Milwaukee-based trio the Pulltops mix retro sounds of the 1960s and the 1970s into something fresh and new. Their eight-song CD (appropriately entitled 8-Track) is a fun half-hour's musical fare, mixing elements of blues, rock, and country into something melodic and distinctive.
At the end of 2001, when John Lennartz's departure translated to an end of things for the band Udi Subudi, the other band members decided to start something new. This new band became the Pulltops: Mark Pierret on drums, vocals, and moog, Tom Crowell on guitars, bass, vocals, moog, Fender Rhodes, and percussion, and Rocky Dunst on bass. Pierret and Crowell have written some fine songs here, and enhanced their efforts with great mixing and production too.
Opening with a sweeping two-and-a-half-minute musical introduction of guitar lines dancing atop a strong percussive beat, you get an immediate sense that you're about to hear something a bit different.
"Fences" is a fairly traditional song with many disparate elements going on at once, yet the production never seems crowded in the least. There is subtle nuance to the instrumentation, and delectable Posies-like harmonies at times. The song, about barriers, is pleasantly mellow, but with punch, much in the manner of some Velvet Crush or Gigolo Aunt songs.
"Bring It to Me" is a rather demanding, chauvinistic lyric from a sort of stalker character who wants it all and wants it his way. The obnoxious lyric must be somewhat tongue in cheek, right? The song itself is fairly infectious otherwise, with a nice rootsy beat driving it along, and a superb reverb-enhanced middle vocal bridge.
"Peace" builds slowly from bare vocals and guitar to eventual ironic shouts, a sweet prayer/poem of a song, full of subtle well-wishes, on the order of this: "Salt in your heart / A simple child / A perfect smile / I hope you find peace tonight".
"On My Way (Small Town)" reminds me of many Mike Nesmith songs, both vocally and in the way the guitars have a sort of endearing Monkees/Beatles/country thing going on. This is very 1960s, very catchy, and full of simple good times, a song about not being able to go back to living in a small town. Another strong track very well executed.
The Pulltops show a certain affinity for songs of comfort, safety, and assurance. "Bleed", the last song recorded for this CD, is one of the best of these. As a conscious challenge, the band used unusual instrumentation, replacing the normal drum kit with marching snares and a marching bass drum, and swapping the usual guitar parts for Fender Rhodes, a bell kit, and a fretless bass. The end results are quite good: the fretless bass gives this song/pledge of loyal friendship and sacrifice a delightful jazzy underpinning.
Those who wonder if the Pulltops can rock harder need only listen to "Voices". You get more of a Cheap Trick/Knack feel to things here, more basic crunchy guitar and pounding drums, and nice harmonies that soften the crazy "voices in my head" of the singer's narrative.
The closer, "Long Way Home", is a great song (and it's rare to find many CDs that end on such a strong note). Driven by strong beats and forceful guitar, this musical journey home is one worth taking. Crowell and Pierret really show their stuff, and then the song fades into ambient road noise that goes on a bit (and might have you walking along with your thumb out, hoping for a ride).
There's a lot of power and intensity behind the varied sounds here, and 8-Track is a fine debut sampler. The Pulltops do manage the difficult feat of taking old elements and making them new, but it all goes by far too quickly and leaves the listener eager for more.