In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I take a look at some songs and videos from Una Lux, Tanya Tagaq, Vincent Colbert, Valery Gore and Morning Smoke. These songs give their respective artists a chance to stretch their rhythmic muscles and discover unexpected, unique ways to filter their own numerous influences. What have you been listening to this week?
Una Lux, “Black Carbon”
New York electro-art rock outfit Una Lux seems to have a particular gift for drawing out the nuance in the strands of synth-based rhythms of which they seem especially fond. But it goes far beyond simply imitating those artists that have had a large influence on their work (think Portishead mixed with an atmospheric synth-pop aesthetic). The band is currently working on their debut EP with producer Nick Sansano, but until it’s released, they’ve shared a couple of singles to sate their fans’ appetite.
On “Black Carbon,” the band twists a slowly ticking percussive itch with singer Kelso Norris’ gorgeous voice and a series of ethereal synth tones to create a gossamer pop amalgamation that is instantly recognizable but that also feels completely new and otherworldly. They’ve definitely been listening to some early Ultravox, but there’s a modern sense of musical narrative and rhythmic composition as well. Far from resting on the shoulders of their own influences, Una Lux has crafted something remarkably futurist in that it seems drawn from the imagination of musicians from decades to come-and yet feels grounded in modern production techniques.
Tanya Tagaq, “Caribou” (Pixies cover)
Hot off the heels of her Polaris Music Prize win for her debut record, “Animism,” singer Tanya Tagaq is set to reveal the curious and deeply affecting nature of her music to anyone within earshot. Fusing together electronics, avant garde pop tendencies and a sense of classical composition, Tagaq’s music is almost impossible to describe and even more difficult to label-it’s simply the result of her own musical experimentation involving a handful of different genres.
On her recent single, “Caribou” (a song taken from Pixies’ album “Come On Pilgrim”), she contorts and transforms its warped alt-rock origins, turning it into a compelling and haunting version of its former self. Dense and intricate, the song is in a constant state of flux, with churning electronic and percussive rhythms building and dissolving before our eyes. Her voice is the calm in this storm-though even it is imbued with a staunch ferocity. And then come the screams, or, more accurately, the Inuit throat singing, which is a jarring and welcome assault on the more conventional instrumentation here.
Vincent Colbert, “Baseline”
It’s often difficult for musicians to rise above the usual singer-songwriter tropes simply because they are so ingrained within our collective musical consciousness. But for Ann Arbor, Michigan-based singer Vincent Colbert, this obstacle is just one more thing to rise above. His insightful and intensely personal narratives cling to their rhythmic hearts like drowning men. But for all their ragged emotional vulnerability, his songs do exhibit a fierce resilience to the struggles and pains that come from day-to-day life.
And with “Baseline,” the first single from his debut EP, “Stranger in My House,” Colbert wrings enough emotion from his words and each carefully chosen note to elicit a deep and involved response from his listeners. There’s a communal sense of finding your place in the world here that manages to be both a little frightening and somewhat hopeful. Buoyed by a propulsive acoustic guitar and clacking percussion, the song draws you along in its shivering wake, anxiously waiting for the first rays of light to burn away the darkness.
Valery Gore, “Hummingbird in Reverse”
Toronto-based alt-pop singer Valery Gore recently released her third album, “Idols in the Dark Heart,” and it is a wonderfully complex collection of emotionally saturated narratives and exposed nerves. Appropriating a bit of the bare indie rock aesthetic that St. Vincent and Angel Olsen have so carefully cultivated, Gore brings her own husky voice and imaginative arrangements to the genre. Casting stark synth shadows, nostalgia-tinged melodies and a sense of intimate rhythmic association against the backdrop of her innovative music, she brings a refreshingly open interpretation to a familiar group of sounds.
On single “Hummingbird in Reverse,” Gore blends a mechanical-sounding percussive tick with her own meticulously crafted musical landscape. And the video, with its pseudo-Super 8 filters and tendency to reminiscence, follows a young woman as she ventures through forests, over streams and across rain-soaked vistas, documenting a particularly memorable series of adventures. The song is a perfect match for the hazy, intangible feel of the visuals, allowing each note to cling to each scene like the last few drops of dew in the morning.
Morning Smoke, “Hunger”
There’s something to be said for a band who reverse-engineers their influences so well that the sounds cease to be recognizable and simply become one more step in the band’s shifting evolution. Brighton, England-based post-punk outfit Morning Smoke has taken this to heart, picking apart bands like Sonic Youth and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and rearranging the bits into something that bears those bands’ inimitable musical trademarks but still maintains a separate rhythmic identity. The band has yet to release their first official record but will share a double A-side single, “Hunger”/”Stephanie I,” Dec. 1.
For our first peek into the inner workings of the band, they’ve given us “Hunger,” a rollicking slice of post-punk/shoegaze fury that’ll have you nostalgic and looking to see if Kevin Shields might have accidentally joined the band without you realizing it. Reverb and distortion-soaked guitars surge against a dense rhythmic background while singer Milo Mcnulty’s vocals slowly sink beneath the murky noise, only to emerge a short time later in a roaring fountain of sound and thudding percussion.
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.
Updated @ 10:10 a.m. on 11/7/14 to correct a typographical error.