In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs from The Marshmallow Ghosts, Mere Women, 1,2,3, Sunwalker and The Actions. From fractured pop theatrics to DIY post-punk rhythms and unpredictably ecstatic beats, the songs this week will have you swinging from one genre to the next in the span of a single song. What have you been listening to this week?
The Marshmallow Ghosts, “Pulling the Rivers Teeth”
Eccentric rock outfit The Marshmallow Ghosts have been the de facto house band for Savannah, Georgia, label Graveface Records for many years. Consisting of an ever-changing roster of artists from bands like Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Appleseed Cast and The Casket Girls (just to name a few), The Marshmallow Ghosts’ music is as dynamic and ever-changing as its membership. Often dwelling in dense pop theatrics or droning electronic rhythms, their songs form an elliptical series of textures and outlandish tones.
On recent single “Pulling the Rivers Teeth,” they start slow, with a barely acknowledged synth line warbling through the background and a rickety drumbeat barely keeping time. The song creaks and shudders like an old house. It’s not overly dissonant or noisy, but it definitely feels prickly and soaked in gallons of reverb. Voices can be heard shuffling around in the back of the studio, but there’s really no sure way to tell what they are saying-and this sense of uncertainty adds a touch of mystery and mystique, which the band has no problem emphasizing.
Mere Women, “Our Street”
Australian alt-rock trio Mere Women makes music that feels raw and primal, and is as irrevocably linked to the classic alternative scene of the early ’90s as it is to the U.K. post-punk scene in the early ’80s. Hitting those jagged and angular rhythms at just the right position, the band creates a surging landscape of thudding percussion and affecting vocals. And with the recent release of their latest LP, “Your Town,” Mere Women are set to bring their caffeinated post-punk rhythms to a stage near you.
But if you can’t manage to catch one of their live shows, then you can be content to hear one of their latest singles-in this case, “Our Street,” a song that chugs along on a bed of fiery guitar lines and fervent vocals, courtesy of singer and keyboardist Amy Wilson. Its innate sense of movement keeps the song from ever feeling staid or tied down to any one influence. The song always seems ready to explode outward in a barrage of broken guitar strings and cracked drumsticks, but the band manages to keep everything within the frame-for at least as long as they need to.
1,2,3, “Darkly Through the Valley”
There’s something particularly moody and atmospheric about the music released by Pittsburgh rockers 1,2,3. On their last record, “Big Weather,” the band tackled a series of “disaster ballads” and came away with one of the most detailed and rhythmically affecting records of the year. According to singer Nic Snyder, “If I’m not making something, I feel like I’m suffocating.” And it’s with that sentiment in mind that the band has come back with a new single called “Darkly Through the Valley,” and it is as dense and impenetrable as anything they’ve done.
The song feels a bit otherworldly, as if you’re hearing these sounds from some split reality. The band takes some atypical percussive elements and mixes them together with searing vocals and lo-fi guitar riffs to create a song that shivers and shakes off the dust before retreating back to the shadows. It’s raucous and sounds drawn from some forgotten period in history-but it is also undeniably imaginative and clings to your subconscious like a drowning man.
Sunwalker (featuring Katie Leone), “Morning Rain”
London-based singer/multi-instrumentalist/producer Andy Richardson (AKA Sunwalker) has a particular affinity for upbeat, soul-infused dance beats. His work as Sunwalker finds the producer mixing together aspects of his two previous bands-that being house music purveyors The Modernists and funk outfit Druw and Perez. And on his latest record, “Itchy Feet” (due out later this year), he merges throbbing synth lines and pulsating bass lines with the talents of a handful of guest vocalists, including Katie Leone, Lauren Johnson and Caroline Harrison.
On his recent single, “Morning Rain,” which features Leone on guest vocals, Richardson blends an insistent dance floor rhythm with acres of flexible synths and pliable bass lines. Veering between electro-soul, D&B and house music, this track presents a complete narrative of Richardson’s transition from his prior bands to Sunwalker’s ecstatic noise. “Morning Rain” is the perfect example of this kind of musical synthesis, and with Leone grounding the exuberant rhythms with her gorgeous voice, it showcases the tremendous abilities of all involved and assures Sunwalker a long and prolific run.
The Actions, “The Echo”
London alternative rock trio The Actions look to the past for inspiration, drawing upon bands like Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack and Portishead for a creative impetus. But far from simply mimicking the sounds of these familiar influences, the band’s own unique blend of dark wave and psych-rock has given them an incredibly singular insight into the foundations of the genres within which they work. And they are set to explore these sounds even further with the release of their latest single, “The Echo,” in December.
This song is supported by a rather tenacious bass line and memorably distorted vocals from singer Marta Agrenio, and the background landscape of churning guitars and motorik percussion creates the perfect canvas on which to lay these infectious melodies and affecting rhythms. The band even manages to incorporate some startling electronic ephemera to enhance the already-atmospheric feel of the track. There’s a weight and power behind these sounds-a rumbling half-submerged force that is continually threatening to erupt and flood everything in waves of dense guitars and battering percussive elements.
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.