Wait, this is the new Pocahaunted album cover? Gone may be the days of cassette cases featuring creepy collages and hand-dyed bags with feathers attached, but this is something else entirely. I mean, there’s a parrot with blue Ray-Bans, a giant dollar sign, a “He’s on fire!” NBA Jam-style basketball…What is going on?
After the shock of the cover art, I waded into the unfamiliar soup that waited within. From the opening thrums of “Touch You”, the lo-fi recording aesthetic seemed to be held over from past Pocahaunted releases. But, frankly, they aren’t so much scary now, as they are fun. The newly fleshed out band doesn’t seem entirely connected yet, often feeling out the rhythm in progress. The drum fill that opens the song seems to just miss the bass, at first. But, when they do find each other, the groove is fun and freewheeling. Keyboardist Leyna Tilbor and bassist Diva Dompe are a nice change of pace on backing vocals and adding extra power to Amanda Brown’s lead, the two weaving in and out of focus.
The group isn’t a straight funk band, but they’re trying their best to bury funk in the underground, lo-fi, droney haze they once drenched over folk (and occasionally over itself). The vocals on “Make It Real” are a bit goofy, but the groans and grimaces that accompany a repetition of the song’s title in the song’s bridge are Karen O on a bad trip. The chattering, smoky intro to “All Of Is Of” may be the strongest moment on the record. Drummer Ged Gengras skitters a clicked rhythm with perfectly placed jabs at the cow bell, while Dompe’s bass poly-rhythms its way up and down the track. The muted, high-end blips of guitar from Britt Brown (who records doomy drones as Robedoor and is also the husband of vocalist Amanda) hit more often than they miss, while the trio of wordless warbles from the female contingent add a middle ground between the guitar and bass.
The guitar line on “UFO” begins to grate after a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes later, the track dives into a mess before the bass drags it back out. The downtempo swim that follows works, Tilbor’s reverbed organ sounding pretty Doors-y. It even sounds like there’s a horn section. Elements come into a focus as time passes, until the ten minute mark has vocalist Brown back in a wild mood, howling away over a now-complete groove. The last few minutes find a saxophone over-honking the horn line in a triumphantly non-perfect way that suits the tune to a T, as the rest of the band fades out.
“You Do Voo Doo” is silly, to put plainly. The bass and drums sound very familiar, echoing the rest of the album, while the guitar and vocals call and respond with Amanda Brown spitting out the song’s title dozens of times. “Sanctuary” crackles with intensity, the wordless vocal howls going back to Pocahaunted of old. The buried vocals, though, are again repeating the song’s title endlessly.
Album closer “Save Yrself (It’s Nice)” is an interesting development, to be sure. Dompe’s bass flutters beautifully, ranging chromatically as Gengras’ cow bell comes out to play on top of his stutter-step drumming. Tilbor’s keys glide before swirling out of consciousness. Britt Brown’s occasional stabs of echoed guitar lay back underneath wife Amanda’s revision of lyrics from Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).” The shroomed out, bubbly groove sits squarely in the pocket, as “We’ve got plenty of time, there’s a light in your eyes” murmurs abound, and wordless howls spin in and out of the fore.
In the end, “All Of Is Of”, “Save Yrself(It’s Nice)”, and the second half of “UFO” are easily the album’s strongest pieces, the loose grooves coming together in an intelligible way. The difference between a loose, lo-fi attitude in drone and a similar outlook in funk is a tricky one. Logically, it would work more frequently with drone, and to a better end. When the lax rhythms fit with Pocahaunted’s new lo-funk, it results in danceable fun. But, when the rhythms miss, it sounds like a funk band practicing for one of the first times, trying to find a jam they can work with, which isn’t all that appealing on record. With more time, with more records and shows under their belt, I’m confident they’ll gain mastery over this new sound, but this one’s just too inconsistent.