In this week’s Notes from Left of the Dial, I take a look at some songs from Eternal Death, The Birds of Night, Maribou State, Kristin Hoffmann and This Way to the Egress. From moody Swedish pop to disheveled garage rock, these tracks may find a permanent home in your weekly rotation. What have you been listening to this week?
Eternal Death, "Violence"
Despite their somber name, Eternal Death isn’t peddling sludge metal riffs or catatonic drones—rather, the music from this Swedish duo (singer/producer Elin Berlin and Johan Angergard) is bathed in honeyed synth lines and dark, shadowy melodies. It’s like being wrapped up in a comforting blanket, only to realize later that you can’t breathe through its enormous density. Berlin and Angergard manage to strike a particularly delicate equilibrium between the lighter and darker aspects of their music—it’s a balance that few artists can claim to have achieved, but Eternal Death makes it seem easy.
On their recent single, "Violence," the duo creates a wintry mix of heady introspection and fluid tranquility. The track develops a beautiful symmetry between its own excitable nature and a mercurial serenity that generates an almost-overwhelming force from the disparity between these two extremes. Synths shimmer, thud and fade as Berlin’s convivial voice guides you through Angergard’s immaculate production. This is synth pop that draws you in, without cause or consequence, to understand the world through an eerie synthesis of sound and movement.
The Birds of Night, "Dark"
Denton, Texas, band The Birds of Night play rock 'n' roll music, but their brand of weird, dusky, dark rock falls outside the confines of what most people would associate with the genre. While there are numerous recognizable influences (you can hear echoes of bands like Beach Fossils and Thee Oh Sees), the construction of their music is skewed ever so slightly, which places the songs on an alternate rock timeline than most of their indie peers. And they’ll continue to explore this parallel musical landscape with the release of their latest record April 21.
On "Dark," the new single from their upcoming album, the band clusters together bits of crunchy guitar and a hammering rhythm section with dense production from Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith—who recorded the new record at his studio. The song tramps and stomps through a collection of compressed influences but never relies on the sounds of those artists. "Dark" is the sound of a confident and progressive band, one that is continually pressing against its own perceived limitations and finding that those limits aren’t actually all that confining—and that this persistent evolution is every bit as important as the notes that they play.
Maribou State, "Rituals"
It’s not an easy prospect, marrying live instrumentation to electronic rhythms without using the other as a musical crutch to draw in fans of that particular sound. The balance between aesthetics must be handled just right, or the whole thing feels sloppy and devoid of any real personality. But English production duo Maribou State (AKA Chris Davids and Liam Ivory) seems intent on showing just how easily they can do it. Over the past few years, the pair has released a string of beloved EPs that cemented their place among the leading purveyors of laptop ambience and mixed-genre production.
On their latest single, "Rituals" (which is taken from their upcoming record, "Portraits," due out June 1 via Counter Records), the duo blends a smeared electronic palette with sizzling guitar solos and scattered synths to create something that feels drawn from their numerous influences but also stands on its own. Equal parts circuital otherworldliness and dense organic instrumentation, "Rituals" is the result of a weekend bender of house music, psychedelics and ambient experimentation.
Kristin Hoffmann, "Amazing Space"
Chamber pop composer and singer Kristin Hoffmann makes music for transcendence. As a musician in experimental collective BELLA GAIA, she forges a unique and unforgettable musical path through the integration of celestial rhythms and ethereal melodies. Recently, though, she paired with filmmaker Ralph Stevens to score his upcoming movie, "Amazing Space," a film dedicated to juxtaposing scenes of vast cosmic vistas with inspiring music that serves as a bridge between the aural and visual aspects of our consciousness—so, not your average pairing of sight and sound.
For the title track, Hoffmann pits an ambient beauty against the track’s casual otherworldliness. The repeated word "amazing" gives a sly nod to the ageless influence of "Amazing Grace" on the song, but Hoffmann’s elegant voice and the lively arrangements keep the song from relying too much on people’s familiarity with its inspirations. It flows like liquid from one note to the next, giving it the appearance of a seamless current of sound—all uninterrupted beauty and formless grandeur.
This Way to the Egress, "We Won't Go"
There’s no easy way to describe the sound that avant musical collective This Way to the Egress creates. It’s raucous and intense, incorporating bits of Eastern European melodies, off-kilter rock rhythms and bustling tangos in a whirling mass of musical havoc. There is also an unbounded sense of joy coursing through its veins. Stray bits of vaudeville brashness and big-top theatricality thread their way into each instantly memorable melody and cacophonous strand of noise and sensation.
With the release of recent single "We Won’t Go," the band makes one more assertion as to their relevance in an overly homogenous musical marketplace. Akin to a drinking song brought on by one too many shots of rum (or possibly a fist-pumping singalong ode to the joys of making it to last call), "We Won’t Go" is a call to arms for people who enjoy a spirited night out with friends. But beneath the veneer of alcohol-soaked catharsis, the song deals with a far darker subject matter—that of a man wrongly accused of a crime who seeks solace in a bottle. This split viewpoint turns the song from a boisterous pub anthem into something far more incisive and biting.
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.
Updated @ 11:46 a.m. on 2/20/15 to correct the spelling of Kristin Hoffmann's name.