In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends some time with new music from Son of the Velvet Rat, mAsis, Spelling Reform and Matthew Squires. What have you been listening to lately?
Son of the Velvet Rat, "Blood Red Shoes"
Son of the Velvet Rat is a dark folk duo composed of Austrian-born Heike Binder and her husband, Georg Altziebler, and they create shadowy bits of delicate, desert-tinged beauty through a reinvention of their folk roots. With Altziebler on guitar and Binder manning the organ and accordion, the duo fashions a curious and memorable lineage that speaks to their various influences while clearly presenting their own creativity. For their latest record, "Dorado," they paired with a handful of musicians, including Joe Henry (who produced the album), Victoria Williams and Patrick Warren, to flesh out their already-impressive folk rock aesthetic.
On their new single, "Blood Red Shoes," they enlist Williams to explore a dusty Americana landscape where coyotes howl in the night and death rides through the shadows. Drums shuffle in the background while voices struggle to maintain their appearances. They pull together spots of light and hope in the midst of a great ragged emptiness and allow these bright moments to shape the rhythmic momentum that propels the song forward. There's nothing particularly fancy or elaborate about the way they expel these ghosts, but the spirits are exorcised all the same. The arrangements are full of deceptively simple choices that allow the music to sway and contort without limitation or restriction.
The work of Glendale, California, trio mAsis exists in the glossy, chromatic space between various electronic impulses, chill R&B rhythms and futurist pop sensibilities. They combine these sounds into an immaculate and heady rush of melody and ecstatic movement. The band has previously worked with artists such as Rhye, Banks and Mr. Little Jeans, although they never succumb to the influence of their peers. They weave a mesmerizing web of elastic circuitry and heart-on-sleeve sentiment—the kind that reaches down into your gut and twists until your insides are all knotted up and anxious about what lies around the next turn. But for mAsis, this tonal uncertainty is all part of their mysterious pop communication.
With recent single "Knees," the band bends the pitch of a recurring synth and uses it to build a slightly unstable and absolutely affecting base to build their sound upon. The male-female harmonies delivered by mAsis ride these artificial synth waves and explode into a dense cathartic release that feels earned and startlingly emotional. According to the band, "Knees ache from stress, they bruise from work, and they need the help of others when the weight of the world gets to be too much," so approaching this idea of support and comfort through song makes a lot of sense. The ethereal sounds the band creates undulate and warp, giving the entire track a hazy and intangible appearance, resulting in a dreamlike state of subconscious understanding that the band offers without the expectation of anything in return.
Spelling Reform, "For Clair Patterson"
Philadelphia indie rockers Spelling Reform are indie rock purists—or, to be exact, their music represents a model of what great indie rock should be. The music develops in unexpected fits and starts before barreling ahead, pulling everything along in its wake. Composed of singer-songwriter Dan Wisniewski, bassist Tom Howley, guitarist Andrew Ciampa and drummer Mark Rybaltowski, the band teases listeners with familiar sounds before thrashing them against the floors and letting the resulting mash of musical destruction and melody slip into your speakers. The band is getting ready to release its debut record, "No One's Ever Changed," Nov. 18 via Black Rd Records.
With "For Clair Patterson," the band mashes the story of the forgotten geologist who discovered the age of the earth with their own experiences and emotions. Balanced between acoustic and electric mediums, they harness a Pixies-esque dynamic that conquers your attention and snaps your head back as the music drifts by. Emphatic bass lines wiggle through the track while Wisniewski's quirky voice swiftly rushes through the din of noise and rhythm. Embracing the indie propulsion of bands like Guided By Voices and The Mountain Goats, "For Clair Patterson" finds the band in a playful mood, buoyed by a melody that's bound to get stuck in your heard for days after the music fades into the background.
Matthew Squires, "Shape of Your Heart"
Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter Matthew Squires has released a handful of warped psych pop records both with his band (The Learning Disorders) and on his own, and he's gearing up for the release of a new solo album called "Tambaleo," set to come out Jan. 20 via Already Dead Tapes. Since his last record was released, Squires has split his time between visiting a monastic Buddhist community in rural East Texas and writing and recording the songs that would form the basis of "Tambaleo." The record is an auditory biography of skewed pop machinations, the kind that buzz from one second to the next in a series of unrestrained rhythmic revelations.
On his new single, "Shape of Your Heart," Squires builds a perfect psych pop kaleidoscope before shattering it against the studio walls. The guitars are a bit ragged and range far from the track's center, but his confident voice eventually pulls everything back together. He's taking the sounds of classic indie rock and alternative pop, and fracturing them into 1,000 smaller pieces, with the resulting shower of phosphorescent particles creating a gorgeous streak across the sky. The song drops its tempo during its middle section but eventually jolts ahead just as quickly as it slowed down. There are melodic detours and a handful of darkened alleyways to maneuver, but Squires eventually gets back on the road and reveals a pure pop heart fueled by ebullient harmonies and a knack for persuasive hooks.
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.