Azalea City Penis Club / Robin Allender
The Coffin Years / The Bird and the Word
B / B+
clectic, UK-based boutique label Dreamboat Records is a labor of love, packaging its releases in both deluxe, environmentally-friendly cardboard sleeves and digital downloads that include lyrics and artwork. Quixotic, perhaps, but it's not like major labels know any better right now. The result is handmade and listener-friendly to a fault; if a Dreamboat purchase has DRM problems, the label will provide the listener with DRM-free files upon proof of purchase. Two recent Dreamboat releases may prove this experiment prescient.
Azalea City Penis Club lift their name from John Fahey's book How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life. The band features two members of Warp act Gravenhurst; The Coffin Years is ACPC's debut and swan song. It suggests Neil Young (both electric and acoustic) channeling Britpop through Boris-esque sludge rock. The distortion is requisitely heavy; "Thunder and Wonder" lives up to its title with a swirling, shoegazer rideout.
The wattage, though, masks the band's true talent—songwriting. "Bad Villainy" strips down to bluesy Fender tones, upending Young's trademark motorcycle songs: "Oh you motherfucker! It's the motherfucking harvest moon!" "Bridges" swings through sweet vocal harmonies and crystalline acoustic guitars. "Pictures" does likewise, but plugged in. The recording is delightful, preserving string squeaks, edges of distortion, and natural drum tones. It beautifully captures the album's electric highlight, "Coconut Calypso," a gloriously ragged, 10-minute psychedelic workout with detours through jangles and tribal drums.
ACPC's Robin Allender makes his solo debut on The Bird and the Word, which distills the songwriting potential of The Coffin Years. It evokes both English folk traditionalists Fairport Convention and electric revisionists Steeleye Span, though in more intimate settings. His reverbed vocals recall the Stone Roses' Ian Brown or Simon and Garfunkel, especially the latter's harmonies. Though sparse, songs brush on layers when necessary. Shivering chords illuminate "Winter" like distant lamps, while Allender's acoustic guitar frames its chilly foreground.
However, he playfully lets lines linger on pure language: "I was looking around for the right metaphor / Maybe a man-o-war, or a matador." "The School Field" cunningly reprises themes and imagery from ACPC's "Thunder and Wonder." Though Allender's wordplay is sharp, his picking is sharper; it has the immaculate detail of Nick Drake's. Though "...the girls reading Blake read Blake no more / They're all working in marketing somewhere," The Bird should not suffer a similar fate.