In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with music from Tall Tall Trees, The Falling Birds, Dolce and Garrett Pierce. What have you been listening to this week?
Tall Tall Trees, "Backroads"
When Mike Savino looks at a banjo, he sees more than the requisite twang and pluck mechanics of the instrument. He sees an endless ocean of possibility in which to experiment and subvert our expectations of this rural noisemaker. As the man behind psychedelia-drenched folk outfit Tall Tall Trees, Savino creates wondrous, looping rhythms and draws out sounds that we might not have associated with his preferred musical affection. He pulls them apart, revealing a whole host of different angles and melodic improvisation. As a member of Kishi Bashi's touring band, he's no stranger to those who see music as a way to warp assumptions and get people to hear sounds in a dramatically different light.
On new single "Backroads" (taken from forthcoming record "Freedays"), Savino takes us far away from the bustle of city life and delivers us into the darkened trails of a hooded forest. With a mix of traditional banjo rhythms and those that feel a bit more otherworldly, the song lopes along gracefully, lit from within by a ghostly fire. Swirling atmospherics and Savino's spectral voice guide us into the mist, leaving a line of subtle illumination to help us find our way back. There's no doubt that he's completely redefined what the banjo can accomplish, but an undeniable life and vitality in his work give each pluck, strum and echo the appropriate weight and density.
The Falling Birds, "Cinders in the Breeze"
Brooklyn-based garage rock duo The Falling Birds—composed of Stephen Artemis (vocals/guitar/harmonica) and Dave Alan (drums/keys)—first met in 2011 and quickly went to work dismantling their collective influences, building something new and exceptional from the bits of rock, punk and pop floating around in their heads. Despite the craggy nature of their work, there is a soft melodic nostalgia roaming through each song, but it's not the kind of dreamy, half-baked reanimation of simple inspirations that fuel so many other like-minded artists. The Falling Birds fashion a true and sincere expression of their associative musical histories without resorting to pale imitation or mimicry.
On their recent single, "Cinders in the Breeze," the band drags out the vintage garage rock swagger, as well as a more polished melodic underpinning that owes its dusty trail assertiveness to a particularly rustic branch of classic rock. Suggesting a more laid-back version of The Mekons or The Meat Puppets working a bender filled with repeated journeys through Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," this track gives the band the freedom to indulge in their garage rock inclinations without sacrificing the force and vigor inherent to the punk influences that creep up on occasion. They offer a twangy garage aesthetic that lifts you up and carries you toward the horizon, eventually bringing you to a campfire where Camper Van Beethoven and Marty Robbins swap stories about life on the road.
Dolce, "Säg Nåt Vanligt"
There's something almost mystical in the work of Swedish duo Dolce, a subversive folk and psych pop group consisting of Anna Levander and Leopold Nilsson. They blend a faint twee effusiveness with the mesmeric psych tendencies of more modern bands like Dungen and The Amazing, but their voice is a singularly clear thing and never clings to the coattails of their influences. With the upcoming release of their debut record, "Av Liv och Grönska," they're working on further expanding an already-impressive mash of varying stylistic choices and innumerable inspirations.
With "Säg Nåt Vanligt" (which translates to "Say Something Ordinary"), the band continues their gossamer explorations into a pastoral psych-folk landscape of genre-skipping ebullience and '60s-indebted effervescence. Strolling along the same paths as bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle (although they do toss in some Os Mutantes-reverbed psych from time to time), Levander and Nilsson illuminate a swirling psychedelia that braces itself against segments of strummed guitars, vaguely jazzlike drumming and lilting flute runs. The song also showcases Levander's unique voice, a deep and indistinct thing that seems to be drawn from a primal musical source that provides an ethereal air to the song.
Garrett Pierce, "Distant Thought"
Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter Garrett Pierce crafts songs that possess an abundance of dramatic potential, the kind of kinetic motion that releases at unexpected times and in unforeseen ways. He balances between an exuberant pop atmosphere and stark folk landscape, finding a measure of peace and contentment somewhere in the middle. His confessions, revealed in drawn beatific visions and lyrical asides, act as the infernal engine that powers his determination and creativity. He's currently gearing up for the release of his latest album, "Dusk," due out Feb. 17 via Crossbill Records.
On his new single, "Distant Thought," Pierce creates a casual and disarmingly gorgeous soundscape where guitars, banjos and his soaring voice are given license to roam without limitation. The track draws back to the singer-songwriters of the '70s and their propensity for carving out deep emotional hollows from raw and uncomplicated sounds. That's not to say that Pierce forgoes any sense of depth, just that he molds a reverence from a bottomless well of communal rhythms. His voice seems to speak through time, drifting back many years to when music conveyed an honest perspective on the world and our place in it. "Distant Thought" is a shadowed but welcome breeze that clears the air before a storm.
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.
Updated @ 11:24 a.m. on 12/30/16 to correct a typographical error.