The catchiest and most fully rounded songs on Settlers’s first album Goth Dad—“Point Breeze,” “Cicada Summer,” and the title track—function in a similar fashion: a nifty picked melody works itself out against a background of driving drums and laves of reverb-heavy distortion. This Buffalo group’s songs don’t develop like classical music, repeat like minimalist compositions, or offer the thematic exploitation of pop music; instead, as in the case of “Cicada Summer,” the musical substance (all of which was captured via 4-track in the basement of the Jungle Gym, a house venue on Buffalo’s West Side) is thickened through instrumental addition, and–after it has achieved a surfeit of density–it is meditated upon. Subtraction, rhythmic spacing, or key change is used to free the listener from the nervous excitement induced in the tracks’ more tightly wound moments.
Vocals aren’t vocals in the sense of pronounced lyrical content, but rather like voices carried on breezes; over the course of their journey they’ve somewhat dissipated and it would appear that what the voices are saying is less important than how they’re saying it. On the latter count, there is more than a hint of longing, melancholy, and homesickness; nonetheless, it avoids becoming schmaltz through balance with the music’s ecstatic presentation.
The Los Angeles-based duo No Age provides an obvious comparison (though Goth Dad is closer to the fragmented punk blusters/ambient blossoms of Weirdo Rippers, than the lush pop of Nouns) not only in terms of technique but also in terms of quality of feeling. It’s probably no coincidence the band’s website features a video of a skater (slo-mo, summer day) as visual accompaniment to the songs. The whoosh, clank, and roll rhythm of skateboarding lends a real world similitude to the inner life depicted in Goth Dad.
The tunes, when not moving about frantically,
“. . . as in a wanton freak”,
engage the listener more patiently:
“. . . perhaps to show its black and golden wings
Pausing upon its yellow flutterings.”
As Keats interpreted the schizoid temperament of the goldfinch.
Attempting to decant the significance of the music’s movement into a proposition is a tricky business, but, taking a speculative leap, I’d say the driving emotional force of Settlers is found in the frenzied state of imposing oneself upon experience and taking in as much as possible, in order to make up for that which one is constantly pouring out.
Several tracks (“Sleepy Dan,” “Dirty Eyes,” and “Days Park”) never make it past the gnarly intention present at conception. “Doing Nothing,” another in this mode, may be the most aptly titled song on the album. Meanwhile, the album’s two heavier tracks (“White-Out” and “Dead Kids”) edge into that goth-surf-garage stuff you may remember hearing at the Mohawk Place circa 2000.
At times a somewhat unbalanced first set, but, like other promising first sets, Goth Dad offers an abundance of charm that makes up for any lack in execution.
Review by Shane Meyer