In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with new music from Church Girls, Matt Tarka, Whispertown and Alyeska. What have you been listening to lately?
Church Girls, “Better Off”
Philadelphia-based dream rock group Church Girls was formed in 2014 as a way for singer-songwriter Mariel Beaumont to find purpose in her fashion career. Digging deep into the bands and sounds that stood out as primordial influences in her youth (David Bowie, Neil Young and some classic punk groups), she began performing at open mics around town, leading to a chance encounter with an old high school friend, guitarist Robert Dwyer. They began recording and performing with a rotating cast of musicians. In 2016, the band became Beaumont’s sole focus, and the band released their debut full-length, “Thousand Lives.” They’re currently gearing up for the release of their new album, “Hidalgo,” due out Sept. 15.
On their new single, “Better Off,” the band pieces together a gorgeous and dreamy indie pop commotion, filled with mesmerizing vocals from Beaumont and a jangling, guitar-driven echo that seems to bounce around in your head long after the song fades away. Slowly, the song reveals its muscle and fervor, wrapped up in a foggy pop momentum that lends a distinctly melodic physicality to the music. Within its borders lies a riotous blend of persuasive melodies and cautionary experiences. Washing over you in a rippling euphoria and surrounded by propulsive pop variations, “Better Off” is an ebullient rocker that erases the presence of banal and forgettable indie rock from your senses—at least for a few minutes.
Matt Tarka, “Time Travels”
Washington, D.C., musician Matt Tarka deals in overwhelming emotional experiences and the persistence of haunted memories, which works quite nicely as a counterpoint to his proclivity for creating upbeat power-pop melodies. This mix of colorful rhythms and darkly introspective narratives allows each phrase and musical movement to reflect the depth and history of each story drawn from his own life. There are flashes of light, of course—Tarka doesn’t languish in the shadows. He merely uses their fringes to add weight to his music. With the forthcoming release of his new EP, “Vision Hazy,” he’ll continue to blend honest sentiment and broad universal truth with a distinctly pop-laced attitude.
On his latest single, “Time Travels,” Tarka explores a collapsing mental head space and the ensuing devastation brought on by physical deterioration. His power-pop tendencies act as a foil to the darker emotions that swirl around and inhabit the notes and melodies of the song. But he doesn’t lay in this melancholy without a sense of resolution—he turns a dire sense of inevitability into a hopeful outlook on the future. The drums splash and echo while his voice works its way inside a collection of wavering organ lines and shimmering guitar rhythms. There’s an infectious optimism that eventually emerges, an idea that while days will be dark and hearts will be broken, there will come a time when the sun’s light will reach your face again.
Whispertown, “I’m a Man”
Whispertown is the work of Los Angeles singer-songwriter Morgan Nagler, although she does have a revolving cast of artists who fill in the ranks when she needs the muscle. Having previously created music under the moniker of The Whispertown 2000, her more recent work has developed a less structured framework, lending itself to a looser and more ramshackle aesthetic. After a recent diagnosis of a polyp on her vocal cord, possibly ending her ability to sing, her world came into sharp focus, giving her the determination to continue writing and performing for as long as she is able. Her new record, “I’m a Man”—an acoustic record with some rumbling psychedelic flourishes—will be released Sept.1 via Graveface Records.
On recent single “I’m a Man,” Nagler crafts a delicate but forceful ode to the idea that we’re all connected on a cellular level, below skin color, political affiliation and gender. Her voice finds a mighty, reverb-soaked resonance alongside her expressive guitar playing and the noise caused by some stringed rhythms. The guitar rises as the track progresses, catching bits of electricity along its length, and extends its hand to all those who would join Nagler in accepting that our physical commonalities bind us more than our various opinions can divide us. The song holds within it the promise of compromise and understanding, and at a time when people seem so separated, it’s a welcome olive branch.
The darkly melodic movements of Los Angeles rockers Alyeska (the alias of Alaska Reid and Ben Spear) shake and cavort through a shadowy pop landscape where sounds are broken apart and stitched back together in wild and fascinating ways. Their latest release, “Crush,” an eight-song, was produced by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Phosphorescent) and showcases Reid’s preternatural ability to wring gravity and danger from the bones of the pop genre. This EP was actually one of the last albums recorded at the legendary New York recording studio The Magic Shop (the birthplace of records by Sonic Youth, David Bowie and Arcade Fire), which shuttered its doors last year because of rising rent costs.
On their new single, “Absaroka,” they carve out a fuzzed-up, pop-studded rock sound that recalls the winding landscapes of Kurt Vile or Courtney Barnett. Reid’s voice is soaked in acres of reverb and punches through the hiss and grit of the dense guitar arrangements to knock back the clouds, allowing the sun to shine through. Winding higher and higher, the track never pauses to catch its breath, ascending its indie rock mountain until the atmosphere gets thin and the roar of the music echoes from a dozen peaks. Just when you think the indie rock genre has lost most of its innovators, along comes Alyeska to demolish and rearrange our legion of expectations and offer us a glimpse at a rapturous musical perspective.
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.