(Crash Symbols, 2013)
We can all be forgiven if we initially expect Pancakes, Log Across the Washer’s 2013 release on the inimitable Crash Symbols label, to immediately and poignantly reference cult fave TV show Twin Peaks. There are no really good reasons for this – my main points of reference are the first word in the band’s name, “log,” which makes me think of the Log Lady (so underused), and the fact that they named their album Pancakes, which is as good a diner meal as any, and goes particularly well with a nice cup of joe. (Cherry pie sold separately.) Perhaps a sort of Badalamenti-esque excursion through the Pac-NW woods was in store. Once spun, though? No trace of any of that. Throw it all, and this entire first paragraph, right out the window. I have to regroup.
(Note: I just read the album description on Crash Symbols’ bandcamp page. They mention Twin Peaks as well for completely different reasons. Go figure.)
Tyler Keene is the man behind the Log, and he’s the only dude on this mightily prolific project from Portland, Oregon – go to his bandcamp and count the releases. Whereas you may instantly think “dour bedroom mope pop” when you think of one-man indie bands (and let’s face it, that sentiment is right on more often than not), it is decidedly not so here. I didn’t even know it was a one-man band until I was halfway into this review, so full and realized are the songs. It was only when I tracked down some press that I knew for sure, and then I had to go back and totally rewrite this thing. I’m nothing if not trigger happy with the perceived facts – I’m also a damn fine editor.
… Moving along.
Pancakes is a huge album. Let’s not even kid ourselves, this thing is 22 tracks and over an hour long, squashed unceremoniously onto tape, and even though it’s broken up over two sides, it’s still freaking long. I listened to it as an MP3 album, and so it was one unbroken 22-song list. It’s a hard way to listen to it. Fortunately, the tunes are manageable, and quite pleasing – Keene’s brand of indie rock pulls from a lot of places, all of which are worthwhile, and from most he extracts the best elements. Just look at that RIYL list below and you’ll get the picture – there’s a lot to really enjoy here.
I vacillate between appreciating the generosity of such a great quantity of music within one release and feeling overwhelmed at being inundated by it. But I think the question answers itself as soon as you hit play and bear witness to the great enthusiasm Keene has for songwriting and recording. “On the Swinging Stairs” rides a taut, bent chord progression, wringing tension before retreating into a pop song structure recalling both mid-period Beatles and early Built to Spill while retaining a total Log Across the Washer identity that’s really quite rare within a genre done, essentially, to death. (I mean, really, what indie rock album are you clamoring for these days? What’s the last one you bought the day it dropped?) Better, then, that gems like Pancakes come out of nowhere to surprise – maybe I should be on the lookout! Later, there’s “Blackout in the Rain,” and everything you wanted to hate about guitar rock disappears in the rush of jubilance. It’s like Keene knows exactly how to reprogram an old grump like me. (I’m not that old…)
Then there are the curveballs, like “Everything Is Incredible,” which reminds us that Keene has a deep love for jazz and experimentation, and he wields it proudly, poking us right in the eye with a sharp stick at track 2, and giving us the sense that nothing is really out of bounds. The tempo skids all over the place, and the spoken vocals don’t do much more than this: “How’m I supposed to eat all this chocolate? There’s like thirty pounds of chocolate here. Gimme a break.” Then, “Synaptic Thought” is a great display of all the different things Keene gets into, all right in one place. From the blippy computer effect that opens the song, to the two halves – one folky, one more psych tinged, and very Foxygen-y – the tune feels like an album-spanning suite, with every little nuance included. “Electric Blanket” follows with similar ingenuity, again tramping through psychedelic Beatles territory for its inspiration, and succeeding valiantly. Is Tyler Keene perhaps the true heir to the Fab Four’s crown? Can hyperbole be my undoing as a writer?
There are like a hundred songs on here. The J-card font is miniscule. But don’t let that worry or sway you – like I said, the generosity here is the key to your ultimate enjoyment. Set aside the daunting thoughts, and dive in – Pancakes is a rush from start to stop. (I really wanted to work in something about drowning in butter and syrup, but it just didn’t work out. So there you go, completely unhinged from narrative, a stack of flapjacks for another day.)
RIYL: Foxygen, Bright Eyes, The Beatles, Delta Haymax, The Brian Jonestown Massacre