I may be the only person in the world, outside band members and immediate family, who owns two copies of Nature Walk
. I bought the first one at SXSW last year -- actually, a couple of us did -- after almost randomly attending the Fields of Gaffney show. There in the courtyard beneath the stars (and beneath a tent), the band, which included Sebadoh founder Eric Gaffney, Richard Marshall from Alice Donut and Jessica Cowley (Yowza! -- Ed.
) from the Run for Cover Lovers, seemed nearly perfectly balanced between indie-pop and trippy psyche. The record, as I discovered later that night and reaffirmed this week, is much weirder and more wonderful, a luminous starburst of fuzzy, distorted guitars, tremulous harmonies and frantic punk rock energy.
Songs on this second Fields of Gaffney disc range from the ethereally blissful ("Cold Weather") to loose-limbed rockers ("Broke Up" is everything you miss about Sebadoh). Lo-fi raves like "Wanna Be with You" have a slacker sneer that's somewhere between punk snarl and indie cool. There's plenty of distortion and guitar effects -- check the swirling, sucking sound on "Gates of Steel" or the fuzzy churn in "Cold Weather"'s bridge -- but it all seems subsidiary to strong melodies. There's something very traditional underneath all the smoke and haze, a steady Appalachian rhythm that pins down in reality what might otherwise float off on the breeze. Get past the goofy, half-tuned whistling that introduces "Long Journey", for instance, and its lock-step cadence supports a Palace-like traditional melody. It's cracked like an old mirror, antique in its design but nearly cubist in the way it refracts and reflects the light.
The cover choices are all interesting and off-beat -- including hard-to-find Troggs ("Push It Up to Me"), an ultra-melodic take on Devo ("Gates of Steel") and sweet, somehow innocent homage to Daniel Johnston ("I Did Acid with Caroline"). Gaffney's voice, his tripped-out folky arrangements and his childlike lyrics all recall Tyrannosaurus Rex, so it is no surprise when he covers Marc Bolan in "Cosmic Dancer". His version is twangily euphoric -- not glam at all, but a barefoot shuffle through the tall grass.
To my ears, the best song on Nature Walk is "Accelerated", all jangly, down-sloping guitars and interlocking vocal lines. The lyrics don't make much sense -- something about an accelerated Dutch girl -- but the wailing, careering guitars after the bridge, collapsing into a final frenzy, tell you everything you need to know about lust and frustration.
These 12 songs were all recorded on 4-tracks with minimal budget and almost no promotion. It's lo-fi the way it used to be -- not a fashion statement, but a way to make eccentric, personally meaningful music whether anyone wants to hear it or not. If you like trippy psychedelic pop, if you wonder what Sebadoh could have sounded like if they'd never made it big, you need to check out Nature Walk. Ask nicely and I might even lend you a copy. I've got two, you know.