In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs by A Shoreline Dream, Bugseed, The Last Bison, Una Lux, and Arms and Sleepers. If you happen to be searching for shoegaze-y melodies, cathartic folk rhythms and a futurist vision of synth-rock, these tracks will be exactly what you've been looking for. What have you been listening to this week?
A Shoreline Dream, "The Heart Never Recovered"
The ghosts of bands like Slowdive and Cocteau Twins are hard to shake once they've settled in on you. And for bands such as Colorado-based progressive shoegazers A Shoreline Dream, it becomes nearly impossible—but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Their intricate and nebulous strands of swirling guitars and gauzy vocals are perfectly suited to watching the tide roll in and out or for a bout of intent stargazing. The band is set to release their fourth album, "The Silent Sunrise," Sept. 9 via their own label, Latenight Weeknight.
On lead single "The Heart Never Recovered," they concoct an amorphous blend of shimmering guitars, waterlogged percussion and enough rhythmic density to sink a small ship. But there's also a dramatic sense of space and scale—as if these sounds were the leftover ephemera of interstellar debris. And yes, their influences are obvious, but that doesn't matter. A Shoreline Dream has evolved past the need for mimicry or musical misappropriation. Theirs is the sound of stars, planets, tides and the ever-cycling movement between them.
Tokyo beat maker Bugseed is gearing up for the release of his latest record, "Some Foods," Sept. 2 via cassette label Spring Break Tapes. Mixing a fractured electronic aesthetic with hints of beat tape composition, he creates sounds that ricochet around in your head, searching for a way to get out. But there is also a grace and casual beauty to his music. Veering into instrumental hip-hop territory allows him the leeway to explore and expand his considerable sonic palette, which includes unconventional pairings of synthetic and organic rhythms.
On recent single "Flowing," he uses just a few things to create something remarkable, which is even more impressive considering that this track barely tops the two-minute mark. Opening with static and gorgeous piano notes, it quickly brings in a stoic beat with clattering percussion and vibratory grooves. The simplicity of the track is what becomes its greatest asset; the different parts of the song are easy to pick out, but the way in which they twist and contort around each other is something of a minor miracle.
The Last Bison, "Bad Country"
Virginia folk-rockers The Last Bison are set to release their latest album, "VA" (pronounced "Virginia"), Sept. 30, then they'll set out on tour from September to November in support. Their arena-folk sound has slowly been evolving, adding layers and weight with each progressive step that the band has taken. From the stark fragments of their early work to the dense folk rhythms they're currently peddling, the band has been fully committed to the development of their sound through a kind of unstructured sonic reinterpretation.
On "Bad Country," the band finds a nice balance between a slew of stadium-sized melodies and a more intimate, inclusive sound. Singer Ben Hardesty works his rumbling tenor in among cathartic reed organ lines and lush, ornate strings, and creates a vast expanse of anthemic folk melodies. But if you peeled back the layers a bit, you'd find that this song isn't any different from those you might hear around a communal campfire—they've just jacked the amps and emotion up to 11.
Una Lux, "Simon"
It takes a particular kind of mind to be able to convey the attitudes and intentions of bands that you listened to growing up without becoming bogged down in imitation or, possibly worse, parody. But for futuristic synth-rock quartet Una Lux, this ability to transcend musical influence in an instinctual part of their creative process. Bringing to mind artists such as Bjork and Portishead, this collective familiarity is what allows the band to subvert our expectations at every turn. They're prepping a new EP with producer Nick Sansano and released their new single, "Simon," Aug. 26.
"Simon" could easily be described as an amalgamation of futurist pop tendencies and synth-rock inclination, but to label it as such would be to do the song and Una Lux a great disservice. There is depth and weight here, despite its glossy veneer. Centered around the strong voice of singer Kelso Norris, the song makes grand statements about the viability of synth-based music. There can be complexity and subtlety wrapped up in these gossamer pop packages—all it takes is a band with the drive to carefully draw back the layers of sound and get at their thudding synthetic hearts.
Arms and Sleepers, "Swim Team"
Electronic duo Arms and Sleepers creates music that clings to the back of your mind, always ready to spring forward and remind you that music has the ability to alter our perspectives. And while many artists use the term "ambient" as a crux and shield to hide their own laziness, there are some who wield that synthetic haze with the precision of a surgeon, allowing it to completely engulf the listener. And Arms and Sleepers' music will continue to do just that with the release of "Swim Team" Oct. 28.
For the title track, they wrap themselves and the listener in cocoons of alternating rhythms and stuttering beats. There's something mysterious and unsettling about the warbling synths and half-formed melodies that attach themselves to the framework of the track, but before the sounds get completely under your skin, the mood lightens, and sporadic cheers are worked into the mix. "Swim Team" exudes a beguiling menace that is interwoven among strands of lighter, more airy beats and a liquid surface that just needs the slightest touch to break the tension.
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.