At the present moment, most of my closest friends are on a spectrum between dismay, despair, and depression. These are exactly the moments when we realize that music isn’t something that merely entertains us. It is something that heals us and reminds us why it’s worth fighting for existence. Berkeley natives (and brothers) Brendain and Christopher Langlois, known as Nine Pound Shadow, have just released an EP that is truly an antidote to these troubling times. They’ll be at the Independent on February 21st.
My own introduction to this band was only a few weeks ago at a Sofar Sounds concerts. The brothers – and their keyboard – converted me and I’ve turned to the two already-released tracks of this eponymous EP – “Bridges” and “Melody” – over and over and over. I’m joyed to have three more tracks over which to obsess.
The EP is a collection of 5 songs released on producer Danger Mouse‘s recently launched (2015) 30th Century Records label. The songs are dreamy and retro, a quintessential California sound that the band is calling “60’s psych haze”. The jangly guitars and echoey drums give a spacious feel. The brothers’ tight harmonies bring to mind the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 60’s, and there’s an almost-blasé approach to phrasing and articulation reminiscent of Nico, the model-turned-sometimes-singer with Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground. It’s also easy to hear more contemporary connections – their label-mate Waterstrider for example, and Sugar Candy Mountain (formerly of the Bay Area).
Opening number “Tiger Smile” gently invites us in, and with references of the ocean tide there is indeed a feel of ebb and tide. Just when the song feels settled it slips into an almost Baroque-folk (think Sufjan Stevens) bridge singing “All the seasons change / I don’t want to wait for everything to fade”. And then it does fade, back into itself for a moment before its final words sung with only a lonely piano “I still hear her singing / lonely apparition.”
“Bridges”– released in July via HAIM’s Beats 1 radio show and closing in on a million spins on Spotify — is so expertly arranged that you might not notice how completely you are under its spell until it’s over and you rush to the back button to get another dose. From the opening note – a hanging guitar note that sets the sonic landscape with a lush tonality – to the bass jumping in as a pick up to the chorus a full 30-seconds in, there is a profoundly beautiful musicality to this song.
That same lonely piano opens “Tell Me Why”. (It’s small threads like this that make this an album (though a short one) more than a collection of songs.) The lyrics have an insistence on this track. “In the shadows of the outside / I’m taking a fall / And you save you’re going to save me / But honey you don’t know.” This song feels like a need to prove something to someone – to the “you”. It is darker than the other songs too, even angry in that “I don’t usually get angry” sort of way.
“Melody” is – understandably – the tune that originally caught Danger Mouse’s ear back in 2015. He included the track on his 30th Century Records, Volume 1 before signing them. The idea that this is the band’s first released track is astounding. The production is impeccable, dabbling a bit experimental in places. If it’s possible to head-bang to psych folk haze music, this is the track.
“Bright Like Gold” starts out with references to blue and green, a nice twist, but the gold brightness is quick to follow sonically as the song opens to a sunny day. Instrumentation on this tune includes some intriguing additions such as what I can only assume are Tibetan prayer bowels, and a muted bass tone that adds a softness overall.
All in all, in an era addicted to “new”, we sometimes forget the power of someone doing what they do really fucking well. Nine Pound Shadow reminds us of this: it isn’t that they’re doing anything that hasn’t been done before. It’s just that when they do it, they command your ears. Listen to the whole EP here.
Nine Pound Shadow tour dates (all dates supporting Electric Guest):
2/21 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
2/23 Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
2/24 Seattle, WA @ Crocodile
2/26 Denver, CO @ Bluebird
2/27 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
2/28 Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
3/1 Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall