Notes From Left of the Dial: Hollis Brown and more

Authored By pitulah

In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, spends some time with music from Hollis Brown, Sonic Soundscapes, Matthew Szlachetka and Pete RG. What have you been listening to this week? 

Hollis Brown, “Miracle”
Named after Bob Dylan’s song “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” New York rock outfit Hollis Brown was initially formed by singer-guitarist Mike Montali and guitarist Jonathan Bonilla, although they would stretch their hands out to bassist Brian Courage, keyboardist Adam Bock and drummer Andrew Zehnal with the intent of casting a wider net of musical influence and experience. They came together to develop an intense and convincing classic rock aesthetic that allowed them to borrow from a wealth of sound while laying out their own distinct identity as a band. And with the recent release of their latest EP, “Cluster of Pearls,” the band has further evolved their folk rock/classic rock approach until all that’s left is a pure and unadulterated appreciation for how music can bind us together.

On their new single, “Miracle,” they position themselves between the country story-songs of Ryan Adams and the classic rock aspirations of The Hold Steady while managing to work in a bit of former Crooked Fingers frontman Eric Bachmann’s melodic pop brilliance. There’s a rollicking country influence, but it’s tempered by the band’s refusal to adhere to any set musical blueprint. The song blooms from the collision of chiming guitars, emphatic percussion and Montali’s potent vocal elasticity. “Miracle” is one of those songs you could set on repeat and never get sick of-you’d only find new things to admire. Casual in its rustic allusions, the track sounds timeless. Say hello to your new favorite song.

Sonic Soundscapes, “Valley”
For musicians such as Eric Bessel and Laura Mariposa (who perform as Lore City and Sonic Soundscapes), the diversity of instrumental music offers both an opportunity and a challenge in terms of how best to present its amorphous existence to people in a single burst of sound. With bands like Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor building concrete worlds from wordless compositions, there is a precedent for the exploration and study of the emotional attachments that can occur when human frailty and experience mold themselves around any given musical foundation. As Sonic Soundscapes, Bessel and Mariposa allow us to become sharers in this act of creation.

On their new song, “Valley,” they form a billowing surge of sound that’s composed of scattered electronics, guitars and a smattering of processed vocals. There’s a shapeless intensity to the track that continues to build as each second passes. As each layer of ethereal arrangements presents itself before fading back into the shadows, we’re given a brief but powerful impression of how this kind of instrumental music can expose buried emotional secrets and shed some light across them. Every droning guitar chord and stretched-out synth conveys a certain gravity and instills both an expectancy and revelation as we witness their gentle cacophony. Bessel and Mariposa allow us to become surrounded by these sounds, to become undeniably connected through a shared musical association.

Matthew Szlachetka, “Heart of My Hometown”
The music of Los Angeles singer-songwriter Matthew Szlachetka draws your gaze back to a simpler time, a time when music was less about stylized production and more about its experiential nature. That’s not to say that the production on Szlachetka’s songs are lacking in any measure-the exact opposite is true, in fact, and each one reveals itself slowly and deliberately. The production is always crisp but never distracting. He’s able to combine alt country tendencies with a more pop-oriented approach to create something that borrows liberally from both genres while carving out its own density and appearance. 

On his new single, “Heart of My Hometown,” Szlachetka raises up his Americana influences and forges a new direction for this noise, one that owes an unimaginable debt to the past but still sees the future as capable of such wonder. The guitars glisten and glide along on the back of his rebounding melodies-it’s all covered in a shimmering pop blanket that sparkles in the morning air. But this track is still rooted in the rustic narratives that folk and country music all but invented. The way that he shapes this song reveals that he has a deeper understanding of what makes these rhythms really connect on an emotional level, more so than most of his peers who only see and respond to the superficial personality that lives within these sounds.

Pete RG, “Heaven Knows”
Born in Los Angeles, Pete RG (AKA Peter Argyropoulos) grew up surrounded by music-his parents encouraged him to experiment with various instruments, which led to him developing a far wider range of experience than he might have otherwise. Currently working with Brina Kabler, his “engineer, co-producer, mixer, keyboardist-and … fiancée,” he fashions a volatile rock noise that immerses you in a musical embrace that’s often shrouded in a haze of rugged and ragged melodies. With the forthcoming release of his new record, “Tender Souls,” Sept. 23, he’ll continue to cling to these rigorous and guitar-driven theatrics that fans have come to expect and revere.

With “Heaven Knows,” he drops a pop-influenced burst of cowpunk ferocity that’s sure to rattle the bones in your body and inspire some truly wild dreams. His voice is wrapped in a fog of slithering bass lines and chugging guitar riffs that form the boundary of this unique musical landscape. As notes bend and careen around the mountainous rhythms, he stands alone at their peak, a man comfortable with a certain altitude and swagger. “Heaven Knows” is a brash, energetic slice of rock that draws your eye toward the heartland of America, even as it stirs up the grime of dark back alleys in an undisclosed cityscape. He fills each line with such intensity and fervor that it’s easy to imagine him standing on the corner of some street, howling about fire and brimstone and The Rolling Stones.

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 or its employees.