terms of timescale than their debut. “We gave ourselves more space for this album,” says Keith. “We wanted time to sit on the songs, and really work on them.”

Capturing their thrilling live dynamic 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 just-chaotic-enough 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 indiepop 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.


Ringing from hi-fi headphones and blown-out boombox speakers alike comes the overloaded guitar genius of Easy Listening, a record of rock ‘n’ roll daydreams and terminal boredom, and 2nd Grade’s long awaited second LP on Double Double Whammy. Like a blue slushy on a hot day, Easy Listening is a sweet respite. Like the Blue Angels touching down on the Las Vegas Strip, Easy Listening is impossible to ignore. And like a janitor mopping up beer on the floor of the Hollywood Palladium in 1972, hours after the Rolling Stones have finished “Ventilator Blues” and climbed onto the bus, Easy Listening knows the glory and cost of escapism, abandon, and the soul of rock ‘n’ roll. Philadelphia’s 2nd Grade (Peter GillCatherine DwyerJon SamuelsDavid Settle, and Fran Lyons) is a band both obsessed with and worthy of rock stardom, and Easy Listening proves their status as virtuosos of the power pop renaissance.

Sonically and lyrically, Easy Listening pays tribute to a guitar lineage linking the Stones to the Flamin’ Groovies, to Redd Kross and Guided By Voices. With its spiraling hooks and handclapped quarter note beat, lead single “Strung Out On You” sounds like an alternate reality post-Radio City Big Star cut. In 2nd Grade’s world, music history is a prism, not a linear progression. Famous teens transcend time on the outro to “Teenage Overpopulation,” a shouted cacophony of names including Tommy Stinson, Lizzie McGuire, and Joan of Arc. The line between the love of an audience and that of a romantic partner is blurred on songs like “Hands Down” and “Me & My Blue Angels.” Across the album, hi-fi and lo-fi styles splice together; playful references and surreal hints of impossibility build a complex, believable world atop a foundation of simple and sticky melodies that resonate on very first listen.

As usual, 2nd Grade are generous with their album offerings, packing 16 songs on Easy Listening. Most tracks clock in around two minutes, almost indulgent compared to the average runtime on 2nd Grade’s debut 24-track LP Hit to Hit. On Easy Listening however, the band develops their theory of quantum teenage energy, composed of equal parts sincerity and swagger. Basement drums and bass run full speed ahead. Gill’s vocal deliveries range from sweet to snotty. Guitar performances from Samuels and Dwyer similarly alternate between clean power-pop jangle and lo-fi scuzz, dedicated above all to the band’s lodestar: riffs that rule.

Easy Listening doesn’t just reference its larger-than-life forebearers – it builds a multi-layered dreamworld of punk and rock mythology from beginning to end, allowing both band and listener to revel, at least for a moment, in radio star euphoria. “We’re MVPs of MTV/Don’t have to live like a refugee/We’re VIPs of VH1/Learning to fly and free fallin,” Gill sings on Track 1, “Cover of Rolling Stone.” Later, on “Planetarium,” Gill colors his starry daydream with everyday pathos: “My lawyer says not to talk to the press/but I just like the way that they listen.” Across the album, yesteryear’s guitar heroes show up as totemic symbols, transmuting their own worlds of meaning into new expressions in Gill’s overactive imagination.

For all its abundance, Gill’s imagination is also desperate. The brilliance of Easy Listening lies in its longing, and in the blindingly clear difference between the myth of rockstar ecstasy and the reality of ennui, stagnation, and addiction. Like anybody, the voice of 2nd Grade just wants somebody to listen and there’s nothing more human than fantasizing about the things we don’t have. Like 2nd Grade, we’re all children, “dreaming of dreaming of dreaming a dream.”


When you call your band Smashing Times you can’t help instantly getting the flavour of the Television Personalties and Dan Treacy but on their second album, the band deliver that and so much more. This really is a fusion of psychedelic, twee and freakbeat that will make your heart skip and your head smile. The guitars shimmer, strum and jangle whilst the vocals float effortlessly on top of the efficient rhythm section. Every song is a bundle of energy with hooks that come both instantly and after multiple plays. Without doubt, if it had been recorded in the 80’s would have been released on Whaam or Dreamworld but luckily for you pop kids this 2023 and K have the honour of releasing it. (Sean Forbes)

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