Taking the Pulse of Wry Climate

 Languid palpation
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 3, 2014

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Snowstorms offer an opportunity for contemplation. As with fire, looking at snow fall is a pastime in itself, but is also perfect for long-winded songs in the headphones. Music that isn’t in a hurry.

It can be easy to expect bands to get to the point. Where’s the hook? But A-to-B songwriting like that done by Wry Climate’s Dan Nelson sometimes offers more food for thought. The five songs on his second EP, Radio Tower Pulse, aren’t going to find their way onto your next party mix, but they’re pretty great for staring out the window.

The opening “Comfort Decay” is a 7:18 multi-suite jam that combines elements of Elliott Smith and Phish’s “Silent in the Morning.” It’s dreamy and whimsical, with periods of feedback and distortion as palate cleansers. The vocals, as on most of the record, are heavily reverbed and mixed in the middle of the instruments as with a lot of Jeff Beam’s work, and the results are similar: lyrics that can be hard to make out and a general impression of a somewhat sheepish vocalist.

Nelson leans more shoegazer than Beam’s psychedelia, though, and there are periods where the vocals work well. The low-register repeating phrases that end the first half of “Low Tide” recall Idaho or Red House Painters, that experience of being one dimension sideways of reality. There’s a bookend of Morse code, too, that should cause a positive association if you’re a big Wilco fan.

Like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the songs here feel artfully constructed, even in the middle of drawn-out jams. Every note is there on purpose. There’s even some Nels Cline to the guitar solo halfway through “Storm Jolt (Sky Dissolves)” as part of a dark blues transition. The staccato vocal section that follows a string-pinging open is jagged and jarring and that’s mirrored in the tail of the song with electric guitar riffs that slash over simple acoustic guitar and a bouncing bass from Stu Mahan (whose London Souls, it’s worth mentioning, are a really great live band).

The storm clears and the finish is sunshiney and bright and welcoming, with distorted guitar that’s very musical, which is hard to pull off.

On this and elsewhere, though, things can feel overly manufactured, which is not surprising coming from an artist studying studio composition at SUNY Purchase’s Conservatory of Music. “Rewind the Wind” echoes a phrase like “radio towers blink/Transmissions fall apart and sink” with cycling klaxons like a fire alarm, an audio interpretation of that pulsing light. It’s fun to consider the intent behind each of the layers of sound, but maybe you’ll be overly conscious that each sound seems so intent-filled and earnest.

Are you the type who can sit through a minute-plus of idle sonic wandering, with a digital mouse skittering from channel to channel? Are you down with being reminded of Dr. Who spinning off in his phone booth? Those are are decisions you’ll have to make through the end of “Fire Escape Games,” which calls to mind the central action of Paul Auster’s Leviathan, where everything turns on a simple flirtation gone bad high up the side of a New York apartment building. The open offers nothing but possibility — “illuminate fog with a flickering lantern” — and things get genuinely uplifting around the 2:15 mark, as Noah Cole’s drums urge you to just kind of go with it, but then the slider moves up the board and a drone of nothingness takes over.

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