Ever since the epochal '60s run of Bob Dylan, whose groundbreaking literate expressionism was one of the foremost and, to this day, almost unparalleled artistic achievements in the era of recorded music, the archetype of the singer/songwriter has remained in the forefront of western pop music. Because the crafting of the composition is the singer/songwriter's essential vehicle, the vocal can go far into idiosyncratic territory and the musical accompaniment typical of the genre is usually based in skeletal and spare instrumentation. Behind the focus of the song and its mostly intimate, confessional lyrics, there's a tense dichotomy of unhinged emotion and conservative, structured tradition.
In the first two months of 2017, Tucson has seen more than its fair share of local performers working within and beyond the limits of the singer/songwriter. Hank Topless' current album is a brilliant summation of American roots music while Louise Le Hir is mining similar, but more expansive sounds. Casey Golden, whose self-titled debut was reviewed recently in this column, has created what plays as a sort of anthology of variations of the style, and Gabriel Sullivan—returning to a project first explored in 2014—is writing, recording and releasing a song everyday of the year.
This week brings two more distinctive spins on the art of songcraft by two vet Tucson artists, Mark Matos and Bryan Thomas Parker.
Matos usually records with a gaggle of merry pranksters under the name Trans Van Santos and brings down the volume and the mood on his new solo album, California. The record has a tossed off, unrehearsed feel that adds weight to his unusually raw songs, most of which carry the spectral gloom of a dream from which you just woke up from. Tracks like "Fire to Glass" and "Little Wind" are little more than a guitar chord or two and some whispers, but the unadorned and overbearing sense of longing.
Conversely, Parker takes a less desolate, lighter and far more life-affirming stance on his new single, "First World Problems" b/w "Fangs." The very primitive recording fidelity is evident from the first note of "First World Problems" but the uptempo, bouncy rhythm and melodic instrumental flourishes prop up an already strong vocal melody; Thomas is working with explicit pop forms, unlike Matos' slightly inaccessible morbid grandeur. This sensibility becomes more implicit with the reflective, meditative "Fangs," the release's superior song, where Thomas' fuzzy vocal rides atop a swamp of organ drones and guitar flotsam into an evocative and rewarding tribute to the lo-fi indie folk of the '90s.
Mark Matos' release show for California happens Sunday, March 5 on the patio at Che's Lounge, 350 N. 4th Ave. 5 p.m. Free.