In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with new music from Youth in a Roman Field, Ismay, Smoking With the Bandit and Datenight. What have you been listening to lately?
Youth in a Roman Field, “Town Hall”
If you’re a fan of Brooklyn band San Fermin, then the name Claire Wellin may be familiar to you. As the singer-violinist in that band, she adds a grace and sense of classical movement to the band’s indie rock tendencies. Recently, she’s looked for inspiration outside of San Fermin and formed a band called Youth in a Roman Field with Tiffany Topol, Scott Stangland, Cassidy Stirtz, Katrina Lenk and Jamie Mohamdein. And under this new moniker, she’s looking to explore a unique jazz-inflected chamber-folk sound that draws from a handful of different disciplines while maintaining a steady heartbeat and rhythmic subtlety. The band’s upcoming record, “Storm Conductor,” is set to be released sometime in April.
On their latest single, “Town Hall,” Wellin and the band cavort through a landscape of jazzy basslines, sweeping strings and gentle melodies—then the 2-minute mark hits, and we’re whisked off into a horn-filled folk stampede, filled with gorgeous harmonies and rumbling folk arrangements. The song turns from something quiet and measured to expressing a full-blown theatricality in the span of just a few seconds. The track swells and expands exponentially with each passing minute, a result of Wellin’s nimble and ghostly rhythms growing in intensity until their emotional impact is almost overwhelming. “Town Hall” is dense but not over-burdened and wears its orchestral influences proudly and without reserve.
Ismay, “River of Light (Through the Inland Empire)”
It all began with a river—the beginning of musician Ismay’s (AKA Avery Hellman) new EP, that is. Raised in the coastal hills of northern California, Hellman dropped out of college and trekked from New Mexico to California and all along the coast up through the Pacific Northwest in search of a place where her need for artistic expression and environmental consciousness could find a home. After a period of time, she found herself resting on the banks of the Klamath River in Northern California and became enraptured by its natural beauty. And it was here alongside these waters that the shape of her debut EP, “Songs From A River,” first began to take shape, filled with indie folk echoes, nimble fingerpicking and the presence of her haunting vocals.
On her new single, “River of Light (Through the Inland Empire),” she basks in the spectral glory of a hushed and affecting folk arrangement. There’s a weight to it, though, with strings playing within her cyclical vocal melodies, creating a hypnotic and unhurried shuffle. With its dreamy atmospheres and fog-riddled rhythms, the track plays out like some barely recalled memory, all soft edges and indistinct borders. She possesses an uncanny ability to tap into a primal emotionality with just the subtlest shift in sound. Like its titular river, the song carries us along through gentle currents and unexpected turbulence, leaving us gasping for air and determined to unravel the mysteries at the center of her spare and elusive aesthetic.
Smoking With the Bandit, “Waiting On Your Call”
There’s a classic rock heartbeat at the center of Birmingham-based outfit Smoking With the Bandit, a nod to communal influences and an exploration of the drive to link their indie rock tendencies to a deeper rock ‘n’ roll history. Built around the core lineup of 4 longtime friends (singer Colby Wilson, guitarist Garrett Payne, bassist Daryl McCarty and drummer Collin Payne), the band wanders through a handful of different sounds before settling on an amalgam of their various inspirations—bits of jazz, indie rock, folk and progressive rock were all given equal consideration and assembled into a cohesive musical line of thought. The band has recently released their debut EP, “Waiting On Your Call.”
For the video to the EP’s title track, they paired with director Taylor Evers to create a literal recreation of the song’s title. Couched in what appears to be a living room, the band plays out the song while Wilson waits for that one call to come in. Recalling the subtle jazz-indebted movements of The Sea and Cake and the shifting indie rock reverberations of Yo La Tengo, the song makes its home free of genre constraints and maneuvers itself into some shadowy place where the band can work without restrictions or burdensome assumptions. There’s a pleasant and infectious groove here that the band capitalizes on, laying their lithe indie rock rhythms atop a loose mesh of elastic pop wonder.
They’re not even old enough to legally drink, but the guys in Nashville-based garage-punk band Datenight are channeling music well beyond their young years. Comprised of singer-guitarist Grayton Green, bassist Isaac Talbot and drummer Thomas Borelli (with Borelli recently proving his meddle as the touring drummer for Soccer Mommy), the band seems to have a preternatural ability to conjure those old punk spirits without the least bit of unnecessary posturing or mimicry. They create a scuzzy garage and punk ruckus that few bands are able to develop with any semblance of authenticity, but it doesn’t appear as though Datenight is even breaking a sweat. Their new record, “Comin’ Atcha 100MPH,” is set for release on Feb. 23.
On their recent single, “Uniform,” the band cultivates a pricky ’80s punk vibe that ventures into some fairly scuffed-up garage rock territory, similar to The Replacements or The Meat Puppets. Similar to how The Fire Engines bridged the punk and post-punk scenes of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Datenight manage to cull together some wiry guitar riffs, uncomplicated melodies and Green’s half-shouted vocals into a distinctive rock roar that pays homage to those earlier bands while still hanging on to its own identity. The song develops a larger sound than songs twice its length, as the band is able to sidestep the obvious traps of harnessing these sounds and spend their time focused on the rock echoes that shake loose from their instruments.
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.