Pedro: Early Pedro

When a collection of an artist's early work is issued, that sometimes means work of lesser quality is being foisted onto an unsuspecting public. That doesn't apply to Early Pedro, however, even if some of its material sounds like it was laid down in the artist's bedroom (the heavy hiss and rippling static in the otherwise impressive “Chapel Was My Dream,” for example, are so pronounced they're distracting). It's an interesting release as it collects James Rutledge's first three Pedro EPs (Repent issued in summer 1999, Chapel Was My Dream in 2001, and the third, Pedro vs. Kathryn Williams, in December 2002) which have since been joined by a debut full-length (Pedro LP released July 2003) and the recent remix collection Fear & Resilience. Even more interestingly, the EPs are sequenced chronologically, making for easy comparisons between them and enabling the listener to trace the evolution of Pedro's music.

In simplest terms, the first EP reveals Rutledge to be a kindred spirit to Greg Davis with material that often evokes the bucolic splendor of Arbor; with its reverberant plucks and acoustic picking, the meditative opener “Assembled By #33” could just as easily have come from Davis's hand as Rutledge's. The second EP revisits the style, too, with the acoustic guitar and rollicking, back porch rhythms of “The Right Way To Play Chess.” But in general Pedro's music rapidly evolves in sound and style. While the first EP's title track features a satisfying samba-flavoured arrangement of drums, acoustic guitar, bass, and trumpet, it sounds almost tentative next to the later more expansive material which deploys bolder arrangements of mallet percussion, strings, keyboards, and horns and includes a greater number of jazz and electronic elements. For instance, the middle disc's lovely “Hoop” contrasts the bright sparkle of glockenspiels with saxophone and backs them with a gauzy mass of strings and horns, while “D.A.R.Y.L,” sounding much different, spotlights a chiming synth interweave and pulsating piano chords alongside heavier clicking beats. A clear indicator of growth is seen in the second EP's closer “Blessed Is The Savant” whose phasing effects and guitars initially mirror “Assembled By #33” but then expand upon it with glockenspiel tinklings, a choir voice sample, and a laconic beat shuffle.

The third EP (originally released on Moshi Moshi), a collaboration with singer Kathryn Williams, is different though no less appealing. Stylistically broad, “Demons In Cases” merges bluegrass picking and marimba with Williams' charming vocal and eventually rises into a blurry shoegaze episode of guitars and drums. The second song emphasizes a dreamy melody line which finds Williams' voice backed by imaginative settings of marimbas and castanets. The closer “Part 2” is a wild and glitchy makeover of “Demons In Cases” with the vocal line dropped and the emphasis shifted to mallet tinklings, strings, and frenetic drum & bass patterns.

Monitoring the evolution of the songwriting itself, the collection shows Rutledge's music becoming more developed as the album progresses. In an early song, he memorably drapes a pretty flute melody over loping beats in “Lay Down Mega Man” but, structurally, the piece impresses less by alternating repetitively between two sections; by comparison, later material travels far less predictable paths. Stylistically, the album evolves too, beginning with folktronica but broadening out into a heavier beat-centered dimension (“Lay Down Mega Man,” “Field Angels,” and “Koolhaas”) that anticipates the pronounced hip-hop feel of Fear & Resilience.

April 2005