In Notes From Left of the Dial, Nooga.com spends some time with new songs from The Cover Letter, Steph Barrak, The Gods Themselves and DIAMONDS. What have you been listening to recently?
The Cover Letter, “Somethings”
The music of Austin, Texas-based band The Cover Letter is steeped in the groove-addled history of skewed pop-obsessed bands like Fruit Bats and Rogue Wave. They bring a noisy joy to their songs that act as inclusive markers for any interested parties. Formed in 2013, the band quickly became known for their raucous live shows and ability to mix an atypical Americana sound with apoplectic indie rock melodies. Aided by their use of distorted folk progressions, the band has evolved their work into a thorough brew of complex guitar lines, bombastic euphoria and a ferocious indie rock perspective. They are gearing up for the release of their new EP, “Cities Made of Sand,” due out Feb. 17.
On their new single, “Somethings,” the band exposes a beating heart that bleeds for classic rock’s swagger and showmanship. They incorporate the intricate twists and turns common to indie rock (although it’s all wrapped up in a package that clocks in under three minutes), and it’s all bathed in the light of driving rock rhythms and muscular melodies. But don’t mistake the band for another group of musicians who simply dump their influences into a studio and hope for the best. The Cover Letter is as adept at subverting our expectations as they are at embracing the noise of their inspirations, making “Somethings” a rare amalgam of ingenuity and familiarity.
Steph Barrak, “So Familiar”
Boston musician Steph Barrak is a conversationalist, both externally and internally-she’s just as likely to strike up words with a stranger as she is to ponder over grander themes and ideas. This is all done through song, obviously, and allows her to expose the true emotion laying at the heart of your usual indie pop rhetoric. There’s something abjectly intimate about her songs, as if we’re thumbing through some hidden journal just waiting for her to catch us as we quickly flip through the pages. And with the release of her upcoming EP, “Never Again,” out Feb. 3, Barrak seems intent on channeling these confidential spirits with every syllable uttered. Once you’ve become acclimated to this intensely communal viewpoint, you start to hear the underlying brilliance that forms the basis of her work.
On recent single “So Familiar,” Barrak explores a subtle yet joyous indie rock catharsis that will have you releasing all that stress built up over the past few weeks in one long exhale. This is indie pop done perfectly-it feels like strolling through an ethereal pop ebullience that’s personal and welcoming. Produced by Mike Davidson, who’s also worked with artists like St. Vincent and Regina Spektor, this track is airy yet emotionally substantial, a breath of fresh air that clears the noise around your head, even if just for a few minutes. Her incredibly evocative voice speaks of loss, love and longing in a way that defies your typical pop conventions, and blooms into a shimmering and incandescent wonder.
The Gods Themselves, “Tech Boys”
Composed of Astra Elane, Collin O’Meara and Dustin Patterson, electronic art rock trio The Gods Themselves construct a dizzying musical landscape from communal experiences, countless disparate influences and a love for anthemic ’80s dance beats. Their latest record, “Be My Animal,” is being self-released and comes out Jan. 20. Full of mesmeric bursts of synth obsession and dense arrangements, the record is a testament to those influences that the band clearly adores. Each member provides a collection of unpredictable inspirations and insular perspectives, creating a refreshingly affecting emotional outlook. The band exudes a new wave casualness but is completely serious about the evolution of their sound.
With “Tech Boys,” the band fashions a vibrant synth environment where roiling electronics and ear-catching melodies highlight the band’s cynicism when it comes to the encroaching tech atmosphere of their hometown of Seattle. Buzzing guitars clash with iridescent rhythms and produce an eclectic amalgam of intent and exuberance. The vocals set themselves out front, ahead of the music, creating a persuasive guide that leads us along this artificial path. With sounds whizzing around your head like synthetic airplanes, the track builds to a brain-melting conclusion where all the instruments collide in a frenzy of movement and erratic behavior. It’s a barbed response to forces beyond their control, but that doesn’t mean The Gods Themselves don’t have something to say about it.
DIAMONDS, “My White Diamond”
Much like their namesake, Los Angeles band DIAMONDS create reflective narratives and hard-edged reality with little effort. Wading through a swamp of wiry ’80s rock and roughed-up pop, the band keeps their steps aligned and synchronized. For every movement made by one member, a correlative action happens from another instrument-it’s a fascinating and clever way to expand upon a familiar musical aesthetic. There’s an authentic emotional core that gives their work a gravity otherwise missing from most of their contemporaries. But regardless of the sounds they draw upon to achieve their specific aesthetic, the band never loses its identity among the debris of its influences.
On “My White Diamond,” they weave a hypnotizing rock bravado that’s as gloomy as it is spectral. There’s a vivid post-punk swagger that runs parallel with a measured tonality, keeping the track grounded while giving it room to stretch and grow. Tracing its lineage back to the trenches of suburban Los Angeles, the song possesses a dark and harrowing vitality-the kind that bands like Arctic Monkeys and Bloc Party expel with every step they take. Basking in both the love and hurt inherent to relationships, the band reveals that pain and joy aren’t quite the polar opposites we’ve always assumed them to be. They position “My White Diamond” as both love song and warning, a desolate and beautiful thing that feels absolutely relevant.
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.