Tim Atlas, NASAYA
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On his full-length debut West of the West, L.A.-based songwriter/producer Goldroom bends the boundaries of electronic music to build a sleekly composed but soulful update of the quintessential California sound. “I left where I grew up and came to California with all these romantic ideas of what L.A. would be like,” says Josh Legg, a Massachusetts-born multi-instrumentalist who’s made music as Goldroom since 2011. “Over the years I’ve fallen completely in love with everything about it, even all the grit and grime, and with this album I wanted to pay homage to L.A. and how it still feels so romantic to me.”
Though it takes its title from a Theodore Roosevelt bon mot—“When I am in California, I am not in the West, I am west of the West”—the follow-up to Goldroom’s acclaimed 2015 EP It’s Like You Never Went Away mines much inspiration from Legg’s love for the sea. “For me, ‘west of the West’ can mean the Pacific, which has become an important place for me over the last decade,” he says. A longtime sailor, Legg also notes that “a lot of my childhood memories are of me and my dad on this little tiny boat, cruising around the New England coast. I spent countless hours just sailing and listening to music, and the feeling of that experience has stayed with me really heavily over the years.” Throughout the album, Goldroom reveals his deep-rooted affinity with the ocean by sculpting expansive arrangements and instilling each song with a serene yet kinetic energy.
That energy’s partly sourced from Goldroom’s ingenuity in interlacing live guitar, bass, and percussion into electronic soundscapes to form a sound both forward-pushing and timeless. On West of the West, he further shapes that glossy but groove-heavy sound by tapping into sensibilities of early French house music. “I don’t feel all that influenced by producers on a day-to-day basis—songwriting is what’s important to me, so I’m usually thinking about guys like Tom Petty or Curtis Mayfield—but there’s an innocence to what producers like Daft Punk and Alan Braxe do that appeals to me,” says Legg. And just as those artists show an intense fascination with the pop landscape of the early ’80s, Goldroom steeps West of the West in its own nostalgia. “I’ve always used music as an escapist device, as a way to try to get back to that feeling of when you were younger and everything was a little more pure and uncomplicated,” he points out.
On the album-opening “Silhouette,” for instance, Goldroom brilliantly channels the breezy and bass-powered feel of classic French touch music. Slow-building and warmly intimate, the song bittersweetly muses on “what it means to be far away from someone you love and feeling like part of you is missing without them,” as Legg explains.
From start to finish West of the West sustains that dreamy melancholy, a mood informed by Legg’s solo touring as a DJ in recent years. “Being alone on the road for long stretches of time is a pretty unique experience,” he says. “There’s this dual thing of loving that lifestyle of constantly being in motion, but also missing my family and my friends and feeling pulled back home. That’s definitely something I kept coming back to as I was writing for this record.” Trading off vocals with Irish singer/songwriter Rooty throughout West of the West, Goldroom brings a nuanced emotionality to songs like “Back to You” (a sweetly shimmering feel-good track), “Lying to You” (a darkly propulsive number with all the cinematic intensity of an ’80s pop gem), and “Retrograde” (a gorgeously urgent anthem driven by Rooty’s powerful vocal performance).
In creating West of the West, Goldroom aimed to “dig really deep and come up with something more honest and meaningful than what you usually see in dance music.” Aided by his graceful grasp of songcraft, that honesty manifests itself in a spirited vitality also abundant in Goldroom’s energetic live show. (Featuring a full band setup, the Goldroom live set finds Legg backed by a bassist, drummer, and fellow singer as he alternates between guitar and keys.) “It’s a lot different from older Goldroom stuff, where my primary concern was whether or not the song was going to work on a dance floor,” Legg adds in reflecting on West of the West.
Debuting with the Angeles EP in 2011, Goldroom emerged soon after the dissolution of Legg’s former band NightWaves. “I’d been writing all these songs but had no outlet for them, so people suggested I start a solo thing,” recalls Legg, who borrowed the name Goldroom from a dive bar in Echo Park (“a good place to get drunk and find answers to all of life’s hardest questions”). Though Goldroom was born from his then-burgeoning infatuation with the electronic world, the project drew closely from Legg’s near-lifelong experience in making music. Raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts, he learned to play cello and guitar as a child and soon started writing his own songs and self-recording on a four-track. At age 15 he had a major musical awakening while teaching sailing on Cape Cod, where a group of college kids turned him on to the ’60s/’70s rock and folk artists who would eventually guide his own songwriting. After heading off to study at the University of Southern California, Legg discovered Air, Daft Punk, and other electronic artists whose music “made me feel things I didn’t know that I could feel.” He then began his journey toward crafting boldly inventive electronic music with a classic-pop songwriting structure at its core.
For Goldroom, the main thrill of West of the West is his success in “making a record where I could sit down with an acoustic guitar, play the album all the way through, and still make it work.” But while each song is strong enough to stand unadorned, West of the West’s lush and luminous production ultimately lends the album an even greater emotional depth. “There’s something really incredible about beautiful chords being played using a stack of nicely tuned synthesizers,” Legg says in discussing his passion for electronic music. “And with a drum machine, you can make a kick-drum sound that’s more impactful than any real kick drum. There’s a whole world out there with electronic music, and the thing that gets me most excited as a musician is finding new ways to paint with those palettes while still telling a very human story.”
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