Slow Pulp
Photo: Alexa Viscius / Pitch Perfect PR

Slow Pulp’s ‘Yard’ Is Full of 1990’s Style Alt-Rock

Chicago-based Slow Pulp offer more 1990s-inspired indie rock on their sophomore album. Have they taken a step forward and did they even need to?

Slow Pulp
29 September 2023

The indie quartet Slow Pulp are originally from Madison, Wisconsin, and are now based in Chicago. Maybe these Midwestern roots explain the distinctly earnest, unassuming vibe of their music. Their new album, Yard, is very much of a piece with their debut LP, Moveys (2020). At ten songs and just over half an hour, it goes by as quickly and pleasantly as a Midwestern summer. Of those ten songs, not one of them is poor. The downside is not many of them truly stand out, either. In “Cramps”, singer Emily Massey claims, “I wanna bake out on the concrete,” and for better and worse, that is what Yard feels like—an indolent, ponderous day, albeit a day in the sun.

Reactions to Slow Pulp’s music often come hand-in-hand with references to 1990s-era alternative music, and it is easy to hear why. Strummy midtempo numbers like “Gone 2”, “Slugs”, and “MUD” mix the right amounts of grit and glimmer, easily recalling the days when the likes of the Breeders, Weezer, and Veruca Salt made big waves on college radio. The overdriven drums and occasional analog synth squiggle add modern touches.

The other default mode for Slow Pulp is uptempo, buzzing, semi-noisy indie rock. “Cramps” and “Worm” fall into this vein, with distorted power chords and breakneck drum fills, like the Smashing Pumpkins on a sugar high or, more recently, Alvvays. Like that band, Slow Pulp sometimes tend toward a fuzzy reverie that touches on dream pop and even shoegaze.

Languid ennui and dutiful pedal-stomping aren’t the only retro tricks Yard has up its sleeve, though. The title track finds Massey accompanied only by piano. It is a bit hurried and stilted to qualify as a full-on ballad. The acoustic-led “Carina Phone 1000” recalls, of all things, Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me”, while the fingerpicked closer “Fishes” is gentle, confessional singer-songwriter material. It is a marked contrast to Moveys’ final track, which was a goofy hip-hop pastiche, and perhaps it is a sign of genuine maturity if not exactly musical risk-taking.

The best thing on Yard is “Doubt”, ironically a confident, breakbeat-enhanced slice of winning alt-rock buoyed by an earworm, “doo-doo-doo” chorus. It would have been a massive hit for Liz Phair back in the day, and it makes one wonder why Slow Pulp seem reluctant to embrace their pure pop instincts more fully.

While Slow Pulp’s songs may get lost in a cloud of admittedly pleasurable second-hand pot smoke, one aspect that stands out is Massey’s vocals. Mildly nasal, unaffected, and slightly phased, her voice somehow is perfect at conveying boredom and uncertainty without actually sounding bland or indifferent. On the très country & western, pedal-steel and harmonica-assisted “Broadview”, she shows more depth than ever before, her voice nearly breaking as she decides to take a chance on a relationship: “Am I wrong / Or is it okay to stay inside?”

Most of the songs on Yard are about relationships and the ups, downs, self-doubt, and self-realization that go along with those relationships. Sometimes the words are clichéd, as in “Maybe I kinda like myself / But only when I’m alone” on “Fishes”. Mostly, though, Massey comes across as sincere, at least, and there are some nice turns of phrases like “You’re a summer hit / I’m singing it” on “Slugs”.

If Yard evinces any steps forward for Slow Pulp, they are baby steps. There is an argument to be made, though, for being consistently good rather than only intermittently great.

RATING 6 / 10