Almost eight months after the band’s dissolution, it’s still hard for many to wrap their heads around the idea of life in a post-Sonic Youth world. After more than 30 years together, it seemed improbable that anything could come between them. Fortunately, drummer Steve Shelley hasn’t been sitting on his hands since the New York band’s demise. He’s found his way onto no less than five records this year alone, including stints with Chicago’s own Disappears and longtime Sonic Youth bandmate Lee Ranaldo. But perhaps the most surprising and fruitful of Shelley’s post-Youth endeavors has been Spectre Folk. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and Magik Markers frontman Pete Nolan, the band weaves together a countrified blend of psychedelic indie folk, one that sits somewhere between the drugged up, pastoral sounds of the Silver Jews and the languid space-rock of bands like Spacemen 3.
The Ancient Storm, the band’s latest six-song set and follow-up to 2011’s The Blackest Medicine, is an album torn between lengthy, experimental free jams and more restrained folk songs with an ambient, shoegaze twist. The songs are long (“Knife” clocks in at a robust 14 minutes), and their loose structure and meandering nature might try the patience of some listeners more accustomed to two- to three-minute power pop songs. But those with enough patience to hang in there will love getting lost in the haze.
“Inchin’ Worm”‘s splashy, six-minute dose of glassy-eyed dream pop sets the record off on its haggard path, and Nolan’s sleepy, barely there lyrics round out the song’s wayward feel nicely (“My brain’s washed out beneath the stone”). “Mantraphonics”, at 6:51, is an instrumental wrapped in layers of feedback, electronic blips, and sparse piano, while “Please Come Home” makes its way back to more pop friendly territory, meshing the best parts of bands like Yo La Tengo and the Velvet Underground into their own elastic-like brand of sweet guitar drone.
In the end, The Ancient Storm picks up largely where its predecessor left off. Spectre Folk’s brand of spacey, expansive guitar rock isn’t for everybody, but it plays right into the wheelhouse of a more selective audience willing to follow the band and its music on their journey.
Essential tracks: “Please Come Home”