Owen Pate's one-man lo-fi orchestra concocts overstuffed, understructured ditties for half an album, then resolves into clarity near the end.
This surreally giddy, overstuffed and under-finished album -- the debut by the Philadelphia one-man hurdy-gurdy Colin Pate -- sets up its tent hopefully near the better neighborhoods of Elephant Six-dom. Intermittently excellent (and intermittently unintelligible), Smother Party is a purely provisional stab at psyche-pop greatness that may, in time, result in permanent residence. For now, though, it's best to walk quickly over the rickety foundations of drum machine and jerry-rigged keyboards, past the early essays at found poetry, toward the latter part of this dense and under-structured album. Once past the short, keyboarded blippiness of the title track, you enter an altogether more enticing space, one bounded by the orienting thud of four-four beats, but still embellished with festoons of errant ideas. Here's a place where brief flurry of "Immigrant Song"-ish guitar riffs can dart off half-cocked into thickets of reverbed pop choruses worthy of Ariel Pink ("Constantly Changing"), where a steady bass line pulses under dreamy choruses about "self-pleaaaaasuurre" ("Samantha's Reverie"). The best two songs come last, though, adding just enough clarity to Pate's lo-fi, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic to give you a good grip on what's happening. "King Elvis" totters forward at half speed, plaintive lyrics about seeking King Elvis with a flashlight and falling asleep with dictionaries on one's eyes making a sort of you-had-to-be-there sense. And "Luxury Liner", a whispery whimsy about love, death, and submerged cruise ships, is everything you could want from a skewed bedroom genius with one eye on Jeff Magnum and the other on Syd Barrett.