As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to shed a bit of light and share a bit of information on the up and coming sounds of artists such as Matt Valentine and Erika Elder.
In the annuls of folk exploration, no modern pairing has explored the outrageous hand-in-hand with the traditional quite like Matt Valentine and Erika Elder. The variety of sounds, styles, and effects Valentine and Elder have mined to create their monstrous creations are infinite. This cornucopia is ever-present on the duo’s latest, Barn Nova, released via Ecstatic Peace, which introduces a hefty amount of country spice in MV + EE’s psychedelic stew.
Barn Nova will be immediately familiar to fans of classic Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The album packs the sort of distorted soul and aromatic guitar work that has forever been Shakey’s calling card. Of course, in the hands of an equally skilled guitarist and visionary such as Matt Valentine — and paired with the fragile tones and silky slides of Erika Elder — Barn Nova becomes gnarly, transforming country ethos into tie-dyed waves all while toning down the overarching experimentalism that has occasionally littered previous MV + EE releases. The fat’s been trimmed for Barn Nova and the album’s better for it.
Fans may be a bit afraid to find that tucked inside of Barn Nova are songs that could be considered ‘radio friendly,’ but as the stigma boldly implies, these gems couldn’t be more potent if bogged down by the spectrasound. The groovy blues and catchy drum beat of “Get Right Church” feels like a new creation in the hands of Valentine and Elder. “Wandering Nomad” has all the crunch of “Down By the River” but filters it through a slow jam; the announcement that the party’s winding down but the good times are still to be had. “Fully Tanked” is a dusty back porch anthem thick with greasy slide and rustic folk leading us to rapture.
It’s a subtle shift in the MV + EE dynamic. Much of the fuss that often clouded past albums is still to be found, though it’s easier to find your way through the fog. There are plenty of heavy jams that will stir the soul and expand the mind, such as the eleven-minute psych-country opus, “Bedroom Eyes.” Contrails of guitar cascade over the twang-filled melody to fuel the sexy glances the title implies.
Despite the noticeable deviations, Barn Nova is just as comfortable and pleasing as any MV + EE of recent memory. Valentine and Elder continue to reinvent folk through devices old and new and as long as the results match the whimsical personalities and avant inventions of albums past there’s no shaking their devout audience no matter how close they fly to commercially friendly skies.
Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up and Thursday edition of Song of the Day for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.