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Rebecca Pearcy - Constellation

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Artist: Rebecca Pearcy

Album: Constellation

Label: Yo-Yo

Review date: Jan. 9, 2003

Long Live the Plague

Much like certain remote valleys in India that still fester with bubonic plague, Olympia, WA is the city where indie rock never died. Long after Chapel Hill, Chicago, and Brooklyn have their indie rock either stolen by major labels or atrophy from lack of interest, there will still be people in thrift store t-shirts bobbing their heads to jangly guitars in Olympia. Perhaps a more apt (and yet more reductive) analogy would be that the city is indie rock's Neverneverland, where the genre refuses to grow up and accept the realities of adulthood. For whatever reason, Olympia seems to produce bands (Spinanes, Halo Benders) and labels (Kill Rock Stars, K) that maintain the slightly na´ve, optimistic sense that imbued much of the indie rock of the late eighties and early nineties, before commerce and fashion stuck their inevitable claws into the whole thing and dragged it to the ground.

Whatever it might be, Olympia certainly seems like a good place to have a band. Rebecca Pearcy's album Constellation benefits from this supportive, relaxed approach to music, as it doesn't strain to nail the zeitgeist or make Ms. Pearcy famous. In its own way, it takes one back to indie rock's early days, when the phrase had less baggage and it usually meant that the band was too good to be on a shitty major label. And while her record doesn't really rock, it exemplifies the ideals and sensibilities of Olympia as much as Elliott Smith or Sleater-Kinney. Her sound falls somewhere between country crooners like Emmylou Harris and the lush atmospherics of bands like Mojave 3 and Yo La Tengo. Pearcy has a lovely voice, and learned early on that a pedal steel never made a song worse. That instrument is all over the place, as are loads of aching vocal harmonies and the occasional violin. Most of the arrangements are mid-tempo, with nicely shuffling drums and some lovely minor-key piano as accompaniment to her musings about relationships and the strangeness of daily life.

It's not a ground-breaking, startling album, but it also reveals itself to be quite beautiful and engaging, song-oriented and rather wonderful in places. For all of its seemingly modest ambitions, the record manages to effortlessly distill a handful of genres and make the kind of album you suddenly realize you were missing for a while. There's the slightly awkward pop of "Constellation", which focuses on the ennui of dating a confused individual, and the stunning "Messy", which combines the aforementioned pedal steel and Pearcy's rich voice to nice effect. It's what Natalie Merchant could sound like if she had more taste and was less precious with her material. Not a very hip reference, but that seems to be part of the album's point. It harkens back to the underground of the 1980s, when people liked R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs as much as Echo and the Bunnymen and Sonic Youth. Music is getting awfully fractious and genre-conscious these days, and it's perhaps important to remember that this doesn't always have to be the case. Let's hope Olympia manages to harbor its peculiar virus for a good, long while.

By Jason Dungan

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