In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends some time with new music from Flower, Chirping, John Helix and Dan San. What have you been listening to this week?
Flower, "Deadly Ill"
The music of Atlanta rockers Flower is born from a certain social malaise, a kind of existential crisis that results from becoming too deeply entrenched in a consumer-minded environment and feeling as though you're unable to do anything other than spin your wheels in frustration. At least, that's what happened to Flower architect Jack Fowler, whose experiences working a dead-end office job and becoming disillusioned with his position became fodder for the new record from Flower. As the singer for exwhy, Fowler is no stranger to Atlanta's rock scene, but his work in Flower is a bit more introspective than exwhy's dense barrage. It can still shake walls and stages, but Fowler is approaching the subject matter in a slightly different manner.
On "Deadly Ill," Flower churns out a darkly grunge-like rocker that hews closer to Wire than Nirvana but feels as piercing and barbed as either. The track is laced with a stinging anxiety, a sense that everything isn't right and nothing ever will be. It's that feeling of helplessness in the face of an oncoming future that you can't control or escape. And for Fowler, this is as frightening as anything he's ever faced. But it's also the source of some hope, too. As that future approaches, he gains some measure, however slight, of being able to alter its trajectory. And on "Deadly Ill," he makes the case that despite the momentum with which the future seems to be approaching, there is some light at the end of the tunnel—even if that light is just a sheet of ragged guitars, some chest-slamming percussion and Fowler's own wail against the encroaching darkness.
Swedish indie rock quartet Chirping makes music that feels as informed of classic pop music as it does early '90s indie rock. Their raw production and jangly melodies feel woefully and wonderfully out of step with the current wave of homogenous pop wannabes. They've been compared to bands like The Last Shadow Puppets and The Strokes, but they're sound is even more roughed up than either of those two bands. They share an obsession with melody and angular guitar riffs, but Chirping borrows a bit more from a particularly slicked-up garage rock aesthetic than their musical peers. And it shows in the way that their songs revolve around a shearing guitar-driven heart.
On their latest single, "Heist," the band channels the recklessness of youth and the energy that comes from a wild and restless creativity. The song beats and trembles and tosses off pure pop waves of intuitive guitar licks and a thrumming percussion that provides the necessary base for the band to explore these emotional highs. There's an unfiltered pop-rock pleasure here, matched only by the band's eagerness to indulge equally in their influences and individuality. "Heist" is a surging swamp of pop riffs and swelling vocal lines. It's the perfect antidote to the recent cold and overcast days and manages to keep its welcome after repeated listens. Chirping may not be reinventing the wheel here, but they've fashioned something remarkable from something so familiar.
John Helix, "Roman Tic"
John Helix is a songwriter who creates songs that owe their impact to their simplicity and lack of artifice. His new record is called "Tune Out, Turn Off, Disconnect"—an homage to Timothy Leary's drug-addled axiom—and it furthers Helix's acoustic fascination with how seemingly ordinary arrangements can evoke a deep upwelling of emotional association. The songs can be slightly somber and introspective but always maintains a determined rhythmic spirit and intent. He uses a bare musical template that has been in existence for decades to convey a worn and dour outlook with just a hint of light waiting to be found. It's not all shadows, but Helix finds a catharsis in both extremes of these emotions.
With his new single, "Roman Tic," he wanders through the same woozy acoustic landscapes that artists like Nick Drake and Elliot Smith have come to define. The song is sparse, with just Helix's voice and some guitar accompaniment, but that's really all it needs. It exists in that low light of summer evenings where friends gather around a fire and talk among themselves until the last sparks turn to ash. This song inhabits a warm and inclusive atmosphere that invites you closer and proceeds to whisper melancholy revelations in your ear while echoing acoustic patterns reverberate inside your head. It's unassuming and sometimes sad and keeps you absolutely riveted to your speaker.
Dan San, "Dream"
The music of Belgium-based indie pop outfit Dan San drifts along like some stray bit of fog or comforting humidity that clings to your skin, eventually sinking deeply into your subconscious and finding a comfortable home. Their latest album, "Shelter," was recorded and produced with Yann Arnaud (Air, Phoenix), and he brings a lightness to his direction that gives the songs a capricious nature that never weighs down the music and gives the band a certain leeway to stretch and explore these sometimes wisp-ish sounds. Filaments of guitar and piano gently sway against one another, quietly meeting and rebounding without pausing.
On "Dream," the band employs a wide assortment of arrangements to construct a series of sounds that resonate with the pop heart in all of us. Keys bounce and shuffle around a mercurial melody that brings to mind the shimmering synthetic pop of bands like Air and Kings of Convenience. But there's no adherence to any sort of genre blueprint—this is music made without reference and overt influence. "Dream" is spry and melodically serpentine. The music curls around your ears, settling into a holding pattern, with tones and rhythms coming and going as each second ticks away. The band creates a fluid and unpredictable atmosphere of pop synthesis, one that rewards pop understanding and the need to pull apart every little sound.
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.