Pumice-Pebbles

January 7, 2012

Pumice

Pebbles (Soft Abuse 2007)

http://www.mediafire.com/?eiz3xsd4wj0

New Zealand is such an unlikely place to spawn such an eclectic assemblage of post-punk pioneers, guitar abusers and folks with an innate knack for melancholy, chiming indie-pop masterpieces. However, I guess that the age of the internet has taught us dullards that the musical universe never revolved around the United States and England and that every nation harbored a cabal of unheralded geniuses, eccentric weirdos and impeccable tunesmiths. Most of us were just ignorant to its existence due to a lack of distribution or a fixation upon the effortlessly familiar. New Zealand was an exception to this rule since many of its flagship acts like the Clean, Chills, the Bats, Cakekitchen and Tall Dwarfs signed distribution deals with North American labels during the 80s. Therefore, folks took notice and dug deeper into its furrows to find that there was more than rainy-day reveries up its collective sleeve.

Although I adore the aforementioned bands in a particularly unhealthy way, there was something about the more damaged sounds of 80s and 90s New Zealand that resonated with me in a way that still moves me in a kind of transcendent way. Folks like Peter Jefferies and  Alastair Galbraith and and bands like This Kind of Punishment, Dadamah, Dead C, Gate, Plagal Grind and the Terminals mined a dark, brooding space peppered with fragile ballads that literally seemed to walk on eggshells as they teetered between nihilism and a skewed sense of melody. Most of these bands found a safe haven on the Xpressway label and forged a totally idiosyncratic sound unlike anything else I’ve heard since its collapse. I had given up the ghost long ago and surrendered to the fact that no one would resuscitate its vibe until I heard Pumice, a one man operation led by Stefan Neville.

To be honest, I think this album is probably better than anything ever released on Xpressway and that folks will revisit it years from now and finally give it its due. By no means is it an easy listen. Its seams and flaws are  fully on display and it only grips the listener after many late night strolls with it as your sole companion.  Pebbles is a schizophrenic listen that teases you with ecstatic riffs and a joyous spirit in the first two minutes only to drag you down into “Bold/Old”, a fragile meditation on the woes of life set to a woozy background of hazy, psychedelic guitar meanderings, distant piano plunkings, and the buzz of gentle hiss. You can’t understand a lick of what he mumbles, but it somehow reminds you of moments when life felt like a perpetual string of potholes until he lets loose a triumphant warbling that reminds you that smoother sailing awaits even the most troubled souls. There is such beauty amidst the gentle feedback, drones and deceptively ramshackle arrangements. “Spike/Spear” goes on for eleven minutes, but its droning, moaning and surging peaks coalesce into a true centerpiece for the album. It’s like a palate cleanser that wipes the slate clean with a long pause where you can empty your mind and get lost in the swirl of sound before embarking on a second half that is much harsher than the first. We get a short respite before he tears into “The Only Doosh Worth Giving”which conjures the spectre of the Clean’s “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” with a more punky, nihilistic streak. It shreds in a way alien to this planet. The rest is either haunting, sparse and mood destroying or swells and peaks of noise that are best suited for headphones and a grand tolerance for volume. Pebbles ain’t for everyone, but it sure feels like it speaks to me each and every time it flops onto my turntable.

Arnold Dreyblatt

Animal Magnetism (Tzadik 1995)

http://www.mediafire.com/?njyjz1mn45n

I have spent an hour or two pondering life while listening to the rich drones of Arnold Dreyblatt. I first encountered the name while paging through an issue of Your Flesh where Jim O’ Rourke listed his favorite albums of the year and christened Animal Magnetism the best of 1995. Being the bleating sheep that I am, there was an immediate order placed at the Wall to Wall Sound and Video in my godforsaken town. I expected something akin to the Scott Walker, Roy Montgomery and Rafael Toral listed in his love letter, but was pleasantly surprised to hear that it wasn’t quite like anything else on that minimalist list.

There are many improbably combinations that our minds can conjure: Peanut butter and cauliflower puree, scallops and butterscotch or Kevin Spacey in a Bobby Darin biopic. Most of these flights of fancy are purely the result of narcotics. However, I cannot explain Kevin Spacey’s unfortunate foray. However, if you had suggested that you could combine Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians with Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, I would accuse you of putting your mustard in my chutney.

Thankfully, Arnold Dreyblatt’s Animal Magnetism does exactly that. It takes the textured waves of minimalist composition and the musician play like a band made out of junkyard instruments. This is somehow funky in its clunky and hypnotic sort of way. It is a strong, muscular album that removes minimalism from the realm of lanky miscreant and makes a dance party out of it. I haven’t yet been so far gone to attempt an Arnold Dreyblatt dance party, but give me a ring and we shall see what we can muster up.

This is the sound of music hitting ecstatic peaks and mining mournful valleys. This is the sound of repetition taken to new places. This beats the pants off those moments where I pleasured myself with sounds of a single string. It is a joyful cacophony that makes me realize all that is wonderful about music.