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Pumice - Yeahnahvienna

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Artist: Pumice

Album: Yeahnahvienna

Label: Soft Abuse

Review date: Apr. 21, 2006

Auckland's Stefan Neville, a.k.a. Pumice, has been working in relative obscurity for a long time now, releasing a series of cassettes, CD-Rs, and only recently readily-available CDs from the Last Visible Dog (2003's Raft), Pseudoarcana (last year's Spears) and, now, Soft Abuse labels. Neville's also previously worked with Chris Knox, Sunken and the Nothing, among other projects.

Recorded in November of 2004, Yeahnahvienna was made while Neville was installed in Vienna as artist in residence at Museumsquartier. Based primarily on acoustic guitar and voice, some songs also bring in cassettes, organ and percussion. The recording is resolutely lo-fi, with both the good and bad that comes of the approach: it's occasionally murky and ill-defined, but also intimate and imbued with an undeniable personal touch. There's nothing slick or polished here; it's all one person, communicating directly in unvarnished sound. At times it feels as though Neville is trying too hard, purposely degrading the sound of his voice or a guitar for no clear reason other than that he can.

"Abominable" and "King Korny Remains" open the album with simple, picked guitar and vocals that are likely to prove the stumbling block for many when it comes to the album. The songs are minor-key ballads with fragile, emotional vocals; Neville is clearly less concerned about accuracy than expression. The feeling overall is of someone singing to himself, complete with occasional finger stumbles and cracking voice. "Brawl" is the most straight-forward singer/songwriter track here – strummed guitar and very simple drums comparatively upbeat amongst the rest of the album. The odd crackle and buzz surrounding the vocals, as if through a damaged mic cable, is the only hint of something askew.

"Wild Dogs" is different, a mysterious accretion of wheezing organ, distant tapping, and garbled voice as if listening to someone through a narrow heating duct from another house; "Darkpark" creates a mood fraught with sadness and loss, though its creaky sounds can be a bit much. "Worsted" makes four appearances, mixing variations of plucked guitar melodies and squelchy noises. Some are effectively sparse and appealing, while others allow the noises to get the upper hand and fall just on the annoying side of the border.

The album's keystone, if you will, is the 12-minute "Teas Tasting Fair.” An epic journey, the song is an organ-led lament, slow breaths of minor-key notes as Neville sings as if in another room, ringing metallic percussion clattering in the background. Its melancholy air becomes trance-inducing as the minutes pass, until the song devolves into clattering, splashing drums and cymbals. Now and again the organ emits a groan as punctuation. The song is only slightly spoiled by its finish, with a couple of artificial-sounding cuts and a burst of static noise at the very end.

Yeahnahvienna is an occasionally frustrating, often charming album. Its charm lies in the naked, personal feel of the songs, while the frustration comes of self-conscious sabotage, lo-fi for its own sake that detracts rather than adds to the songs. "Darkpark" doesn't need to be artificially distressed when there's so much feeling there already, while "Teas Tasting Fair" is nicely elegiac until the final gimmickry busts the mood. Despite this tendency, however, Neville has constructed an intimate, intriguing collection, and I'll be looking forward to Pumice's continued evolution.

By Mason Jones

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