By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
(Two Ohm Hop Records)
On first listen, Stumptone's self-titled debut is as all over the place as you'd expect from a batch of songs recorded all over the place (singer-guitarist Chris Plavidal's living room, Dave Willingham's studio, the stage at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios) at various times during the past three years. And it's every bit as diverse as an album featuring a rotating cast of Denton's finest -- including drummer Mike Throneberry, Sub Oslo bassist Miguel Veliz, Sivad trumpet player Karl Poetchke, and The Falcon Project's Wanz Dover -- should be. Yet most of the disc's scattered nature has little to do with location or time or anything else other than the fractured imagination of erstwhile Denton resident Plavidal. It's not the group effort its guest list might lead you to believe, just some friends bringing Plavidal's whimsical fairy tales of life on other planets ("To a Departing Comet") and subtle calls to arms ("Drugs on War") to life.
Plavidal writes scruffy lullabies that don't belong to any time or place -- tiny melodies with big ideas where every sound is important, not just the ones made by guitar, bass, and drums. He layers disparate elements on top of one another until they either all seem out of place or fit together as though that's the way it was always intended. Acoustic guitars are attacked by the blips and bleeps of technology, and Plavidal's bedroom voice is obscured by radio noise and miscellaneous bells and whistles -- anything and everything that you wouldn't expect when the first song, "Electric Water," kicks off, but doesn't sound so out of the ordinary when the album stumbles heroically to the finish line more than an hour later with the live "Vesuvius." When it works, even the static seems to sparkle. And even when the experiments result in little more than charred lab equipment, the disc never spins completely out of control, if only because all the songs come from the same source, allowing it to be focused in its own shambling, rambling way.
At times, it's best to think of Plavidal as Skip Spence with better equipment and fewer mental misfires, especially when it's just him and his guitar, singing his way through a cloud of studio gimmickry, such as the mellow gold of "To a Departed Comet." (A song that contains perhaps the best line of the disc: "Soon the sky will open / And the rain will pound the earth like an angry child.") But as deftly as Plavidal handles the sparse numbers, he's at his best on the fire-all-of-your-guns-at-once rockers such as "Drugs on War" and "From the Sociable Harbinger." "Drugs on War" may be the best example of Plavidal's strengths, from the raindrop handclaps that lurk beneath the surface to the overdriven guitars that come on like a battering ram to his joyous, confident vocals. When he sings "Tonight is the night we're gonna change the world," you can't help but think he might be right.
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