Lay your favourite "desert twang" sounds on me
August 18, 2015 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Reverb. Tremelo. A dusty guitar twanging in the shimmering heat. Somewhere out there, in this endless, lonesome expanse, there's a place for me. Help me find songs and musicians who are searching for the same thing.

Please recommend anything that fits the description, from single songs to an artist's entire output. Guitars are essential; synths are verboten. The simpler the instrumentation, the better.

Bonus points for stuff that isn't from the Americas.

Double bonus points for dub-style percussion styles.

A few names that are in the right sort of space: Ry Cooder, Calexico, Gravenhurst, Tindersticks, The Straight Story soundtrack, Arab Strap, Smog/ Bill Callahan.

posted by ZipRibbons to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
posted by davebush at 6:41 AM on August 18, 2015

An obscure one: there's a guy called Justin Adams (beware, there's more than one Justin Adams attached to country music) who did a whole album called "Desert Road", which has been described as soundtracks to unmade spaghetti westerns. Very echoing and twangy.

Otherwise, Dale Watson?
posted by outlier at 6:42 AM on August 18, 2015

Early Pixies, particularly "Caribou" and "Where is my mind" feel like this to me. Chris Isaac, "Wicked Game" is another obvious one I guess.
posted by crocomancer at 6:53 AM on August 18, 2015

Los Alamos! love this band. lead singer is a gringo living in argentina. they have a great track that recounts the drunk night of a night watchman, but i can't find it right now.

do i still have edit time? yes. check out also alejandro escovedo if you don't know him.
posted by andrewcooke at 7:04 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The best song on the Desperado soundtrack is Six Blade Knife by Dire Straits but some of the rest might fit too.
posted by ftm at 7:06 AM on August 18, 2015

Giant Giant Sand's Tucson
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:13 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tin Hat Trio - Bill
posted by rtha at 7:15 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by monkey closet at 7:17 AM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

John Fahey?

Maybe the guitar instrumentals from the Dead Man Soundtrack by Neil Young?
posted by czytm at 7:21 AM on August 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Living with the Law by Chris Whitley. The whole album.
posted by 4ster at 7:30 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of surf music that overlaps with what you're talking about. One album that comes to mind is Nomad by the Aqua Velvets.
posted by adamrice at 7:32 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you have Calexico then you probably need to get Neko Case in there as well. They're pretty much part of her backing band.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:55 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The 90's electronic outfit A Small, Good Thing made two albums, Slim Westerns and Slim Westerns 2 that might fit the bill. They do use some synths and/or effects, but it's mostly guitars and wide open space. Examples: Saguaro, A Mighty Stillness, Godforsaken.
posted by aubilenon at 7:56 AM on August 18, 2015

Bonus points for stuff that isn't from the Americas.

Whoops I should read the whole question before writing my answer! A Small, Good Thing is British.
posted by aubilenon at 7:58 AM on August 18, 2015

Fallout 2 Soundtrack
posted by kpraslowicz at 7:58 AM on August 18, 2015

U2's The Joshua Tree is basically the idea you're describing as seen through the lens of a bitter Irishman.
posted by mkultra at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2015

Low Desert, by REM, off New Adventures in Hi-Fi
Broken Drum by Beck, off Guero
Don't Cry and El Dorado by Neil Young, off Freedom
Green Arrow by Yo La Tengo, off I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
It's kind of different, but Call the Doctor by Spacemen 3, off The Perfect Prescription is pretty close to a Calexico song.

I'll second the Neko recommendation, but I think Blacklisted has more of what you're looking for with songs like Ghost Wiring and Deep Red Bells.
posted by LionIndex at 8:23 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Handsome Family might be a little country for your taste, but they've got that twangy, expansive atmosphere :)

"Weightless Again" from Through The Trees and "Far From Any Road" from Singing Bones are great songs.
posted by Drosera at 8:30 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some of the tracks from Soulsavers’ album Broken might fit the bill, for example Pharoah’s Chariot or their version of Some Misunderstanding.
posted by misteraitch at 8:40 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Much of Phosphorescent's catalog should be right up your alley. Song for Zula breaks your no synth rule but the spirit seems to be precisely what you're looking for. He did an entire album of Willie covers that strip out the commercial Nashville sound nicely. Los Angeles is very Calexico-esque.

Josh Ritter's Wings and some of his other songs.

Explosions in the Sky

The Renderers are a New Zealand group with a a noise/cowboy feel - A Dream of the Sea may be a little too rock for what you're looking for but is my favorite song of theirs.

Most of Nick Cave's soundtrack work, but especially the Proposition.

Gotan Project's Paris, Texas has an almost dub feel without using electronics. They've worked with Calexico in the past, so check out their other stuff, though it does use some electronics.

Some of Townes Van Zandt's work - it's not guitar driven but You Are Not Needed Now is all about needing to find a place.

Jim White's general catalog but perhaps specifically A Perfect Day To Chase Tornados.

Other artists to check out that I think you'd like but can't chase down songs from right now: Damien Jurado, The Devastations (very Tindersticks crossed with Nick Cave), The Walkabouts (Stuart Staples did an excellent track with them, but their regular output is good too), Califone, some of Bonnie Prince Billy's stuff, some of Mark Lanegan's solo stuff and his work with Isobel Campbell..

