Camping in the chilling fields
The title to Luna's fourth album comes from a childhood game that girls were asked to play. They all said "no." It's the essence of frontman Dean Wareham's worldview--life as a set of almost-sly tricks that never seem to work out as planned, told by a narrator with insight enough to know that the things that don't pan out are usually more interesting--and definitely more amusing--than the things that do.
Luna marked Wareham--former leader of Galaxie 500--taking a step closer to his audience and leaving behind that earlier band. In Luna, Wareham has always had innocence--sometimes almost to the point of dorkiness. On the disc-opening "IHOP," an urgent guitar line pushes the first sentence along--"Is there a doctor in the house?"--but things quickly get silly with the follow-up, "In the House of Pancakes?" They grow more so as the addressee is found to have "a banana split/Personality," but all of this insouciance may just have its roots in the good, old-fashioned disappointment that comes from realizing all too well that nothing is as it seems: "You ain't no Cary Grant/But then again who is?"
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Pup Tent is drenched in reverb-heavy stylings reminiscent of garage psychedelia, with guitar parts that stretch out heroically, as if trying to fill the space between horizons ("Fuzzy Wuzzy"); other parts try to reach to the heavens, if only by airing themselves out. The guitars have a harsh, metallic, and utterly fascinating palette of tones, with a tendency to dig their own frosty grooves--ringing and regular--that sometimes reminds you of Television.
Songs like the title cut cruise by smoothly, like traffic seen from far away, while "Whispers" starts off and gradually builds like a journey getting under way, the song gathering speed behind a lilting melody and pushed on by a very retro organ-keyboard part. These smoothly flowing mainstreams are thematically opposed by Wareham's deadpan vocal delivery--next to him, James McMurtry can at times seem rather manic and involved--and noisy, disjointed moments set into songs like the nuts in a scoop of butter-pecan ice cream: raucously noisy trombone or howling, angular guitar leads.
The entire effect is like some sort of anti-gravity device that enables the songs to hang suspended in the mind, perfectly supported by the opposing forces and disturbingly evocative of wasted opportunities, rainy afternoons, undefined longings, and vague regrets. It's hard to shake the feeling that these hard-to-place echoes, chasing each other through the mind of the listener, mean more to Wareham than all the applause in the world.