Posts Tagged ‘Ambient Country’

Bobby Lee

xThis week marks the release of Bobby Lee’s follow-up to his excellent 2020 debut Shakedown in Slabtown. Double the joy because the first LP is getting a vinyl UK vinyl edition while he’ll land at Tompkins Square here in the US for the physical release of Origin Myths. Lee (GospelbeacH, Canyon Family) added to the excellent run of cosmic country that permeated the air last year and his latest sinks deeper into the streaked skies and rolling vistas that Slabtown began to explore. With a warm layer of tape hiss running underneath, Lee lays out eight (twelve on the LP) more landscapes of vision quest country, letting the listener wander in a heatstroke haze with occasional dips into oases that may or may not truly exist. It’s an LP that vibrates in rare air, finding its home weaving through the heat-ripple haze off of the long dusted pavement.

While the last record had more of a boogie element to it, melting down JJ Cale and and Golden Gunn choogle into a languorous stretch of slow shifting psychedelic headspace, this time he leans heavier into the Bruce Langhorne touches that curled at the edges of his debut. The long, lingering feel of Western expanses creeps into the out-of-body buzz, lifting the listener into the strata above the plains to float between the heart and the horizon. Joining SUSS, Bobby Walker Jr, and North Americans, Lee helps to round out a new wave of top line ambient country. Like his peers, Lee excels a channeling the twin prongs of the American Southwest — the beauty and the loneliness — into an aural ache strong enough to pull sorrow and serenity from the marrow by the milligram. Shakdown in Slabtown set the listener free to enter Bobby’s strain of cosmic vibration, Origin Myths finds the thrum of the canyon and sets it to tape.

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Nashville Ambient Ensemble – “Conversion”

A wash of relief floods the field with the first cut from the debut of the Nashville Ambient Ensemble. The record was brought together by composer Michael Hix, roping in some of the city’s best to add textures to his embryonic dose of cosmic country. The assembled players include Cynthia Cárdenas, Timon Kaple, Deli Paloma-Sisk, Kim Rueger, Jack Silverman and RSTB fave Luke Schneider on pedal steel. “Conversion” wafts in on a wave of euphoric steam, fogging the foreground with shifting synth and aqueous guitars that seep through the senses, radiating golden hues across the synapses with each progressive moment. The textured vocals dart through the mists unseen, feeling everywhere and nowhere until the song simply retreats back into the air. Hix’s ensemble pull an unseen weight from the mind and body, loosening the nerves with each second on their upcoming LP for Centripetal Force. The LP, Cerulean arrives on March 19th, and I’d recommend letting it find a way onto your speakers.

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SUSS

Since December warrants looking back at the year, I have to say in trawling through my personal listening and buying habits of the year, no genre dominated my headspace more than that of ambient country. The space carved out for the sound has been fringe for the last couple of years, but in tandem with a recent rise in Cosmic Americana, the sister sounds of pedal steel and synth float have become more and more prevalent. Or maybe my compass just got permanently shifted, who knows? Still, in a year spent searching out serenity that doesn’t become background mush, the genre is as good as it gets and it’s lucky for us all that one of the genre’s greats, SUSS have yet another offering as 2020 clambers to a close.

The band’s High Line hit me hard last year, and Promise doesn’t disappoint as a similarly-minded follow up. The band builds sprawling sonic landscapes that set the contrast high but fill in subtle details in their twilight meditations with curls of synth smoke and the palpable creak of wildlife settling within the hushed valleys of their songs. Under the blinking high tension wire lights, the band finds a patient pace that’s colored in nicely with buzzing guitars and a pedal steel shimmer that supplants the instruments usual amber glow with a silvered hue of moonlight. The whole record feels like finally being able to exhale after a day of holding it tight in the chest. In a crop of country outliers that excel in shivers (see: Barry Walker Jr, Bobby Lee, Luke Schneider, John Jeffrey) SUSS prove that they’re still innovators of a sound that’s been their engine all along. Absolutely an essential 2020 release.




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Barry Walker Jr.

With his stamp already on one of the years best LPs (contributing to North Americans stunning new record) Portland pedal steel player Barry Walker Jr aims for ambient country infamy with Shoulda Zenith. While it occupies some of the same space as his work with Patrick McDermott, the air that Walker is treading here is something more spectral and dangerous than he’s found himself embroiled in previously. HIs last album was another gem, occupying space on Driftless just like North Americans’ previous LP as well. Yet here, he dives deeper into the notion of pedal steel as an instrument and what it can accomplish when torn from its tethers as merely a paintbrush of sadness and ennui in the country canon. On Shoulda Zenith Walker still lets his instrument cry the lonesome cry that can be expected from his steel, but he distorts the the picture over these nine tracks, pushing the instrument to the front of the stage and then letting it growl, pant, breakdown, and blossom.

Now I’m not usually one to quote out the official rhetoric, but Holy Mountain pulling in a cross-section from experimental psych Texans and Japanese Out Rock, is extraordinarily apt. Walker’s finding the friction in country but also the longstanding pain and relief, especially with songs like the title track, which finds the familiar tones of the pedal steel thrown into the froth of feedback, crashing against the urge for calm. Walker riles and relents. For as often as the record strives to chafe, to dismantle the notions of staid lament that the instrument and country provide, he provides just as many opportunities for lightness and tender resolve. “Trinity Payload” knocks the listener into the sea wall of noise, but Walker’s there to scoop up the wreckage of the soul and nurse it back to health with a mournful moment. To cap it, he winds the record down with an old-soul country number that proves how deep his understanding of what he’s dismantling goes — a classic take that lets the album slide into the sunset scarred but not broken.



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SUSS – “Home”

While the majority of sites don’t seem to be excited about the prospect of a cosmic ripple of ambient country making its way into the world, around here a new Suss LP is met with anticipation. The band’s last LP was a gorgeous, aching take on sprawling, quavering tones hung under an ominous Harvest moon. Their follow up is once again wandering into the open vistas, though its not a parched and desert dry affair. “Home” is somber but also a bit humid in its hang, with pedal steel circling like a specter and the slow tap of drums over the hills fading like a distant memory on their gauzy tones. The record is again dressed in great artwork from RSTB fave Darryl Norsen, who’s going on record as a 2020 MVP for dotting the most releases in my collection this year. The new LP is out December 4th from Northern Spy.




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SUSS – “Echo Lake”

There’s been no shortage of Cosmic Country in 2020 and for that I’m grateful. The genre’s been slowly creeping into the crevices of the year to create a billow, sigh-heavy buffer against the indignity of daily life in this fraught year. With that in mind SUSS’ latest scrawl through the ambient arm of that particular Cosmic headspace is a perfect gift this week. The band’s last LP, High Line was a quivering sluice through the slipstreams of the mind and with another dose of earthen ache in the bones of “Echo Lake,” the band looks to be extending their stay in the calm waters of our minds. This one wafts in on echoed pedal steel and nebulous dust clouds of synth just in time for the weather to cool off the scorch of summer. The single’s out now, sounds like an album’s on the horizon soon.




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