Carter Tanton: Birds and Rain
Singer/songwriter Carter Tanton is only in his mid-20s, but he sounds like he’s spent two decades living paycheck to paycheck, smoking butts leftover in the ashtray, and always doing things he has second thoughts about the next day. No idea if he’s ever spent any time with the albums of Red Red Meat or Railroad Jerk, but that’s the sort of noisy, bluesy, and boozy guitar anti-rock he smelts on Birds and Rain, a collection of Tanton’s self-recorded songs from the past three years.
Everything about the songs sounds straightforward barroom rocker at first. An acoustic guitar strum and Tanton’s trebly, insistent voice kick off “Queen,” a simple march beat marking the pulse of this typical song to the girl who’s the “queen of my sky.” Very quickly, though, layers of distorted guitar, feedback loops, and glitched-out rhythm tracks are dropped over the basic melody, abstracting a simple song like thick swathes of paint on a George Auerbach portrait and just as roughly hewn.
Almost every one of Birds’ 11 tracks withstands a similarly spirited reworking midsong. “Eloquence” starts off like just about any other upbeat, guitar-driven country-rock song from 1972 to the present, and then, a minute and a half into it, Tanton overlays a series of guitars, turning the song into a dizzying latticework of combating guitar filigree. Even his lone cover—Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire,” which nicely complements the emotional terrain of Tanton’s lyrics—begins like a fiery interpretation and gets turned inside out before it’s through. The overall effect turns the usual bombastic attitude of guitar rock in on itself. And while the technique is merely a neat trick right now, some of Tanton’s songs—especially the baroque electric folk of “Elvis Girl”—suggest a songwriting talent still figuring out how best to pitch its worldview.