Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dylan Shearer "Porchpuddles" on Empty Cellar Records

You could say that psych rock officially began with The 13th Floor Elevators and - let’s face it - LSD. It has, in the forty years since, mutated and combined with elements of freak folk even picking up some of Brian Eno’s atmospheric methodology along the way. Porchpuddles by Dylan Shearer expands on this thread into a quietly unsettling mix of hushed but spacious tracks. Hazy psych originated and flourished on the West coast, especially in the San Francisco Bay area, where Dylan currently lives and naturally cultivated his hybrid of muted perception.

The film Eraserhead clearly drew a line in the sand; you either enjoy giving in to the unknown or it’s an experience that will leave you frustrated. Slowcore bands like Rex and Fuck had the same problem with tempo; if you aren’t going to sit back and accept their deliberately slow ride then Porchpuddles also isn’t going to reveal itself. What Dylan is able to accomplish given this self imposed minimal environment continues to be amazing with each listen.

“Afterwhile” begins with a minimal electric guitar, slow, timid, and loud as hell. It’s turned up to a Velvet Underground level, amplifying those unavoidable imperfections, but in the process, humanizing the tracks. The chord changes groan and squeak, skittering across the fret board, ignoring polish. Dylan’s low, quivering vocal has a lot in common with Tim Cohen’s woozy folk roots, and he also lets his vocal melody evolve to look for cracks to creep in, often at odds with the electric guitar and hint of percussion. “Vacancies” goes further down the ambling folk road with a skeleton thin guitar that barely props up the meat of the lyric. Tim Cohen calls Dylan “A ghost of the present” in the press release and the comparison is something I can't escape. He’s literally delivering his phantom vocal in a moaning flutter that floats through open windows and down with falling leaves in the backyard. He’s created a real sense of calm in singing about sitting in a waiting room again, his world is running on another speed. It’s a perfect soundtrack for that passive activity…or taking a nap. Not because it’s boring, but it’s functioning as a lullaby in its subtle changes and tranquil melodies. A banjo pokes through the fluctuating rhythm of bass as if there are a few different songs wrapped up in each other. His improbable approach to song construction comes together like a driftwood shack on a foggy beach, adding to the dreamland feel, asking how this could possibly continue to hold itself together. Especially on “Tardy Party” which can barely keep a regular strumming rhythm, like the best Will Oldham moments, its stumbling home at the end of a drunken evening with the right kind of slowness.

B-Side’s “Alright, Already” finds Dylan nearly country, leisurely picking in a slower tempo so the tune can sink in deeper. A hint of hesitation in the performance is like a shaky stutter of car engine turning over, the chorus defying expectation and forcing the listener to will it into place, an inevitable failure that contradicts the master plan Porchpuddles had from the beginning. “Lostlore (Tinsel Mines)” is also in a constant state of catch up, just behind the vocal, which ceases to give any context for meaning. He’s nearly abandoned recognizable words and delivers them at such a soothing, warm blanket pace that the lyric becomes pure sound refusing to spell things out. There’s no direct message or story, it only sets into slow motion a Sunday afternoon. Dylan’s natural vibrato isn’t immediately apparent until you catch him at the end of a layered vocal on “Walked Away” where one of his layers ends too soon. By this time there’s no surprises in the instrumentation, the same elements are employed to mix and wind together into a massive, laid back stroll through that impressively green forest as far as you can see in every direction. You’re completely, hopelessly lost and it doesn’t matter.

Get Porchpuddles from Empty Cellar Records

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