Local Tracks on the Web
By David Pence
This track’s beautiful, decadent haze is well suited to the snippets of phrases – “trembling the drink,” “time sure does some things” – Jeremy Alexander exhales in the weary voice of a lost soul. You’ll recognize the piano sound instantly (you’ve seen such a hulking relic in some tavern or forgotten house). Does it move me because of its acoustic excesses? Alexander plays it simply, slowly, adding only a few tickles of decoration. Aaron Hautula adds bass notes and vocals in a few places; Jason Ingalls makes assorted drum hits and string-pluckings feel like a complete score; and the track is filled out with a half-bucket of effects, notably echo and backwards tape. After two unsteady verses, you land in a lovely denouement – a haunting, longing-filled series of bars that finally disappear over the horizon.
A straightforward recording of a practice session that captures the energy and high spirits of Larry Iscariot’s stripped-down attack: you get 51 bars of uninhibited, two-step cowboy cockiness. Matt Erickson’s joyous, quick-fire drumming is exhilarating; Jon Bean canters alongside on bass, and Seth Desjardins plays scratchy, frenetic guitar and delivers a feisty vocal. Not unlike Frank Black, Desjardins lets you know with attitude and a few distinctive vocal forms – the up-yours holler and the falsetto hoot, among them – that he’s got plenty to say and it’s gonna be fun. I’m not sure what the song is about, but what little I can decipher – “Two sides or one side?” “Babe!” and “Fuckin’ aye!” – is good enough for me.
It’s satisfying to hear a band as utterly confident, smart, and full of swagger as the Bees are right now. This new demo is produced with a warm glow, a fat bottom end, and vocals mixed so far back that the few easily audible snatches of text (“milk,” “cash machine,” “bathroom stall,” “evil grimace”) are a provocation – you must fight to get near the voice. Doug Porter makes a central guitar riff sound brawny at times and brooding elsewhere. He plays gracefully all over the neck, as Ed Porter’s bass hurtles downward stride by stride. Along with Boo’s singing (initially restrained, finally explosive) and Tristan Gallagher’s titanic drumming, the verses swell to a pleasing, almost symphonic density. The band follows four verses with an increasingly complex instrumental section – including a funny passage in which they channel Queen – but finally find their way back to the big riff and Boo’s monster vocal as coda.
Ambient is like photography, right? Anyone can do it. Yet, Stillman’s work goes deeper than “easy ambient.” He is interested in the mystery and ambiguity that remain when you take slivers of life away from their worldly signifiers. The woman’s voice is found-sound; Stillman sends it in and out of the mix like A.M. radio waves at night long ago. What is she saying? I don’t know exactly, so I’ll listen again. The sweeping, dreamy chord clusters and wisps of melody have been manipulated, and such tactile work – rubbing tape over a playback head, or running it backwards or slowly – creates a warm, dense analog texture, the sound of the world captured with magnets and wires.
Like a primer on the principle of build, “Pin Prick” starts with puny, goofy sounds – a daisy chain of chirps, hisses, electronic beats– that announce good fun. Then Jonathan Merrifield inserts a walking synth melody, a progression of simple chords as connective tissue, wickedly catchy drum-machine rhythms and increasingly ornate keyboard riffs. This exquisite, blossoming, 90-second introduction seems about to lock in as an instrumental dance track when suddenly it pulls back for Merrifield’s voice, seemingly innocent and sweet. Immediately, the song cuts deeper, and you come to realize you’re a voyeur. Everything that happens now – “Someday I’ll rip the bones right out of you / Someday I’ll knock your legs out from under you / Someday I’ll be the pin prick that bleeds you dry” – is intimate, with a trace of venom at the tip of every hook.
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).