In 2010, the New Haven, Conn. noise-pop band Procedure Club released Doomed Forever, one of those great, overlooked albums that flew under the radar, chock full of insanely catchy, gloriously messy distortion-obsessed numbers that took the baton from The Jesus and Mary Chain and Black Tambourine and ran with it.
In the six intervening years between Doomed Forever and the group’s new follow-up, Pinky Swear, according to the band, it recorded and abandoned an incomprehensibly huge amount of material—hundreds of tracks, apparently—leaving the cream of the crop for public release. This writer believes it; Pinky Swear is a no-filler album, with delicious low-fi symphonies and swirling weirdness from musicians who clearly understand the ins and outs of pop music.
On Pinky Swear, artificiality rules; drums don’t sound like normal drums, and why not use guitar effects pedals on everything? The opposite of pristine, it’s a refreshing change from canned sounds and prevailing recording styles, which will appeal to those who aren’t fuzz-averse.
Vocalist Andrea Belair’s sweet, angelic voice emerges from the sonic rubble from multi-instrumentalists Adam Malec and Tim Borkowski, like on “Something Was Strange,” a Suicide sibling and alternate universe new wave hit with an irresistible pop progression.
Gradually, the album becomes more odd, culminating in a mid-album triptych of unease; the tense piano chords of “Low Emotional Quotient” with irregular drumbeats make it disorienting, while “Lockdown” is even more bizarre, with a strange maelstrom including a chord structure provided by Belair’s Omnichord, awkward tempo changes, woozy slide guitar flourishes and ghostly backing vocals.
The strange mini-trilogy ends with the sinister, monolithic wall-of-noise “Don’t Mind Me,” far from the album’s bouncy pop fare.
Some of the album’s best vocal harmonies are on the echoing “Pageantry,” and “Heavy Rain” evokes a gothy post-punk influence without aping those styles; another blast of peculiar sound-making arrives on “He Leaves in an Hour” with reverberating chants and wandering confusion.
Procedure Club could have simply churned out an album of noisy pop songs and this writer probably would’ve been satisfied; however, Pinky Swear has loads of enticing curiosities, treading that line of pop comfort and intriguing discomfort.
Leonard * Day * Jerman
Isinglass comes from a trio of unconventional sound creators who invent instruments and repurpose objects to create almost completely abstract tracks; as they unfurl, they have the uncanny ability to inspire opposites in the mind of the listener, at least in this writer’s case.
On one hand, the unusual sounds can make the mind race, as it struggles to recognize sound sources or imagine how on earth a certain noise was made; on the other hand, these tracks also have the ability to simply paralyze the mind, where no thought processing is necessary—everything is purely felt.
Cheryl Leonard concentrates on using nature as a source for sounds and instruments and has spent time in Antarctica making field recordings and using stones, shells, ice and bones for compositions.
On Isinglass, Leonard is credited with playing unique instruments such as the “kelp flute” and the “driftwood pipe organ” along with “wobbly rocks” and a “bowl of sand.” Jeph Jerman is a kindred spirit who also has an affinity for natural sources and has previously played objects such as pinecones, branches and seed pods; however, on Isinglass, he utilizes an unspecified list of “household objects.”
The least organic of the three, Bryan Day straddles the natural and man-made worlds with one-of-a-kind instruments and also collects radio signals.
Scrapes, vibrating strings, tiny pieces of wood, marbles rolling around in bowls and resonating gongs share the aether with whispering ghost transmissions and alien broadcasts.
What sounds like whale songs or human breaths that vibrate surfaces provide an animal aspect among artificial sounds. The original six-track version of Isinglass was released digitally in 2014, but this new edition, released on cassette, features new artwork and an extra track. Oddly, for this writer, the most affecting track is the final piece, “Seven,” which is slightly despairing, using the metallic hum of what sounds like an antique device, with occasion rustles of human interaction.
Isinglass could have easily been a chaotic free-for-all jumble, but it is actually quite calm and slightly eerie; it has the solemnity of a monastery, but one that has been overtaken by overgrowth.