On the surface, not much seems to happen in the new video from Los Angeles guitarist Patrick McDermott, who records as North Americans.
A handful of tourists at the Cabazon Dinosaurs in Riverside County approach the jumbo Tyrannosaurus rex and pose for pictures as meditative acoustic and electric guitars in the song “Cutty” explore a melody. Another few roam near the truck-sized tail of a replica brontosaurus.
Look closer, though, in the left corner of the T. rex frame at a suspicious figure that seems to be talking on a phone: It’s green and wears a matching stars-and-stripes suit and top hat.
The character — on closer inspection, an animated frog — paces and gesticulates, then disappears behind a fence before returning.
All the while, McDermott’s finger-picked acoustic style, inspired by so-called American primitive instrumental guitarists such as John Fahey, Sandy Bull and Jack Rose, focuses on the looping mantra within “Cutty.” Another guitarist, Joel Williams, wrestles with a complementary run. Beneath it, subtle feedback mingles with a floating layer of synthesizer.
The Rocco Rivetti-directed video is the second from North Americans’ forthcoming album, “Going Steady,” which comes out Friday via McDermott’s imprint Driftless. The record features contributions from L.A. transplants Juliana Barwick and Meg Duffy (of Hand Habits and Kevin Morby’s band), Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings and others.
The album art is by Brian Blomerth, whose @pupsintrouble Instagram account features his beguiling cartoonish drawings — including the aforementioned creeper frog appearing amid tourists visiting the roadside attraction.
“This record is very rooted in California and the west, both in tradition and in concept,” McDermott said via email. “I grew up on American Primitive guitar and this was sort of my modern ode to the genre. In a time that feels more complicated than ever — I was drawn to simple music.”
Simple may have been the intention, but like the “Cutty” clip, what seems at first glance, or listen, to be one thing is on closer inspection more curious and dynamic. The whole of “Going Steady” is similarly rich.