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 pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Matt Valentine & Erika Elder.
Agitated Atmosphere strives to not repeat itself but often sounds come along that forces this column to stoop to parrot talk. Such is the case with Vermont duo Matt Valentine and Erika Elder. Last year, AA had the pleasure of talking up the virtues of Barn Nova, the so-called ‘mainstream’ effort from the psych folkies. A group of diehards proclaimed it MV & EE’s best effort as some shuddered at its pedestrian shift (AA’s stance is rather clear).
But what of those who have devoured the band’s ultra-limited self-released efforts via their Child of Microtones label? How about those who scrapped together the dough to nab the band’s extensive cassette box sets? You’re loyalty to the cause has been rewarded with Liberty Rose, Valentine & Elder’s latest from Magik Marker/Spectre Folk guru Pete Nolan’s label, Arbitrary Signs.
The blend of classic folk phrasing and tripped out production that has littered many MV & EE releases returns in full effect throughout the width of Liberty Rose. Yet it’s not near as removed from Barn Nova as some would believe. Valentine’s patented Spectrasound returns, trimmed down to utilize its omnipotent power to the fullest: “Crow Jane Environs” finds Valentine’s subtle vocals echoing above the clean guitar and Elder’s daydreaming slide. “Flow My Ray” returns to the Neil Young playbook with its bare bone melody and whispered harmonica. Valentine’s vocals continue to gain distance, never seeming as concrete as the music.
Longtime fans will find their rebuttals to the plain jane Barn Nova stuffed within the gentle blues of “Death is My Friend.” The easy bar blues riff and Elder’s sweet nothings provide the needed bridge between the duo’s so-called ‘mainstream’ aesthetic and its lived in sound long familiar to their cult following. If Barn Nova signaled a significant shift in style, Liberty Rose dares not to let on. It picks up where Valentine & Elder always leave off and fails to hit a sour note. As summer pulls the curtains back, Liberty Rose gives them on last tie back to allow the warm glow of the sun one final bow; the last sip of freshly squeezed lemonade before the batch and the weather turn sour.