Sacred Bones Spring ’09 Singles
by Doug Elliott

The latest batch of Sacred Bones releases features four singles that trickle far out into the extended label family and shows just how diverse it can be within its focused vision. You have immediate family member the Pink Noise, Brooklyn-based synth pal Gary War, Christmas Island-related gothic rock from San Diego’s Spirit Photography, and haunting folk from Max Elliott (no relation to this writer), a member of Absinthe Minds, the Wisconsin band that also features Sacred Bones-alum Dead Luke.

Not surprisingly, the gold medal goes to Canada’s finest, the Pink Noise. It is a relief to get another great release from this two-piece after their head-scratching meltdown onstage in Brooklyn last week. The band, playing New York for the first time, barely got through two songs before being prematurely booted off stage. It was a perplexing trainwreck that somehow doesn’t mar their reputation, perhaps in part because they continue to improve their organic/electronic bedroom amalgamation. Equal parts Brit DIY mic chatter and West Coast synth blurble, the Pink Noise conjure the glory days of punk weirdness without sounding the least bit vintage. The trick: pushing as many ideas into a song without cluttering it. “Gold Light” has two separate beats, a couple synth tracks, a few guitar lines, some “bop-bop” backing vocals and a deadpan lead vocal delivery. Somehow it arrives clean and simple, in less than two minutes. “Prince Charlies Revenge” has one lead beat spread across the horizon, with a smattering of keyboard loops throughout. In most hands, a song like this becomes one big annoying mess, but in the Pink Noise’s mitts, it becomes a perfect pop nugget. Best single of the year so far.

Max Elliott takes the silver with a righteous three-song vinyl debut. Elliott plays rambling folk, the kind that doesn’t need any real structure or choruses, getting by on guts, earthly subject matter and a nice four-track recording. The label calls it “dark acid folk,” but don’t expect the lysergic accompaniment of your ’60s folk-fathers. Here you get tape hiss and the occasional, barely-audible percussion. I wouldn’t even tag it “loner” as Elliott sounds like he’s at peace with the world. It’s just that he thinks and feels a little more than the average guy with a guitar. Love this single.

The remaining two are keepers, especially if you’ve been spending a good amount of time with the Sacred Bones vibe. Spirit Photography do a nice take on the dark, post-industrial pop sound popularized in the middle ’80s, sitting nicely alongside current European bands like Agent Side Grinder and Frustration. Both songs are anchored by excellent, up-front drum programs and are complimented by big angular guitars and big moody vocals. It is loud, mixed well and would probably sound tremendous out on a dance floor. Gary War is a NYC man-with-a-band project recently compared to Blank Dogs and Ariel Pink, having once played in Pink’s backing band a few years back. Mr. War does take a few ideas from Mr. Blank’s bag, but he borrows more from his former bandmates. “Zontag” seems to be a strange choice for side A, as it lacks any real pop ideas, though it makes a little more sense once the B-side is finished. His LP from last year had some nice songs, so I was expecting two ragers on this one. Not the case, but it is strange enough to get a passing grade.