The Reds, Pinks & Purples : Unwishing Well

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Reds, Pinks and Purples Unwishing Well review

Anyone drawn to the eternally beautiful nature of tragic yarns about bands ending before they begin would likely take interest in Glenn Donaldson’s project The Reds, Pinks & Purples since its emergence in the late 2010s. Don’t be fooled by his warm, sometimes breathy conversational tone. It un-guards listeners from the eventual breezy drawn-out emo-bomb. 

Forever a luminary on the Bay Area indie scene, Donaldson’s back catalog reaches off to a pre-dot-com San Francisco era. His concerns circle artists that have popped and dropped over the years. Somehow this project always captures a scent from San Francisco’s local blooms in the ephemera of his songcraft: Whiffs of Cherry Blossoms on 20th Street, between Valencia and Guerrero, with their light, sweet, and refreshing scent rummages about “Your Worst Song Is Your Greatest Hit” from RPPs’ most recent release Unwishing Well. “Your greatest idea gets pushed aside/all the things you should have tried/why’d you hide inside the safe-ty zone/where you’re alone with your wounded pride”—this unhurried arrow softly lands Donaldson’s pointed realization. 

Donaldson provides squares with an insider view of his  Inner Richmond landscape with each Reds, Pinks & Purples album cover. Those snaps, with Instagram-type contemporary borders, of distinct houses with character, pastel flowers in the back and front yards—even a faded VW Red Karmann Ghia augments these visual stories. His neck of the woods seems cozy. Natural.

So when the Donaldson-composed ego-razing songcraft arrives, recounting broken dreams, false victories in local musical endeavors, and life itself, it’s a bit of gaslighting, indie pop style. Similar to the reality that wannabe artists encounter once settling in the Bay Area: “Everything looks so quaint.”

But all the local coffeehouses, shitty dive bars, all nite cafes, that young artists used to hang, eat, and in some cases work at, are gone. All the gathering spaces where artists could shoot the shit, and share ideas after gigs and rehearsals. Poof. With the RPPs project, Donaldson knows where these stories and dreams are laid to rest and continues to honor their existence with his ruminations on falling short of those “band at the corner bar” endeavors. That flower scent is for all the dead dreams Donalson has witnessed throughout SF as Cloud City moves about its booooring zombie tech troll, automated cars, walking dead colonization.

Hey, sometimes you can find refuge in a big ol bowl of Pho seasoned with tears, but Donaldson’s charts give actuality. Does it taste better than comfort sodium with slurpy noodles (which I do eternally love and endorse)? No. But Unwishing Well dedicates half an hour or so of meditations on dark matters—the death of his father, how normal people are cracking in public spaces (possibly after COVID?): It puts schemes with scores, illustrating the agony and realization that something is a bit askew in America. 

But hit rewind. Start be-bopping around Cloud City and pop on RPPs’ Inner Richmond instrumental release from last year, which Donaldson released on a lark as “intended as a soundtrack for a stroll around my neighborhood, the Inner Richmond of San Francisco, or just some background for whatever you feel like doing.” That cavernous guitar wail that inhabits all eight minutes and change on the first track “Stoned Wanderer” flies at a trajectory of rising above all the misery, the lost opportunities, the fraught victories that are just defeat in coded lies—no, it’s Donaldson’s “it does get better” moment of zen. Until… the title track “Inner Richmond” gives off those brutal fatalism instrumental frequencies with Red House Painters dirge and John Carpenter Dread—it’s at a two, not five. Workable, but still despairing, saddled with the heft of just missing the mark in the creative art you consistently pursue. Warbly superb.

That wordless release conducts itself as a primer for Unwishing Well, where the arrangements do indeed feel perky, rife with harmonica and 12-string guitars supporting our scribe’s notes on faded glory. Yes, Donaldson’s latest, part effortless poetry, and part nonchalant wise sage energy pens evergreen college rock earworms that deliver crushing scenarios he’s observed in his town since the ’80s. You’d be hard-pressed to find a figure who unofficially can be seen as the tent pole to the current SF-jangle pop evolution. Donaldson would in all likelihood politely disagree, but he’s a pessimist.

Label: Slumberland/Tough Love

Year: 2024

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