Sarah Bethe Nelson - Weird Glow - CD
There is a pulsing radiance resonating from Sarah Bethe Nelson’s aptly titled third studio album, Weird Glow. You can hear it right from the first cut. “Desert Song” opens with instantly catchy electric guitar riffs – the ragged old amp distortion almost seems to be growling alongside her gauzy vocals in a beauty-and-beast contrast. There are other passages where her breathy singing recalls moments of bygone 1990s indie rock. The transcendent and catchy “Too Rich” invokes memories of the British C86 sound cross-pollinated with the ethereal dream-pop of the same era. But Weird Glow is hardly an Anglophile’s affair.
Throughout this alluring album, Sarah Bethe’s native California roots vine upward and out toward the sunshine. With its subtle guitar jangle, delicately descending melodies, and romantic lyrics, the title-track taps into veins of yesteryear’s West Coast canyon-rock sound. “Sunspots” is a gorgeous and haunting standout with slowly building layers of sonic textures – it’s a bewitching and romantic dirge that begs to be placed in the love scene of a soundtrack to a cool independent film or new streaming series. If the plot of Stranger Things ever moves into the early ‘90s, this one would feel right at home.
Throughout Weird Glow, Sarah Bethe never succumbs to full blown retrospection, but manages to invite musical ghosts into her recordings for a sublime, spectral sound of warm familiarity. Van Morrison’s “Everyone” haunts “To Be Continued,” while traces of Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” can be heard wafting from “Paralyzed Waltz.”
Where her former recordings involved a larger ensemble, Weird Glow takes a different approach with the sole accompaniment of multi-instrumentalist and longtime bandmate Rusty Miller, making for a more cohesive listen that dodges predictability. There’s an uncanny chemistry between them. In a live setting, they play together with an extra sensory perception in their communication that sounds like they’re reading each other’s musical minds. Miller’s parts garnish Sarah Bethe’s thoughtfully crafted songs with an extra dimension not heard in the tunes of her contemporaries. With this natural confluence, the slow burning groove of “Natural Disaster” somehow manages to balance naked vulnerability with armored confidence, all the while being catchy enough to put on a make-out playlist. She bookends Weird Glow with a smoldering epic – “8th and Hooper” plays for nearly nine minutes, taking the listener on a journey that stretches and winds through the sonic topographies of her musical soul. Vestiges of her former band Prairiedog surface here, laced with lovely guitar leads that dare to braid Ennio Morricone’s classic spaghetti western soundtracks with Galaxie 500’s hypnotic mantras of timeless guitar tones.
— Eric Shea