Local Tracks on the Web
By David Pence
Galen Richmond has a mad glint in his eye about his solo project, Computer at Sea. Here he makes a spray of sparks by scraping weird electronic sounds against a conventional pop structure. He establishes beautiful, dark keyboard tones — an A minor chord flirting with C and F — before using his distinctive voice to twist and shade the song’s pungent imagery with time-shifting half-light: “Volunteer firefighters who can only burn it down / Sullen lamplighters, they visit from the shadow towns.” Richmond unleashes a winning assortment of gurgles, blips, aural skid marks and intestinal rips from his playful homemade gadgets, an approach that recalls not only Mouse on Mars, but Allen Ravenstine, Pere Ubu’s original EML dude.
Tubs of echo and reverb take you to a place you may not have visited since Flying Saucer Attack vanished or Kevin Shields retreated into his crazy shuttered shop. In fact, there are some pretty overt allusions here to the sonic landscape of shoe-gazers and space-rockers. And it works! Tassel (Matthew O’Rourke) uses incomprehensible vocals as texture. In lieu of words, what really matters is the track’s dreaminess and the shadow of anxiety it may hide. Cascades of glitter-guitar spill over a rhythmic loop of the thwick made by a needle in a record’s final groove. Intentionally or not, “Silver Car Crash” nicely simulates the experience of drifting in and out of sleep while listening to music. Remember that unsettling feeling you get waking up to the unmerciful end of a record?
When I first heard this track, I was struck by the wildness and unpredictability of Jakob Battick’s performance – the recording has a loose, fertile, throwaway quality that’s appealing. (Swollen Spring Violets now has several members, but Battick recorded this demo alone before they materialized.) It’s made with acoustic guitars, foot-stomps, a crappy drum kit and vocals, and Battick’s voice is where the gold is. I’d be interested to hear if a second or third draft retains the song’s elemental structure and primitive melody. Trimming and reshaping could enrich this song, yet it’s possible that something vital would be lost in the process. As it is, the fact that some gestures land while others miss is part of the pleasure of peeking at an interesting guy’s notebook.
Here’s a breakup song worthy of the name: “Before you’re gone, don’t take so long / Because the end is drawing near.” Cougars Kill Cobras puffs out its chest, hollers in righteous fury, throws a flurry of frightening punches (and tosses in a couple fresh chord changes), and then really slams the door on its way out. Gerald Von Stoddard plays buzz-chunk guitar that pushes and pulls against Noah Defilippis’ bass and Derek Gierhan’s drums, giving the verses a great, heavy swing. In the chorus, the band slams and thrusts relentlessly on a single chord as Von Stoddard’s menacing falsetto cackles and shrieks the song’s melodic hooks.
Begemot: “A Drowning Moth“
This elegant instrumental is a kind of puzzle or riddle made by Begemot, a.k.a. Derek Lobley, from software synths and samples of real instruments. “A Drowning Moth” conveys ideas and feeling with restraint, intelligence without showiness. Verses start with witty, disorienting rhythms and tone patterns before eventually resolving into more regular lines. Meaning seems to emerge as a verse proceeds, only to slip away again with a new verse. The effect is kind of magical, as if something beautiful is just out of reach. The first time I played this song, it took only 15 seconds to draw my daughter out of a bath to the speakers. “Can I listen to that song?” she asked. A few seconds later my son appeared: “Whoa, cool song.”
David Pence is the host of Radio Junk Drawer, heard Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM; wmpg.org).