Taking a listen
Nathan Oliver — Cloud Animals
If this music thing doesn’t work out, then Chapel Hill’s Nathan White can always fall back on the degree in dentistry he’ll have shortly. Then again, as soon as he gets tired of yanking teeth and scrubbing plaque, he can carry on making thoughtful, diverse records as leader of the rotating collective known as Nathan Oliver (www.nathan-oliver.com). His band’s second album, Cloud Animals, is just as amorphous and imaginative as the titular subject matter. It drifts to its own accord and just when you think it has taken shape, it transforms into something completely divergent. Opening track “Icicles for Fingers” recalls the gothic rockabilly sound of the Flat Duo Jets and Dexter Romweber’s solo work. It’s a slow process, occurring over a couple of tracks, but Cloud Animals changes faces more than once. With “French Press,” Nathan Oliver offers the first of many ventures, “Playground Lies” and the title track among them, into elegantly bright pop that doesn’t depend upon immediacy to be impactful. The title track itself stands out for how the sheer minimalism of uncomplicated ukulele, piano and glockenspiel contrasted against the sound of a gentle rainfall creates just as much depth as vigorous rockers like “Red Panda.” Even the bucolic “How Small We Have Become” strikes out on its own musical tangent. There’s so much personality to be found on Cloud Animals that it’s really hard to believe it comes from one band, but the loose nature of the band’s membership lends much to that.
MarsupiaL — Genus Thylacinus
When your aspiration is to traverse as many musical boundaries as possible, there is bound to be some friction along the way. As one of the most prominent members of the North Carolina progressive scene (see also: jam band), Asheville’s MarsupiaL (www.marsupialmusic.com) has successfully melded rock, jazz, Southern roots and whatever else happens to strike them into four albums of worthy musical praise to their pronounced influences. Their latest, Genus Thylacinus, bears the imprint of years spent immersed in the sounds of the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa and King Crimson — eight tracks of sharply produced and well-polished playing. But like a lot of prog rock, it sometimes just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The opening track “Lead On” seems to speak to their propensity to break down musical barriers in their work, but while the five-minute instrumental bridge sounds nice, it’s purpose to the piece is somewhat dubious. Pair that with the nine-minute “Naked in the Hall of Seduction” and the album seems repetitive and formulaic at worst. At best, however, their instrumentation is inspired and stimulating. “Sucker Punch” is a forceful sludge-rock instrumental that brings most of the album’s hard bite, while “In Between” is an island-flavored quickhitter that offers a much needed break from the extended jams. It ends on a lyrical high note with “There Is a Better World,” an evocative track about letting go. Applaud them for being able to shift directions as an entire unit on a dime, though exploration merely for exploration’s sake can easily get you lost.
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