Music by VICE

Gary War’s Back With Another Prickly Psych-Pop Mutation

The pop outsider Greg Dalton took a near five-year break from the moniker, and now he’s back in vibrant Technicolor.

by Colin Joyce
Dec 12 2017, 5:15pm

Photo by Clementine Nixon

In spite of the freneticism of the rotted-out psych-pop that Greg Dalton has made as Gary War, everyone needs a break sometimes. Since 2012, Dalton’s more or less kept the project on mothballs—occasionally surfacing for a split or a show, but mostly taking a well-deserved rest from the head-spinning music he made under that name. So he moved to Hong Kong and then to New Zealand, travelled around Asia. He zeroed in on live performance playing shows in countries he’d never had an occasion to visit before, using the opportunity to collect music and films from the region—a pleasant and necessary respite from the American pop underground.

It’s not that he’s retreated entirely over that half decade either, he’s been working as the psych duo Dalthom in collaboration with Sunburned Hand of the Man’s Rob Thomas, and he says he’s been making music pretty much constantly. He just took a minute to get his head right.

“I’ve been in a position free of any deadlines with the Gary thing,” Dalton says via email. There's never pressure to produce and I can take my time and either write and arrange songs when I feel like it and have something to say, or not. For me the passage of time is necessary to experience situations that inspire me to write songs.”

And now, apparently, enough time has passed. Five years after his last solo full-length, Gary War is back with news of Gaz Forth the latest collection of freaked-out songs Dalton has made under the moniker (due February 9 on Feeding Tube). But things are a little different this time, rather than the insular unsettled recordings Dalton usually trades in, the music feels a little more accessible and introverted, which has at least a little to do with the circumstances of its recording. In addition to his longtime collaborator Daniel Rineer, he worked with a host of other guests from respected experimental music institutions, including members of Pigeons, Red Favorite, and Thomas’ Sunburned bandmate John Moloney. To pay tribute to those guys, and to do justice by the laser-focus of some of these new songs, Dalton decided he wanted to do this record a little more by-the-books.

“I was interested in doing the final mixes in a top studio with a trusted engineer not only because I’d never made [Gary War] records that way before but also because of the many guest musicians on the album whose generosity warranted and deserved the best possible clarity to highlight their playing,” Dalton said.

That resulted in songs like the prickly blast of pop-decomposition “Windows and Walls,” premiering here. Over the course of its minute-and-a-half runtime, Dalton’s eerie whisper cuts across a brisk acoustic guitar and drums that thwack like stacks of newspaper, like a Shoes record that’s been left in the summer’s humidity to mildew a bit. Noticeably though, this, and the records other great best moments wiped some of the scum from the recordings. That makes Dalton’s compositional contortions hit all the harder. When he inverts pop structures, you can hear it—which has always been part of growing up for these sorts of pop outsiders. In his mind, the extra time afforded him the ability to zero in on what makes his songs so singular.

“I spent a lot more time refining and improving composition, lyrics and arrangements than in the past,” Dalton said. “Trying to deconstruct them, re-write any weak bits and experiment until I was completely satisfied. From the onset, I wanted to improve the overall fidelity and production quality […] mixing in the studio and taking a slightly more minimal approach overall may be why.”

Still, there’s an inherent weirdness to the music that Dalton makes, something inextricable to his approach as a songwriter, a way that structures bleed and collapse into one another—that instruments are played and recorded idiosyncratically. It feels uncanny, like a version of radio rock beamed in from a different universe. I asked Dalton if he thinks that the record, and what he does in general is pop music, as strange as it can be. He responds plainly: “Of course.”

Gaz Forth art:

Gaz Forth tracklist:
1. Windows And Walls
2. Every Third Thought
3. Inna Witness
5. Up The Wall
6. Home Address
7. Retrograde Reality
8. Alive On Earth
9. Ex Rel
10. Just Has To
11. G.S.T.

Gary War