James Ivey is a visual artist who works mostly in oils. However when he is working under his musical moniker the dirty sun, James Ivey works with everything from analog synths to more high-tech plug-ins like Soundtoys and Glitchmachines. The effects of these various analog and digital machines which Ivey employs to create his mélange of music often have the same esthetic on the ears as oils do on the eyes.
James Ivey’s foray into the music business began at a young age. Ivey grew up with a musician father who played in the Nashville music scene, so music was in his blood and his life from the very start. But it wasn’t the Nashville scene, which made Ivey want to pursue music. As he tells it, Ivey decided to start a band after seeing The Clash play live. He then spent a good chunk of the ‘80s playing in various punk rock bands in Houston Texas. Ivey even had a bit of success later on with a gloom-punk band Premonition, which he founded and which went on to have some minor successes, and releasing a self-titled album on the indie label Siren Records.
On his latest self-titled release the dirty sun, one still hears echoes of those old punk rock and hardcore days. Many of the vocal tracks, if snarls and screams muffled by found sounds and synthesizers can be classified as vocals, are akin to the release of the pent up rage and aggression, which helps to define the punk and hardcore genres.
What really makes many of the finest tracks on the dirty sun stand out are the stringed instruments that Ivey rotates into the mix. Among them are jazz bass, '72 Telecaster, and a '65 Jazzmaster. They help to give much of the dirty sun its often shoegaze-y feel. They stand out on tracks like the raucously rocking “tiger” which has a bluesy guitar riff, layered over bouncy tom beats. Then there’s the dark and sonic booms of “thin white lines” that recall bands like My Bloody Valentine.
There are times on the dirty sun when the machines take over, like on the tracks “nowhere tomorrow,” “strategy against drifting away” and the slightly clubby “bright brown.” It is here where I lose interest in the songs, if only because they don’t offer the same rewards I get when listening to the more guitar heavy tracks, which is where Ivey really shines on the dirty sun. Albeit for someone with more patience for ambient noise rock than I have would likely really dig on many of these songs.
What is truly remarkable about the dirty sun is that it is an album made by a multifaceted artist working well into a long career. The fact that Ivey has challenged himself to take on and explore new genres speaks very highly of him as an artist. I can think of countless artists and musicians who year after year continue to put out material that sounds not very far removed from their previous efforts, because they know that it’s a safe bet. From what I’ve heard so far from the dirty sun, it doesn’t sound as though Ivey has any plans to play it safe any time soon.
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