Monday, July 29, 2013

New White Fence, Colter Harris

Cyclops Reap
* * * *

Cyclops Reap is the most solid album yet from a guy who isn’t really fond of albums.  Tim Presley’s mission statement, the titanic two-part Family Perfume, was culled from 80 four-track doodles; Cyclops Reap was originally to be a similar compilation before Presley realized he had enough new material for a regular album.  The relatively clean production and concise structure of Cyclops Reap might be seen as cause for alarm given some of the recent pop moves made by Presley’s contemporaries (Thee Oh Sees’ Floating Coffin, The Fresh & Onlys’ Long Slow Dance); however, easy to listen to doesn’t always mean pop, and the most remarkable thing about Cyclops Reap is how it finds ways to bend your mind amid such sober production.  “Pink Gorilla” epitomizes this approach, pitting a Syd Barrett-esque ditty against a guitar lead that sounds like it was run through a field of broken GameBoys.  A few songs on here are remarkably straightforward, most notably the gorgeous Dead pastiche “Only Man Alive,” but they work just as well as the headier shit.  While such forays into “pop” territory generally indicate an artist settling into a style or acknowledging an established reputation, Cyclops Reap feels like a step forward for Presley, one that puts him on the edge of something far greater and far gnarlier.

* * * 1/2

Two singles into his career, Santa Cruz singer-songwriter Colter Harris is still at the point where he could plausibly use a selfie as a single cover; at this stage it’s impossible to tell if his successes are talent or coincidence.  “Wasted” is 2:29 and feels significantly longer than that, but in the best way possible; it fits a lot into those minutes and is a pretty great pop song of the multi-section Sgt. Pepper-template variety.  But he’s not exactly trying to make the shitgaze “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”--it’s a punk song and feels as effortless as one.  Only time will tell if Harris will continue making songs like this, but “Wasted” has my curiosity extremely piqued.

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Sonny & The Sunsets, Field Medic

Antenna To The Afterworld
* * * *

Sonny & the Sunsets’ last record, Longtime Companion, was the sort of ill-advised country experiment that is normally seen no less than 20 albums into an artist’s oeuvre.  The 41-year-old Sonny Smith is already a veteran, making the album even more worrying.  It’s a relief to find that the sci-fi-flavored Antenna to the Afterworld is not only on par with the rest of Smith’s oeuvre but actually improves on it--it’s not a stretch to call it his best record yet.   The influences here are from ‘50s and ‘60s pop, but the crude synths and references to aliens and space travel put it aesthetically in line with Cold War-era science fiction; it’s not unlikely that people in the Sixties hearing a synthesizer for the first time imagined the future of music to sound like this.  The cheap synth textures give the entire album a damaged, nostalgic vibe similar to chillwave, but it is often killed by the too-humorous-for-its-own-good “narration” by Smith and vocalist Tahlia Harbour.  (“Green Blood,” a song about a romantic encounter with an alien gone outlandishly wrong, is a great pop tune tarnished by an incredibly distracting “conversation” between the two.)  But despite some minor flaws in the album’s execution, Antenna to the Afterworld is a monumental leap for an established band that so recently seemed on the verge of stagnation.

Crushed Pennies EP
* * * 1/2

Kevin Sullivan’s always seemed more a frontman than a singer/songwriter (in the post-Dylan sense), but Crushed Pennies, his new EP as Field Medic, finds the focus purely on his use of the English language.  The album’s first half is much weaker than the second, with Sullivan’s unwieldy use of prosody and rootsy-cutesy metaphors dragging the songs down.  The second half, on the other hand, contains three of the best songs Sullivan’s ever written.  “Wooden Chest” flips the woman-as-various-cute-inanimate objects metaphor to convey longing and vulnerability, while the brief “Cobweb Skirt” is an intimate hospital prayer.  Most impressive of all is the second verse of “Broken Part,” which flirts with Brian Wilson-esque imagery.  Though Crushed Pennies isn’t a strong case for Sullivan as an urgent voice capable of taking his wordsmithery beyond the band format, its best moments show that he’s lost none of the penchant for provocative, evocative imagery that made his earlier recordings with Westwood & Willow and Rin Tin Tiger so fascinating and listenable.