Rivaling The White Stripes in more ways than one, Deap Vally manages to stylistically and tonally channel the best of American rock music and transcend the average, noisy guitar-drums duo. They play Oct. 21 at Roseland Theater.
We are far enough into the future once implied by synthesizers that they can evoke nostalgia. On I Can Feel The Night Around Me, Dave Hartley’s synthesizers access the heart’s midi data. He also draws from the bins of ‘60s-era and earlier pop instincts for his slow-motion rock songs. The music covers a fair amount of ground, varying from a less exuberant Animal Collective to yacht rock on opiates.
For its array of influences, the new Nightlands album is admirably cohesive. The music is smooth, zipped into a narrow dynamic range and consistently down-tempo. Hartley’s arrangements are methodical, with the beats in particular leaving vast amounts of space. The pacing allows for some complex harmonic choices. Chord progressions take jazzy detours, often via Hartley’s perfectionist layers of vocal harmonies.
The new album’s cover photograph shows a silhouetted figure on a coast at dusk or dawn. The image is grainy, but with a depth of color. Similarly, there is a rough texture to some of the album’s keyboard tones and vocal treatments, but the full package sounds almost glamourous.
I hear a slump in the album’s second half. “Moonbathing” veers dangerously close to millennial elevator music. However the final track, “Human Hearts,” is the clear standout. It’s a truly bizarre, electrified re-envisioning of ‘60s girl group pop. In another time, it might have been called “Human Hearts (Always On The Run),” as the introduction of that refrain and the groove it kicks in is an album high point. The lyrics sound set in a warped Springsteen town, as in the lyric: “Tommy worked at Harry’s Helicopters fixing choppers for the man.” Later the same melody is sung: “The river rose as we came down, with bloody noses running on her gown.”
Though much of the playing is muted and cautious, the feelings resonate from the other side of the musical filter. It’s a dreamy album, a couch lock album, maybe even a morning album depending on your temperament. It deserves a close listen.»
*See Nightlands May 10 at Doug Fir. Tickets here.