Philadelphia has many claims to fame, from providing the gritty backdrop to the Rocky movies, to lending its name to the tub of cream cheese lurking in the back of your fridge. It’s also a renowned musical melting pot, having produced the likes of John Coltrane, the Roots and Hall & Oates.
One of the more recent additions to the city’s music scene is indie-rock band Stereo League. Starting as a loose collective centred around singer and guitarist Alex Savoth, they released their debut album ‘A Light on Each Side’ in 2018.
Their follow-up is 5-track EP ‘Natural Mystery’. The band has evolved into a 5-piece, although the involvement of outside musicians ensures that their spirit of collaboration remains.
The EP opens with ‘Natural Mystery’, a wistful piece of indie-pop that shows off Savoth’s keen ear for melody. It’s a gentle tune ideal for bleary-eyed listeners on a Sunday morning.
‘Just Enough’ is similarly laid-back. It’s a duet between Savoth and singer-songwriter Lucy Stone, whose fragile vocals add to the track’s sense of yearning and vulnerability.
‘Hanging On’ is a prime slice of Americana. Savoth adopts an unrushed croon reminiscent of Brandon Flowers of the Killers. The song’s guitar solo is an unexpected delight, despite – or maybe because of – it sounding like it’s been lifted straight from some 1970s classic rock cut.
‘Ravenous’ is the EP’s odd track out. It’s by far the rawest and angriest song here, and sees Savoth’s usually restrained vocals rising to a scream at one point. The abrasive guitars and late-night vibe are more akin to Arctic Monkeys than any of Stereo League’s American contemporaries.
Closing track ‘Hail Mary’ marks a return to the measured melancholia of before. A cinematic slab of heartland rock, it has a clear Springsteen influence, with big drums and lyrical references to the Boss’s staple themes of cars, Catholicism and New Jersey.
Stereo League’s brand of earnest, no-nonsense guitar rock seems distinctly out of place in 2020, and they show little in the way of innovation. But there’s much to admire here for fans of the likes of Kings of Leon, Band of Horses and the War on Drugs.
Like Philly’s own Rocky Balboa, Stereo League have so much heart and charm that it’s impossible not to root for them.
‘Natural Mystery’ EP is out now