This week's Notes from Left of the Dial takes us from the streets of Johnstown, Pa., to the ethereal landscapes of Sweden and back again, stopping off at a few places of interest along the way—and in the span of just a few songs. From droning ambient textures to synth-funk flexing, these songs revel in their tonal disparity but also find a curious rhythmic symmetry within their own unique musical worlds. Be sure to let me know what you have been listening to this past week (even if it's just Christmas music) in the comments section.
Stage Hands, "Regardless"
Stage Hands is the moniker of producer Brandon Locher and multi-instrumentalist Gerald Mattis; and through their amalgamated vision of jazz, funk and synth-pop, they create twisting worlds of nonlinear melodies and often-abstract strains of beat-driven rhythms. Their latest single under the Stage Hands name comes in the form of "Regardless," a tropical fusion of synth warbles, Afro-pop percussion and dance floor theatrics that wiggles its way into your ear and refuses to budge. An instrumental track (save for the occasional repeated use of the word "regardless"), the track feels far more cavernous and detailed the further into it you go—this is definitely a track that grows more intricate and memorable with the passage of time. It's a rousing carousel of assorted tonal nooks and crannies and feels like a song in which you could easily get lost. And considering the depth and beautifully realized atmosphere of "Regardless," that's not such an unpleasant thought.
Sides of Chaz, "Sweet Tea"
When he's not slinging synth-pop jams as Toro Y Moi, Chaz Bundick is working through his own psych-rock tendencies as Sides of Chaz. Vaguely reminiscent of bands that followed the DIY spirit of the Athens, Ga./Denver Elephant 6 Collective, this new moniker gives him license to expand his already-considerable musical palate to include threads of fractured psych-pop and looping lines of melodic guitar that seem to curl upward until they dissipate into the upper atmosphere. This song comes as part of recently released 7-inch on Fork and Spoon—with "Take My Car" sitting as its B-side. The song finds Bundick contemplating settling down with a family, going through all the usual experiences that come with a family and a life of earned responsibility. He sings, "Give me someone close to hold on to" in a way that seems neither cloying nor ironic but full of the heart-on-sleeve attitude that characterizes much of his past work, even if it is buried in shifting synths and broken pop reflections.
Sky Ferreira and Ariel Pink, "My Molly"
Avant rocker Ariel Pink and singer Sky Ferreira have teamed up to cover one of Pink's own songs from 1999.The reimagined track was produced by Justin Raisen, who co-wrote a good deal of Ferreira's recent debut LP, "Night Time, My Time."The song was originally slathered in distortion and fuzzed-out riffs, but in this new version, Pink and Ferreira wash everything in a new wave rock haze—though Pink still gets to shred on his guitar from time to time.Ferreira's quirky and often-spastic vocal styling fits the song perfectly.Oftentimes, these duets come at the expense of any musical relevance, but "My Molly" finds a churning momentum and pop glee that keep it from feeling like anything other than the wholehearted work of two wonderfully off-kilter musicians.
Sima Kim, "Intertwined"
Producer Sima Kim was born in South Korea but raised in Europe, and this expanded worldview definitely comes into play on his latest single, "Intertwined."Creating a droning melody from layered synths, Kim slowly and deliberately shifts the angle at which the music pours out from your speakers.In doing so, he focuses your attention inward, toward the center of its slowly rising and slightly cacophonous rhythms.Much like Basinski's "The Disintegration Loops," there is far more here than any casual glance may first reveal."Intertwined" washes over you in melodic waves, with each section slowly drawing back the practiced musical façade until there is practically nothing left between you and the music but a very small pocket of empty space.
jj, "My Boyz"
There's something quite dark and Lynchian about the latest song from Swedish chameleons jj, and a good deal of it has to do with the unsettling video that the band released for the track.The band has never been one to sit still musically, and "My Boyz" marks another wonderful shift toward a more vicious approach to their often synthetically based rhythms.There is an uncharacteristically bitter note to the words that singer Elin Kastlander throws out like emotional barbs.Failed relationships aren't a new topic for jj, but the resignation and the display of sadness that come from these emotional upheavals certainly are.Stark in its depiction of regret and anger, "My Boyz" finds the duo reinvigorated after a series of by-the-books releases.If this mysterious video is any indication of a forthcoming LP (which we're still not sure about), then the band has successfully set fans and critics on edge, hopeful and anxious for more.
Enjoy this week's Soundcloud playlist below, with songs by How to Dress Well, Kye Kye, Courtney Barnett and Cassorla. And don't forget to listen to the mix from producer Nicolas Jaar commemorating the anniversary of John Lennon's death.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.