By: Annie Rew Shaw
Carter Tanton | bandcamp |
There are some albums designed to be listened to when you’re on a journey. I now look forward to the long train trips home because they give me time to fully immerse myself in a new record – physically moving with each track and gazing out of the window at the ever-changing landscape flying past. From the first twenty seconds of Jettison the Valley, Carter Tanton’s debut LP, I knew this would be that kind of record. It’s easy-going, laid back vibe instantly drew me in, as did Tanton’s voice with its effortless purity and lazy inflections.
Opening track and first single, ‘Twenty-Nine Palms’, welcomes it’s listener with confessional lyrics, ghostly backing vocals from the wonderful Sharon van Etten and a crafted arrangement that builds as the song becomes more confident with its direction. Gentle, driving rhythm support the spacious soundscape while the vocalists chorus “Covered every inch of the seven seas / Feeling blue like Joshua trees”. The track paints images of deserts, fields, oceans; any expansive landscape you can think of. It makes you want to run right into it.
The album, which Tanton says “was written in one long sitting, each song feeding the next”, is a rich body of work, providing the listener with a feast of influences and moods. He wrote it in the UK – caught between a small town outside of Bristol, where he lived in a caravan with his girlfriend, and then later in an attic apartment on a hill in Oxford. Moving through the world is inspiration for any artist, let alone leaving America after 30 years to find yourself in a sleepy English town and watching your relationship falling apart.
Carter Tanton’s voice, to me, is up there with the likes of Elliot Smith – it’s whispered, double-tracked harmonies and underlying gravel gives character to his delicate, poetic lyrics. Listen to The Long Goodbye – “How long now / Must I fumble in the dark with my fading dreams” – its melancholic words lamenting a dying love, sung with delicacy and care.
As a songwriter myself, I find myself greatly admiring the craftsmanship throughout this album. Nothing’s too predictable, everything’s got an essence of coolness without becoming arrogant and each track comes into its own. Tanton has no shortage of talented, artistic friends. Yet, despite his connections to The War on Drugs, Strands of Oak and Marissa Nadler, he has carved out his own identity and sound. Nadler contributes lead vocals on the title track, her drawling, delicate voice matching Tanton’s perfectly.
Country roots shine through on this album, but are subtlety choreographed so as not to overthrow the writing. The occasional pedal steel rings through tracks like ‘Fresh Faced Claire’ and ‘Diamonds in the Mine’, resonating beautifully. Tanton’s cursive tone and vocal inflections also casually nod to his heritage. A flirtation with more experimental sounds – the occasional synth and driving percussion – also ensures it stands out from the ‘guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar’ crowd.
Jettison the Valley is a beautiful concoction of whimsical, acoustic songs, haunting voices and arrangements that echo and reverberate long after the journey has ended.