Drone Trailer weaves a long strung-out trek through the backwoods of folk, blues, raga and country. The sound here is clean, as if a path had been cleared through the spiritual murk that Matt Valentine and Erika Elder lately inhabited. You can hear all the details as these songs unfurl gradually, atonal washes of distortion and drone cutting through traditional finger picked motifs. It is a strange but rather lovely landscape, dark, musty, a little squelchy underfoot, but allowing for dust-mottled sunshine to slip between the leaves.
Like Jackie-O Motherfucker, the duo of Elder and Valentine stretches and skews traditional sounds, pulling them apart into gossamer strands, then knotting and snarling them together in dense masses of discord. Drone Trailer is a gentle, pastoral effort, its only difficulty in its extreme slowness. In "Weatherhead Hollow," the album's extended centerpiece, melodies emerge glacially out of slipping, slithering guitar tones, taking shape more in memory than in actual real-time listening. You have to piece them together out of notes separated by long pauses. Yet once you've adapted to the pace, these songs take on a spiritual serenity. Slowing yourself down to meet them is a form of meditation, a source of calm.
There's a strong whiff of Americana here, Matt Valentine's vocals recalling the flat-edged authenticity of country Neil Young, bursts of harmonica evoking campfire smoke. Still, even though the pieces are familiar, everything is filtered through a woozy, distorted mirror. You may feel you are visiting a well-known place in a dream, everything right, but off somehow. Velvety swathes of pedal steel twang wrap around the curves of "Drone Trailer," tangled skeins of acoustic guitar unwind in its easy melody, a cavernous echo suggests huge dark spaces around it. The lyrics, too, link the mundane with the transcendent, sung without affect and in unison, as guitars whine and sing in the background. "Been working every day / from the mud season to the fall / I reckon I'll go towards the drone / head out for the slow tapes," Valentine and Elder intone, and that is exactly where they have taken us.