In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs and videos from Elijah Ocean, Bus Gas, Onward Chariots, *Chi and Mysteries. From Americana melodies to impressionistic instrumental rhythms and percussive pop construction, the songs cover a wide range of genres and influences. What have you been listening to this week?
Elijah Ocean, "Ride It Out"
American singer-songwriter Elijah Ocean creates music that has ties that go back decades. Neil Young and Gram Parsons are obvious touchstones, but there is something mischievous and occasionally languid about his songs—a sly nod to his influences while acknowledging and forging his own creative path. He will continue to tread these bucolic avenues when he releases his latest record, "Bring It All In," Oct. 7 via New Wheel.
On recent single "Ride It Out," Ocean saunters through an acoustic landscape of broken spirits and wounded lives—the kind of song that you'd find on albums by The Band or Townes Van Zandt. The shuffling percussion and gorgeous harmonies bring out the still-beating heart of the music, and never once does the song lose its power to move you and bend your emotions in elliptical patterns. There's nothing terribly complicated here, though there are some darker thematic layers at play. But this stripped-down approach works wonders, and Ocean gives fans a beautifully realized portrait of pastoral heartache and loss.
Bus Gas, "Desert Swagger"
The flicker of intricate and amorphous instrumental music (post-rock, perhaps) has been given new life in the works of Nebraska trio Bus Gas. Their songs envelop the listener, allowing droning guitar notes, submerged synths and reverb-soaked rhythms to settle in over you like a death shroud, as casual and careless as a stray bit of morning fog. The band is now gearing up for the release of their third album, "Snake Hymns," which is due out later this summer on cassette imprint Spring Break Tapes.
Thankfully, the band has given us a brief glimpse into the complicated world of "Snake Hymns" with their new song, "Desert Swagger." Cyclical and impermanent, the song unfolds in somnambulic textures and patterns—this is the sound of the world eroding and wearing down to its foundation. Bringing to mind long stretches of empty roads and burned-out countrysides, this track finds the band chipping away at our expectations and leaving us with a beautifully blank landscape upon which to set our hopes and fears. The band is fine with tearing down the world into concentrated melodic chunks; they're simply asking us to help them piece it all back together.
Onward Chariots, "I Know We'll Find a Way"
Brooklyn jangle-pop outfit Onward Chariots (AKA Ben Morss and Rus Wimbish) understand the benefits of a great melody. In their unique and pop-centric musical landscapes, nothing is pulled together at the last moment or assembled without the end result fixed clearly in mind. Their songs rumble and shake with the weight of the past 50 years of music toiling and working beneath their shimmering rhythmic façade—and with the recent release of their latest EP, "Take Me to Somewhere," they're continuing to mine a rich vein of familiar, melodically extroverted sounds.
For the video to recent single "I Know We'll Find a Way," the band headed back to New York, and under the supervision of director Randy Gordon-Gatica, filmed an ode to their adopted hometown. Full of crowded streets and the bustling hum of a thriving city, the nostalgic video matches the song's glistening collection of chiming guitars and gentle keys in a way that finds balance between the forward momentum of their surroundings and an inclusive display of community. The song feels like coming home—with all the inherent joy and possibly jumbled complications you'd expect to find.
*Chi, "Digital Temptation"
Everyone is waiting for a response. At least, that's the conclusion and assertion presented by Boston-based ambient singer-songwriter Ray Ward, who performs under the *Chi moniker. Drawing inspiration from a collection of disparate artists, the common thread among his influences is a sense of transitory movement. And this guided momentum finds its creative peak on his upcoming EP, "Digital Temptation," which is due out Sept. 16.
His most recent single and the EP's title track, "Digital Temptation," explores the ever-shifting boundaries of our digital world and the constraints and freedoms that have blossomed as a result. Crafting a musical reality not unlike some detailed digital simulation, Ward has given us the ability to walk between both worlds—this synthetic and often-garish false (read: digital) life and its corresponding physical reality. Bolstered by measured ambient electronics, avant-pop rhythms and thrumming bass lines, the track becomes its own reality—and by *Chi's leave, we're more than welcome to accept it or pass it by for something more tangible.
Mysteries, "Newly Thrown"
Driven by a desire for anonymity, elusive trio Mysteries have managed to maintain a sense of ambiguity longer than might have been expected—and even now, their label doesn't even know their identities. But what is known is they make saturated industrial pop that echoes with the same sense of uncertainty that surrounds the musicians themselves. And we'll hear more from them when their debut record, "New Age Music Is Here," is released Oct. 28 via Felte.
But for now, we can listen to their latest single, "Newly Thrown," and imagine what lurks beneath their disguises. This track combines the vivacious melodies of new wave with the theatrical pomp of synth-pop and allows both to twist and contort in unexpected ways. Layering a dense thudding percussion with a small arsenal of warbling synths has resulted in something that bears the imprint of its influences but never feels beholden to anything. It's an insular statement of intent from a band obsessed with perception and identity—and one of the most affecting tracks you're likely to hear this year.
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.