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Wingtip Sloat - Add This to Rhetoric

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Artist: Wingtip Sloat

Album: Add This to Rhetoric

Label: VHF

Review date: Oct. 4, 2007

One decade is equal to a century in rock-culture years. Thus, many of the fickle indie cognoscenti who obsessively tracked Wingtip Sloat during its early-to-mid-’90s heyday have probably left the trio for dead. And who could blame them? Its public profile has been negligible for ages, but miraculously, the group is still breathing and banging around erratically in some Virginia basement – still gunning beers, still smoking amps, and still composing enervated, post-Dischord art-core as well as fragile, dog-eared pop with experimental toss-offs thrown in for chuckles. Like other terrific, sporadically active combos prone to both quality control and straight jobs – San Francisco’s exquisite Toiling Midgets come to mind – Sloat moves at its own pace. For these renaissance-cum-family men from the DC suburbs, a 113-month gap between albums is no big deal. In fact, it’s actually par for the course.

Add This to Rhetoric is Patrick Foster, Andrew Dubuc and David Bishop’s sole commercially available output since 1998, when VHF issued their second LP, the ludicrously christened If Only for the Hatchery. But their latest effort does not contain any current material: This odds-and-ends compendium conjoins Sloat’s first three seven-inch vinyl EPs and affixes a 1990 demo plus a wealth of corresponding miscellany.

The knotty vignettes therein swiftly disprove Rock and the Pop Narcotic author Joe Carducci’s theory that “record collectors shouldn’t be in bands.” Compared to most fanboys’ attempts at musical expression, Rhetoric often matches and occasionally surpasses the sources that inspired its creation. Wingtip Sloat flaunts its influences – the Velvets-spawned jangle of New Zealand’s the Clean and the Verlaines, the nascent emo scorch of Washington’s Happy Go Licky and Gray Matter, the rosters of the revered Homestead and SST labels – but it juxtaposes and remodels those idioms in a winning, wholly unexpected fashion. Urgent, hooky jabs such as “Blessed Nimbus, Churning” and “Nada Dry Lemo” are much too wound-up, earnest and strange to be dismissed as stylized, derivative gestures. An anxious tide pulls at every jagged note and when it recedes, ironic distance seeps into heart-on-sleeve exhilaration and genuine vulnerability devours studied toughness.

In ancient times, simpletons (“Detractors / Critics / Fucking critics / Asshole critics!,” Foster rails in the awesome “Ashcan School” as veins bulge in his skinny neck), perhaps blinded by the low-fidelity muck and abstruse song titles, linked Sloat’s initial singles to Pavement’s scruffy but tamer maiden voyages. While the two parties overlap in minor ways (a fondness for ’80s underground totems, a handful of shared gigs, the matriculation of a fledgling Stephen Malkmus with members of Foster and Dubuc’s collegiate quartet Empty Box), history has rendered all associations circumstantial and inconsequential. We’re talking a remote, peer-type relationship, at best. Hindsight has painted Wingtip Sloat as a far less populist, more adventurous entity than its better-known contemporary; these guys would sooner eat glass than hire that producer who hobnobbed with Radiohead.

The scraps compiled on Rhetoric have endured superlatively. And though they evoke a period when indie rock was insular, unselfconscious, restless, angry, difficult, non-clichéd, etc., Sloat’s heated angularities (“Teapot Dome,” “Aspermicle”), punk cranium-rushes (“M31,” “Bob Howe”), candid tenderness (“It Reminds Me,” “The Bed Pot”), and drunken idiocy (“Full Vamka,” “Purple Martini”) will also convert greenhorns who aren’t old enough to feel nostalgic. Foster’s high, sneering meow and Bishop’s cockeyed drums sound just as fresh, impassioned and physically gratifying this afternoon as they did in 1991. (The disc’s numerous, faithfully sketched cover tunes, which run the rather limited gamut from the Swell Maps to the Sun City Girls, are cool as hell but not nearly as universal.)

Basically, it’s an utter joy to revisit Wingtip Sloat’s half-forgotten snapshots and to see its good name back in circulation. May these retiring, average-bloke sages once again crack open a 12-pack (or a case) and force themselves into a studio (basement or blue-chip) before their livers resign in protest.

By Jordan N. Mamone

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