Stamen & Pistils: Towns
Echelon Productions

Begun in 2003 by Raul Zahir De Leon and Miguel Lacsamana, the Washington, DC-based Stamen & Pistils issued its End of the Sweet Parade debut two years later and, having robustly fleshed out its sound with the addition of drummer John Masters, now follows it with Towns. Combining long-established songwriting traditions and instrumentation with modern production treatments, the 32-minute mini-album might be described as slightly warped, Gothic-flavoured folk-pop-rock balladeering put through an electronic blender. Woozy vocalizing, tumbling beats, distorted electronic effects, and acoustic elements blend into left-field experiments that suggest a slightly less histrionic Animal Collective. Merging a piano and acoustic guitar core with glitchy sputter and electronic beats, “Second Hand Valise” exemplifies the album's style. At times, the slurred vocal wail and acoustic eruptions liken the group's sound to psych-folk (“At Home Amongst Your Tangles”); elsewhere, a strong Gothic character permeates the material (the folk-rock dirge “Walk On,” the raw, hazy atmosphere of “Hands Washing Water”), with “A Death in Ronkonkoma ” as dramatic a murder ballad as its title suggests. Perhaps the release's best song, the jaunty folk tune, “ Quiet County ,” is given a slightly bitter taste by a low-toned, reedy instrument that's like a pedal point for the male and female harmonizing. Incidentally, Stamen & Pistils member Lacsamana is also the driving force behind the band Person whose Entitled made a strong impression a few months back. Though that album's fresh mix of dance rock, electro, funk, and hip-hop appeals to me more than does Towns, the latter's off-kilter, electro-folk experimentalism is worth a listen too.

August 2007