In this week’s Notes from Left of the Dial, I take a look at some songs from Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders, In Tall Buildings, Vision Fortune, Her Habits and Rahim Quazi. If you’re in the mood for lo-fi folk-infused indie rock or spacious pop songs, or even some gorgeous and gossamer synth-pop, this week’s column will have exactly what you’re looking for. What have you been listening to this week?
Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders, “Echo”
Depending on how you look at it, Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter Matthew Squires is either mired in the center of a rhythmic conflagration of sound and noise, or he’s the grand conductor of an insular musical vision that has roots in folk and early indie rock aesthetics. Either way, the music he creates under the Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders moniker is a fascinating and intricate view into the hearts of a handful of genres. Drawing inspiration from bands like The Mountain Goats, Daniel Johnston and Clem Snide, he easily articulates how each of these musical foundations interacts and melds with one another.
On recent single “Echo,” he-along with his intuitive backing band-has created a shimmering, vibratory ode to the wonders of music. It sticks to the inside of your brain and wraps your thoughts in tangled knots of words and noise. The guitars bounce and shimmy against his twisting vocals, and the melody is drawn up in the atmosphere as the song culminates in a crashing cathartic release. It might be tempting to concede his ability to channel his influences, but simply relegating this song to the sum of its inspirations would be doing it and Squires a great disservice.
In Tall Buildings, “Flare Gun”
Chicago band In Tall Buildings (AKA multi-instrumentalist Erik Hall) is gearing up for the release of his sophomore album, “Driver,” Feb. 17 via Western Vinyl. Having worked with these songs for the past four years, Hall has given these tracks a life and radiant backstory that spills out of your speakers in muted waves of pop spectacle. His music never adheres to any one set of melodic blueprints and seems to be in a constant state of movement, as if the idea of remaining still would cause the notes to collapse inward on themselves.
With “Flare Gun,” Hall has given us a deceptively simple collection of pop tendencies and melodic patches that swell with a simplistic heartbeat, giving rise to a subdued emotional release. There’s a meditative sense of melodic variation that invites the listener to peer behind the superficial noise and see what lurks just below the surface. Hall has created something that begs to have its inner workings explored and picked apart, even if that means stripping away some of our well-placed emotional security in the process.
Vision Fortune, “Dry Mouth”
If you’re looking for something to sate you until the next Liars album drops, check out London-based drone trio Vision Fortune, a group that specializes in being able to successfully cauterize and split their own electronic concoctions in a dozen different ways. Their new record, “Country Music,” will be released in February and should have you terrified and fascinated in equal measure. There’s something quite affecting about their rhythmically macabre and clanging percussive swells.
Until then, we have “Dry Mouth,” the lead single from the album and a singularly disquieting piece of music that manages to get stuck in your head, despite any pretense of memorable hook or acknowledged melody. The song simply slithers from one waypoint to the next, carrying us along in its serpentine wake. The song is sparse but never airy and contains a surprisingly controlled sense of chaos. Almost tribal in its percussive thump, the track recalls the jarring emotional disassociativeness that comes from having too little (or too much) contact with the outside world.
Her Habits, “Slip Away”
Pop music has the capacity for change and adaptation, but most people simply hear the overproduced rhythms of mainstream artists and quickly turn their backs on what is supposed to be an inclusive genre. But for Canadian dream-pop purveyor Joanie Wolkoff and producer Stanford Livingston (AKA Her Habits), this reverberating pop heart is what draws them closer to its flickering melodicism. The duo manages to evoke the best that pop has to offer while still putting their own unique perspectives on these well-worn sounds.
But for now, they’ve left us with “Slip Away,” the first single from that record and a glimpse into the formation of their distinct musical voice. Mixing filaments of subtle electronic experimentation and synth-led rhythms, the duo has found a delicate balance between the gaudy nature of synth-pop and the earnest emotional viability of its dream-pop roots. Pinging synths bounce against Wolkoff’s ethereal vocals and Livingston’s expansive production work, giving the track a deft cinematic landscape in which to roam and unfurl.
Rahim Quazi, “The Things We Do”
The music by Forth Worth, Texas, singer-songwriter Rahim Quazi is firmly lodged within a classic sense of pop construction. Piano, emphatic drums and orchestral flourishes all churn together in a swirling mass of polished melodies and ’60s AM rock tendencies. But Quazi isn’t merely retreading the ground covered by his influences; his music is earnest and often austere, even as it holds your heart firmly in its grip and gently strums your heartstrings.
On his latest single, “The Things We Do,” Quazi channels the spirits of artists like Wings and Jon Brion, and comes up with a painfully honest assessment of the things that we do to each other and the pain that often results. In the end, he suggests that the best thing we can do is simply forgive and move on. Anchored by gorgeous piano lines and a series of gossamer strings, the song aims straight for the heart and manages to get past our defenses, setting itself where it can feel the rhythmic thump of our heartbeat.
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.