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Satellite Pilot’s new album is a whimsical take on modern rock

Vintage record player against a yellow background.
Collegian Album Reviews Graphic (Katrina Clasen | The Collegian)

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Loveland, Colorado, indie-pop group Satellite Pilot recently released their sixth full length album, the self-titled “Satellite Pilot.” The 11-track album shows the band flourishing in the era of psychedelic pop, their music a celebration of the past, present and future. 

Satellite Pilot’s music is an endearingly whimsical take on modern rock that pays homage to the era of classic pop that defined contemporary music. 

This influence can also be seen in the band’s bold aesthetic presentation in their music videos for singles “Hold It” and “Rocketship,” in which each member dawns a bright blue suit and corresponding white turtleneck, recalling the promotional garb of 1960s pop groups.

However, Satellite Pilot is not limited to the sounds of the past, incorporating elements of modern psychedelia and the alternative indie-pop sound of bands like Dr. Dog, Fruit Bats and Bahamas

Propelled by a harsh keyboard riff and a bassline that seems to bob up and down like a buoy on a wave, the dense instrumentation of opening track “Sharkfüd” gives the colorful impression of a coral reef teeming with life. The tapping of drumsticks adds an interesting percussive element to the song’s first half, occupying an otherwise empty place in the mix.

The choice of percussive elements isn’t particularly unconventional, sticking primarily to a standard drum kit and a tambourine, but its role in the album shows the band has a good understanding of its importance in the dynamic of the music.

In my opinion, the song’s weakest point is the sample it opens with. Although the inclusion of the sample is solid in terms of production, it adds relatively little to the song as a whole. The featured soundbites are separate clips from two news channels covering a shark attack, and although it works to establish the theme of the song, it’s not particularly interesting.

Having a somewhat unnecessary sample is a common occurrence and something that could be easily brushed off, but in this context, it stands out to me more than usual. With “Sharkfüd” as the album’s opening track, the sample appears in the first few seconds of the album and serves as the listener’s first impression of “Satellite Pilot.”

The second track on the album, “Hold It,” is quick to establish a lighthearted mood with its listeners, setting the stage with the unaccompanied percussion of a tambourine and bongo quickly followed by a rush of shiny guitars and a warm-toned bass. As the song progresses, it maintains the steady rhythm established in its introduction even as the band divulges into more psychedelic territory. 

Briefly accompanied by a sound that closely imitates the pull of a cello, the rhythm grounds us in a sea of twinkling guitars until it’s pulled from under our feet and the song dissipates into its outro. 

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“Shelly Holly” bares many of the key elements found in ’60s pop, driven by a simple piano riff and prominent bass that lie simply beneath the classic vocal harmonies. The band makes sure to include subtle hints of strangeness outside of the unconventional lyrics, with electronic chimes twinkling in the intro and off-kilter synth lines and muffled vocal samples sprinkled throughout. 

I think the biggest potential turn-off for possible listeners is found in the exaggerated tone of the vocals, which I think is far more pronounced and upfront in “Satellite Pilot” than in past releases from the group, particularly in songs “Sharkfüd” and “Homesplice.”

The nasally enunciation of each word is certainly distinct and attention-grabbing, but it feels a bit jarring and out of place. Perhaps this is an element of Satellite Pilot that they aren’t willing to part with — singers with unique vocal timbres are often controversial and highly subjective. I would love to see Satellite Pilot continue to explore the unique identity that vocals bring to a band’s sound without pushing the search for a signature voice beyond authenticity and falling into a gimmick. 

Although the album features consistently strong instrumentation throughout, a highlight is undoubtedly in its bold use of percussion. The choice of percussive elements isn’t particularly unconventional, sticking primarily to a standard drum kit and a tambourine, but its role in the album shows the band has a good understanding of its importance in the dynamic of the music. This understanding pays off in the high energy and well-balanced tone of the album. 

Overall, Satellite Pilot and their self-titled release present a lighthearted and innovative combination of classic influences and modern indie pop to their audience in a well constructed and thoughtful way.

Max Hogan can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @macnogan.

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