Some actors’ musical projects can be defined as acts of vanity, but Calpurnia are not one of those bands. The Vancouver teens count Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard among their number, alongside guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe, bassist Jack Anderson, and drummer Malcolm Craig. Hit TV appearances aside, they’re almost your regular high school band - except they’re also very, very good.
‘Scout’, their debut EP, is the first full introduction to the group, following singles ‘City Boy’ and ‘Louie’ (both of which appear here), and a handful of covers of the likes of the Pixies, Mac DeMarco, and Twin Peaks. They’ve called the latter their heroes and you can hear their influence on most of the record, possibly in part because they recorded it with the band’s frontman, Cadien Lake James. Opener ‘Louie’ features similarly languid guitar licks as much of the Chicago group’s third album ‘Down In Heaven’, while ‘City Boy’ is in the same scratchy, lo-fi garage-rock vein as ‘Making Breakfast’, right down to the howl of “Owww!” after the first verse.
But ‘Scout’ is no exercise in homage. ‘Greyhound’ is murkier, like Finn is singing through dense grey clouds as he unweaves a story about skipping school to go “to Seattle on the Greyhound” for a show. ‘Wasting Time’ boasts a ’50s rock’n’roll baseline and a killer solo from prime shredder Ayla, while ‘Blame’ floats melancholically on layers of brass, keys, and Malcolm’s brushed drums. It’s closer ‘Waves’ that’s the most striking example of Calpurnia’s potential, though, offering significant proof that they can do more than rough and ready garage-rock. It sounds like Mac DeMarco reworking one of Tame Impala’s slower, softer cuts, sung in the same tranquil tones as Kevin Parker.
Lyrically, ‘Scout’ isn’t reinventing the wheel, relying mostly on basic rhymes (for example, ‘Wasting Time”s “My baby don’t cry, all she do is laugh/When she gets home, she takes a long bath”). You could easily level those criticisms at bands twice Calpurnia’s age, though, and, as first steps go, this EP is an exciting glimpse at even brighter things to come.