[FUCKED-UP AMERICANA] At the heart of Ohioan’s sound is a conflict between the embrace of tradition and the refusal of it. Ohioan godhead Ryne Warner seems spiritually opposed to releasing a conventional pop album—a point to which High Country’s avant-noise forays attest—but he also writes a mean chorus. His solution? To leave the sweet, catchy bits strewn like mines across a wasteland of ambient sound.
And so we start High Country with the swirling tape hiss of “Patterns in the Void,” but arrive shortly at the disc’s first infectious jam, a swaggering, minimal country waltz called “Open Road.” The song is a convincing, Emmylou-esque heartbreaker wrapped around the warble of Warner’s voice (a David Byrne-meets-Moby vocal that often reminds of a bowed saw). Warner and company—and, oh, what company, with members of Old Time Relijun, the Shaky Hands, Au, A Weather, Ah Holly Fam’ly and more contributing the disc—tread slowly along a slide-guitar highway.
But rather than stay on that course, Warner gives us the twisted, pounding Delta blues (“Us Tempunauts”), epic banjo-fuzz jams (“Some Will Live”) and aching, nine-minute slow jams (“I Have Eyes,” delivered sweetly by A Weather’s Sarah Winchester).
Then, after another stretch of noise and fucked Americana, Warner gives us the album’s anthem, “Time to Die Again,” a call-and-response masterpiece that could well have been written during the Dust Bowl. In this song, the conflict between tradition and experimentation is peaceably amended: Our struggles are universal, Warner finds. And try as we might to fight suffering or understand our place, life’s puzzle can’t be solved by even the boldest work of art. “Every newborn child is just a prayer in the wind,” Warner sings before the track goes so distorted you’ll think your speakers are shorting out. “It’s time to die again.” Believe it or not, this is a joyous realization. CASEY JARMAN.
[LONE WOMAN BLUES] There is very little percussion on Scout Niblett’s latest record, The Calcination of Scout Niblett. In fact, you rarely hear much besides her voice and distorted, ripping guitar work.
On her first release for Drag City, the English-bred Niblett (the stage name of one Emma Louise Niblett) continues her partnership with famous producer Steve Albini, and the sound is as raw and intimate as anything he’s ever touched. Niblett still sounds like Cat Power covering something off PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, but her songwriting has never been as confident or restrained. It’s a lonely album, haunted by its absences more than the skeletal song structures. Silence and blank space color these songs as much as Niblett’s thorny guitar pyrotechnics, providing avenues for her ornery voice to explore on each naked recording, something that she couldn’t quite hit on with 2007’s This Fool Can Die Now.
In fact, many of the tracks, including opener “Just Do It!” and “Bargin,” hint at crashing crescendos that never occur. Calcination consistently keeps listeners on their toes, wondering if the drums will enter or she’ll ever change up her high-pitched wail to something less abrasive. It’s an awkward feeling, but Niblett thrives on making her listeners uncomfortable. When the fragile “Ripe of Life” finally opens up, shooting bolts of molten guitar lava from the heavens, it’s not the sound of a woman coming to grips with her life. It’s a big f-you to anyone who resists music this primal. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: Ohioan releases High Country on Saturday, Jan. 23, at the Artistery, with Castanets, Ghost to Falco and Dragging an Ox Through Water. 8 pm. $5. All ages. The Calcination of Scout Niblett is out on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Scout Niblett’s local release show is at the tail end of her North American tour, on March 26 at Berbati’s Pan.