For Penn Sultan, the lead singer and guitarist of Last Good Tooth, recognizing the multiplicities in each moment turned out to be an inspiring epiphany. “Maybe you’re walking to work. But [meanwhile] some man in Thailand is yelling at his wife, and a crow is trapped in some crawlspace in Morocco, and an insect that looks exactly like a leaf just split in half, and now there’s two of them,” Sultan says, describing the seemingly random scenarios that find their way into the band’s newest single, “Our Little Machine,” which we’re happy to premiere here. The track is from the band’s forthcoming LP, And All Things on the Scales, out October 2 on Supply & Demand Records.
Splitting time between NYC and Providence, Rhode Island, Last Good Tooth eschewed the live feel that characterized their prior albums and recorded in a farmhouse in the Hudson Valley. That rustic roominess is particularly apparent on “Our Little Machine,” a meandering guitar jam whose Alt-J vibe seems somewhat innocent and nonchalant on its surface. But lyrically, Sultan touches on much darker themes — violence, existential despair, and even suicide.
“I think a happy tune with darker lyrics is what a lot of people are like. Maybe they are skipping and smiling and thinking, ‘I will murder your family if you cut the line’ at the coffee shop,” Sultan says. “All of the songs on this record are about decision-making and trying to keep balance.”
The rest of the tracks borrow from blues and Americana, with Sultan citing influences as wide-ranging as guitar greats like Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Dave Van Ronk, Scottish songwriter King Creosote, modern-day folksters like Willy Mason and Sam Amidon, and, somewhat surprisingly, Ethiopian performers like Ephrem Tamiru, Elias Tebabel, Hibist Tiruneh, Teddy Afro, and Sileshi Demissae. New York has its own peculiar presence on the record, too: Sultan grew up here, “on Leonard Street, where the old Knitting Factory was,” he says. “The three-story loft I grew up in was torn down to make way for what will be a 69-story condo for blond people. But the city is definitely in the songwriting, where nothing is ever one hundred percent completely all right.”
“Our Little Machine” ends with the idea that despite our existential concerns, the internal workings of our human bodies continue unabated. “Your organs inside you work to keep you alive but they do not know they are a part of you, and you cannot move or stop them,” Sultan points out. Though frustrations may create creases in our day, the day still marches on everywhere else. With “Our Little Machine,” Last Good Tooth give that sense of displacement the perfect soundtrack.