Last time we heard from the elusive Dylan Shearer, which might have been the first time anyone had heard from him, he was a folkie hard to place. We know he transmits from Oakland, but on Planted/Plans, I imagined him “some slightly deranged outsider, and if it be modern, then (the album) was the life’s work of an aging recluse who troubled and toiled over years of tape to piece together a cohesive statement of his spirit’s design.” On Porchpuddles, he’s just as much a time-traveler as he is that closeted freak emitting a certain understated pop wrapped in obtuse traditions of the past. His songwriting and especially the sonic monochrome of deep blue and green hues that define Porchpuddles allow him to explore a realm that elevates him over his peers (whoever they may be) and his predecessors and into a little stratosphere all his own.
At first, though, Shearer sounds directly plucked from the Canterbury scene, only more reserved and less prog-influenced, as much of Shearer’s arrangements seem siphoned from Appalachian design. “Afterwhile” shows off that blend, setting the bar high for the woozily maudlin display that follows. Only on the mildewed mysticism and slight sardonic hum of “That’s All Folks” does Shearer become any more ornate. Much of the album gives the impression that it may at some point converge with a stream of Dark Side Floyd, but Shearer doesn’t have the means or want to pursue that route. He’s concerned increasingly with what Syd Barrett may have done had he lived among Southern Americana.
Porchpuddles does tend to emote from dark, rain-addled shelters. The combination of Shearer’s near-orchestral bent and his penchant for lyrics that sort of tread in a natural, existential void does strike one as heavy-handed, like something that may have drifted off an early side from Procol Harum or the Moody Blues. Then again, it’s not all that terrible for a youthful composer to tap from that bloat and trim it down to the essence of what those bands were mining. All said, Porchpuddle’s gloomy front half only hints at what Shearer is capable of on the second half. There he suddenly begins to transform, as “Already, Alright” and the brilliant gem of the record, “Quartz Trails,” takes those trails of underwhelming wanderlust and gothic wallowing and spins them into Zombies-esque gilded chamber-pop. The strong final third of Porchpuddles exudes this awakening. Perhaps that’s why I also wrote that his debut was the perfect balance of “misery and hope”—it’s the equilibrium in Shearer’s DNA. It’s that innate sense of knowing where to draw the line and where to continue it. With Porchpuddles, Shearer continues to be on to something. It may not change the world (or the underworld), but at the right time, in your own quarters, his voice can sound like the only one in the universe.
Kevin J. Elliott