In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends some time with new music from Câlisse, Stranded Horse, My Golden Calf and Sparrows Gate. What have you been listening to this week?
It began, as many things do, with an introduction. Musicians James Collette and Morganfield Riley were both soundtracking different films when they were introduced by a filmmaker friend. By the next Halloween, they were performing together. Drawing together some musical friends, Collette and Riley organized a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," and these sessions went so well that when Collette announced he was recording a solo album, Riley volunteered to produce one of the songs. Their collaboration blossomed and grew to include other musicians, becoming the foundation for Câlisse. The group will release their debut record, "Farewell Black Sheep" on April 15.
On their new single, "Stay," the band creates a sound that feels drenched in the classic indie rock years of the early '90s but still manages to sound timely and timeless. The guitars are thick and sticky and are filled with ragged distortion and a fuzzed-out attitude. Buried beneath all the hiss and grit, though, is a churning melody that sticks to your brain and anchors the track while also lifting high into the upper atmosphere. It's catchy and hits you like a fist to the chest. It's rare that a band understands this contrast between loudness and melody so well, but Câlisse make this awareness seem nothing more than the next logical step. If "Stay" is any indication of what we're to expect from "Farewell Black Sheep," then April can't get here soon enough.
Stranded Horse, "Monde"
The music of Stranded Horse (AKA French artist Yann Tambour) is rooted in the sounds of different geographies. Toward the end of 2012, Tambour completed a residency in Senegal, where he studied at Dakar's French Institute. While there, he met and played with various musicians and began his own tenure with the kora, a West African stringed instrument. This lute-bridge-harp would come to be the focal point of his compositions, along with a certain folk-y aesthetic that resulted in a 7-inch artifact from his time in Senegal. With a rotating cast of musicians, he has expanded the sound of Stranded Horse since his earliest work, creating a fleshed-out sound that bridges genres and distances in equal measure.
On his latest single, "Monde"—taken from the band's upcoming album, "Luxe"—Tambour and guest vocalist Elise Decazes (of Arlt) create a song full of subtle brilliance and simple warmth. There's nothing complicated here, just the airy sounds of an acoustic guitar and voices intertwining. There'a sense of immense space here, as though the song was far larger than its subdued façade would lead you to believe. Through just the barest of elements, Tambour and Decazes molded this bare aesthetic into something wonderfully inclusive and full of grace. There's a beauty in simple things, and "Monde" is as simple and beautiful as they come.
My Golden Calf, "Either"
Austin-based group My Golden Calf was created through dissolution—to be exact, it came about when singer-guitarist Dabney Dwelle's previous band Quien 'es Boom fell apart, and he began looking for a slightly different rhythmic approach to his own creative instincts. The first thing he did was to set down his guitar and take his place behind an old Wurlitzer, where he started composing a set of new songs. Bringing on drummer Tim O'Neill, bassist Jonathan Skaggs and keyboardist John Hale, the band's lineup was solidified, and they began in earnest to write new songs in 2014. They entered the studio last year and recorded the ten tracks that would form the basis of their upcoming debut album, "Perfume Brute," which is set to come out on Feb. 26.
On "Either," the band stretches their warbling indie rock aesthetic about as far as it can go and, in the process, create something that sounds incredibly insular and drawn from a collective of deeply held influences. Opening with a driving guitar riff and some shivering Wurlitzer progressions, the track meticulously unfurls over the course of the next (almost) 6 minutes and develops a mood and environment of experimentation—which gives the track a purpose and resolution that keeps it moving along even when the band simply fades into the background and lets their instruments do the talking for them. There's a subtle force and impact that weaves its way throughout the song, shifting perspective and tempo as the song reaches its dramatic conclusion.
Sparrows Gate, "Ghost Blue"
Music can evoke feelings and memories that have been locked away for a very long time—its impact can be reassuring and devastating. For California band Sparrows Gate, music can be the thing that changes the way you see yourself and the world around you, or it can simply be something that you enjoy in the late hours of a cold evening. That's the wonderful elasticity of sound; it can be anything to anyone. Sparrows Gate are set to release a two-track 7-inch on Jan. 22 via Royal Oakie Tapes and Records, and they follow the same kind of emotional folk-rock template that the band's prior record, 2013's "Beneath the Electric Church," was constructed from. But these two songs feel like an evolution of sorts for the band as well.
Specifically, single "Ghost Blue" is a revelation of simplistic and subdued ornamentation. The song begins with just a simple piano and vocal melody playing out within the cavernous space provided by the band. But the space fills soon after, with strings, guitars and percussive beats laying bare the backbone of the track. Led by the haunting voice of lead singer Zebedee Zaitz, it conjures half-forgotten memories and feelings of oddly comforting melancholy. It's the perfect song to commiserate with in this bitter season, but even when things are covered in a mournful moan, the band always allows a little light to seep in—not much, mind you, but enough to keep you on your feet looking for the source of that illumination.
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.