Alex Julian Leeds: Vocals, Bass Guitar
Emily Massey: Vocals, Guitar
Teddy Matthews: Drums
Henry Stoehr: Vocals, Guitar
Nathan France: Saxophone on "Preoccupied"
All Music and Lyrics by Slow Pulp
Recorded at Mama Stoehr's
Produced, Mixed and Mastered by Henry Stoehr
Released March 9, 2017
First, I wish to send my apologies to the band for being unable to capture their live performance on the evening of March 9, 2017 as life had grown so complicated with its busyness to even accommodate one more thing to fit into it.
But even so, I had to stop by and grab the disc!
Dear readers, it has been nearly two years since the world has received any new music from the Madison, WI. based band Slow Pulp. Granted, the members of the band are extremely busy young people, juggling all manner of responsibilities from schooling, jobs and even having one band member living entirely out of the state in Minneapolis. But, much has changed since their debut release "EP1" (released June 8, 2015), back when the band existed under the name of Barbara Hans and this very collection of music went by the name that the band is now utilizing as its new, official moniker.
Singer/guitarist Henry Stoehr, bassist/vocalist Alex Julian Leeds and drummer Teddy Matthews, the trio of the newly christened Slow Pulp, have added a fourth member to their ranks in the form of singer/songwriter/guitarist and former Modern Mod frontwoman Emily Massey, and the addition has made for an absolutely perfect fit, allowing the band to unearth a previously untapped sultriness to combine with their specialized brand of low-fi bedroom pop and dream punk on their freshly unveiled second release entitled simply, "EP2."
Slow Pulp, performing live at The Frequency March 9, 2017
1. The dream punk aesthetic is on full display on "Brett Favre," the opening track on "EP2." While named after the Wisconsin Green Bay Packers football legend, the brief instrumental zig-zags from languid to full throttle power chord assault on a dime as television announcements from an unknown Rugby match cheer loudly in the background. The significance of merging one sports hero with others from a completely different sport, as if one is appearing in the other's athletically enhanced fever dream? Only the dream weavers of Slow Pulp know for certain...
2. Opening "EP2" in earnest is the previously released "Bundt Cakes," originally part of a 2016 joint digital single alongside the Madison based band Trophy Dad, in which Stoehr also performs as a guitarist. Just as I wrote upon this site last year, the track is a punchy slice of power pop that provides more than enough left-of-center sonic curve balls to keep you on your toes while also delivering an instantly addictive melodic/vocal hook to keep you singing along as you thrash your air-guitars and drums.
3. Emily Massey's first vocal appearance upon "EP2" is truly audacious as the band raises their own game with the stunning lovelorn blues of "Die Alone." Many months ago, Stoehr was very gracious to send me an early version of the song, and even back then, I was struck with the track's meloldicism while also the fact that it sounded so...downright strange. Now, in its final version, both aspects of the song remain strongly as the sleepy purr of Massey's vocals merge brilliantly with the seemingly dilapidated instrumentation, all of which perfectly conjures up the image and feelings of what it means to be freshly heartbroken and romantically wounded to the point of near paralysis. Like I said, it is a strange sounding song as if the rich almost '70s AM radio melodics were combined with indie rock crunch. It's like The Ozark Mountain Daredevils' classic "Jackie Blue" as if the song was performed by the depressed heroine of the title.
4. Stoehr returns to the mic on "Husband Pillow," an aggressively jaunty affair that immediately snaps the band back into fighting mode from the despair of the previous track. As with "Bundt Cakes," this selection again showcases the band's fearless approach with their songwriting, ensuring the listener will be unable to predict where they will musically head next from verse to chorus or even from measure to measure, all the while packing as much music as possible into the song's scant two and a half minute running time and happily leaving you breathless in the process.
5. Slow Pulp brings the bedroom pop to the forefront with "Houseboat," on which Massey's seductive, breathily sung "Yeah" near the song's opening sold it COMPLETELY. Somehow weaving The Andrea True Connection to my mind, the band sounds breezy, hazy, and more than a little drugged out, as if we have caught a '70s era ingenue daydreaming. But, here comes that terrific unpredictability as the band shape shifts again, beautifully merging a speedier garage punk mid-section with its more languid opening and closing, anchoring Massey's newfound presence in the band as a spellbinding move.
6. "EP2" comes to a gorgeous close with "Preoccupied," a track where the band sticks tightly with its erotic daydream groove, again perfectly sung by Massey and augmented by the slinky saxophone by Nathan France.
With name changes and band additions, it would not be unfair to infer that Slow Pulp is a band still in search of itself while also existing as an exciting musical force capable of mixing styles and genres to their heart's content while armed with a continuously impressive skill and power. With "EP2," the band has richly expanded upon their musical palate, making me even more curious and excited as a listener to see and hear where the band will head in their future music whenever that may arrive. As of now, as excitingly so, Slow Pulp is a band that is unquestionably difficult to pin down and that makes their presence in the Madison music community that much more vital and vibrant and deserving of your attention inside and outside of Wisconsin.
Aside from their songwriting and instrumental performances, all of which are first rate, the band has truly left me scratching my head with their sonic delivery. As with their local contemporaries in Post Social, Dash Hounds and Disq for instance, all of these band are proudly independent and low-fi. But unlike those aforementioned bands, who have all somehow made their low-fi recordings sound as lush as if they were realized in million dollar studios, Slow Pulp has gleefully remained with a scrappier aesthetic, as if they didn't wish to make their music sound too pretty, despite the glowing melodics that shine through their specialized, idiosyncratic pop songs. Whether by necessity or design, this aspect only enhances the band's identity as well as their mystery. Again, you just cannot pin them down.
Additionally, Slow Pulp's "EP2" is the sound of a band growing up to a degree. If there was something almost innocent or adolescent captured upon "EP1," this latest effort sounds as if the members have emerged from the garage and are heading up to the bedroom. Nothing salacious or prurient. But something that sounds more adult in intent and content.
Emily Massey in particular, sounds as if she especially has left the adolescent innocence of Modern Mod far behind in favor of exploring a more emerging womanhood musically, as also evidenced in her work with her other Madison based band Melkweed, which has yet to record and release material but have performed extremely well received live sets of some exquisitely realized soulful pop songs.
Whatever led to this combined effort of forces from the band's past and present, the results are captivating, beguiling and often filled with a dark allure that is inescapable. All in all, the very best thing that I can say after hearing the release of Slow Pulp's "EP2," six tracks combining in a brief but musically packed 17 minutes can be summed up in the following two words: