Today’s indie music (local or otherwise) can sometimes make for a frustrating listen. It’s not that some of it is bad per se (though plenty of it certainly is), nor does it lack heart or earnestness. Much of it is great lyrically, too, and many indie bands are made up of phenomenal musicians.

Still, for all of its good qualities, one often comes away from listening to modern indie music with a feeling that something is missing. And it’s only after revisiting those early days of college rock and the nascent alternative scene that one can finally put a finger on what it is that’s missing from much of today’s cutting edge music: hooks and melody.

And yes, there’s plenty of terrific music that lacks traditional hooks, and certainly my favorite Black Flag and Slayer records don’t have much in the way of melody. But a quick listen to some of those great early tracks from R.E.M. or XTC is all it takes to remind any fan of that era’s music why they fell in love with it in the first place. It wasn’t just great lyrics, not just good musicianship or a cool vibe, but good songs! The kind with instantly hummable melodies and hooks that lodged in your brain for days.

Fortunately, the members of Portland band An Overnight Low have studied the masters and learned their lessons well. Their new album “Euston” is like a love letter to those early ’80s glory days. There’s a nod here and there to the ’60s as well, and even some nostalgia for the AM radio hits of the ’70s.

Still, this is no mere exercise in retro songwriting; the band has taken a classic sound and spruced it up with their own modern polish.

“Euston” is largely the brainchild of bassist and main songwriter Chad Walls, who spent a year studying at the University of Manchester in England and traveling around the UK. Stuck in an airport for nine hours, he began reviewing pictures, videos and journal notes he had collected during his travels. As common themes started to emerge, ideas for songs began to form.


The resulting song cycle that makes up the album plays like a great road movie, and hits all the essential road movie bullet points along the way, including lost loves, fading friendships, loneliness tinged with excitement, travel in general and the characters one meets along the way on any journey.

That sense of travel and motion mixed with loneliness is readily apparent in the album opener “The Artist in the Wrong World.” The track sounds a little like mid-period R.E.M., with lead vocalist/guitarist Chris White and backing vocalist Mac Coldwell harmonizing over chiming guitars in classic Stipe/Mills fashion. Understated keyboards help fill out the overall sound, adding a richness and texture to the simple but effective arrangement.

“London” is one of the standout tracks on the album, thanks in part to some lovely backing vocals courtesy of Holly Nunan. Lyrically, the song deals with that all-too-familiar feeling of having let important things slip. This track also contains one of the best hooks on the entire record, and you’re all but guaranteed to be wandering around singing, “How have you been, I haven’t seen you for a long time” for days on end.

“Halley’s Comet” is where the ’70s AM radio influence is most apparent, particularly where the vocals are concerned. Mac Coldwell takes the lead here and sounds a little like Dewey Bunnell of America. And, just like the best of those ’70s songs, underneath the lush arrangement is a sense of melancholy, but the toe-tapping tempo is pure ’80s alternative. It’s a terrific mix of styles, almost like a great lost XTC track as sung by Seals and Crofts.

“Terminal B” veers into alt-country territory, with a sense of tension created by guitar feedback. It’s the type of feedback that often precedes a musical explosion into something a little more raucous, but that explosion never comes.

Instead, the song fades into the monotonous drone of overhead announcements in an airport. It’s the perfect musical accompaniment to the lyrical themes of loss and missed opportunities.


There’s a jaunty ’60s pop vibe to “Sleeper” mixed with a Tom Petty-esque countrified rock, making this one of the more radio-friendly tracks.

“Goodnight, Portland” shows a strong ’90s influence, especially in the Radiohead-style fade-out, while “Smile” is another joyful love letter to R.E.M. “Junebug” has the golden, southern California sheen of “Rumours”-era Fleetwood Mac, but with a catchy, driving beat that’ll have you hand-clapping along.

“The TransPennine Express” brings back the traveling vibe, again tinged with loneliness, perfectly expressed in lines like “Three spots empty ’round a table seat means I have no place to be.”

Album closer “Trainspotting Extras” has a strong Springsteen vibe, and a soaring, Bruce-worthy chorus that deftly blends both hope and sadness, with more of those catchy hooks helping to mix the bitter with the sweet.

It’s the perfect finale to the record, like the closing song played as the credits roll on a particularly moving road movie, or that elusive song that plays on the car radio just as you’re pulling into the driveway after a long trip.

At, Chad Walls has posted some great notes about what the lyrics mean and about how these songs came to be.


You may want to listen to the album first before reading the notes. That way, you can paint your own pictures to go along with the band’s gorgeous melodies.

Or you can read along as you listen, joining Chad and friends on the road to nowhere in particular.

With traveling companions like An Overnight Low, it’s a trip you’ll want to take again and again.

Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at:

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