The first solo release by former Polvo frontman Ash Bowie--the sole member of Libraness--Yesterday and Tomorrow's Shells finds Bowie riding his tragic carpet into the heart of low-fi land. On the whole, the album--with its avant song structures and exotic Eastern-flavorings--is representative of the Polvo mysterioso side of his former band rather than the fractured alt-rock of '96's exploded drawing.
Like the solo outings of producer and multi-instrumentalist Jim O'Rourke, Bowie explores the parameters of modern rock. Recorded between '93 and '99, the album works as an aural diary of sorts, a chronicle of trademark Bowie-isms. Guitar sounds shimmer like a sonic mirage in an Aladdinesque desert while notes stretch, chords bend and tuning pegs twist. Bowie's coolly delivered, processed-sounding vocal performances--especially on catchy "pop" numbers such as "No Separation" and "Deformed Bridges"--ice this musical confection. The second track, "Face on Backwards," (love that xylophone run) brings to mind "Fractured (Like Chandeliers)," one of the finest moments on Polvo's Celebrate the New Dark Age. "You are my Foreign Film," with its koto stylings, starts like a soundtrack to a '50s Kurosawa period epic before shifting into alt-rockdom. "The Memory" is a bazaar instrumental with tabla-style drumming and manic picking for a warped raga feel. "Richard Petty" features tuning peg hijinks and horn-like synth blasts, while "Totempole" is 'tude-driven post punk.
Although Bowie recorded three tracks in the studio during Helium's Dirt of Luck sessions in '94, most of the album was recorded either in Chapel Hill or his mom's basement in North Carolina, then mixed with producer Eric Masunaga (Sebadoh, Magnetic Fields). Over the years, countless bands have tried to tap into the Bowie/Polvo sound (instantly recognizable since their "Vibracobra" 7-inch). Yesterday and Tomorrow's Shells--a work of fractured beauty--proves there's nothing like the real thing.