Keep on Moving: A New Album Gallups into Town

The Horse Eyed Men’s Uncanny Valley – More Human than Human

The Horse-Eyed Men, Providence’s pioneering alt-folk duo consisting of brothers Dylan and Noah Harley, are back with The Uncanny Valley, their first full-length in four years. The group is known for their stripped-down live act featuring plenty of witty brotherly banter, which may seem at odds with such a polished and intricate album.

As an academic term, The Uncanny Valley refers to the point where a human likeness becomes real enough to elicit a feeling of disgust. The sensation is different for everybody, but that infamously unsettling Tom Hanks Polar Express film is a good reference for most people.

The album was recorded over six weeks in 2015 in Berlin, and the name partly ties into the production process. “Making this record was not an entirely positive experience for multiple reasons, and I thought the Uncanny Valley was a good way to look at the place we had gotten ourselves into, which was way over our heads,” said Noah. “Unlike with our last record, most of these songs were born out of a lot of experimentation and failure in the studio, and that was pretty trying at times.”

It’s almost a rock and roll cliché: A band is holed up an exotic location recording under duress, and out of the strife comes a great piece of art. But this album’s exquisite instrumentation, production and songwriting make it worthy of at least a small bit of mythology. Compared to their debut Grave Country’s subdued country sound, Uncanny Valley tills new ground that is at times melancholy, jazzy or even spaghetti western. Through that fractured landscape comes a cohesive record that is both poignant and entertaining.

“Masters of Money” is a funked-out barn-burner dripping with organ and bari sax, and “Time the Hunter” alternates between jungle beat choruses and jaunty refrains. The record’s lush orchestration, featuring instruments like vibraphones and clarinet, is reminiscent of The Band, building great arrangements from simple foundations.

“Yellow Horses, Green River” is truer to the folk sound, and spins a yarn about yearning: “Tell myself I’m someone else and convince him that he’s me / The sweetest song ever sung was a caged bird feeling free.” Uncanny Valley reminds me of those beautifully eclectic Camper Van Beethoven records in the ’80s, with their ability to slip into other genres, but always remaining true to their own perspective, even with cover or instrumental songs.

In an age of roots revival, many people’s idea of folk music history begins with Bob Dylan. HEM digs into the traditional American music catalog and reimagines the material in their own way. “Hills of Mexico” is public domain song, and usually an upbeat banjo number. HEM turn it on its head to become a minor-key foot-stomper, bringing to mind a barren countryside. “Hello Stranger” is another traditional tune originally performed by The Carter Family. Theirs is a laid-back version, with dual lead vocals with Spirit Family Reunion’s Maggie Carson.

“Our Dad [acclaimed singer and storyteller Bill Harley] played a lot of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie. I became enamored with the Appalachian sound, and sought out the generations of musicians before those guys,” said Noah. “I was also inspired by the aesthetic of early American music — kind of a DIY, ‘making music by your own means’ kind of deal.”

It’s also interesting to see the Harley brothers’ different sensibilities on display. Dylan’s songs on the album are ethereal ballads with more cryptic messages that provide a change of pace. In a nod to the album’s title, “Living in a Hologram,” is an orchestral, psychedelic song that touches on the ever-changing ways we view the world:  “Disintegrate and disavow / I have no use for science now….biology’s a golden cow / a silent crutch, a final bow.”

“I was trying to explore the psycho-spiritual realm we physically live in, and how our interpretation of the world can be like a hologram,” said Dylan. “We don’t know what we’re moving toward, but hopefully it’s toward something good, or at least different.”

Uncanny Valley presents a dramatic musical panorama and shows a band striving for more.

WHEM have also had a successful year-plus run of their WHEM fake radio shows at the Columbus Theatre, which have featured incredible musical performances, cooking demonstrations and raffles. The next broadcast takes place August 2 at 8pm, and it will be a record release party, with HEM playing the album with a five-piece band.

The album can be purchased at: horseyedmen.bandcamp.com/album/the-uncanny-valley

Nova ONE – Secret Princess

Another notable local summer release came this June with Nova One’s Secret Princess EP. It’s the latest project from Roz Raskin, now flying solo after the dissolution of Roz and the Rice Cakes. The EP shows a different side of Raskin, trading in odd time signatures for simple chord progressions and catchy hooks.

“if you were mine” and “where you are” have a wistful, doo-wop sound out of the ’50s. The highlight for me is “Chores,” a slow, emotional number with haunting harmonies.

The effective change to a more direct approach is pretty impressive, especially considering she sang all the parts and played most of the instruments herself. Secret Princess is worth a spin, and proof that we can expect cool stuff from Roz in the future.

Nova One will perform at Burnside Park Aug 30; Secret Princess can be purchased at: shop.communityrecords.org/products/615764-nova-one-secret-princess-lp-cs

Shows of Note

The Sword – The Met, Aug 7

I don’t often foray into metal, but when I do, I tend to go for the stoner/doom variety. I’ve always relied on The Sword for heavy riffs and the right amount of hooks and production. I consider it marketable doom for the metalhead who perhaps likes a good polo shirt now and then. The Sword are touring on their latest, Used Future, which is a major departure and downright jammy at points, but I still go back to stone cold classics Apocryphon or Gods of the Earth.

Flaming Lips – The Strand, Aug 22

Not sure what their current tour stage setup is, but I saw FL at Lupo’s when I was in college, and from what I remember it was like parking a Mack truck in a garden shed. They had tons of dancers at either side of the stage, with a ton of confetti and giant balloons. I can’t say I’ve been crazy about all their music in the last decade, but they won’t disappoint live.

Anthrax | Testament – The Strand August 2nd

Also hitting the the Strand tomorrow are thrash Anthrax and Testament, two of the original thrash metal bands of the 1980s. Your chance to see Joey BellaDonna and Scott Ian in the flesh. Local group Churchburn open the show.

 

Also check out the perennially-cool Foo Fest, with art, music, and all the other dope shit you’d expect from AS220. Headliners this year are rapper Rah Digga and experimental cult rock favorites Pere Ubu.

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