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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.