If David Lynch wasn’t busy making his own music, he could probably be a member of Gauntlet Hair. Since their high school days, the Denver-based duo of Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice has been marrying suffocating, Animal Collective-style psychedelia with irreverent, Americana-steeped noise rock. On its surface, the band’s music is as benign as any lo-fi suburban punk-pop, but like a Lynchian odyssey, digging below the veneer of normalcy reveals a whole lot of strange goings-on: dissonant guitars, atonal harmonies, unpredictable key changes, rambling interludes, and a dark, disquieting strain of surrealism bubbling up at irregular intervals. It’s ultimately a messy, conflicting mix of structure and clutter that, when it clicks, can result in some rather stunning and primal music.
Nice and Rauworth’s sophomore effort, Stills, acts as a kind of testing ground for new and even odder quirks, allowing the pair to further indulge in their hypnagogic fetishes while exploring the artistic possibilities of their half-stoner, half-industrial rock hybrid. The return on their experimentation varies wildly, providing high points such as the churning single “Human Nature” (which somehow manages to make the ever-present, high-pitched wail that drones on in the background seem almost pop-friendly) as well as forgettable diversions like “Obey Me,” a swampy cut of piano distortion and mumbled vocals.
Of course, with Gauntlet Hair’s abrupt mood swings, a miss can often become a hit in midstream. “Waste Your Art” is a thrashing, one-note screed until its two-minute mark, at which point its aimless cacophony dissolves into a gorgeous cascade of dripping, warped chimes and archaic-sounding guitar peels. “Simple” is half Autoamerican-era Blondie and half eroded funk jam, but works wonderfully all the same, its guitars and bass parts braying like tinny horns as Rauworth’s voice droops depressingly in mid-chorus. By the time the second half of “G.I.D.” starts melting into a spiral of pitch-shifted ambulance sirens and loose, jangling percussion, it’s clear that Gauntlet Hair are taking their cues from the Battles school of production, reveling in the macabre, trippy imagery that their devil-may-care performances conjure. Marred by a lack of discipline, but bursting with a deliciously bleak, psychotropic allure, Stills’s capricious spirit is ultimately its greatest strength and its most glaring fault.