Ameriglow keeps saying goodbye to Americana
Greensboro’s Ameriglow has gone from being the vehicle for the fleshed-out solo work of Jacob Darden to a band, a unit. The band just released a new threesong e.p., “The Guthrie Deathbed Roll,” in February. Darden, who spoke to me last weekend after returning from gigs in Wilmington and Charleston, likens the band’s new mode to that of “creating a machine,” something with semi-mechanized parts, a conglomeration of pieces that all work together. But there’s nothing really machinelike to the sound of Ameriglow, and there hasn’t been since its first release in 2013.
There’s a murky cough-syrup density that sometimes rises to the surface of Ameriglow’s music. Whether you sense it at first or it slowly creeps up on you, there’s something lurking underneath the music. It’s sonic and symbolic. Sometimes it’s simply heartbreak barely hidden underneath an acoustic guitar and aching vocals, like on “Foundations for a Wish,” a song that’s shrouded in pain, loss and death. Sounds, instruments, musical counter lines or scribbly textures drift into audible range. Sometimes an echoey double-tracked vocal part or a sung harmony will emerge, as if someone’s singing inside a distant empty grain silo or as if portions of the recording were being transmitted through a conch shell. It’s scruffy, arty, slightly deranged, and a little folky in places, like the Flaming Lips palling around with Bob Dylan on a doom-obsessed Basement Tapes for the 21st Century. Or that was the vibe until this latest e.p., which has more urgency, muscle, jittery energy and maybe a little more optimism.
The low frequencies on the new Ameriglow e.p. are intentional. The strings got tuned down. The band used baritone electric guitars tuned down to B, lower than standard tuning. (Darden comes by the instrument-tinkering gene honestly; his dad builds guitars.) Even the snare drum sounds loose, still registering the snap of the wire snares vibrating along the bottom head, but with none of that crisp pinging attack you sometimes hear when the drum is struck. Darden says the new e.p. is a departure. (This new band-centric version of Ameriglow is new; they don’t even have a proper promo photo of the whole band yet.) It’s a more controlled and orchestrated effort, something that emerged from advance planning and preparation rather than the in-the-moment improvisational layering of 2015’s “A Heavy Heaven For Robby.”
Darden, 27, came to central N.C. from the western part of the state about six or seven years ago, and he’s been busy making music here since. He tends bar on the side. Before Ameriglow, Darden was in Israel Darling, a similar-sounding outfit, with more acoustic and campfire sing-along qualities. At differing times Ameriglow and Darden’s other projects bring to mind artists like Chad VanGaalen, My Morning Jacket, Desaparecidos, Phosphorescent, Henry Clay People, Pavement, Polvo and other diverse and artful obscurantists who can convey deep feeling or deep dread or just a restlessness and reluctance, or all of those, all done in part with enticing layers of production, creative pastiche or simply with fervor.
The wide-ranging scope of the sound is part of the appeal.
Darden’s music projects an indie rock sensibility, a kind of cautious combustive energy, a familiarity with musical tradition, but a reluctance to totally ape it, and also an eye-dropper of skepticism about any need to deviate from established truths and effective forms. There’s an attention to tone and texture that adds to the music, but could also initially distract from the songs themselves. It’s a complicated position. But despite all that, Darden and his bandmates are working on some level to distance themselves from the Americana label, which is understandable perhaps in that the genre tag connotes a degree of nostalgia for a romanticised past. If anything, Ameriglow point more toward a dark future.
Ameriglow’s 2013 release “Anti- Americana; Speaking to the Unconscious Mind of the South West” opens with the apocalyptic “Welcome to the USO,” which includes an excellent lyric about “trading in your modern moccasins/for a pair of steeltoed boots and a rifle with a lens” as well as lines about dead bodies, and bombs dropping in front yards. The paranoia is pronounced on that batch of songs.
The new e.p., with its evocation of a dying Woody Guthrie, is, Darden says, a sort of farewell to roots and folk-rock for the band.
“It’s kind of us saying goodbye to playing Americana music,” he says.
On the new release, Elizabeth Grubbs’ Hammond B-3 organ run through a Leslie cabinet provides an ominous drone to many of the songs. It’s churchy and insectlike at the same time.
“We’re trying to learn how to stack those kinds of sounds and I guess be more orchestrated,” says Darden. He says Ameriglow will record a full-length album later this year, sometime after spring tour dates in Texas and elsewhere. Darden says the band will riff off of the approach they established for the recent e.p., carrying the logic through to a larger group of songs.
“We’re willing to keep morphing,” says Darden. !
JOHN ADAMIAN lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
Ameriglow plays The Crown on April 10 at 8:30.
Tickets are $5 – $8. (310 South Greene St., Greensboro, 336-333-2605, carolinatheatre.com.)