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Tracy and the Plastics - Culture For Pigeon

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Artist: Tracy and the Plastics

Album: Culture For Pigeon

Label: Troubleman Unlimited

Review date: Aug. 4, 2004

The new Tracy and The Plastics album Culture For Pigeon runs less than 26 minutes, but there’s plenty here to spite those who wrote Wynne Greenwood off as an electro-clash novelty act. Half the songs are ballads without beats, and the lyrics are intimate, not icy. This is a big change from the intensity of her first full-length Muscler’s Guide To Videonics, but that’s only one of the many ways she confounded expectations this time around.

Her voice, while sometimes still used for shrill punk effect, sounds heartfelt and direct. On the serene opener “Big Stereo” Greenwood belts out lines like “four years have fallen far before me” with the kind of passion normally reserved for heart-on-the-sleeve singer/songwriters. It’s a risky move, but it pays off in songs that attain an unexpected level of emotional clarity.

Another surprise is the production, which manages to maintain the lo-fi feel of her previous work while greatly expanding in style and texture. Greenwood has long had a love for cheap ’80s synthesizers and drum machines, but here they sound less like obligatory retro cool and more like a personal dialect. On “Happens,” for example, the melancholy synth lines bend and twist in and out of rhythm like a wailing sob, as Greenwood softly coos about death, longing, and birds. Chilling stuff.

There are the obligatory thumping beats, but this is as far from a dance album as one could possibly get. The songs pass quickly in two-minute spurts of melody and energy, and the nervous percussion never settles into a bland disco meter (unlike some other artists tagged with the electro-clash label). Greenwood has a knack for taking the most basic of melodic lines and elevating them into anthems. On “What You Still Want,” she only uses a handful of bleepy two-note repetitions, but when she hits the exhilarating chorus (“Heeeeeeeyyy!!”), it’s mighty hard not to join in. These kind of moments are all over Culture For Pigeon, and despite its brevity, there are enough lo-fi hooks to keep listeners wrapped up for weeks.

A DVD accompanies the CD, and it’s quite the treat, as well. Greenwood’s video work was selected for the 2004 Whitney Biennial, which was one of the most acclaimed productions in years. She’s a remarkably accomplished actress in these shorts, playing multiple characters in perfectly deadpan comic fashion.

So to summarize, Greenwood writes, directs and acts in her own videos, writes her own songs where she plays all the instruments and does all the singing, manages to put it all together for a solo mixed-media live show, and sells a museum on hosting it – all on top of a post-graduate degree program. Wynne, you are my hero.

By Joel Penney

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