Andy Latham is a home recordist who also works for the Shure microphone company, as well as running his own company called Blue Dinosaur Electronics, which makes guitar pedals and other equipment. A solo recording artist based in Chicago, Latham states that this collection was “inspired by the sounds of Chicago and the ramblings of good friends.” An earlier album from 2016 was reviewed here on Divide and Conquer.
Given Latham’s background, you might expect music that reflects super clean mic technique, but Latham is a huge fan of Sonic Youth, and their influence looms large in his saturated and sometimes off-balance songs. He also cites Wilco, The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys and especially Spoon as avatars. He sings and plays everything including guitars, bass, keys and drums. Unusually for a one man band, he doesn’t appear to use a click track. The beats within his songs are never hard and fast, but instead slide around with a clearly human element. He also pins the volume needle throughout, which tends to flatten out the instruments when mastered. I find both these tendencies refreshing, though perhaps not in every instance.
Vocally, like many home artists, Latham sounds much like a regular guy, and his singing tends to be declamatory and at times even nerdy, like an early artist on MTV. Instrumentally he shines most on the guitar tracks. Latham recorded to Reaper using a variety of microphones and plug-ins. Mastering was performed by another Shure alumnus named Matt Engstrom.
“You Are Such an Alien Light” opens the album with a slow gathering of all Latham’s instruments, kind of stretching their legs before launching into a mellow space rock tune with a Radiohead vibe. Right away, Latham’s melodies and chords are jangly and compelling, yet with a feeling that the structure could fall apart at any moment. Appropriately for this song, his singing has an alien, Gary Numan feel.
“The Void” is a delightful construct based on 7th chords and another stark vocal performance, again reminiscent of the android-y ’80s groups. It sounds like Latham may have used the trick of recording his guitar both through an amplifier and with a microphone aimed at his strings, which adds great character to the guitar. Love the off-kilter but too short lead solo toward the end.
“Deep as the Drum Machine” is an interesting idea, using a drum machine beat both as tempo and as a “character” in the song. That said, the drum machine is (purposely?) sometimes out of tempo with the main instruments. “Out of the Rain” features fine, grungy guitar melodies and a cool trebly middle section with nicely controlled feedback. An example of his other worldly lyrics: “Over the landscape bring yer heartache while we jump the planet / We're falling backwards with the birds that caught the rocket granite / I’d like to burn up in the atmosphere in just a t-shirt / Out of the rain and into the dirt.”
“Radio Blue” slows things down for a mellotron-heavy song that recalls “Strawberry Fields” Beatles. I love when the song suddenly kicks into higher gear like Blue Oyster Cult. “Heart of Fool’s Gold” is a full-on dreamrock tune with a somewhat tighter structure, perhaps because this is one of three songs written for other artists. Sonically Latham saturates the “tape” yet again, which is probably a stylistic choice. “Strange Lines” at first feels almost acoustic with a compellingly dark, chaotic chorus.
Though his influences don’t really point this way, I’d most recommend Latham’s album to fans of ’80s electronic rock, but also to anyone seriously interested in homemade indie music with a tough edge.
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