In this week’s Notes from Left of the Dial, I take a look at some songs from Clip Art, Hayden, Stage Hands, Anthonie Tonnon and The Wave Pictures. From Clip Art’s bright, buoyant pop to Stage Hand’s fractured electronic melodies and The Wave Pictures’ jangling garage rock, these songs don’t mind lingering for a few minutes in a handful of genres before heading off to other rhythmic landscapes. What have you been listening to this week?
Clip Art, "Airborne Ranger"
After spending the past few years writing, performing and recording with JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound, Andrew Rosenstein (AKA Clip Art) is set to release Clip Art’s debut LP, "Culler," March 31. Recorded in apartments and studios around Chicago, the album feels like the end result of a long trip through a gallery of synth pop, indie rock and classic pop noise. There’s no doubt that Rosenstein is well-versed in the histories of these sounds, but in the reconstitution of these rhythms, his music comes across as less of a jumbled amalgamation of his influences and more a cohesive statement of intent.
On recent single "Airborne Ranger," Rosenstein mixes a particularly fuzzy experimental pop sound with layers of euphoric indie rock. It's definitely a song that's apt to get stuck in your head for days, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Full of soaring vocals and a bubbling percussive bounce, the track gladly dishes out lines of electric guitar and thudding bass in repeating waves of rhythmic catharsis. And that's all in the service of saying that Rosenstein knows a great melody when he hears one and doesn't obscure it with superfluous sounds or static.
Stage Hands, "#unabomber"
Composed of producer Brandon Locher and multi-instrumentalist Gerald Mattis, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, duo Stage Hands isn't easily categorized, nor is their music particularly attuned to quick summation. Their sound is equal parts jazz atonality, electronic experimentation and synth pop buoyancy. Hopping from one melodic step to the next in a looping series of alchemic explorations, Locher and Mattis aren't afraid to step out and make some fairly risky decisions in regards to their music, and this risk taking has paid off in wildly unpredictable ways.
On recent single "#unabomber," Locher and Mattis (and guest musician The One and Only Matt Miller) merge an expansive electronic landscape with frazzled bits of static and noise. The track is suitably circuital—with radiant synths and clipped percussive elements tied together in an odd amalgam of organic and synthetic aesthetics, a shivering balance between the song’s warmth and chrome sterility. There is a heart buried beneath all the sound, and for anyone who takes the time to unearth it, the reward is a gorgeously thudding beat that will reverberate in your bones for weeks to come.
Anthonie Tonnon, "Water Underground"
Auckland, New Zealand, singer-songwriter Anthonie Tonnon treads the same sort of temperate, introspective territory as artists like Jens Lekman and John Vanderslice. But rather than allowing the gentle nature of his voice to convey a narrow emotional depth, he creates a resounding series of interlocking vocal rhythms that twist and turn around each glassy arrangement. His music is primed to evoke a wide range of unconscious melodic reactions, with bits of guitar, percussion and bass acting as the catalyst for his own emotional associations.
On his latest single, "Water Underground," Tonnon plies a catchy, strummy pop lilt that veers between singer-songwriter tradition and clattering jangle pop proclivities. Buoyed by Tonnon’s softly ecstatic voice, the song builds a glistening pop foundation before releasing the notes in a whirl of sound and memorable melody. "Water Underground" is the sound of an artist in complete control, willing to push himself as far as he can to get that last lingering note to stick with us.
Hayden, "Nowhere We Cannot Go"
Since he first started releasing music in the '90s, Canadian songwriter Hayden has been the poster child for downbeat lyricism and dramatic introspection. But it was all done with the knowing glance of someone who could always see the bigger picture, even if that larger picture was riddled with doubt and insecurity. And things haven't turned out too bad for the singer, as he is set to release his latest record, "Hey Love," March 24 via Arts & Crafts.
This subtly brighter outlook extends to his latest single, "Nowhere We Cannot Go," where he uses ringing piano chords and thumping percussion in concert with his own shivering voice to great effect. He opines about the difficulty of trying to better himself but ultimately comes to the uplifting conclusion that there's "nowhere we cannot go," and it's in this statement that a good deal of hope that was previously locked away is given room to breathe. Although this song may be a relatively upbeat oddity in his discography, it's a welcome addition to a generally somber musical history.
The Wave Pictures, "Pea Green Coat"
There’s no short supply of garage rock bands. In fact, there’s so many littering the musical landscape that the genre can occasionally feel like a strip mine of barren notes and chords. It’s become an unsightly issue of heard-it-all-before monotony. But there are still bands who tackle the lo-fi aggressiveness of the genre and turn it on its head, giving us insight into a worn and abused genre that just wants to break your speakers and trash a handful of stages. And that’s where The Wave Pictures come in.
Hailing from England, this trio of garage rockers has joined forces with lo-fi punker Billy Childish to record their latest record, "Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon," which will be released March 17 via Team Love Records. On lead single "Pea Green Coat," the band and Childish dole out a clanging collection of bluesy riffs and churning garage beats that would make The Sonics blush. It's all jangling angst and chattering percussion. By blurring the lines between these genres, they've managed to draw out the base elements and rearrange them in blistering, blustery ways.
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.