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Pumice - Puny

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Artist: Pumice

Album: Puny

Label: Soft Abuse

Review date: Apr. 3, 2012

Pumice’s Stefan Neville has long been one of the hidden heroes of the contemporary New Zealand music scene. Key to his success is an uncanny ability to wed the wire-twisting racket of no-fi noise with skewed pop elements that work better in practice than on paper. While many strive for visions of beauty peeking through the murk, Pumice seems consistently able to pull off this alchemical transition, creating songs that while neither hooky, nor particularly memorable, carry an emotional heft contrary to their spittle-spiky exteriors.

Puny, Neville’s first full-length in four years, is a welcome return. Here is the rather rare instance where hearing a sound unchanged by time offers a near-perfect prescription. A studio spell — or even a solid cleaning of the busted amps and cracked instruments strewn about Neville’s apartment — is not what one looks for from this artist. Here, the dirt and decay is welcome, even necessary.

That the album is built upon emotions felt during the breakdown of a relationship is apt. These noisy, fragile, yet eerily beautiful sounds seem customized for scarred hearts and battered minds. This is the sound of headache clouds clearing to a calm following a good temple-rubbing. There’s not much new here for long-time Pumice fans, but that’s what we’ve come to expect. No one spins Neville’s albums searching for this year’s “song of the summer.”

Opening track “Hey Crap Crab” is one of the poppier moments here, but it’s a stretch to call it catchy. The track sounds as if Neville is conducting a toy orchestra of sorts — an animated big band of cassette fuzz, stabbed-through drum heads and long-since-changed guitar strings. “Covered in Spiders” is nearly anthemic, with yearning vocals accenting pleasant strums and distorted soloing.

The album closing, nine-minute journey of “Cuachag Nan Craobh” is a Gaelic rowing song transformed from motivational sporting theme to crusty encapsulation of the Pumice sound. On its own — potentially as a 7” — the track functions as a grand entrance to the universe of this odd, wonderful band.

While Puny will likely draw few new fans into Neville’s unique sound world, those who have long fallen under the spell of his corroded Kiwi fuckery will be rapt yet again.

By Ethan Covey

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