In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs and videos from Ancient River, Rainer, Niagara, Turn to Crime and The Bright Smoke. Whether you're in the mood for hazy psych rock rhythms, R&B-soaked melodies or avant pop textures, the songs should have something to sate that musical itch. What have you been listening to this week?
Ancient River, "Keeper of the Dawn"
Psych rock duo Ancient River (AKA James Barreto and Alex Cordova) creates music that's equal parts classic rock 'n' roll and elastic psychedelia—a series of sounds that feels expansive and vibrant. Having spent time gracing the stages of the Austin Psych Fest, Los Angeles' Psycho De Mayo and the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, Ancient River has had plenty of time to hone their psychedelia-laced rhythms into something that quakes and sounds like it could have come from one of the "Nuggets" compilations.
On recent single "Keeper of the Dawn," the band wades through a dense swamp of curling guitar licks and thudding percussion. The track howls and crawls along, dragging its influences behind for the ride. There are remnants of The Sonics and Monks, but you can also hear traces of bands like 13th Floor Elevators and Silver Apples in its amorphous psych rock wizardry. But the song isn't merely constructed from bits of the bands who so obviously mean a great deal to Barreto and Cordova—it's a collaboration between these inspirations and the band's own sense of restless creativity.
London duo Rainer isn’t interested in fads or what’s particularly popular at the moment. Their music is infused with insular R&B rhythms and skewed electronic production, engaging the listener on a primal level. There’s no coattail riding here, only a synth-led inclusivity that begs you to dive in even before finding solid ground. Rainer’s music is a bit hypnotic, with sounds emanating from your speakers in waves of delicate tones and quixotic textures. You’re not quite sure how it all fits together, but it most certainly does.
On their latest single, "Nocturn," which is taken from their upcoming debut LP, "Water," the band crafts a meticulous avant pop tune around a series of sounds that were originally written to form an instrumental for Drake’s second album. The track balances a gloomy, darkly rhythmic backbone against some pitch-shifted electronics that shine like neon signs illuminating the curb outside of some garish nightclub. The rain is coming down and all you can see and hear are the pulsating sounds and movements from people pouring out the front door. There’s something slightly foreboding about the place, but you can’t help but be drawn in.
The music of "avant-psych-tronica" duo Niagara (AKA David Tomat and Gabriele Ottino) is as fragmented and complicated as that description might lead you to believe. But that doesn't mean their songs are disjointed to a point where all intent is overshadowed by the nature of the songs themselves. Based in Turin, Italy, Niagara takes the well-worn electronic pop aesthetic and warps it beyond all recognition. Incorporating aspects of electronic, pop, psychedelia and dance music, their songs feel malleable and pliant, ready to be worked from within by the band.
For the video to single "Else," the band invited over 20 animators to help form a visual accompaniment to the song's thudding synthetic heart. Bellowing like some dance floor giant lost among the synths, this song thunders, shudders and tromps around, spilling bits of pop music all over the club floor. "Else" is unlike anything you've heard recently and will stay percolating around in your head for weeks.
Turn to Crime, "Light"
Detroit trio Turn to Crime has been labeled as krautrock and garage rock and any number of other genres in between. These descriptions hold a certain validity. This is a band whose music changes every time you hear it, based on context and individual perception. Filled with motorik beats, warbling electronic flourishes and a stark post-punk attitude, their songs seem like they shouldn't work—but through the band's hyperactive execution, it all fits together in spectacular fashion.
On recent single "Light," the band mixes a garage rock aggressiveness with an electronic aesthetic that results in a curiously affecting sound that's equal parts Cluster and Parquet Courts. There's a languid vocal sheen from singer and band mastermind Derek Stanton that keeps all the sounds corralled together and heading in the same direction. These sounds should be flying off at all angles, but Stanton makes it all work, despite the disparity of the music involved—and given the influences, that's quite a feat.
The Bright Smoke, "Exit Door"
Brooklyn-based duo The Bright Smoke is gearing up for the release of their sophomore record, "Terrible Towns," which is due out sometime in April. Composed of Mia Wilson and Quincy Ledbetter, the band specializes in gloomy yet upbeat pop rhythms that stray pretty far from what you might expect. Their music has been compared to Cat Power and Patti Smith, and those comparisons are apt if a bit limiting—so while there is a curious familiarity to the sounds that they use here, it's simply the recognition of influences on our part and not merely a reliance on other people's music.
With their latest single, "Exit Door," they take some reverbed guitars, an eerie clacking percussion and Wilson's biting voice, and create a song that feels austere even as it ramps up the tension and emotional release through the ebb and flow of melody and tone. The track works its way under your skin, with echoes of elastic guitar lines and moaning vocals pinging from one end to the other. Chilling in its bare framework and grim aesthetic, "Exit Door" is the sound of a band quickly emerging from the shadows, casting out a stark experimental pop web and just as suddenly shuffling back into the darkness.
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.