In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs and videos from Gold Cult, Onward Chariots, Casey Jack, Animal Years, No Lands and Amoureux. We swing from synth-based indie pop and howling rock rhythms to avant-pop attitude and experimental soundscapes. If you're looking for music that fits into easily digestible categories, you're out of luck. But if you're looking for music that'll challenge and reward you in equal measure, I've got just the tracks for you. What have you been listening to this week?
Gold Cult, "Lafayette"
Chicago experimental duo Gold Cult (AKA Blaine Welsh and Mikey Moran) is looking to release their debut LP sometime toward the end of this year, but they've recently shared a few songs that will find their way onto the upcoming album. One of these songs, the jazz and indie rock amalgamation "Lafayette," finds a perfect balance between the need for innovation and the need to pay homage to their influences. Wrapping various sound effects around a thudding bass lead, "Lafayette" finds the duo working slightly outside their comfort zone, with Welsh and Moran stitching together a host of rhythms to form an oddly compelling mélange of abrupt sound. And though the track is instrumental in nature, there is a rather deliberate musical narrative to be found if you only listen hard enough.
Onward Chariots, "It Doesn't Even Matter"
Brooklyn-based chamber pop outfit Onward Chariots is nothing if not true to their name. The band, formerly featuring a full lineup and now only sporting Ben Morss and Rus Wimbish, has paired with producer Jesse Gander (known for his work with Japandroids and White Lung) to create the "Take Me to Somewhere" EP—a collection of barely contained pop theatrics and unswerving momentum. On recent single "It Doesn't Even Matter," the duo creates a shimmering slice of indie pop confection that'll have you nodding along before it hits the first chorus. The song twinkles and radiates a determined pop life that keeps it sprinting along, urging us to keep up if we can. Slinging guitar riffs, frenetic percussion and Morss' indelible vocals against each other, "It Doesn't Even Matter" may just be the summertime staple you didn't know you needed.
Casey Jack, "Not in Love with the Modern World"
If you've got two minutes to spare today, I suggest you spend it listening to "Not in Love with the Modern World" by garage-pop artist Casey Jack. Drawing upon aspects of Phil Spector's glorious pop production and the fervent execution of early punk, he creates unstable musical worlds in which his songs live and breathe—though these often-minuscule soundscapes are apt to burst apart at any second. On "Not in Love with the Modern World," Jack storms juke joints and dive bars to try to find some sort of peace of mind, but his search ultimately poses more questions than it answers. Balancing heavy guitar licks with ferocious melodies, he splices indie rock with country music to form a surprisingly cohesive strain of musical DNA—these sounds mix and intertwine in ways that we don't expect, and Jack uses a wide range of influences to fill in the details of his own musical narrative.
Animal Years, "Forget What They're Telling You"
Animal Years is a band that inhabits the same bucolic musical territory as bands like My Morning Jacket and The Avett Brothers. With the deluxe release of their latest record, "Sun Will Rise," coming out this past May, the band is poised to bring their surging, emotionally charged folk rock to a larger audience. They've recently released a video for a track called "Forget What They're Telling You," and it stars "True Blood" actress Bailey Noble as a woman who really likes to dance. Set sometime in what appears to be the '70s, it shows the band performing on a glitzed-out variety program, surrounded by dozens of different dancers—with Noble watching on an old television set. Led by singer Mike McFadden's fervent vocals, the band churns through the song with the same sort of reckless intensity that fans have come to expect from Animal Years.
No Lands, "City"
Experimental sound designer and producer No Lands (AKA Michael Hammond) has been taking apart and putting back together various speaker components and instruments, as well as making his own musical software, since he first developed an interest in music. Working with producer and instrument builder Dan Trueman, Hammond further refined the skills and abilities that would come to play an important role in the creation of his latest record, "Negative Space." Drawing inspiration from artists like Brian Eno and Fennesz, he bends legions of synths, drum machines and processed vocal samples to his considerable will. On recent single "City," he combines layers of chiming guitars, moody percussion and distorted vocals to create an occasionally stark and reverent exploration of his influences. There is a feeling that Hammond is using drone and noise artists as inspiration, along with the more pop-oriented artists that he's come to admire, and the result is absolutely remarkable.
Amoureux, "Never as Young as Tonight"
Los Angeles-based avant-pop duo Amoureux is the result of Neurotic Yell label head Nicole Turley and bassist Holiday J's love for all things post-punk and pop. Their forthcoming EP, "Never as Young as Tonight," was written and performed at the same time, generally in one take—and that sense of rhythmic spontaneity infused their music with a zealous love for unexpected detours. The songs were largely written on bass and drums, with synth, violin and sax bits interspersed to help fill in the musical gaps. On single and title track "Never as Young as Tonight," the duo tosses off bits of tribal percussion and mingled vocal harmonies with a thudding momentum that recalls the minimalist pop of the '80s (think Ultravox meets The Slits) while still keeping the music firmly grounded in the present.
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.