[11 September 2011]
Peter Wolf Crier has informed me I’m a hypocrite.
Seriously, it’s not a quote from one of their songs; I have realized I’m full of shit after listening to the band’s new album, Garden of Arms. Just recently, I reviewed Los Angeles duo Pepper Rabbit’s new album and complained that there’s an oversaturation of two-man bands in the music scene right now, and even with accolades to the group for having the talent to produce music by its lonesome, my argument was that there’s only so much that can be done under these terms without eventually sounding like a DJ-infused beat orchestra. Not that Pepper Rabbit totally succumbed to that, but its sound resembles the same fuzz-pop that’s littering the indie scene at the moment.
Yet only one review later, that’s all out the window. Peter Wolf Crier made me recognize that this synth bass/drum kit/keyboard combination that’s become so common in today’s scene doesn’t have me as bored as I originally thought. Even though it seems every drum beat from the past six months incorporates tambourines and shakers, something about Peter Pisano and Brian Moen doing it doesn’t come off as plagiarism, just as Pisano’s voice manipulation is equally as tolerable. Although presently 90 percent of lead singers’ voices are hollowed out by a mic effect, something about the frontman’s singing doesn’t bother me. It could be the high-pitched, vocal stretch he reaches that’s remarkably akin to Jim James, or it could also be the breath of fresh air I took in knowing that I wasn’t listening to another Ben Gibbard soundalike. Either way, there was something different about these two songwriters that held my attention.
The thing about Garden of Arms is that, at first listen, it isn’t all that fascinating. Being on the same label that produces Bon Iver, the Cave Singers, and Okkervil River, I expected Peter Wolf Crier to be a folk-rock duo with deep, resonant harmonies and hollow guitar tones. But by the end of the opening track, “Right Away”, the simple keyboard melody with an overdubbed drum kit beat had me disappointed. Where were the acoustic guitars?, I shrugged. Where were the frontman’s subdued vocals? Instead of crying melancholy lamentations, Pisano spewed singular ideas over a heavy crescendo with the bombastic nature of Portishead’s “Machine Gun”. And for the next ten songs, I was met with a mix of clean, two-note arpeggios in the vein of Jonny Greenwood (on “Beach”), the electrifying intensity of a My Morning Jacket rock anthem (on “Krishnamutri”), and the smooth, hip-hop beat of a Timbaland production (on “Setting It Off”). With such a jarring amalgamate of tones, the album couldn’t settle well with me.
But after several more listens, the answer hit me: growth, and not just for the artists and their career endeavors, but for my own view of the album itself. The defining difference between Peter Wolf Crier and all those other indie duos I bashed earlier is that this group expanded its sound. Though last spring’s Inter-Be had the plaintive, acoustic tracks I look for in a Jagjaguwar release, this newest collection is more cultivated and attentive to details. They’ve stretched themselves in all the aforementioned areas, from brash, hard-rockin’ tunes to the more doleful waning originally expected of them. So what originally seemed like a jumbled array of sonic explorations eventually found its place in the recesses of my brain, and I can now state full well that Garden of Arms is a steady piece of music. Despite what their name implies, these guys aren’t fakers. When they make themselves heard in the future, you’ll come a-runnin’.