Tickley Feather - "Keyboards is Drunk" (Tickley Feather)
As it has expanded over the past few years, the Paw Tracks label has developed a deceptively precious aesthetic, wherein an artist’s more recessed, childish or awe-struck leanings are tilted towards something that, if not dangerous, is at least somewhat primal. It’s both appreciated and frustrating how clearly its artists foreground these not-quite-opposed instincts, and the label’s catalog has understandably been a bit of a mixed bag. For every Young Prayer and Debt Dept. that comfortably negotiates emotional concerns and formal tics, there’s an Ariel Pink or Person Pitch that overindulges melodic and structural ideas under the guise of adhering to the above aesthetic.
Enter Tickley Feather. Operating out of Philadelphia by way of rural Virginia, Annie Sachs has released a few 7”s of her singular, skewed keyboard-pop, and it makes perfect sense for Paw Tracks to release her debut album. Besides sharing many of the label’s sonic signifiers (beat-up electronics, barely on-pitch vocals), Sachs creates a means of communication every bit as personal as the rest of the roster. Fortunately, she lets well-crafted songs, rather than the personal tension being highlighted, create most of the album’s impact.
Using her voice and some lo-fi keyboards, Sachs is able to tap into the same gauzy electronic warmth as Beach House, but on a rougher, bargain-basement level. This gives her license to indulge in some left-field weirdness that would sound terribly out of place on one of the Baltimore duo’s polished, professional releases; a few of the interludes and outros here sound as if they could’ve fallen off of a Creel Pone release, but rather than distract, the excursions contribute to the intoxicating atmosphere.
Some moments might veer into the preciousness that is kind of unavoidable for an album like this, but, in general, there’s a remarkable consistency, especially considering that the tracks have been culled from a four-year period. “Nothing 2 B Sad About” and “Night Train” are notable for focusing on how sweetly Sachs’ pleasantly unobtrusive vocals blend with ostensibly brittle electronic textures, but the stunning “Keyboards is Drunk” is her Julee Cruise moment, and the standout track on the album. It’s a woozy dreamscape that sounds some familiar notes, but, like the album, is ultimately Sachs’ own.