Thursday, August 28, 2008

Doing The Spectral Boogie...

After about hour ten of driving through middle-America, you might find yourself needing a little sonic pick-me-up. The interstate stretches on, the drive broken only by the intermittent appearance of a rest-stop Star**cks and you find yourself shaking your head and blinking rapidly to snap out of the daze that has set in. The solution? Ann Arbor, MI band Nomo and their latest release, Ghost Rock!

I went back to the well several times on this album during the gazillion mile drive and it never failed to revive me and what's more, the record held up to repeated listens and revealed new textures and elements with each successive listen. Ghost Rock is the follow-up to the equally solid New Tones (Ubiquity, 2006), though this new record finds the group exploring some new sounds and moving beyond the Afro-beat Tones to incorporate Kraut Rock and noise elements into their sound.

Led by Elliott Bergman the band has coalesced over the past few years into an octet and the firming up of the numbers has resulted in an arguably tighter unit augmented by the addition of a ninth individual who on the face of it is a surprising participant: Warn Defever. The His Name Is Alive founder/member produced Ghost Rock and Defever brought a fresh batch of ideas to the studio as Bergman related in my recent interview with him. The funk is still there and the band continues to create some of their own percussive instruments, but the way in which Defever drew out those sounds is the new element that sets Ghost Rock apart from New Tones.

Speaking of New Tones, check out this sweet video before you click on the link to my interview with Elliott Bergman.


Then head over to Nomo's Myspace page and official website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Posting at a Snail's pace...

Wow. It's been a while, hasn't it?
Well I apologize - I took a lengthy holiday IRL and upon returning I had an anniversary, a birthday and found out I'm going to be a dad so things have been pretty hectic of late. But the upside of my holiday is the fact that my gigantic road-trip (over 5500kms; about 3500mi.) provided me with ample opportunity to listen to new music and several of the albums that fueled my travels are primed for the Ear To The Sound spotlight.

For my first of the 'road-trip soundtrack' posts I'd like to spotlight an album that came up late in the journey but the timing was perfectly suited to driving along Lake Superior on my way from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. The rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield has a hard beauty that isn't necessarily as imposing as the Rockies but the juxtaposition of exposed rock, pine trees and sunlight dancing off the lake is breathtaking in its own way and Lies on the Prize struck me as the perfect soundtrack to the sights.

Over nearly a decade and a half (dating back to 1994's Fine), Mike Feuerstack has been creating music under the Snailhouse moniker and I've been a fan since I first saw him play the Academy several years ago (back when it was actually on Academy). I was looking forward to Lies on the Prize, but any expectations I may have had about the album were blown away by the textured instrumentation and nuanced lyrics Feuerstack has recorded with the assistance of Jeremy Gara. [*In addition to recording and mixing the album, Gara also played drums, keyboards, percussion, guitar and bass! And if his name sounds familiar, chances are you've heard a little band Gara plays in.]

The natural world weaves its way into many Snailhouse songs and the topic of travel insinuates itself as well (though in the world weary way one expects from an independent musician who has logged a lot of miles criss-crossing a country as large as Canada). That Feuerstack chose to close the album with "Homesick" seemed especially fitting as I mentally calculated the hours left until I could sleep in my own bed. Road trips are great, but a significant part of their allure resides in heading home, renewed in your appreciation for your own space in this world. To (mis)quote the song, home "echos and murmurs" in the head of each traveler.

As fitting as I found "Homesick" the songs that I kept hitting repeat for were "Tone Deaf Birds" and "They Won't Believe You." The former is a brief and delicate song that has a peculiar message of resilience in noting that "tone deaf, tone deaf birds sing anyway." The song also features the first appearance of Pietro Amato's mellifluous French horn. It's this instrument that also makes "They Won't Believe You" one of the best songs I've heard this year. When the horn comes in at the 1:25 and 2:51 marks, the hairs on my arms stand straight up - each and every time I play the song. Gara's rolling toms add an ominous pulse to the track and Feuerstack's echo-effected guitar work is spooky as all get out. Sadly I can't find either of these two tracks to post here, but that just means you should get the album to hear them for yourself. The album is available from Unfamiliar Records and digitally at Zunior.

There are a couple Snailhouse songs available for download on Feuerstack's Myspace page, but unfortunately on his official web page, the MP3s have been removed recently. I'd still encourage you to visit both.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...
(and stay tuned for Nomo's Ghost Rock!!)