A Deer Bear Wolf field guide
The label's first fest culls Atlanta's experimental scene
The press-shop-magazine-record label hybrid Deer Bear Wolf is still in its infancy, but founder Davy Minor has already crafted a reputation for curating shows that feature a broad swath of Atlanta's sounds. Barely half a year has passed since its inception, and already the label has unveiled releases by Nomen Novum and On Holiday, with more to come from Sealions and Tantrum. With the inaugural Deer Bear Wolf Festival, the label has organized its most ambitious shindig yet. The fest showcases 11 acts that display a mix of drone, trip hop, glitch-pop, and other genre-defying sounds. To better make sense of the diverse lineup, the following is a field guide to five of Deer Bear Wolf Festival's finest acts, which highlight the heart of Atlanta's current crop of experimental music.
No Eyes' latest release, titled //.com, is technically three years old, but it doesn't show any cobwebs. The album's opening track is an intimidating 39 minutes long, yet its ambition is anchored by song writing that is equal parts compelling and peculiar. Each number zigzags from swirling synths that glisten like Christmas tinsel to frenetic drum breaks that come across like an army of jackhammers. The brainchild of Seanny George, No Eyes finds its voice through a fine balancing act of melody and chaos. Oftentimes tracks build calming 8-bit fever dreams supported by the discord of finely chopped percussion. It's an unsettling yet captivating style that never allows listeners to become casual consumers.
Suno Deko, the alias of one-man powerhouse David Courtright, has arguably the most conventional appeal of DBW'S roster, only because he channels a classic sound. His tracks echo the wistful, reverb-drenched pop spearheaded by Deerhunter, but Courtright takes his bedroom pop a few steps further. His latest EP, Thrown Color, gives precedence to soothing loops of strings, synths, guitars, and percussion that repeat like whispered mantras. But his voice clearly stands out as the background wash of instruments propels his voice far into the stratosphere. Courtright's greatest strength is that his song writing never sits still. His compositions are always in flux, injected with enough skill and imagination to explore far beyond the bedroom.
The first sentence of Where.Are.We's bio professes songwriter Christopher Ian Brooker's love of dissection. Like a musical alchemist, Brooker intricately breaks down elements of hip-hop, ambient electronic music, ghostly vocals, and psychedelia into their essential atoms. Out of that genre cookbook he picks his favorite pieces — a slinking guitar line here, a turntable scratch there — until he reconfigures each part into a different beast altogether. His most recent work even gives a playful nod to his artisan songwriting in its title, Engineer's Handbook Vol. 1. It's a sparse four songs, but it's the most accurate snapshot of what Where.Are.We is capable of so far. Even though the end results of Brooker's songs are unclassifiable, they are distinctly his own.
Ethereal four-piece On Holiday has only been around for a little over a year, but the group already sounds like a polished vet by capturing visions of '80s synth-pop bliss and melding it with songwriting that defies conventional pop formulas. On Holiday finds a peaceful middle ground between towering synth arpeggios and easygoing grooves. The group's self-titled debut EP showcases that balance by juxtaposing childlike melodies with anxiety-inducing tension. A standout track, "Tides," evokes wistful melodies, lulling listeners toward dreamland, whereas the EP's closer, "Vignette," blasts off with driving, up-tempo rhythms that keep the group from falling into a fatal complacency.
Experimental trio Narrator rounds out the roster with music that is the quickest to abandon all notions of rhythm, accessibility, and popular convention. The group's angelic drone reaches straight for the heavens with no stops along the way for any terrestrial sounds. The celestial textures woven on Narrator's most recent release, III, sheds the group's penchant for dense layering and leaves ample room for its voices to permeate the songs. Yet the weightless vocals occasionally become tethered to the ground by shrouded percussion on tracks such as "Untitled," which give the illusion of permanence while the remaining layers dissipate into nothingness. Narrator creates a mesmerizing ambiance that soothes without fading into fleeting white noise.