When listening to Doug Tuttle’s latest album Dream Road, one is immediately struck with how much of a sonic architect this guy is. It’s of little wonder his other gig is building guitar effects pedals. Tuttle musical specialty is spinning the paisley patterned sounds of yesteryear into something instantly familiar yet fresh. Every analog sound from the swirling mellotrons to the backwards guitar solos are in exactly the right place. It’s the musical equivalent of a rec room with shag carpeting, a beanbag chair, and a top-notch hi-fi with good record collection. I reckon his guitar tone is most likely the envy of at least a few boutique lurking guitar snobs as well.
On his fourth solo album and debut for Burger Records, he seems to have settled into a comfortable groove with his own brand of gentle psychedelia, leaving behind the fragmented approach of his prior record Peace Potato. Tuttle also folds some new sounds into the mix including a little bit of Nashville twang that creeps around the edges, and even a little AM Gold on the effortless sounding light pop of “Did You Need Someone.” Even though he seems to have settled into more conventional song structures, and expanded his sound pallet some, there’s a feeling of restlessness that seems to hang over Dream Road. The album is bookended with two songs “I’ll Throw It All Away,” and “Fade” that both appear to find the artist at a crossroads. Let’s hope he’s not ready to pack it in yet, especially with albums as good as this issuing forth on a regular basis. Even though the pay is probably terrible (but probably better than writing record reviews), we need guys like Tuttle building cool effects pedals and fighting the good fight to keep the torch aflame.
Buy Dream Road via Burger Records.
The 11-square-mile area, called the Cedars located in Placer County, California is a mysterious place which boasts all types of unique geological phenomena including Mars-like red slopes, strange mineralized rock formations, and high-alkaline springs that have fostered plant species found nowhere else in the world. It’s also nearly impossible to access due to barriers both natural and legal. A place so unique it even has piqued NASA’s interest. It’s also the title, and a source of inspiration for former American Fourtracker, John Vanderslice’s latest album.
It’s easy to draw the parallels between his latest offering and this almost alien world; as there’s almost nothing direct about the musical architecture employed on The Cedars. Using his Oakland based Tiny Telephone studio as his own sound lab, the impeccably constructed album is filled with the sounds of humming synths, looping drum machines, bursts of white noise, and walls of multi-tracked vocals that all work to weave an unpredictable sonic backdrop which frame Vanderslice’s at times cryptic and others brutally honest songwriting.
The Cedars is a song cycle which feels like the work of a disoriented wandering soul in a world where people disappear, and locations are important. When the album begins, he doesn’t even quite sound like himself at first. The spiraling dream logic of tracks such as “Spectral Dawn,” have a downright Lynchian zing right down to the mention of a missing girl named Audrey. I’ve been listening to the album pretty obsessively over and over again the past few days, because it feels like a puzzle just asking to be solved. The truth of the matter is that there are probably a few pieces Vanderslice deliberately left out of the box just to keep us guessing. In life and art, sometimes we don’t always get all the answers we want, whether it’s a mysterious stretch of land in northern California, a relationship that dissolved for unknown reasons, or an album of jagged challenging songs. If you think about it, isn’t it better that way?
Order the album via Native Cat Recordings.
Time Flies is the latest excursion from Ben Rosenbach’s one-man electronic post-rock project Our Alarm Clock. Now a Dad in his thirties, he spent most of his formative musical years playing in playing in Christian rock bands. His latest is a collection on which the worship rock alumni takes us through a secular and mostly wordless song cycle filled with deep pockets of ambient, pop, and post-rock; all of which are all filtered through his spiritually honed inner lens.
It’s an odd juxtaposition to have a set of songs be so polished, yet feel so personal. While listening, you sometimes feel like he invited you over to audition some of the songs he cooked up in his home studio the night before or while his kid was taking a nap. The album ebbs and flows in intensity, and moods oftentimes within the same track. Album highlight “A Sealed Up Secret Wish” starts with minimal backwards-tracked guitars, and slowly builds in intensity until it has morphed into something resembling Godspeed You! Black Emperor, if you could imagine them dressed in their Sunday best, and sporting fresh haircuts. While on vocal tracks such as “Pictures,” the artist sounds like he’s trying his damndest to work out his existential crises, and unresolved feelings in what sounds like real time.
Time Flies is an album that seems to work best, when Rosenbach allows the listener to glimpse a little more of the man behind the machine, such as on album closer, “Sunrise” which finds him looking up, still seeking the answers, and inviting us to do the same. While not every track or experiment presented here always works, there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s a real guy at the heart of it trying to get to the bottom of it all through his music. The world around us would probably be a better place, if more us cast our eyes skyward every once in a while and followed suit.
Buy the album direct from the artist.