She’s a familiar face around the Philly scene, though you’re probably used to seeing Casey Bell behind the drum kit – whether it be in punk-informed power trio Break It Up or the jangley dream-pop outfit Myrrias. On her new solo LP, Dog Barking at the Moon – fittingly released as a free download yesterday, on the eve of a lunar eclipse – Bell takes up a guitar and vocal mic for a stirring and serene solo debut.
The ten-track album is reminiscent of any number of indie torch-bearers; minimal NYC four-piece Ida, the quieter moments of the Yo La Tengo catalog, the expansive meditation of American Analog Set. Traces of that last band in particular show up on “Tuatola,” which is built around wandering high-string arpeggios and pulsing drums. Lyrically, the album is about contemplation and companionship – “Twin Telescope” incorporates twanging bottleneck slide played by Bell’s partner (and bandmate in Break it Up) Daniel Morse, and it sets a bittersweet tone as she sings “Drive your car to the bottom of the darkest canyon / all I want to do is get lost with you.”
On “Bodyhead,” Bell’s focus is herself, and with solitary acoustic blues plucking and tastefully-incorporated double vocal track (think Elliott Smith’s self-titled album), she sings the mysterious couplet “All I need is oxygen / so I can feel my feet beneath me again.” As it builds with hammer-ons and swift strums, the song becomes all the more haunting.
“Pearl Diver” is the most lively of the batch, with a swift drumbeat and a vocal melody reminiscent of Kristen Hersh of Throwing Muses. This serves as a bit of a wake-up in the last act of the album – points like “Fixed Face” are lovely, but almost too hushed. But it comes back together for the ending note, which is ambiguous and mysterious and compelling as the whole set.
It’s a lo-fi cover of “Happy Together” by The Turtles, and Bell spins it into a dark and somewhat demented minor key dirge; there’s abundant tape hiss, the recording is clipped to distortion, and her delivery is gritty and deadpan. Is this 60s sunshine pop hit actually a desperate chronicle of obsession? Or is it truly romantic, albeit a flipside of romance? A question to ponder as you listen to Dog Barking at the Moon below.
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