A lattice-work of acoustic picking is ruptured abruptly by thunder-rumbling electric guitar. A nature journal’s litany of plant-and-animal-life metaphor shifts suddenly into talk of the devil. This second album from Nordic Nomadic explores the interstices of quiet folk and louder psychedelia, of ordinary life and its supernatural undercurrents. Chad Ross, the group’s sole member and a veteran of Deadly Snakes and Quest for Fire, inserts Six Organs-esque drones and Greg Weeks-like acid leads into placid country forms, in a transcendental meditation on the elements of freak folk.
Worldwide Skyline is more densely plotted than 2008’s self-titled debut, its shadowy textures a mesh of multiple acoustic and electric guitars, overdubbed voices, keyboards and drums. The record is quiet, but heavily populated, making it hard to see all the way to the bottom of these tracks through striated, overlapping layers in tone. Hushed vocals lay on top, the most placid and ruminative element of the sound. Prickly strummed and picked acoustic guitars push the tracks forward, sometimes reinforced by actual drums, other times producing their own percussion in the crack and squeak of strings. The violence comes from the electric guitar, low-toned and distorted, muttering and booming like a distant storm. Listen, for instance, to “Growin’ Horns,” as a howl of feedback breaks through precise, sun-dappled webs of acoustic picking, ominous as a bank of black clouds, full of threat and darkness. Or consider the blistered, ravaged series of guitar notes that opens “Worldwide Skyline,” a foray so raw and savage that you don’t quite believe in the better-behaved and more melodic picking that succeeds it.
There are quieter, more peaceful intervals here in the dual guitar-picked “Things You Lost,” the synth and percussion-aided single “Summer Friends.” Yet without the threat of disruption, these songs turn dull. Ross is better at atmosphere than tunes, and his gauziest, least ominous atmospheres don’t have enough weight to them to stick. The good cuts are the dramatic ones, like “Listen to the Leaves,” with its twisting, Chasny-ish riff, its slow-moving Neil Young-like guitar carnage.
Worldwide Skyline is best when it does the most damage, using noise and friction to push through the limits of guitar-based folk experiment. It’s louder and harder than the self-titled and, as a result, more successful. A little threat and ugliness certainly increases the impact.