Nan Turner – Leg Out

Nan Turner
Leg Out

Formerly a go-word (or go-acronym, if you will) tied onto just about anything associated with independent music, the letters “D,” “I,” and “Y” have almost faded out of currency among today’s indie rockers. Once a necessity for bands with nothing to offer but audacity, energy, and the willingness to express the convergence of these elements in public, now even moderate successes among independent artists have a roadie, tour manager, or sound tech. Of course, this much was an inevitability, as when indie rock became profitable it was only natural to have experts in the realm of production and promotions take over to maximize commercial impact. In short, the Ian MacKaye’s of the world are growing increasingly scarce, and there just aren’t that many bands that are going to small talk at the merch table and load up the van after a gig. And while the current gatekeepers of the anti-folk movement can occasionally confuse for their lack of a clear artistic agenda, with the honorable Major Matt Mason USA and his Olive Juice coterie holding down the front lines, it makes up for any apparent inscrutability with its extreme self-reliance and pioneer spirit. You want DIY, look no further than Nan Turner.
A former member of Bionic Finger and current half of the food-obsessed, quirk-pop duo Schwervon with Major Matt himself, Turner is an obvious choice for the Olive Juice family to pop out a solo album, as her distinctively inviting chirp and tuneful arrangements offer considerably more songcraft and less navel-gazing than her contemporaries. Obviously a labor of love, from the pictures of her cat that dot the back cover, Leg Out reeks of sincerity and shy charm. Augmented by the ever-present Major Matt on guitar and keys, the bulk of the music is produced by Turner herself. And where many solo projects lack distinction, largely because the artist making the album is still trying to find her musical identity away from those she has collaborated with, Turner suffers from no such difficulties.
More contemplative and texturally chilly than much of her previous work, here Turner trades the silliness of Schwervon for a more serious and sullen set of songs. The darkly strummed electric guitar chords of the opening “Work Song,” an autobiographical slab of occupational ennui with spoken word parts mingling with her lonesome high croon over snappy drums, approaches a similar dour alienation as that found on Beck’s earliest 4-track recordings, the song triumphing for its stolid mood construction as much as its blunted sonic underpinning. The meditative “Farms & Landlines,” seemingly a Lou Reed-ish tribute to New York City, maintains the mood with heavily strummed guitar reverb caressing the song’s hymn-like verses. Still, Turner isn’t one to get stuck in one conceptual gear.
The bouncy “Big Bad Wolf,” a twee mixing of twinkling vibes, somewhat dissonant guitar, and Turner’s sexy coo adds levity to the set, just as the snarky hook and slacker escapism of “Bad Manners,” with soft verses giving way to an irresistible lo-fi stomp, adds wistful amusement. “Stuck,” the plaintive standout of the set, is similarly escapist, with the narrator indulging in dreams of running away from her life to find a new one, nearly getting caught in a tangle of lamenting electric guitar lines and lush multi-tracked harmonies. With only five songs running a scant 19 and 1/2 minutes, this release would probably be more accurately referred to as an EP or mini-album, but as Turner manages to come full circle in that amount of time, the album succeeds in creating a complete statement.
All this isn’t to say that the DIY route is the saving grace of all art, making execution and innovation irrelevant as long as said artist doesn’t have a Diet Coke banner hanging behind his Marshall stack. Such prurient concerns easily become dogma and mean little or nothing in the actual quality of artistic statement. But it is nice to see an artist who is listed as the driving force behind nearly all of the facets of her album, from the font that spells out the song titles to the glowing thanks to her friends in the liner notes, the album is personalized with the intricate engraving of an artist who sincerely seems to enjoy crossing every “t” and dotting every “i.” So much more than empty self-disclosure, her songwriting is the expression of a singularly sincere talent, engaging in the classic process of using music as a therapist and diversion, allowing her listener to engage in the process of reading a chapter of her life. Everything has her fingerprint on it, however humble, making the connection between listener and audience all the more complete.