It's no secret that Dallas is an arts-minded city, one that is welcoming to experimentation and exploration in all its forms. This city's experimental music groups pull from a variety of wells for inspiration, from metal to electronic. When polled local music experts earlier this fall to help set our nominees for this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards, the artists they came up with for the Best Experimental/Noise Acts only reinforced that fact. Regardless of the source of their creativity, each of these bands have a penchant for pushing boundaries, drawing a linear thread through our city's vibrant experimental music scene.
Spearheaded by guitarist/vocalist Nevada Hill with a shifting framework of accompanying musicians, Bludded Head uses mass and volume in the cathartic mode of Sunn 0))), but with a much more condensed (and satisfying) approach to songwriting. This year has been a prolific one for the band, who has released two albums and embarked on two tours since May. Bludded Head owes its conceptual approach to Hill's daughter, Gillian, who not only came up with the band name but creates the song titles and album artwork; her hooded face even graces the cover of the band's most recent release, Reign in Bludd. The resulting three albums (their first, self-titled album was released in 2012) are made even more ominous by the disparity between the band's visuals and sonics: it's up to the listener, not the band, to reconcile the two.
The duo of Alex Velte and Jared Coffey, going by the nom de guerre Cutter, specialize in blown-out electronic music with slight tinges of punk. Imagine watching an old VHS tape of Blade Runner that was recorded over with The Return of the Living Dead; Cutter would be the perfect soundtrack to this mashup of '80s dystopian sci-fi and punk-centric horror. A haze permeates the band's songs, coming as much from the in-the-red synth as from the vocals, which can vary between blissful and manic from song to song. Along with Vulgar Fashion, Hex Cult, and Corporate Park, Cutter is at the forefront of a growing collective of forward-thinking electronic acts within Dallas.
Def Rain's self-titled full-length, released this year on Dallas-based Pour le Corps Records, is the document of a group that isn't afraid to fully explore the parameters of its sound. On tracks like "Only Of," warm synths float above a pulsating, bass-heavy rhythmic line and a delicate, shuffling beat. The group is adept at commingling the ethereal and grimy, the aural equivalent of dragging a halo through a field of mud. And the band's adventurousness is what makes Def Rain such an engaging listen. Def Rain paints a picture with every tone in the color spectrum, creating a prismatic and vibrant sonic landscape.
You never know what to expect when attending an Orgullo Primitivo show. Well, not from the quality of the performance, which is always a veritable clinic in top-notch musicianship, but from the range of instrumentation utilized by one-man powerhouse Stefan González. Drums, vibraphone and amplified coil are just a few of the weapons in González's arsenal, and they're used to bludgeoning, blistering effect on tracks like "Crawl," "Ciudadano" and "She Broke My Feelings." What's surprising (but not completely unexpected given González's pedigree) is the breadth of frequencies and tones he draws out of any given instrument. González both pulls inspiration from and expresses himself through his chosen instrumental palette, fully exploring its sonic potential to explore themes of devastation.
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Don't let Unconscious Collective's striking visual style trick you into thinking that their rich, ritualistic aesthetic comes at the cost of musical substance. Simply put, there's no better display of awe-inspiring musicianship and sophisticated songwriting in Dallas than Unconscious Collective. Take Miles Davis' '70s-era output, move the setting from the inner city of New York to the remote jungle of Conrad's Heart of Darkness and that might begin to describe the band's twisted yet organic take on experimental jazz-rock. This year's transcendent Pleistocene Moon, their second album and released on local label Tofu Carnage Records, is even more engrossing than their first, but thankfully retains the warm, natural production of Dallas' Klearlight Studio.
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