This Carter Tanton fella is a tricky one. ‘Murderous Joy’, the first cut released from the man’s debut Freeclouds, and the track that opens the record, doesn’t labour under any disguises. It’s mostly straight-up, Byrdsy jangle, massive hooks and bittersweet, hungover sunshine. You think you’ve got the measure of Tanton, until the song ends and ‘Fake Pretend’, featuring dream pop songstress Marissa Nadler, drifts in on fuzzy synths and blisses out all over the place. To look at it another way; Tanton’s currently touring with The War On Drugs, but as soon as that’s over he’s heading out with Colin Huebert’s far more intimate folk collaborative Siskiyou. So, wherefore art thou, Carter Tanton?
A cover of Sparklehorse’s ‘Saturday’, which appears about halfway through Freeclouds, is a decent contextual marker, although perhaps not one that does Tanton any immediate favours. Whether the cover’s similarity in tone and style to Mark Linkous’ original makes it unadventurous or simply reverent is debatable, but either way, it’s perfectly pleasant and certainly presented with the requisite amount of love and respect. The song’s inclusion, however, does make it tempting to cast Tanton in a Sparklehorsey light. Both play around with the tropes of lonesome, farmhouse Americana, marrying traditional acoustics to a more experimental bent, whether it’s Linkous’ layers of static or the variety of squelchy beats that underlay much of Freeclouds. That ‘Saturday’ is followed immediately by ‘Horrorscope’, which cranks the distortion and throws itself scrappily around in a way very similar to Sparklehorse, does nothing to allay the similarities.
That said, it’s completely unfair to weigh up Tanton and Freeclouds with the sainted Linkous on the other side of the scale. Especially since, whilst the two artists are similar in their approaches, results differ wildly. Tanton actually sounds very little like Sparklehorse. ‘Gauze of Song’ comes across exactly as its title suggests, and its central refrain ‘dream, dream, dream, dream all day long’ marries a slackerly laissez-faire and some sonic potsmoke to the usually more confessional strains of countrified acoustica, not entirely dissimilar to War On Drugs alumnus Kurt Vile’s debut full-length, which if you’re looking for a reference point, ain’t a bad one.
I’m aware that I’m recklessly playing the comparisons game, and it should be noted that Tanton and Freeclouds are definitely not without their own individual merit. But all of this is because Freeclouds, the cheeky scamp, likes to play hard to get. It shrouds itself in aural fog, never shouts where it can drawl, and plays some mean genre hopscotch, occasionally looking over its shoulder to grin knowingly at anyone trying to confine it to a few paragraphs. However, if you’re not trying to review the damn thing, Freeclouds can be really great, covering dusty American twang in veils of psychey reverb and electronics that seem distancing at first, but certainly prevent things from becoming too staid.