In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs from Jesse Payne, Round Eye, Falling Stacks and Ancient Warfare. What have you been listening to this week?
Jesse Payne, “Origins“
Memory and experience are fickle things, prone to subtle variations during the course of any remembrance. Context and emotion are so crucial in understanding our own history, and it’s the same for any associations we have concerning music. Songs are the perfect vehicles for this kind of contextual connection; we carry with them a wide array of emotional responses and attachments that can be brought out in various ways at the whim of our own volatile states. No one understands this better than Alabama singer-songwriter Jesse Payne, whose music serves as a sort of rhythmic set of half-remembered events and hazy recollections. Tied to the long histories of folk and blues, his songs evoke feelings of long summer evenings and endless haunted forests.
On his latest single, “Origins,” Payne sings of beginnings, endings and all the small details that fall in between. Drums patter around in the background, while bass lines shimmy and shake in your periphery. His voice is smooth but measured, a reliant guide through the long shadows and deep woods of the South. There’s something intangible about the track, as if Payne himself is the channel through which these notes flow. After he’s gone, they will simply flitter off into the darkness and disappear-a quiet ending to a gorgeous and immutable series of sounds.
Round Eye, “City Livin“
The music of Shanghai natives Round Eye is equal parts punk rock and ’50s-style rock ‘n’ roll-it’s an odd compendium of sounds that nevertheless feels vibrant and cohesive. Having formed in 2012, the band has played all across the world, gaining particular notoriety after being banned from performing in China because of alleged “crowd control issues”-needless to say, their shows are fierce and raucous, with a sea of rolling bodies moving in time to their feral rhythms. The band is set to release their upcoming self-titled record June 9 and has brought along saxophonist Steve Mackay (The Stooges/Violent Femmes) and R. Stevie Moore to help expand their already-dense sound.
With their new single, “City Livin,” the band explores the art punk side of their sound with nods to bands like The Fall and Pere Ubu. It comes at you at odd angles, guitars and drums crashing against each other while singer Chachy howls like a banshee above it all. There’s even a vicious blues sneer that could’ve been hurled by Bo Diddley himself. The influences are almost unrecognizable beneath a haze of punk tendencies, but the track’s lineage can be traced through a handful of genres. And that’s what makes Round Eye such an incredibly interesting band-they don’t adhere to any given set of rules and seem to be gleefully making it up as they go along.
Falling Stacks, “No Stops“
Hailing from Bristol, England, Falling Stacks belong to a particularly beguiling set of post-punk bands who seem to obsess and idolize over bands like Shellac and Gang of Four. The music is often torn apart by odd time signatures and off-center melodies but never loses the ability to shake the heart in your chest. The band describes their sound as “the thrashing and squawking of a buzzard with its leg in a mantrap.” Although that’s a curious image when associated with music, it does hint at their skewed sense of humor and abject lack of pretentiousness. They are set to release their debut LP, “No Wives,” June 9 via Battle Worldwide Recordings.
On “No Stops,” they layer yelped vocals and angular guitar lines across a disordered landscape of bruised percussion and stop-start rhythms. The song borrows from bands such as Sonic Youth and Fugazi, with its ferocious noise and art freak aesthetic, but the band isn’t simply rehashing the past. Post-punk may be a well-worn genre, but there is still some fresh blood to be spilled here-and Falling Stacks is looking to sever some arteries. Occasionally abrasive, but never less than fascinating, the track makes you to stand toe to toe with it and dares you not to blink.
Ancient Warfare, “Gunsmoke“
Sometimes, you want a song to set you up on a pop high and carry you to the next track on a wave of euphoric melodies and hummable harmonies. Other times, though, you want something a bit darker and more impressionistic. And that’s where Lexington, Kentucky-based group Ancient Warfare comes in, with a sound that’s completely ethereal and hard-hitting in equal measure. Every note seems to build into some kind of rhythmic fever dream of apocalyptic unease and questions about the nature of love and death. The band isn’t looking to take the easy way out and has crafted a sound that feels drawn from your darkest and deepest fears-and though the music does occasionally allow some light to slip in, giving their music a curiously split personality, there’s not much in the way of relief-only a palpable sense of hesitation and unreachable resolution.
With their recent single, “Gunsmoke,” the band manages to instill a sense of rhythmic foreboding and apprehension without bogging the track down in any unnecessary exposition. Singer Echo Wilcox breathes each word as if it’s her last and coats everything in a swagger that threatens to shake your speakers apart. With a song like this-one that rewards repeated listens-you slowly begin to hear and see how the band puts everything together. Plinking keys, driving percussion and walls of guitar noise come crashing at you, but it’s not overwhelming. Instead, the band opts for something a bit more balanced, something that slowly gets under your skin and wraps itself around the chambers of your heart-but that’s no less mortal.
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.