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Heads on Sticks

The Pamphleteer




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You have to wait three minutes for the payoff of "The Pamphleteer/ During the Gold Rush," the fifth track of The Pamphleteer, the latest EP from Strange frontman and Birds of Avalon bassist David Mueller as Heads on Sticks. The track is announced with a martial drum beat and a thick, scabrous anti-riff. That's exactly where it stays, too, like an intro forgetting its place and stuck on repeat, waiting for the song to start. But just after it's become distracting, the beat splinters and slows, Mueller's processed, smeared vocals gliding from the back of the abrasion. His melody sounds like Spaceman 3 with a fortified bass-bone, grinding guitars and perfectly ruinous cymbals reinforcing the power of the pretty things up on top. Big and moving, it's The Pamphleteer's best moment, even if the climax comes precluded by rising tedium.

Indeed, The Pamphleteer succeeds on its own embrace of incongruity and unbalance: There are three guitar-and-band rock songs and three sequencers-and-synthesizers electronic tracks here, and Mueller ties them together with jarring transitions. The rock songs themselves are interesting composite anomalies, built from several pieces of different puzzles. On opener "In Each Thrush, A Finch," Mueller bends a subdued funk guitar line against fellow Strange member Brian Donohoe's Mersey bounce. Goner's Scott Phillips prances between beats with an electronic clavinet, and Peter Lamb and Crowmeat Bob Pence lend a big-bottom brass. Like an upper-based Pere Ubu situated in even newer instrumental contexts, it somehow works. Midway through "Protection," the album's best track, Mueller even switches his voice: What was a slightly swinging pop baritone becomes a suspect sneer, tension switched on like a light.

The modes of electronic music Mueller tinkers with here are unlikely bedfellows, too. "For Mingering Mike"—87 seconds of a beat that cops Tchaikovsky and an Atari—is, again, an extended intro (for "Protection") that would have done well in the presence of restraint. But on "Lazy Eye (Young Mothers)," Mueller works successfully with a revivalist technique that Swedish duo The Knife recently brought to the surface. Above a pulse that feels perfectly aloof, Mueller sings the hook. An inhuman voice (actually, his voice routed through a series of pedals) mimics its flesh-and-bone precedent. Something real pushes against something fake. A head on a stick, maybe. Solid work, at the least.

Heads on Sticks plays Bickett Gallery Wednesday, Feb. 21 with S8& and Kings Friday, March 2 with The Kingsbury Manx and Hundredaire.

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