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***North Americans—the project of Los Angeles guitarist Patrick McDermott and Portland’s Barry Walker on pedal steel—release their new album Long Cool World.
As North Americans, McDermott has been experimenting with drone and noise and how it can take shape, and then jettison that shape, since 2013’s No_No, but it’s when he embraced his love of fingerpicked guitar and vintage country music on 2018’s Going Steady that he settled on a sound that felt like a genuine melding of his disparate musical interests. 2020’s Roped In was another creative milestone: with Walker and a host of other collaborators, including harpist Mary Lattimore, and guitarist William Tyler, among others, creating a communal, layered approach to each track that felt vital as the world dipped into isolation during a global pandemic. “I knew that for this one I wanted to dial up some of the textures and experimentation,” McDermott says.
In order to do that, Long Cool World strips away most of the musical collaborators, allowing Walker and McDermott to settle on an approach that is at once intricate and simple, creating hypnotic music that loops and layers, with subtle shimmers of noise or quiet psychedelic freakouts hiding beneath McDermott’s unshowy but emotionally affecting guitarwork and Walker’s pedal steel hum. The duo refined their collaborative relationship as well, with McDermott sending isolated guitar tracks to Walker, who then listened to them while on drives and walks around Portland, before going into the studio with only a loose sense of what he wanted to add to them. Eventually McDermott and Walker came together to record the album, giving the whole thing a sort of free-flowing, naturally collaborative feel.
At its core, Long Cool World is a confident album that finds its heart in deceptively simple moments: the pedal steel cascading over McDermott’s strumming on “Think of Me as a Place” or the quiet burst of noise at the midpoint of first single “Classic Water,” or the warm, drunk wobble of album closer “Bad Box,” are all moments that happily exist on the periphery of the core sound of the record, but take center stage the more you listen. “This music is so simple. I just didn’t feel like I needed more, where my instinct previously was to add more whenever it was applicable,” McDermott says.