It breaks a bunch of your rules, but the KLF's Chillout album makes me think of driving through the American West.
posted by Candleman at 8:41 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Labradford's Mi Media Naranja has the twangy, dusty guitar you're looking for. The album is slow and spare with a lot of open space. There are some maybe-electronic background noises, but those are to add lonely, unsettling texture.
posted by Leontine at 8:47 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Definitely some synths involved but Eno's "In Dark Trees" has always struck me as having that shimmery desert roadish feel.
posted by otio at 9:47 AM on August 18, 2015

Just from taking a look at my Route 66 playlist for what others haven't mentioned yet: Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, and the EP Calexico did with Iron & Wine In the Reins if you don't have it already.
posted by yasaman at 9:50 AM on August 18, 2015

I also thought of Carter Burwell's theme for Raising Arizona.
posted by otio at 9:51 AM on August 18, 2015

Aw crap time for another Spotify playlist isn't it. While I work on slapping that together for this thread, here are some suggestions:

First of all my band (RIP) the Dustys used to get into this region and desert it up a lot.

Second of all: Spindrift. A band so westen they make westerns just to have something to Soundtrack. Man I cannot recommend them enough.

Friends of Dean Martinez, seconded
alejandro escovedo, seconded
Mojave 3, heck yes
Soulsavers, eh not really but Mark Lanegan's solo records heck yes.
Speaking of grunge: Meat Puppets and late era Paw got into this kind of stuff, as does some Supersuckers cowboy records.

Josh Homme has a sideproject called the Desert Sessions. It is gold. Actually just check out this Wikipedia entry on the Palm Desert Scene. Some of these bands are more stoner rock, which is too distorted to be what you're looking for.. but some of them should fit the bill.

The late great Rose Widows makes this kind of desert psych music exclusively, mixed with crazy Satanist lyrics. Not for the faint of butt.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:04 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The late 80s and early 90s was really into the desert.
Wall of Voodoo (has synths but also reverb guitars).
Lone Justice and other cowpunk bands.
Chris Issac, the Cowboy Junkies, Los Lobos, James McMurtry,
John Doe
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:34 AM on August 18, 2015

More in the windswept steel guitar side of things, and not as much the desert twang, but do check out Bruce Kaphan (ex-American Music Club), particularly his gorgeous album Slider.

Also, this fucking astonishing album by Ian Masters (ex-Pale Saints) and pedal steel player David Rothon, recording as Sore and Steal: Many Moons A-Go-Go.
posted by mykescipark at 10:58 AM on August 18, 2015

My first thought was "Dr. Bernice" by Cracker.

My second thought was basically Jason Molina's entire oeuvre, especially Pyramid Electric Co., EX: Long Desert Train, Division Street Girl, title track.
posted by divined by radio at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly theme. I guess the instrumentation isn't super simple but it's pretty canonical for what you're asking about.
posted by kenko at 11:17 AM on August 18, 2015

More Morricone.
posted by kenko at 11:20 AM on August 18, 2015

Rain Tree Crow
posted by svenvog at 11:32 AM on August 18, 2015

Jim White - Still Waters
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:44 AM on August 18, 2015

You, my friend, are looking for Big Lazy.
posted by bink at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out Daniel Lanois' all-instrumental slide guitar based album Belladonna.
posted by mannequito at 12:08 PM on August 18, 2015

Take a crack at the Ennio Morricone soundtracks. Not everything in there will appeal, but it contains both the archetypical Western theme, and the excellent Man with a Harmonica.
posted by sincarne at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2015

The Earth album The Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull is a personal favorite. Huge, desolate country sound.
posted by Shovelshark at 1:13 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

You know what? I'll tell you what. The Heavenly Music Corporation.
posted by kenko at 1:23 PM on August 18, 2015

“Big Log”—Robert Plant, 1983
posted by ob1quixote at 1:25 PM on August 18, 2015

posted by St. Sorryass at 1:49 PM on August 18, 2015

Canyon. Definitely Canyon.

Wheat Penny
Yellow Tape

Both of their albums are linked in those vids as playlists. Much recommended!
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:53 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Earth album The Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull is a personal favorite. Huge, desolate country sound.

And on a related note, there's Gold by Drcarlsonalbion, AKA Earth band leader Dylan Carlson. Twenty instrumental pieces written as a soundtrack to a German western, and in a similar vein to that Earth record, evocative of the same desolation.
posted by macdara at 2:00 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dave Alvin: King of California
posted by polecat at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Josh Ritter's cover of John Prine's Mexican Home.

Speaking of John Prine, Angel From Montgomery (with Bonnie Raitt).
posted by catoclock at 7:04 PM on August 18, 2015

Ry Cooder's soundtrack for Last Man Standing.
posted by Chitownfats at 7:15 PM on August 18, 2015

Look at blues from Mali. E.g.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:27 AM on August 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

An album to look for, The Rough Guide to Desert Blues. It's on Apple Music.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:29 AM on August 19, 2015

Thanks everyone for your suggestions. I'm working my way through every single one of them — yes, even the U2 recommendation. It's a very nice way to spend what's turning out to be a couple of days.

So far there has been lots of good stuff, some nice reminders (how could I have forgotten Friends of Dean Martinez? And LaBradford?), and a few slices of pure perfection (Earth, Drcarlsonalbion, and the stuff from Mali).

Keep em coming if you think of any more — seems like I like it as desolate as possible...
posted by ZipRibbons at 10:58 AM on August 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, that stuff from Mali has been an influence on Ry Cooder.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:31 PM on August 19, 2015

Here's a playlist on Spotify of all the non-silly suggestions itt, plus a few more things I remembered:

Black Heart Procession
Angels of Light
Link Wray
Bloodshot Bill
Haunted George
Yume Bitsu
The For Carnation
Wooden Shjips
Duane Eddy
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:59 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sterling work, Potomac Avenue — you're a wonderful person.

Listening now...
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:35 PM on August 20, 2015

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