Sundown. A nectar burn in the sky oozes the day out of sight. Creamy loops stay outside, left in the sun so as to feel incredibly warm, without taking their place on the backyard barbeque; they sizzle nicely under the cool halogen lights. Vanilla skies turn to pink, painting the horizon in a fond adieu before her brief vacation, singing with what is Squanto’s sweet serenade.
These melodies peel back the notion of American arcadia, of contentment within the suburban paintwork that is starting to fade with time, like that of a painted fence losing its sheen or a scraped gate that could do with a new lick. Squanto’s music is deeply reminiscent of the old, traditional sound of America, but it is also contemporary in its content, preferring to go underneath and beyond the gate instead of passing it by. The breath of music reflects the grainy evening light, perceptible in the dim like a thousand flies circling in the humid air. That scorching summer heat, particularly prevalent in July, bleeds into the evening, and although respite is offered in the dropping temperatures of dusk, during the day it can get so hot and humid it becomes difficult to breathe, sweat sticking to your t-shirt. like it was a BFF.
Music lets us take a peek into the suburban, American neighbourhoods that on the surface are living out the idyllic, star-struck banner of freedom and bravery, courtesy of The American Dream (copyright claimed). But, when you dig a little deeper, you find yourself uncovering streets that are full of secrets; a little more like Twin Peaks and a little less like Desperate Housewives. All may seem well on the surface. Xbox consoles light up the rooms, the inner fan heaving itself into overdrive as the sound of warfare echoes through a high, open window. An immense catfight takes place somewhere in a nearby alleyway, just as epic as the team death-match. Television screens broadcast the latest traumatic events as if it were ESPN’s daily highlight reel. Healthy trees line the sides of the sidewalks, through leafy, shaded suburbs that were inspired by Squanto’s aimless walks in the dark around familiar neighbourhoods; places that we know like the backs of our hands (or, at least, areas we should know), but ones that change slightly as the evening develops. It’s the colour of a diluted pearl that, when raised to the light, exposes the prismatic rainbow. Through the sound of the latest sitcom, the canned laughter, the scent of dinner and the chirping crickets out in the backyard comes the sound of an acoustic guitar, a heroic stand for harmony against the tranquil, natural noise of suburbia.
Squanto’s music can be heard floating through the dense traffic of downtown dissonance, and is similar in feel to the local locality; his guitar melodies are folk-influenced but not entirely placed in the genre, as cosy and as warm as an evening spent hanging out with friends, on a street where everyone knows everyone else and everyone knows your name. New Yorker Ben Lovell’s vocals are distinct and peppered with original authenticity, and the explosions of fiery noise and static leave clouds of ash in the dusk, like psychedelic cinders popping off the grill of a flaming BBQ. Acoustic guitars might sound like familiar voices, but in Squanto’s neighbourhood, static blades are unleashed, sending up black shards of dirt on the asphalt, uncovering cracks in the street – cracks in suburbia.
Squanto takes us on a bicycle ride over stone-cobbled paths, through secret places that live outside of the backyard. Beyond this lies a forest thick with sizable, healthy trees in their prime, and white, thin fingers of light filtering through the gaps in the treeline. The acoustic guitar is at home here, rich with its wooden timbre; her fretboard may have been born from this very collective. The distortion grinds through the gears, picking up speed as the harmony cycles beside the wheels. Doubling up on vocals beside the lovely, finger plucked chord progressions, Squanto’s sound is unique in a genre that could very quickly sound generic, stale or cliched. Then again, this isn’t folk music as you know it. It might be better phrased as ‘outsider-folk’, where melodies can succumb to a harsh level of noise in a second, with such a high level of static you may think that Slenderman is close at hand, tentacles squirming just feet away. It becomes engulfing, but it doesn’t completely strangle the original guitar tone. Even the sharp, pointed teeth and the roar of distortion contains a beautiful harmony, placed at the forefront like glistening white fangs…the neighbour’s sign says ‘Beware of the Dog’, but that’s no dog.
Fragile, sun-kissed melodies cool themselves down but retain their translucent auroras, like a shimmering light illuminating the leaves, pouring their constant, healthy light into the leaf as it sways in the evening air. Lyrically, Squanto has a lot to say, without writing anything close to a thesis that’s due in for school the next day. And yet, his music is a report on American life. Teenage dates, quick heartbreak and street drama are the order of the day. Natural vines creep over the facades, covering the porches as the notes crawl over the surface of the music. Note after overlapping note, the guitar melodies leave a trace-trail that drapes itself over the front of the music. Repetitive harmonies are the prime factor, her musical face. These harmonies are devoured by an intake of noise, so loud that they are able to obscure the whine of jet engines as they fly overhead. The static could be from a 777 itself. Muted police sirens lurk on the street corners, lights flashing with a brilliant red and blue, draping the American flag over the house in a repetitive loop of colour, and where officers in dark uniforms escort people out of the latest crime scene, to be broadcast later on that evening. All is not as it seems in suburbia.
‘Heave’ is, on the other hand, a guitar-free track, reflecting the calm of a Saturday morning in July, with birdsong tweeting through the branches, and a soft-skinned loop a kind company. It drifts peacefully, fluctuating like shimmers of heat above the concrete. Distant distorted blades begin to rise to the fore, almost ruining the potential for a lie-in, as if a lawnmower is in full swing somewhere down the street at the un-Godly hour of 8a.m. Later on, an organ somehow survives the rush of static, in a secret case of unsuspected domestic violence. Squanto’s dynamic use can, and is, brutal. It hides the violence behind a smile, bad intentions behind green eyes and beyond closed doors; a literal stab in the back. For the majority though, it is a peaceful ride, where the existence of harmony is the only scent of paradise, on a block that can’t totally remember her beliefs or what she stood for, veering off-course from the American Way as the police lights drape the new banner.