Noise Pollution: Little Hag Plays Tetris & Charley Crockett’s Hard Times

Noise Pollution returns with new albums from Little Hag, Refried Ice Cream, and more.
By    September 11, 2020

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Will Schube is on a quest to find the ghost of Bam Bam Bigelow.

numun ― voyage au soleil

There’s a group called SUSS that I had never heard of until I received an email about this band, numün, which features members of said “ambient country” pioneers. I had no idea ambient country was a thing, let alone a thing I very much needed in my life, but SUSS’ music is a brilliant spin on traditional ambient styles and a thrilling blend of those two worlds. numün, consisting of SUSS’  Bob Holmes and Joel Mellin and Christopher Romero of Gamelan Dharma Swara, practically transports you to the desert of your choosing and swallows you in starry night sounds and just a little too much dust in your face. It’s perfect. Just take a look at the instruments these dudes handle. Bob Holmes plays bass, guitar, harpsichord, synths, and violin static. I don’t know what violin static is but I do know that it’s now an essential part of my vocabulary. Joel Mellin plays piano, organ, guitar, gongs, gender wayang, theremin, bass, synths, and assorted percussion, while Christopher Romero handles dholak and cümbüş. These instruments are so foreign to me I’m not sure the tenses for those last two instruments are correct, but fuck it, just put on this album and you’ll stop caring about anything outside the sounds exploding in your headphones.

It’s cosmic music for people who would never, ever coin anything ‘cosmic,’ and slow jams for campers who prefer the outdoors to an El Cosmico tent in Marfa. In a word, it’s authentic, which is a horrifying thing to call anything of genuine value or meaning because of the way that word has become its opposite, but numün makes me believe in a lot of shit I didn’t even know existed. Authenticity lives!

Charley Crockett ― Welcome to Hard Times

Austin loves it when their stars get too big for the city, mostly because they don’t leave. You can still catch Gary Clark Jr. cruising on South Congress and on the right non-COVID night, you can catch the dudes from Black Pumas checking out local bands. There’s something small and familiar about Austin, despite it being a rather large city, that makes the music community feel both important on the national scene and its own ecosystem. Charley Crockett is the latest example, a smooth-singing country star who’s new album was promoted on billboards in LA and Austin. I was picking up a sandwich the other day and saw his signature cowboy hat adorning his head. Hopefully he didn’t see me backing up without checking my rearview because I was too excited about my meal.

Crockett’s been making noise in the city’s country scene for a while, but he’s quietly broken through to a wider audience, and his new LP, Welcome to Hard Times, will only endear him to more listeners. His voice is classic but never sounds dated, same with the music. Old west saloon piano somehow fits with outlaw country organ and lightly strummed guitar chords. “Run Horse Run” is a classic road tale, the drums scattering to keep up with the percussive strut of the guitar line, and pedal steel swirling around Crockett’s tale of life on the move. “Can’t stop ‘til my work is done,” he delivers, before dramatically pausing and delivering the knockout: “Run horse run.” It’s a trick as old as country music, but Charley Crockett gives it a flavor I’ve never heard before. 

Refried Ice Cream ― Life Spirit Devine

Forgive the awful name, but Refried Ice Cream’s melted, absolutely warped psychedelic vision is worth any second guesses the title may supply. The backstory here is thrilling, but it’d fall flat if the music didn’t rip. Brewer was the patriarch of a West Texas family that split duties as a band and a motorcycle gang. Brewer was featured on Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key, and Brewer subsequently signed to Conor Oberst’s label, Team Love Records. Though Brewer died in 2017, the band’s message is as prescient as ever. “Music for the people, down with fascists. Listen and learn, keep your health and open your mind. Rise up against what you know is wrong…Live your life in Awe.”

The album is crunchy and fractured, 13th Floor Elevators crushed onto a panini press and melted in the oven for 24 hours. There are a few unlistenable moments, but your family band isn’t perfect, either. The show belongs to Brewer and his voice, deep and silky but with enough grit to come from the Texas desert and not California’s drugged out Laurel Canyon cult scene. Everything’s a little more raw, broken, and distorted here. If lo-fi psych is your thing, Refried Ice Cream should be up your alley. If lo-fi psych isn’t your thing, why the hell not?

Little Hag ― Whatever Happened To Avery Jane?

Little Hag is the Asbury Park, NJ-based project of Avery Mandeville. I assume growing up in Asbury means having a Bruce Springsteen-sized cloud follow you wherever you go, especially if you’re a songwriter, but Mandeville’s music bears no traces of the city’s favorite son, instead moving from grunge, to acoustic dalliances, to ‘50s pop with the ease of a cover band without all the desperation and shitty bar gigs. What Happened to Avery Jane? is a compilation of old tunes from Mandeville, but they strike with an immediacy that hits from the first track. After all, opener “Tetris,” which is a new song written during the pandemic, begins with a line about fucking and crying. It’s not indicative of the album’s themes, but it does set up Mandeville’s approach to songwriting, which is that she’s gonna say whatever the hell she wants and she’s gonna do so with a beautiful voice and over intriguing compositions.

That same opening track, for instance, is led by a simple acoustic guitar and strings, but the strings are looped such that they occasionally start and stop like a car slamming on the brakes. It’s a ‘70s West Coast jam, but retro video game synths bleep and bloop throughout. “Facebook” begins with, “Every day begins with a text I’m not answering,” both cruel and coy, a tacit acknowledgement that you’re gonna be left on read but at least she’s being honest. Avery Mandeville is a thrilling songwriter, untethered from time and place, sending DMs and shade, not greetings, from Asbury Park.

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