In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with new music from Talking Under Water, Skye Steele, Carry Illinois and Hush Machine. What have you been listening to lately?
Talking Under Water, “Only the Strong Survive”
Influences can shape and mold, but it’s up to an individual artist or band to present the shadows of these antecedent sounds as something more than the musings of a dedicated fan. And for Rochester, New York, outfit Talking Under Water, this idea of reconstructing and sublimating certain inspirations lays at the heart of their multitiered indie rock aesthetic. Sounds are absorbed by a curious osmotic reaction, with notes and tones passing through the band’s unique outlook on a universal rhythmic commonality. They’re currently gearing up for the release of their self-titled debut LP, due out April 28.
On the band’s recent single, “Only the Strong Survive,” songwriter Dave Chisholm and his musical conspirators tap into a vein of gently persuasive folk music that slowly expands to include sweeping strings and uplifting vocal harmonies. With each curled acoustic guitar line and cathartic expulsion giving way to a burnished emotional center, the band works their way through a collection of complex experiences that ache and claw at their surroundings. There’s a quiet intensity that drives the music forward, with Chisholm adding his distinctive voice to this affecting atmosphere of rhythmic divergences and alleyways filled with broken strings and wounded hearts.
Sky Steele, “Back in the Valley”
Written in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, “All That Light,” the latest record from art-folk artist Skye Steele, is infused with the songwriter’s flair for 808s, Moog rhythms and gossamer synth arrangements. As the one-man touring band for musician Vanessa Carlton, Steele has developed a knack for exposing the complexity and heart of certain pop and folk histories while injecting his own skewed musical inclinations into the mix. With the release of this new album, Steele looks to further cement his place among a select group of musicians capable of reimagining their influences while adding a distinctly personal perspective to the resulting amalgam of melody and noise.
In his new video for “Back in the Valley,” he has created a love letter to his family and friends-and to the physical landscapes of the Bitterroot Valley that have offered him so much inspiration over the years. Anchored by his soaring voice, the track attempts to alight on the back of his pop-centric arrangements and quickly evolves into a string-laden nostalgia that finds him looking back at his roots, even as he finds new ways to rearrange the sounds of his past. Bits of electronic ephemera whirl in the background while echoing bass lines hum and thunder, providing a proper foundation on which to utilize this immaculate pop intuition.
Carry Illinois, “Electric Charm”
With the suicide of original bassist John Winsor, Austin, Texas, band Carry Illinois had a steep climb ahead of them. Led by singer-songwriter Lizzy Lehman, the remaining members turned to music to find meaning and hope in such a hopeless situation. Eventually recruiting bassist Andrew Pressman, they re-evaluated their dynamic and set out to make music that would act as both a salve and memorial to the circumstances. A psychedelic pop landscape was brought to life as the band searched their collective memories for inspiration and encouragement. They found a new purpose in the subtle reinvention of their work and began rebuilding their sound bit by bit.
In the new video for “Electric Charm” (taken from the band’s “Electric Charm/Sea Inside” 7-inch single released last November), they join forces with visual artist Yukai Du to create a cosmic pop wonder filled with geometric shapes and overwhelming animated backdrops. Lehman’s voice races alongside the emphatic drums and expressive guitar lines as it builds up an impressive rhythmic momentum. There’s a sense of unpredictability in the tones and patterns that the band works within-a vibrant, organ-drenched environment that draws you close and reveals the smallest details in a gorgeous series of melodic revelations. The band pushes their pure pop inclinations to the fore and presents a vivid and wobbly musical extravagance.
Hush Machine, “Batter Up”
Hush Machine is the avenue through which Kansas musician Sam Boatright conjures the spirits of bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and Tears for Fears without sacrificing the integrity of his personality. He’s been recording music under this name for several years but has only recently begun to share it with people around him. Having written and recorded the bulk of the songs that constitute his forthcoming self-titled debut (due out April 21 via Jigsaw Records) in his junior and senior years of high school, you might assume that they’re marked by a youthful and vivid immaturity, but he imbues these sounds with a wizened wit that exists far beyond the confines of his own experiences.
On his new single, “Batter Up,” Boatright channels the wobbly rock aesthetic that marked much of the mid-’80s, an intricate and possessive sound that feels out of step with the march of time. This track doesn’t feel like it was made by someone who was imitating the production of the past-it simply reflects the same inspirations that fueled those seminal musicians who first harnessed these sounds. There are touches of garage rock, jangle pop and classic indie rock threaded throughout this song, and it’s built from a potent amalgam of influences and aspirations. There’s no sense of lazy emulation, only a purposeful drive to exorcise the various sounds that seem to be echoing inside his head.
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.