There’s a two-second moment on the opening track of Quiet Day that tricks your mind into thinking you’re going to hear a Black Keys’ song. But then summer in California bursts into your eardrums along with the realization that this is something new and wonderful.
The track is Cut to the Chase, and the band, Fort Lean.
For an East Coast band Fort Lean has a definitive West Coast vibe. Listen close and you’ll hear elements of the Beach Boys, Arctic Monkeys, and The Neighbourhood.
But Fort Lean isn’t a band that conforms to one genre. Like every other band defined as indie rock, Fort Lean seeks to set itself apart by defying categorization. In a landscape where everyone is trying to be different it can be impossible to stand out. Yet, this band proves that it has that extra spark of something special; a spark that can, with the right guidance, fan into a raging fire.
What makes these New York-based rockers stand out is their willingness to let go and let their music be. There’s a sense of gentle guidance instead of stifling control. In The Hospital perfectly reflects their softer side with a heartbeat drum line that crescendos into the anthem “I hope this night doesn’t put you in the hospital.”
Yet, with all this “let it be” attitude, a lesser group could run into the danger of being sloppy. Not so with Fort Lean. Tight instrumentation with the right amount of synth, this band knows exactly what it’s doing.
Comprised of five Wesleyan University graduates, Fort Lean is all about taking its audience on a trip to another world.
“The idea was to conjure a place without being overly specific,” said lead vocalist, Keenan Mitchell. “We wanted an imaginary place that could be a stand-in for all the values that we want our music to represent.”
Formed in 2011, the band members knew each other during their under grad years. They had played in other various college bands, but the five current members didn’t form Fort Lean until some years later when they all reconvened in New York City.
“We knew what to expect (from each other), so it was easy to throw together.” Mitchell said.
As for the name, Mitchell explained that they were trying to capture the essence of their music and who they were.
“It’s hard to name a band!” Mitchell laughed. “There’s lots of worse names out there.”
The band believed the name “Fort Lean” perfectly captured the essence of place, while not being an actual one — a place were a “strange utopia” can exist.
“(And) where we could conjure with our tunes.” Mitchell said.
Their music, like their name, is transportive. One moment it feels likes the swinging ’60s; then the early noughties in north London; and in a flash the listener is whisked back to California with sweet chords that invoke memories of Laurel Canyon.
The band’s first LP, Quiet Days — due to drop Oct. 2 — is a modern psychedelic journey. It balances the diverse sounds of live instruments with synthesizer chords like a perfectly poured tequila sunrise. The light sweetness of the album is frequently belied by the realist lyrics that range from a fed-up lover to an unpaid (and unspecified) dealer.
For Mitchell, describing Fort Lean is not really possible. We all hear music differently, he said. What he might get out of a song could be completely different from what the audience does. It’s not that Fort Lean is actively resisting categorization, he said, but it’s more that all music today defies genre.
“There are elements in our music that you might think you’ve heard before, but they translate to something different when the parts come together,” Mitchell explained in the band’s biography.
Perhaps the best way to sum them up can be found on the track Quiet Day:
“Please don’t be afraid of the things I can’t explain,” the lyrics beg.
While Fort Lean may defy a simple description, their music is pure, delightful goodness. It stays with you like a long summer sunset.
Fort Lean is comprised of Keenan Mitchell, vocals; Jake Aron, bass; Zach Fried, guitar; Will Runge, keyboard; Sam Ubl, drums. Quiet Day will be available Oct. 2. (Preview it here.)
The band will be playing the Valley Bar with CHAPPO and Yukon Blonde on July 18. The show is for ages 16 and over. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $12 to $14. To purchase tickets in advance, visit valleybarphx.com.
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