Washington D.C.’s Stamen & Pistils aren’t really folk. They’re not really electronica either. And yet, they’re both. The oddball group sandwiches their songs between the glitchy beats and sputters of IDM and the free, ethereal qualities of the new folk movement. But instead of something approximating the sound of, say, Four Tet, S&P are far more unsettling. They’re a bizarre group, altogether unconventional and jarring to the ears. But that’s exactly why they’re so interesting.
On their debut long-ish player, End of the Sweet Parade, Stamen & Pistils bury gentle acoustic guitar strums in waves of static, reverberating hip-hop beats and bizarre effects. If Animal Collective were remixed or Hood played up the quirk factor a little more, it would sound something like this. But ultimately, Stamen & Pistils have a sound all their own.
A wash of white noise opens “Handpainted Characters,” the first track on the record, giving way to a slightly more straightforward arrangement, albeit a heavily layered and noise-laden one. Keyboards bleep and sputter about all over “Somewhere in Between the Beginning and the Middle,” a chaotic dirge with choruses of falsetto and between-verse samples of sped-up voices. Meanwhile, “Peonies & Dahlia Petals” plays down the unpredictable electronics, save for some subtle drum machine beats, in favor of a lighter, new-folk sounding track. The Animal Collection reference is even more apt on this song, as the group shares Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s affinity for accessible, yet loosely structured free-folk.
Later on in the album, the electronic aspects of the band are played up, creating an unusual, dark and eerie atmosphere, as glitchy samples and noises interrupt the band’s otherwise simple and restrained tracks. A whirring sound whistles underneath the melody of “Boys versus Girls” and Atari 2600 crashes make percussion for “She the Widow, the Child Who Follows,” a song that would otherwise make for straightforward folk-pop. A similar feel can be heard in “Sleep for the Bells,” one of the group’s most memorable melodies, lightly peppered with fuzzy beat chemistry.
End of the Sweet Parade is an otherworldly trip into Stamen & Pistils’ robot folk realm. It’s neither mechanical nor completely organic. It’s a strange hybrid that makes for an oddly detached, yet enjoyable listen. But ultimately, it’s music made by humans, and underneath the sputtering drum machines and lilting guitar chords, these are love songs just like many other artists can sing. Only they’re really, really weird.
Xiu Xiu – Fabulous Muscles
Animal Collective – Sung Tongs
CLOUDDEAD – Ten
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.