The Pearlfishers: Across the Milky Way

[11 June 2001]

By Devon Powers

Can we talk for a minute? Let’s transcend this music reviewer/audience dichotomy—that’s not what human relationships have come to today, is it? I mean, there are things more important than this cool band, that catchy melody, another oversold pop act—there’s love to make, tea to make, fuzzy kitties to pet, high fives to be given. In fact, I don’t think we spend nearly enough time just saying hi to one another—so any and all of you who are reading this review, please drop me a line at concerts@popmatters.com. I’d love to hear from you.

There. Now that we’re friends and feeling a bit cuddly, we’re in just the right mood to talk about the Pearlfishers’ Across the Milky Way—an album that opens itself up like a photo album, sharing dreams of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A brainchild of David Scott (the band’s only constant member), the Pearlfishers create tales of childhood and outer space, and the dreams of retreating to one or the other. And they do so in a way that’s at ease and suede-lined. It’s the kind of album that makes you want to call your best friend from high school and reminisce about bad hairdos, road trips, and either revel in or skirt over embarrassing memories.

The band’s pearls are the numbers that do the reminiscing for you. “I Was a Cowboy” is a pensive, charming anthem of a boy’s courage and cowardice. The barren instrumentation and blushing vocals are the perfect canvass for Scott’s lyrics, that seem to come straight from a journal entry. Or “Sweet William”, an ode to youth or our younger selves, is a melody you can visualize cascading over rolling green lawns and fields flush with flowers. And its simple, direct observation—lines like “You’ve gotta take our chances / because our chances won’t take us”, or “It’s a complicated world”, remind us that none of us have all the answers, whether child or adult.

But elsewhere there is a sometimes Brady-esque bravado, rendering some of the songs more kitschy than contemplative, and the past more retro than romanticized. Take the opening number, “Across the Milky Way”, as a case in point. The number opens with quiet keyboard and bass, gently walking up and down an interval. They’re immediately joined by Scott’s vocals as he sings: “Wake up / The day is just beginning / Get up / Smell the air / Wake up / You’ve gotta stop your drifting / Away without a care”. His voice is slightly schmaltzy, in that Edwyn Collins sort of way, and it can’t help but jar the mood slightly. This confusion continues straight through the chorus—which has been layered with drums, strings, and a parallel vocal line. By the chorus’s close—complete with whistling—you’re in a place that’s part They Might Be Giants, part Elton John, and all a little bit funny. But is it supposed to be? The same quizzical effect is repeated in other songs, which perverts an otherwise tender, subtle, and nostalgic record.

If I had to tell you straight—one friend to another—I’d say “Across the Milky Way”, as is, sounds a bit more like a joke than it should. The Pearlfishers still have some distance to go in terms of rendering an album that can capture bittersweet memories in a way that merges the ache, humor, anger, and camp, rather than skittering frantically among them. Like the time in 10th grade when you professed your undying love to your crush, only to be brutally humiliated—in so many ways, it’s really funny, but in others, it’s just not funny. Not yet, anyway.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/pearlfishers-across/