Local Tracks on the Web
By David Pence
The odd duo Wood Burning Cat is extremely appealing: restless, funny, tuneful, original, unpredictable, self-confident. This song (written by bassist/vocalist Jason Unterreiner) concerns the singer’s apparent obsession with “that specific moment” when a performer’s essential limitations are laid bare. The track offers wicked pleasures as it develops from a seemingly tossed-off acoustic shuffle with adenoidal, ’tude-packin’ vocals. Suddenly this tone is upended by touches of sophistication as the song rotates effortlessly and exquisitely from the key of C to E flat, and Unterreiner and Tony Bitetti (guitars, drums) play a jaunty interlude that strolls along like a dandy.
It’s possible “That Specific Moment” would be a satisfying track even if it remained in this delightful landscape. But Wood Burning Cat has other things in mind. The lyrics grow more acrid (“Now that they are onto you, you can’t get their attention”), the song gathering weight, force and momentum until — at the end of the second verse — the band throws a couple elbows and barrels through several measures of medium-heavy riff-rock. There’s wit in the contrast between this passage and the tasteful style of the earlier break.
The band delivers an amped-up final verse, Unterreiner’s pointed perceptions now shouted over big, thrusting chords and beats. Regardless of whether his disdain is directed at a peer or at himself, Unterreiner’s fixation on “that specific moment” — as well as the progression from tempered sarcasm to uncontained contempt — makes for satisfying entertainment.
How can you not love this band’s heart and shaggy, self-deprecating charm? Gully reminds me of the pack of Pennsylvania guys in The Deer Hunter, jostling one another, a little loutish and surprisingly sharp, brimming with attitude, desire, and a sense of fun.
Oscar Romero’s “Rich Kids” owes something to Tim-era Replacements, which is not a bad well to visit for inspiration. (In fact, the lyrics reference a track from Hootenanny, but Gully’s song is more developed than most of the ’Mats’ early material.) Thus, a fuzzy, chunky rhythm guitar and a thin, scratchy rhythm guitar take their places in mid-tempo verses alongside solid, swinging bass (Brian Houdletter) and drums (Jonas Eule), buttressing a solid melody. Each verse ends with a catchy, bittersweet chorus, a perfect storm made of killer harmony, inspired chord changes, and a note of yearning in Romero’s vocal (“I need someone to leeeeean ohhhhn”).
Two such verses are followed by a great middle eight that marks the song’s major climax. Greg Bazinet plays an inspired, windy lead guitar line that swirls above the vocals. It’s here that we get some of Romero’s smartest, most pungent imagery on moody waves of minor chords: “Hold your tiny fist up to the sky / I’m cracked in the middle of the living room tonight / Property value is on the decline / There’s a new set of rich kids throwin’ things out my windows at sunrise.” This section crests and breaks at last, and Gully does a surprising thing: it rejects the tailor-made opportunity for a cock-rock solo in favor of a simple, quiet exhalation — a strummed E chord followed by simple string-bending and a set of quick triplets, four times. This choice creates a quiet, stylish center for the song. It’s the sound of Gully having the courage of their convictions, knowing who they are.
A mysterious, hypnotic, ethereal meditation on … hard to tell. Given the title (as well as an earlier title for the same song, “On the Rise”), perhaps something like space, time, gravity, motion, lift? Though it’s difficult to make out many of the words, I’m guessing that somehow you won’t worry too much about it. As with the early work of Elizabeth Frazer and Cocteau Twins, the mood created by the overtones of voices and string sounds and room tone may be as important here as any particular message derived from language. Textures and layering become a kind of content in this sort of buzzing, fluid drone. On the other hand, I could be wrong. Dave Noyes (guitars, voice) and Patrick Corrigan (guitar, background vocals) sing pretty much continuously throughout this six-minute piece. Clearly they have a lot to say, and the subtle sense of urgency, like a low-grade fever, is palpable.
Made with simple ingredients, the track sounds as if it were recorded in a fairly straightforward way. In other words, though the reverberating strums, open vowels, and cloudy mix may remind you of My Bloody Valentine’s softer, melancholic moments, this recording doesn’t bear evidence of having been worked over in the Kevin Shields manner. Instead, it seems Corrigan and Noyes recorded their basic track(s) in a room with great big natural echo. If there is overdubbing, it’s very artfully hidden under the hum and ring of Plains in the room. “The Pilot Song” feels slow and natural and unprocessed rather than metallic or electronic. The band occupies a soundscape somewhere between the slow, homey drone of freak folk and the magisterial aura of shoegaze.
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).