Brand New Bag- Reviews of Colin Meloy, Why?, Terrestrial Tones
Sings Trad. Arr. Shirley Collins EP – Colin Meloy, self-released
Rubber Traits – Why?, Anticon 61
Dead Drunk EP – Terrestrial Tones, Paw Tracks 9
One of the many great side effects of the internet's celestial jukebox is that it doesn't matter how obscure a release is, so long as somebody somewhere has seen fit to make a digital copy and pipe it out into the world for fun or profit. What were once the jeweled prizes in the discography — tour only discs, import singles, side project EPs — are now almost as accessible as an artist's main albums if one knows where to click. They're not as easily forgotten, either.
From the tour only department comes Colin Meloy's Sings Trad. Arr. Shirley Collins, a six-song EP from the Decemberists’ frontman. Reviving the folk revivalist, Meloy is an obvious match with the material, his predilection for Victorian England blossoming in full, that’s-a-nice-lad splendor. Where, with last year’s Sings Morrissey EP, he gave the Smiths’ frontman the stripped acoustic treatment, here he runs British folk through the four-tracker gamut. Each song is touched lightly: bells abet "Dance To Your Daddy," a 12-string guitar chimes under "Turpin Hero," and Meloy sings "I Drew My Ship" a capella. Meloy experiments with electric guitars on "Barbara Allen," and sounds a bit like Tarkio, his unremarkable college band, recently anthologized by Kill Rock Stars in the wake of the Decemberists’ signing with Capitol Records. Not as rich as his Morrissey covers, Sings Trad. Arr. Shirley Collins is charming nonetheless.
Rubber Traits, meanwhile, is the second single from Why?‘s incredible Elephant Eyelash. A member of the Anticon collective, Why? finds deliriously creative territory between indie rock and hip-hop. "Dumb Hummer" is all Flaming Lips overload, and pulled through with an amazingly cinematic sense of structure, resolving (like the title track) into surprising hooks. "Pick Fights" and "Deceived" are both short experiments, the former being a nice summation of Why?‘s shtick: hip-hop rhymes over something other than hip-hop (in this case, a Brian Eno-like piano figure). A fine excuse to welcome three new songs to the world.
Terrestrial Tones, finally, demonstrate exactly why the obscure can be worth it. Dead Drunk, technically speaking, is the EP of a side project — which places it pretty deep in footnote territory. A duo comprised of the Animal Collective’s Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare) and Black Dice’s Eric Copeland — roommates, if you believe the hype — Terrestrial Tones craft 30 minutes worth of fully submerged psychedelic slabs. Abstract and proud, the pair begins with a chattering teletype grid sprouting from a repeating piano (on the disc opening "Car Fumes") and doesn’t let go. The tracks are noisy (like the throbbing "Plow Man" and the fire alarm yowl of "Future Train") and just plain bizarre (the quizzically stretched vocal pans of "Magic Trick"), and always a bit scary. Dead Drunk wouldn’t be the most calming album to jam at two in the morning some Saturday night when alone in the house, but it’d probably be among the most memorable.