Saturday, November 5, 2011

Celebrating Sketchbook Season: New Pulco EP Arrives November 21


What better way to describe Autumn than the term that titles the new EP from Pulco? Sketchbook Season is out on November 21st from Folkwit Records and it's another charming collection from Ash Cooke.

Derrero recently reunited as a a three-piece at the SWIGEN festival in Cardiff. And while I'm sure that Derrero fans are hoping that the band records new material together, some fans -- like me! -- are also hoping that Ash Cooke keeps making music under the Pulco moniker as his solo stuff is really great.

Sketchbook Season apparently started life as a set of songs recorded for The Garden of Earthly Delights radio show but, lest you think otherwise, these 5 tracks are as well thought-out as earlier Pulco releases.

Ash Cooke is adept at producing music that sounds as if it was casually developed. And then you listen to all the pieces in the songs, and the melody catches you, and you then appreciate what care went into these works. It's a bit like one guy in his home studio trying to replicate the sound of an entire real band.

More the fuzz-pop of Ariel Pink than the automatic drawing-inspired sonic sketches of solo Bill Nelson.



"Whistle Frog Finds A Way"

This track is really a perfect example of what a musician can do in the world of home recording (provided said musician has talents like Mr. Ash Cooke). What starts as a spoken word piece -- with a plucked guitar line reminiscent of "Bert Jansch" from the Ash Cooke/Adam Leonard collaboration Redlip -- turns quickly into a rather insistent melody built on the back of a sample of a whistle. It's a unique turn from Cooke and an interesting choice as an EP opener.

"Don't Stand Down"

What a tune! Really, this is as good as anything Cooke delivered with Derrero. There, I've said it! The sample -- choir or keyboard? -- anchors the cut and the gentle rhythm begins. "Don't stand down" is the main lyric and it's nearly whispered in spots. An acoustic guitar leads the track forward as Ash sings this gentle ballad.

There's a passing similarity to the best Boo Radleys here -- "Ride The Tiger" without all the production elements and guitar -- as well as the early solo stuff from Boo mainman Martin Carr in his Brave Captain guise.

Still, this is a lovely ballad and it's almost too good to be a free download.

"Party Started"

The late Elliott Smith was, clearly, a bit of an influence on Cooke as a solo artist and that vibe continues into "Party Started" -- put Smith's "A Passing Feeling" on a mix before this similarly sad-but-hopeful track and you'll see what I mean.

What makes Cooke deserve such high praise as comparison to Smith is that they both use the studio trickery sparingly; the elements here, like those on most of Smith's From A Basement On A Hill record, are used with judicious effect. In the hands of other musicians, this sort of music would be pummeled, no melody left alive.

Cooke wisely lets the tune unfurl with that very Steely Dan-ish guitar riff as the hook, his voice a bit further back in the mix. There's some silliness near the end, the cymbals (?) crash, and the song fades out.

As lovely as "Don't Stand Down" and a sure sign of Cooke's strengths as a solo artist.

"Hair"

Playful, a bit silly, and a touch folky, this track is simple and fun -- another side of Cooke, the flip of the previous two tunes.

"Knuckles"

With its Super Furry Animals-recalling keyboards, this tune is -- to my mind -- the closest Cooke's come to sounding like Derrero in his recent solo career.

Fans of that band and that era in the Welsh pop boom following the Britpop boom, should enjoy this short song. Again, it's a sign of Cooke's strengths that he can almost casually deliver this sort of easy melody, dress it up a bit in some studio effects, and produce something as good as the four-piece Derrero.

I'm always impressed at that sort of skill, especially when it's one guy in a studio doing all that.



Sketchbook Season will be out on November 21 via Folkwit Records. Mark your calendars!

Essential Pulco links:

On Folkwit Records: http://folkwit.com/artists/pulco

The Pulco blog: http://pulco.wordpress.com/

And on Bandcamp.com: http://pulco.bandcamp.com