In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs from Mariage Blanc, Dogheart, Frogbelly and Symphony, Mynth, and Howls. The music veers between classic indie pop noise, dense synth pop and a handful of assorted genres all rolled into one. What have you been listening to this week?
Mariage Blanc, “Blue Eyes”
There’s a particularly comforting sense of familiarity to the music of Pittsburgh indie pop outfit Mariage Blanc. Their sound is rooted in the jangle pop of bands like Black Tambourine and Felt but owes more than a glancing debt to artists such as The Byrds and Gram Parsons. But this familiarity doesn’t indicate a lack of original thought-the band is tying together these loose rhythmic threads into a cohesive and unique tapestry of sound. It can occasionally be melancholy but doesn’t dwell in maudlin melodies and languid harmonies.
On recent single “Blue Eyes,” the band collects a series of shimmering, strum-happy acoustic guitars and balances them across a buoyant percussive bounce that plays perfectly against the sun-streaked harmonies that rush by in a blur of noise and subdued arrangements. It’s a gorgeous slice of hazy pop that will have you longing for the summer days of open roads. A mixture of informal pop aesthetics and driven indie rock textures, “Blue Eyes” will remind you why we not-so-patiently wade through the cold days of winter until the skies seem a little bluer.
Dogheart, “Holding Out”
Portland, Oregon, trio Dogheart treads a fine line between the classic indie rock rhythms of Pavement and the sonorous tones of Interpol. There’s an elasticity to the songs that results in their music feeling spontaneous and unpredictable, even when rearranging these well-worn sounds. And far from simply riding the coattails of the recent resurgence of early ’90s indie rock aesthetics, Dogheart is using these bands as an inspiration to find their own melodic individuality through a collective musical association. The band will release their debut LP, “What Burns the Best,” Feb. 17.
The band recently shared a new video for album cut “Holding Out,” and it is a psychedelic mash of melting doll faces, home movie footage and swirling layers of Technicolor filters. The song finds itself somewhere between the polish and spark of pop and the gnarled exterior of garage rock. It builds up a churning head of steam, allowing the song to gain a formidable momentum that pushes it further down the tracks. Although it wears its indie heart on its sleeve for all to see, it’s the way the band pulls all these parts together that showcases their ability to draw out a sense of rhythmic innovation from their influences.
Frogbelly and Symphony, “Patch of Blue”
Progressive rock quintet Frogbelly and Symphony split their time between Sheffield, U.K., and Brooklyn, and this sense of expanded geography gives their music an open-ended sound. Borrowing liberally from a handful of genres, the band never rests for very long in one rhythmic rut but fashions a sort of amalgam of noise that includes folk, pop and indie rock in a cacophonous loop of addictive melodies and acoustic influence. Their songs flit from one genre to the next and never end up quite where you expect. They’ll continue to keep us guessing when they release their latest album, “Blue Bright Ow Sleep,” March 24.
But until then, the band has shared lead single, “Patch of Blue,” giving us a brief glimpse of what we can expect. Dense guitar riffs, a thudding percussive backbone and singer Liz Hanley’s powerful voice lead us along this road of opaque rhythms and mercurial instrumentation-the song incorporates bits of experimental noise and sound, all blended together in a jarring suite of music that feels like the tail end of a terrifying trip through Frankenstein’s laboratory. There is also an undeniably catchy underbelly to the track that’ll keep it bouncing around in your head for weeks.
There are so many ways that electro pop can collapse under its own sense of grandeur. Without a particularly perceptive resourcefulness behind the music, it can degrade into mindless loops of ecstatic synths and thrumming beats-which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can feel completely sterile if an artist doesn’t completely understand the fundamentals of the genre. But for Viennese brother-sister duo Mynth, the vibrant landscapes that this sort of euphoric pop creates are simply the backdrops for the intricate rhythms that the band drapes across its skeleton.
On “Nightlife,” a thudding piece of measured ecstasy, they combine a sense of melancholy wistfulness with the melodic opulence that has come to characterize electro pop. And in this spirited setting, the music rises up, drawing in dense layers of synths and singer Giovanna’s sparkling voice in a mélange of club-ready beats and brooding atmospherics. It’s a glorious ode to the night and the accompanying experiences that occur when you keep your ears open and your eyes wide.
Howls, “White Noise”
Los Angeles duo Howls (AKA Annalee Fery and Christian Stone) function within a state of rhythmic fluidity and movement. Their previous work leaned heavily on guitar-driven textures and electronic noise, but with the release of their recent single, “White Noise,” the band veered off course a bit, venturing into territory that favored beat-heavy rhythms and dance floor inclinations. Despite this change in aesthetic approach, the band still coats their moody, pensive lyrics in layers of bubbly melodies and rapturous noise. Now, they just want you to dance.
“White Noise” was originally a song that the band played live and was built around a series of gloomy guitars. They brought in producer Jon Siebels, who broke the track down and sheared away all the “traditional” instrumentation, as Fery described it, and focused instead on the synthetic heart of the music. Equal parts ominous disco vibrations and explosive synth pop release, the song billows up and out, trailing threads of pulsating melodies in its wake.
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.