Towns is the second album from D.C band Stamen & Pistils, yet it’s the first I’ve heard of their music after being intrigued by our editor’s review of their 2005 debut, End of the Sweet Parade. They mix up lo-fi folk, alt-country and processed beats adeptly. These nine songs slot together with ease. Often there’s a tranquil otherness with everyday danger, recalling the alt country and electronic drenched goings on of David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls.
Opening statement “Second Hand Valise” captivates, expressing post romantic concerns in yoghurt falsetto. The protagonists tongue “pressed gently against…my front teeth.” It’s like Jason Lytle set to Feels, with the kind of charming blips you’d find on Manitoba’s Up in Flames. “To That What We Might Belong” is a Mercury Rev echoing acoustic fall out with something of the Divine Comedy about it. The references to “waxy residues” and care free assertion that “it doesn’t matter if it’s pain so long as it’s real” as two lovers search for common ground would suit Neil Hannon.
“Quiet County,” the first of two collaborations with Mikal Evans, is spectral Americana of the Jim White school, with romanticised creepiness worthy of The Delgados and Malcolm Middleton. Hanging on “a knife edge that separates a thought from malice,” motel rooms and 1950s car parks hang around a chorus harking to “the oblique rays of the sun.” “An Elegy for Thee” has an air of convenience store feeder music and industry scorched charm like Dear Wendy. “Walk On” has lyrics worthy of Johnny Dowd. A woman wakes in a stranger’s bed, in a world where “you live til you die when you’ve got nothing left to lose.” “Hands Washing Water” is a wonderful ghostly sound collage which brings to mind Jim O’Rourke and CocoRosie.
“Possessive Nouns” is especially impressive with the humour of a Regina Spektor standard, and a backdrop rivaling Four Tet’s most emotive. “At Home Amongst Your Tangles” has a crazed, sardonic surety comparable to Josh Pearson, Hannon and Daniel Johnston. There’s a scary bounce in vocalist Raul Zahir De Leon’s voice as he bids “to find comfort and warmth in the soft safe touch of one whose love hurts far too much.”
This is hardly a pop record, but it’s an absolute joy to hear. There’s a fine art to making non-commercial music easy listening fodder. Stamen & Pistils have mastered this dramatically. Towns is suitable for pushing a trolley around numbered aisles while still hinting at the potential for a Natural Born Killers style incident. I can’t fault it.
All the Real Girls – Original Soundtrack
Johnny Dowd – Cemetery Shoes
The Divine Comedy – Victory for the Comic Muse