Maybe it’s because they call the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn home, but it’s baffling the lack of attention towards the All Hands Electric collective. They run a label that seems to do everything right, with acute attention to detail, and the records to back it up. While a few of their artists might grate like C-list dive-bar garde—going too hard in the heart of the hipster-dome—with an album as surprisingly gorgeous as last year’s Illuminations’ debut, See-Saw, everything is forgiven. There’s certainly an ambiguity of traditional tropes and current fads brewing at All Hands headquarters, and a singles club, while at this point a contrived idea, might be just their solution for some well-deserved exposure.
Zachary Cale, “Come Quietly” b/w “The Wedding Party”
If the label had a ringleader, a Sniper-esque identity attached to the All Hands empire, it’s Zachary Cale. His voice is the recognizable face in this crowd, making the argument that they could survive solely on one-man weirdo-folk-laments and post-Elliott Smith bedroom saps. My age has to suggest that Cale lived in a slightly different era, where one learns of Nick Drake and Ray Davies slightly after learning of Beck and Rivers Cuomo. All apologies. “Come Quietly” remains strange enough through its duration to shed influence in the course of the first couplet and the scruffy field recordings. The song is deceivingly Opry-house or ethereal church pulpit, but satisfyingly met with Daniel Johnston in a peak of clarity or the lazy neighborhood shaman throwing Dylan bones. Whatever age he really is, he erases that number, despite his influential timeline. “The Wedding Party,” in stark contrast, is a finger-picked hymnal, magnifies this solo-artist’s (and the label’s) mastery of roots music, which he eventually spins into a web of intimate, intriguing, singer-songwriter shimmering mystery and misery.
Rope, “Montagne” b/w “I Can’t Pretend to Understand”
Rope is quintessentially why the All Hands collective are forced to set out on their own—a song like “Montagne” is simply too unfashionable in this day and age and a B-side as beautifully roughshod as “I Can’t Pretend to Understand” would cause the trendspotting boutique labels to reassess their continued allegiance to half-baked loft-punk. Rope roll out the shag carpet right from the get=go on “Montagne”—the showmanship in their riffs prove a genuine love for twin guitars, Urge Overkill and a bohemian saloon swagger, usually unheard post-2002. Rope, of which All Hands everyman Cale is a member, is a skilled militia of songwriters, without focusing too hard on the skill, going more for the tar-skinned soul of the music. Still, this is modern day Brooklyn, so it’s difficult for a band like Rope not to include some dissonance in the background. The song ends in an obvious AOR outro, but manages to spray a mist of atonal chords somewhere between feedback and drone to twist perceptions. The gem here though, and simultaneously Rope’s most flannel- bearing moment, is “I Can’t Pretend to Understand.” In culture’s endless cycle of recycling, the band knows Teenage Fanclub will again rise to the surface, as will a handful of ’90s alt-groups of that ilk. Then again, Big Star has never left that orbit.
Psychobuildings, “Birds of Prey” b/w “Paradise”
Then again, maybe All Hands Electric are grabbing for a stake in the synth-wave beach-glo sweepstakes. Before pointing fingers, Psychobuildings is composed of one-third Small Black and one-third Silk Flowers, so the retrofitted Korg-pop of “Birds of Prey” is not an offensive stretch. In certain spurts, it does sound as if Psychobuildings stamped their passports to “chill” and “get tropical on the samplers” last weekend. Scratch off the indulgent glop mucking up the rhythm and there’s a purplish-black interior, though, something charmingly dark and visceral. “Birds of Prey” recalls the bleak neon of those early Human League singles or when Simple Minds wore square threads. “Paradise” is certainly the B-side here, pushing all the buttons to auto and sticking forks into sockets. If you’re partial to the Cure’s Pornography on 45 then this is your bag. That aside, Psychobuildings do over-the-top-wave in motley, yet nostalgic colors.