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The Haul 2010: Like Pioneers' Piecemeal

Like Pioneers – Piecemeal MP3s – Abandoned Love, 2010

Like Pioneers' Piecemeal

There’s a specific aspect regarding The Narrator’s 2008 break-up that made it more painful than, say, Shiner’s 2003 break-up. Unlike Shiner’s Allen Epley, who resurfaced quickly with The Life and Times, the two frontmen of The Narrator weren’t just giving up on that band, they were giving up on that lifestyle. It came out explicitly in their final song, “So the End” (a MySpace exclusive) in which Sam Axelrod wearily relayed “We’re broke and we’re spent and it’s starting to take its toll” and “The time has come to find a new home” before culminating in a sing-along of “I can’t live on this witch’s salary.” It essentially said, “We may play music again, but our time in a back-breaking touring band is over.” As a fan of said back-breaking touring band, it was a real bummer.

Axelrod moved into the supporting role in at least one band, playing bass in The End of the World, but The Narrator’s other guitarist/singer, Jesse Woghin, was eerily quiet. This extended to the Chicago-based Flameshovel Records, which Woghin helped form and run. In addition to housing The Narrator and other Chicago acts like Chin Up Chin Up, Bound Stems, The Race, and Mannequin Men, Flameshovel expanded its geographic scope with excellent albums from Maritime, Judah Johnson, and Lukestar. It’s been over a year since Mannequin Men’s Use Your Illusion, Too came out, which seems to have signaled the end of a fine label. I suspect that having The Narrator, Chin Up Chin Up, and Bound Stems all break up in 2008 and 2009 sapped a great deal of the friend-driven enthusiasm from Woghin and company.

Like Pioneers’ Piecemeal aims to revive that enthusiasm without carrying its baggage. The group—80% of Bound Stems, Woghin from The Narrator, drummer Matt Holland, and multi-instrumentalist Darren Garvey—started last year with a no-pressure weekend trip to IV Lab Studios in Chicago, where they cranked out ten songs for Piecemeal. (“Paloma” is a late-arriving Bandcamp bonus track.) They’ve played a few shows in Chicago, with the line-up varying with availability, but don’t expect a US-wide tour any time soon. That lifestyle is over, but fortunately the music remains.

Piecemeal could have easily come across as just that—a hodge-podge of styles, vocalists, and energies that never quite congeals. But Like Pioneers find consistency in the proceedings even as those elements push and pull, letting the guitar-centric indie rock of Woghin’s “Crop Circles Plus Legs” coexist with the lonely pump organ of Bobby Gallivan’s “Teakettles No. 1,” situating the polished indie pop of “English Garden” next to the guitar-dueling outro of “Gift from a Holiday,” and bookending the album with the blurred guitar and organ melodies of evocative opener “Some People” and the affecting piano balladry of “Crab Candy.” This range comes hand-in-hand with being a loose collective, since there’s less of a need to get everyone involved in every track, tailor songs for the live settings, or meet expectations.

Like Pioneers’ Piecemeal is a great reminder of what Bound Stems, The Narrator, and Flameshovel had to offer, even as it abandons the trappings of being in those touring bands and running that label. My concern is that those trappings are precisely what led me to this new group in the first place. You won’t find the digital-only release of Piecemeal in your local record store or see Like Pioneers on tour. All I can hope is that people continue to stumble onto Like Pioneers (and The Narrator, Bound Stems, and Chin Up Chin Up), encouraging them to keep making this memorable blend of energetic indie rock and melodic, evocative indie pop.

Bottom Five II: The Bottom of the Barrel

1. Guy Fieri: I usually enjoy watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Versus, but certain things—the random intrusion of the Bruins’ color commentator Andy Brickley, Mike Emrick’s beady eyes, Brian Engblom’s roadkill haircut—certainly detract from the experience. Yet those quibbles pale in comparison to the routine airings of a T.G.I. Friday’s advertisement starring Food Network star Guy Fieri. If shoving his over-tanned skin and shocked-blonde hair into my face isn’t bad enough, he immediately tells me what I am going to eat at T.G.I. Friday’s. No, Guy Fieri, I will not eat that shoe-sole piece of sirloin steak. Sorry, Guy Fieri, I do not intend on buying drinks for the townie skanks at the next table. I will leave that one to you, pal. Do you want to know the next thing I’ll eat at T.G.I. Friday’s? Fucking crow, that’s what.

