In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends some time with new music from Carter Tanton, Conway, Jon Patrick Walker and The Red Western. What have you been listening to this week?
Carter Tanton, "Twenty-Nine Palms"
Carter Tanton has seen his fair share of movement in the last few years. From his time as the frontman for dissolved rock outfit Tulsa to his time performing with Marissa Nadler, Lower Dens and The War on Drugs, Tanton has always maintained a humble reserve in the face of his own remarkable musicianship. Working through a countrified folk-rock sound, he channels the spirits of Neil Young and Gram Parsons while still carving out his own rhythmic identity. His music evokes open stretches of scrub-filled desert and long winding highways where lost lives can be renewed and set on tangential paths. His new record, "Jettison the Valley," is due out March 4 via Western Vinyl.
On his latest single, the slightly overcast and expectant "Twenty-Nine Palms," he enlists the help of Sharon Van Etten and a particularly affecting pedal steel guitar to create a stirring and somewhat austere folk-rock spectacle that exudes a restless creativity. The spectacle lies not in any cramped production but in the deep emotional resources with which Tanton imbues each syllable and chord. When the propulsive drum beat kicks in and his voice soars on its layered reverberations, you know that this is a song that carries with it the weight of years of experience and heartache. His guitar shimmers and rumbles and provides the necessary framework on which to hang his wonderfully evocative narration.
Conway, "Sudden Dawn"
Los Angeles-based musician Conway isn't looking for handouts and, in fact, would much rather do things her way than submit to being handled by some distant label or cadre of PR representatives. After getting released from a record deal with Columbia Records (her choice), she focused on the way her music spoke to people on an almost subliminal level and constructed a sound that's equal parts gossamer pop and brash punk-addled attitude. Her music exists somewhere between the fluorescent sounds of Charli XCX or Ellie Goulding and the dense dynamics of a band like Broods. She seems driven to express the words hidden deep within herself and isn't afraid to kick up some dust in the process.
On "Sudden Dawn," she organizes a thudding pop explosion that wraps you in a cocoon of iridescent bliss—full of all the chest rattling percussive eruptions, snaking bass lines and synthetic flourishes we've come to expect from her songs. She rattles off words like a carnival barker, full of the ecstatic love of sound that drives her music into the upper echelon of modern pop aesthetics. The dense heartbeat of the song forms a striking melodic skeleton on which she imagines pop music at its most emotional and viable. "Sudden Dawn" is both of these things and maintains a momentum that carries you along in its exuberant wake long after the last notes fade from your speakers.
Jon Patrick Walker, "Hideous Monster"
Jon Patrick Walker is no stranger to the ins and outs and stresses that can come from working within a system that values superficial worth over intrinsic value. As both an actor and musician, he's in the distinct position of being able to see how one art factors into the other and how best to wade through the resulting creative detritus. Across various media mediums, he's worked with artists like David Byrne and Pete Townshend and has performed in various on-and-off Broadway productions. Having previously worked with producer Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Lambchop), Walker developed a languid and expressive sound that drew from a handful of different genres without ever really laying down roots in any given spot.
On his new single, "Hideous Monster," Walker inhabits a spare and blues-y landscape of decaying buildings and reflective self assessment. His guitar spirals out into the cosmos on lines that feel drawn from the darker corners of psych rock but which still allow for the smallest bits of light to shine through. Sometimes you just have to take a clear and honest look at yourself to see through all the noise and clatter of the world around you, and Walker does just that on "Hideous Monster." Eventually, he finds a way to live with the good and bad parts that he discovers in himself and just so happens to write a catchy and suitably memorable song on which to lay his hopes and revelations.
The Red Western, "Moonlight, Starlight, Venus"
The music of Pittsburgh indie rock group The Red Western is a compendium of influences and inspirations that cross genres and draw heavily from various strains of Americana, pop and rock. But even with their roots firmly entangled with these familiar sounds, the band never comes across as ordinary or simply uses their musical heroes as stepping stones to develop their own musical perspective. They've got a very definite idea of what kind of music they want to make and only enlist these influences when the time is right. There's a strong sense of pop individuality even when you can hear them working their way through some recognizable landscapes. With the release of their two new EPs, "Sirens" and "Arrows," the band is looking to continue this lineage of heavy pop theatrics and bucolic folk expectation.
With "Moonlight, Starlight, Venus," they mesh some spiked country rhythms with a jangling pop melody that works despite their superficial disparity. This song acts as a primer of sorts for anyone interested in finding out exactly what kind of music The Red Western actually makes. Voices float and exhale above a glistening bed of guitars and sparkling percussion. There's a timeless quality to it that washes away any sense of nostalgia or dated production. Equal parts gorgeous Americana shuffle and dreamy pop substance, the band allows the song to twist and elongate under their control, affecting a spirited and necessary look at the way varying genres interact with one another.
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.