It’s the end of the year, and ‘tis the season to make some lists. But lists are as inherently tricky. It becomes a balance between listing the albums that you go back to on a daily basis and those that you feel are actually the most creative and innovative—which are not necessarily the same (but can be).
In the spirit of appreciating some of the amazing releases that Chattanooga had to offer this year, we’ll be looking at 10 releases, whether on Bandcamp, Soundcloud or otherwise, from local bands and artists in 2013. This is by no means a comprehensive list; this isn’t a top 10 list, either, merely a sample of the sounds that come streaming out of Chattanooga on a daily basis.
What you come to understand when looking at a cross-section of local music is how diverse and unexpectedly dissimilar the bands tend to be. There are metal bands, punk bands, singer-songwriters and electronic artists. You can’t point to a single genre or label when describing the plethora of music streaming from the Scenic City. The generalization from those who don’t live here would be to assume that country music and Southern rock are the predominant musical aesthetics. And although there are amazing local artists drawing from those influences, there is a far more varied musical palette than anyone not familiar with Chattanooga might think.
If I’ve left something off the list, please tell me in the comments section. If you just want to let me know about a local artist that deserves some attention, put that information in the comments, too.
Unspoken Triumph, "Relentless Desecration"
Metal band Unspoken Triumph released their latest album, "Relentless Desecration," recently; and though it’s far from the standard holiday fare we’re accustomed to, the jagged riffs and jackknife percussion do help paint a stark picture of this cold and occasionally austere season. Metal is definitely a hard sell at any time, but when it’s this visceral and confrontational, it’s hard to simply pass by without being drawn in. The songs have a weight and density that give them an oddly emotional heft, one that keeps them grounded without losing any of their innate force.
Gorgeous, "Forget About It"
Gorgeous exists in that hazy pop ether between The Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo & the Bunnymen, peddling their jangle pop rhythms for anyone who happens to come across them. Their recent "Forget About It" EP is filled with shimmering guitars and half-buried melodies, fading between layers of distortion and twisted textures. The band lets the music take the lead, allowing the lyrics to support the gauzy consistency of the songs. And while this often-indistinct approach can trip up bands that rely more on the aesthetic style than on the substance of the music, Gorgeous is able to deftly maneuver around these hurdles without sacrificing the core of their sound.
Chattanooga indie rock band Hazes creates darkly melodic songs, drenched in reverb and droning beats. Their music is the result of decades of underground rock and pop history filtered through dense, muddied instrumentation and half-buried harmonies. But that’s not to say that their songs feel creatively indistinct or featureless. The forms that the band is playing with are meticulous in their seeming lackadaisical demeanor. On their recent self-titled release, each song feels like an insular statement from the band while still feeling like a part of some larger idea. Hazes may construct their music from the standard indie rock blueprint, but they’re able to circumvent the usual pitfalls by going pointedly off course and giving listeners no choice but to hang on and see where they’re heading.
Creek Bed Choir, "Silence of the Sleeping Mountains"
There are some bands whose entire aesthetic is based on first impressions. It’s that split-second response to just a few notes that can color your entire attitude toward these artists. For Creek Bed Choir, it’s the sound of empty rooms and creaking floorboards. Their spare folk reflections put them in the same league as bands like Iron and Wine and Night Beds. Their "Silence of the Sleeping Mountains" EP—though only three tracks long—creates a wonderfully detailed and lived-in atmosphere where the groans of old houses mix with the sounds of field crickets, banjos and piano. The songs are stripped down to the bare essentials but feel far larger than their minimal credits would have you believe. Soundtracking late-night porch discussions and country stargazing, Creek Bed Choir finds a pastoral beauty in the most common places.
Eight Knives, "Maiden Names"
Eight Knives offer up slices of subtlety-free rock and hip-shaking rhythms. On each song on their debut LP, "Maiden Names," you can picture the band throwing themselves around the studio, bouncing off the walls and slathering themselves in the rich history of rock music. Packed with full-throttle melodies and chugging riffs, "Maiden Names" feels far too lively and loose to be a debut. It sounds like these guys have been playing and recording together for too many years to count. The band's practiced and quicksilver interactions give each song a polished sheen, but rather than using this to cover over any deeper imperfections, Eight Knives offer up their hearts for all to see. And all they ask in return is for you to share some of your heart with them.
Rigoletto, "Delusions of Grandeur"
Rigoletto's arena-sized rock manages to feel intimate, cacophonous and vast at the same time. On "Delusions of Grandeur," the band draws out an almost overwhelming emotional weight before hitting you over the head with jagged riffs and thudding percussion. Reminiscent of bands that littered the rock landscape in the early '00s (but without the relatively short shelf life), Rigoletto imparts their own rough-edged melodies and densely layered rhythms onto the framework of their songs and comes out with a series of memorable modern rock slow-burners and cathartic eruptions.
Old Time Travelers, "Volume 2"
As you listen to "Volume 2" from Old Time Travelers for the first time, you're struck by how heartfelt and earnest the music sounds. This is music that defies categorization, as well as the span of the past 100 years. Folk archivist Harry Smith might have recorded these songs for his "Anthology of American Folk" music. There are subtle movements within each song that help keep them current while still adhering to their traditional roots. The band is obviously deeply infatuated with these sounds, and their love of the source influence comes through clearly. From the beautifully mournful strings to the sharply plucked banjo, they create a remarkably fluid vision of folk music from the earliest parts of the 20th century.
Elk Milk, "EP I"
Moody indie rock is always difficult to pull off—mainly because so many bands have done it so well and because so many more have completely missed its intricacies. But Elk Milk understands that every aspect of each song must be working in complete concert for the music to be more than just a passing hummable sound bite. On "EP I," they lay out long stretches of post-rock(-ish) landscapes and elastic melodies, but they always manage to tie each piece together with nothing left hanging in the breeze. Their songs feel self-contained, with striking guitar lines and a thumping rhythm section that is continually pushing outward against the encroaching darkness. But it's left to the listener to decide whether the music belongs in that darkness or simply wants to act as an opposing force.
Parrotice, "Melt Tape"
Listening to "Melt Tape" by Parrotice can be a bit daunting. Its three tracks of abstract hip-hop and electronic experimentation approach the 60-minute mark before you realize it, but you never feel as though they spend any time rehashing ideas or retracing their own steps. Rubbery beats bounce up against vocals that twist and artificially contort around the music, while each song slowly unfurls into segmented pieces of interconnected rhythms and melodies. Each track feels incredibly immense, and the variety of musical techniques on display here is fairly staggering. Parrotice has created the perfect late-night soundtrack for those drives through a deserted city while reading Bukowski and coming down from whatever psychotropic high you might find yourself riding.
Fairing, "... Them Nor I"
There isn't much to tell about Fairing—in fact, I couldn't really find much information on him at all. But sometimes, that sense of anonymity adds an otherworldliness to the music that might otherwise be lost if all the information were known. As you listen to "... Them Nor I," your mind quickly begins to create false (or, at the very least, unsubstantiated) explanations and a complete backstory for the person behind this music. Riding waves of dense beats and groove-addled synths, the music shifts suddenly between organic instrumentation and electronic ephemera, tossing off samples and looped melodies along with gossamer piano runs and clacking percussion. The album presents a perfectly diametric world split between artifice and reality.
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 expresses in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its contributors.
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