2. My Bloody Valentine Tour Dates: My finances will not allow me to attend what basically amounts to my dream festival this September, at which My Bloody Valentine will beckon the apocalypse by performing live and proving their existence, Built to Spill will perform the entirety of Perfect from Now On with the necessary thirty guitarists on stage for overdubs (I’m probably lying about this), Tortoise will trot out Millions Now Living Will Never Die in hopes of making me forget their post-TNT output, and Mogwai, Shellac, Polvo, Dinosaur Jr, Low, Thurston Moore, Lilys, and the Meat Puppets will combine in to form a Voltron of past and present indie credibility with the sole purpose of melting my soul. No, I will not be able to attend said event unless I drain the blood from my body and sell it to vampires. So finding out that My Bloody Valentine did not include a Boston date on their announced U.S. tour dates angers me just a tad. I need to experience the inside of a jet turbine, Kevin Shields, and I will hold all of your chinchillas hostage until that happens.

3. Missing The Narrator’s Last Show: For reasons similar to those behind item two, I will not be able to make it to The Narrator’s last show in New York City this Saturday. I imagine the following things will happen: they will perform “Son of Son of the Kiss of Death,” “This Party’s Over,” “Ergot Blues,” and “Now Is the Time for All Good Men” (none of which were performed at their last Boston show); Jesse Woghin’s guitar will spin around as if it were in a ZZ Top video; the band will spontaneously combust while performing “Roughhousing”; and finally, their ashes will sing an affecting cover of “All the Tired Horses” as a final encore. If any Boston gas stations would like to hold a Turn Back the Clock sale and charge $0.99 a gallon, I could make the show, but, as is, I’ll just have to read the police report.

4. Ongoing Democratic Primary: I can no longer pay attention to the national news because of the unrelenting teeth-gnashing on the part of both sides. Do you know what that leaves me? Human interest stories on local news. Please, a candidate, defeat the your opponent, behead them with a victory guillotine, and drink their blood during Deal or No Deal to show John McCain who’s really ready to take office.

Or, you know, convince the populace that you are a better fit to lead the nation.

5. Tautologies as Profound Insight: The next person, whether friend, sports analyst, or renowned blogger, who says any variation of “Well, you know, it is what it is” deserves to have any held degrees revoked. Oh, you graduated high school and think such clichéd sayings deserve mantra-like status for those accepting of certain conditions? Sorry, you’d better re-enroll. Don’t forget to stock up on school supplies.

Some Special New (and Old) Bands

Matt Talbott is apparently branching out from coaching high school football, since he's joined up with former Shiner members Paul Malinowski and Jason Gerkin (among others) for the next Open Hand record. He's featured on the untitled song at their MySpace page, which sounds like Downward Is Heavenward-era Hum with background vocals replacing some of the riffs. I have no idea if they're all part of the touring line-up or if this song is a one-off, but it bodes well.

Former Doris Henson/Proudentall frontman Matt Dunehoo is now in the NYC band Baby Teardrops. I skimmed a few of the songs, which didn't grab me as much as the highlights of Doris Henson's final record, Give Me All Your Money, but I'll keep an eye out for any official releases.

Bradley's Almanac has talked about Wye Oak on several occasions, so I checked out their Merge debut If Children. Perhaps it's the male/female duo that tipped me, but the record reminds me of a more rustic version of Folksongs in the Afterlife, whose Put Danger Back into Your Life is one of the most underrated records of the decade. Wye Oak has a similar appreciation for varying tempo and approach, although there are no bossa nova joints on If Children. They're playing Great Scott in Allston on May 2nd, but that is the week of too many damn shows, so I may not make it.

The Narrator has posted a song called "So the End" on their MySpace page, which surprisingly enough is about their impending demise. Like their R.E.M. cover posted at Stereogum, "So the End" furthers the folky resonance that popped up on All That to the Wall. The gang chorus of "I can't live on this witch's salary" sure bums me out. I'm still hoping to make it down to NYC for their final show.

Jon (of Stepleader/Juno documentary fame) has plugged singer/songwriter David Karsten Daniels a few times, so I finally got the hint and checked out his 2007 release Sharp Teeth and the new Fear of Flying, which comes out on April 29th on Fat Cat. I haven't fully digested either record, but "In My Child Mind You Were a Lion" from Fear of Flying is a clear highlight, displaying Daniels' expressive voice over a skeletal acoustic arrangement before ending on a wiry electric squall. Plus he can grow a pretty sweet beard, which is a pre-requisite for joining the indie folk movement. Sadly, I have proven time and again incapable of growing a burly beard, so freak-folk stardom does not await me.

The Narrator Is Breaking Up

According to their MySpace page, The Narrator is playing two final shows (Chicago and New York) in May. I'll look into making it down for the New York show, but given that I'm going to three other shows that week, it might be tight. If you haven't checked out All That to the Wall or Such Triumph, you have some research to do; those are two of the finest straight-up indie rock albums of the decade. I don't want to think of how many times I played "Son of Son of the Kiss of Death" in my car within the last year. It's too bad that a vinyl pressing of All That to the Wall never came to fruition, but I'm glad that I got to see the band twice.