By JENNIFER KELLY
Fast-Moving Clouds wraps Sarah Bethe Nelson’s soft, lulling voice with shimmering West Coast garage psych. Its songs float like cumulus clouds around you, luminous, indefinite and shot through with sunshine, and yet, for all that soothing edgeless-ness, there’s a sharp core to most of these songs, as Nelson sings about shaking off a bad relationship and reclaiming her autonomy.
A lot of these songs – “Black Telephone” and “Snake Shake” most prominently — might very well have started as guitar-and-voice blues tunes, and there’s still a raw ache behind the glow. But Nelson, who has convened a very strong band for this album, expands these songs into swirling girl-group pop confections. You can hear her producer, Kelley Stoltz, in the way that fuzz guitar saws through the dreamy drift of “Impossible Love.” “Start Somewhere” is likewise, opened up with a cocky cowbell beat, layered voices and a glorious multi-tracked guitar interval near the end, where a picked electric lead slices through bead curtains of diffuse strumming. Stoltz himself and bandmates Rusty Miller and Jamin Barton, as well as King Tuff’s Garett Goddard and James King from Magic Trick all sit in at various times, lending this album an unmistakable SF garage-y glow.
The critical track is paying, where Nelson sounds most like Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and her instrumental backing turns most atmospherically moody. The song has a lovely, rueful, smiling through tears kind of feel. It is the kind of soft, slow anti-love ballad that you want to play at 3 in the morning, when you finally realize he’s not worth it after all. And yet, for all its balm and salve, the song has a bite. This is the one, after all, where Nelson cuts the dude off, not just from sex but from free drinks at her bar. “This is the last time I’ll be putting your drinks on the house. Cos you’ll be paying starting right now,” she sings, and it’s a strong moment, even couched as it is in her feathery, unabrasive murmur.
The contrast between the style and the subject matter is so arresting that you kind of wonder what will happen on the next record when Nelson is, perhaps, not mad anymore. Will it dissolve into soup? And here, we ought to look at one of the last songs on the album and also the most beautiful, “Every Other Sunday.” Here the vitriol disappears, and Nelson croons “There is all this light I can’t see” against a foggy haze of good feeling. It is just as good, just as enveloping as the prickly songs, and a sign that Nelson doesn’t need to suffer to be arresting.
DOWNLOAD: “Paying” “Every Other Sunday”