It begins with playful handclaps, then charming indie-rock vocals. It builds to a West African-influenced polyrhythmic bedrock and bright, chiming, highlife-style guitar work. This is “Science Camp,” the de facto lead single off Some Friends Feel Like Family, the 2015 release from Santa Barbara’s Ghost Tiger.
On paper, this formula seems a bit like Vampire Weekend. And in reality, that’s not far off: a fun mashup of brainy college rock, dance music and Afro-pop — a musical influence that dials back a bit on the rest of Some Friends, but can always be heard clearly in the sunny, clear and cutting tone of lead guitarist Christopher Norlinger.
“Our bass player [Kevin Evans] was in a marimba ensemble and is inspired by African rhythms so that came through on some of the songs on the EP,” writes vocalist Alixandra Macmillan-Fiedel from the road. “We have many backgrounds in the group from self-taught to classically trained to jazz.”
Macmillan-Fiedel is central to Ghost Tiger’s sound; her voice is moody and atmospheric with range and well-timed gusto, evoking at times Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde.
Her range shows in the indie rock-meets-’50s-weeper “More Than Enough,” and in general her voice holds together what at times is a strong but stylistically scattered set of tunes. Over the course of a mere seven tracks, just when you’ve got Ghost Tiger pegged, the band quickly changes on you.
Elsewhere, the polyrhythms return with “Covered in Gold,” a track that shows Ghost Tiger at their best: bristling with complex musical ideas, expressive guitar work, Macmillan-Fiedel’s luxuriant pipes and a clear and poignant vision.
This is the time to catch Ghost Tiger; this will be the band’s last stop on the Some Friends Feel Like Family tour.
Ghost Tiger plays with Eugene’s Pluto the Planet and Bend’s Wilderness 9:30 pm Friday, Jan. 30, at Sam Bond’s; $7. 21-plus. — William Kennedy