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The Haul 2010: The Pupils' The Pupils

The Pupils – The Pupils LP – Dischord, 2002 – $3.20 (Newbury St. Newbury Comics, 4/17)

The Pupils' The Pupils

As an extension of Daniel Higgs and Asa Osborne’s main group, Dischord mainstays Lungfish, the Pupils are to a large extent argument-proof. Opinions may vary on the quality or importance of the Lungfish’s minimal, repetitive punk-rock and mystic incantations, but the chances that any of those opinions will affect the group’s gradual evolution are nil. You’re either on board or you’re not. You are far more likely to change than they are. I speak from experience on that last point, having looked upon a few stray Lungfish songs as a curious offshoot of DC punk rock back in high school, only to have The Unanimous Hour finally click a few years ago. It’s not that they don’t change—there’s a noticeable arc to their career, starting out with the aggressive punk of Necklace of Heads and Talking Songs for Walking, progressing to the honed precision of Indivisible, and finally to the garage minimalism of Feral Hymns—but this evolution never feels haphazard or forced. If anything, I’d call it erosion, not evolution, since tendencies are stripped away, the flesh made bare over the course of time.

Another terminology correction: earlier I called The Pupils an extension of Lungfish, not a side project, and this specification is critical. At no point during The Pupils did I get the sense that Higgs and Osborne were out to try something overtly new with this name. It’s Lungfish without a rhythm section. While many listeners would be upset at this specification, hoping for a different take on Lungfish’s signature combination of minimalism and mysticism, it makes perfect sense to me. There are certainly gentler moments than usually appear on Lungfish LPs, specifically “It’s Good to Have Met You” and “I Will Remain Human for Another Day,” but these are just as wonderfully confounding as any Lungfish song. The former has an atypically romantic notion in “It’s good to have loved you my sweetheart / It’s good to hope that we should never have to part,” but it fits into a cycle of bonds recalling Lungfish’s “Hallucinatorium.” "I Will Remain Human" reaffirms the oddity of Higgs’ lyrics with “We’re hand in hand at the horizon / We gird our loins for teleharmonizing” even as it circles back on the seemingly loving territory of “It’s Good to Have Met You.” There’s plenty of other quirks to be found, like “Witness the Sidewalk Weeping Pools of Martian Brine,” which is just long enough to recite the title, but The Pupils never feels shoddy or tossed-off.

Perhaps I’m giving Higgs/Osborne/Pupils/Lungfish too much leeway because of their idiosyncratic nature, but it’s honestly refreshing to hear an album and not have my critical impulses emphasize what I would’ve had them do differently. (I leave such impulses to Daniel Higgs’ solo work, where my critical impulses say “Stop playing the mouth harp already.”) The Pupils does exactly what I expected and yet it’s not limited to my expectations, a typically Lungfish mind-bender.