A Throwback Style of Psychedelic Folk
While there’s plenty of music coming out these days that taps into a quieter folk sense, it’s a bit less fashionable to embrace the wide and unwieldy arena of psychedelic folk rock.
But who said good music must fit into a trendy box?
Austin-based band The Dan Ryan put out a new record called Guidance that taps into the mystical sense like a bit of a throwback to decades past. Frontman Nathan Dixey sings with a casual, almost lackadaisical tone, high-pitched enough to feel bright but ultimately chill and fluid; and the meat of his songs are reflective takes on the fraught, conflicted nature of the world around him.
Dixey has said that he wanted to focus on writing more complete songs on Guidance compared to the groove-focused tracks on his first LP — both released on Cosmic Dreamer. While these songs are definitely structured, the loopy guitars, plucked strings and buzzy auxiliary are front-and-center ahead of any hooks and bridges. It’s a mellow feel, perfect for drifting in and out, for listeners looking for atmospheric music to accompany their nights and days.
“Ring Them Bells (Carrion Crow)” kicks off the album with a hippie-style plodding vibe, complete with bells, strings and shakers to round out a rather worldly sound. It continues into track two, “Lonely Height,” though this number embraces a more guitar-driven sound with an emphasis on melody. It would be easy to picture this song soundtracking a deleted scene in Almost Famous or a Woodstock documentary. However, Dixey’s acute observations about the world around him and the headspace it creates feel quite modern, especially at a time when many are focusing on the link between societal ills and internal well-being.
The title track plays around with layered vocalizations and resistance references. While The Dan Ryan feel rooted in the late ’60s and ’70s, the end product is very authentic; it doesn’t come off like a gimmick or a trope of a modern artist adopting characteristics from older works in order to feel vintage. Sure, the instrumentation may be rooted in the past, but it’s a song borne of the times that Dixey is living in and referring to. And it’s quite clear by the thorough composition: this is the music Dixey knows and loves.
“Oh Little One You Are Released” features the closest thing to a hook on the album, with a repeated titular refrain, featuring enjoyable tambourine and echoing tones. It’s a freeing sound that Dixey captures here, a sort of hair-down, hands-in-the-air, festival-music vibe that evokes so much of the old-school style present in his musical vernacular. The next track, “Maker,” opens with a beautiful flowing guitar line, setting the stage for a more placid and less trippy style, but nonetheless a colorful one.
Penultimate track “Reckoning” has a surprisingly bright melody and delicate guitar parts despite rather dark subject matter about prophecies, floods and the end of the world. But this contrast is somewhat comforting, as if Dixey is approaching such a time with curiosity instead of the expected fear. It’s yet another reminder that his work is on the observant side, which is complemented by the woven instrumentation that seems to go on and on and on.
Closer “Elysian Fields” taps into a different kind of old school, with saloon-style piano and more rousing tones. It’s a song that feels a bit more present than the album’s other tracks, as something that might fit in on a playlist alongside Fleet Foxes and The Head and the Heart. But it still has its own vibe, and a palpable sense of otherness. “Slow it all down,” Dixey sings amid references to humanity’s story, as if he’s putting out this record as a message to the world not get too caught up. It’s a bright song that reflects on big ideas of society’s evolution and our collective search for answers as much as those from the individual. All in all, it’s a fitting way to cap off nine tracks of interesting, meandering music of a sort that one doesn’t hear much of anymore.