The Pistols at Dawn EP from Tulsan-turned-Seattleite David Terry (aka Aqueduct) bundles a schizophrenic blast of emotions in an album’s worth of hip production ideas. This is a sound-collage of power pop that manages, however self-consciously, to bridge early ’80s synth pop and ’90s alternative rock. From one perspective, that’s a defining trait of ’00 rock: a return to accessibility and an embrace of those suddenly inescapable ’80s roots coupled with an “anything goes” DIY aesthetic that says just about anyone with a PowerBook and an attitude can make a record.
Terry, a veteran of the Oklahoma quartet Epperly, has the keyboard chops and melodic bent to take his music a lot further than that. But while his songs are affable in tone, the persona revealed in his lyrics is frequently anything but, making it tough to relish; for instance, the lively handclaps, calliope sounds, and faux horn parts adorning the Flaming Lips-like “As Close as Your Girlfriend Is Far Away”. Sings Terry: “Too bad for you pricks like me, well they come and go everyday / They wreck your fucking life and fuck your wife then run away / ‘Til the day I die I’ll always stay that way”. If only he weren’t so convincing.
Of course, the general unguarded nature of the lyrics contributes to the disc’s authentic, home-brewed flavor. Terry fires off round after round of innovative samples and instrumental textures, from the opening bits of tuned reverb and overdriven drums to feral-sounding guitar squeals, massive fuzz bass, and actual lap steel. The result is a pleasing pastiche of hard and soft textures, packed-in sounds that blossom into sprawling aural spaces. Across the five songs, Terry shows a penchant for tempo shifts and startling musical right turns that keep things interesting as they govern the pacing of the disc.
The blustery opening, “Hardcore Days & Softcore Nights”, is effectively a warning (“Don’t ever ask me where I’m from / In six states that’s considered dumb”, a direct reference to the title of the EP), with pounding drums, swooshing synths, and siren-like guitars evoking flailing arms incapable of embrace. “Dinner Mints” is more inviting, serving up shimmering, piano-driven pop with a bridge right out of the book of Pixies. Then, like dawn breaking, the song offers the greatest moment of the disc, as the couplet “The future’s imminently blue / The sun will be coming up soon” draws bursts of fiery, triumphant guitar and synth. Sadly, the affair is cut short by an abrupt end and a cry of “Hey — who stopped the tape?” This is a man who seems decidedly ill at ease with joy, even when he’s clearly capable of expressing it.
The fourth track, “Tension (Piano Verite)”, makes it painfully obvious that Terry is all but incapable of carrying a tune for long. “But it’s not about carrying a tune! This isn’t Burt Bacharach!” Yes, I know, but the lyrics and arrangement both scream “sensitive ballad”. With a band, in a live setting, this song might fly. Here, it just sounds forced and not a little whiny, despite Terry’s credible vocal impersonation of a trumpet midway through.
The last track, the beat-heavy and seemingly incongruous “Who Wanna Rock?”, is actually my favorite. Terry’s braggadocio works to his credit here, fusing with Prince-dry drum and high-hat samples and bouncy synth bass to convey something approaching out-and-out fun. Right at the end, a hard break gives way to a gently strummed acoustic guitar that heralds a pensive, down-tempo take on the song’s burning question, buoyed by falsetto, minor-key “who wanna”s. To coin a choice phrase from the song, David Terry is an “awkward duck” indeed — one with whom many will surely enjoy shaking a post-modern tail feather.