Thursday, July 21, 2016

CAROL CLEVELAND SINGS
“The Cashmere Cassette”
C26 (self-released)




Maybe this is what you expect from someone once involved in the Elephant 6 collective, whose ranks included psychedelic pop experimentalists like The Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Olivia Tremor Control, to name probably the most famous. Thomas Hughes was in Spinto Band and The Music Tapes, bench players to the main attractions but important in their own rights. But that was long ago – no one talks about E6 anymore, at least not in relief to the current “music” “scene.” But what may appear as a mere footnote to some still looms large for others. That’s right, there are pockets of musicians around the world who still think Sgt. Pepper’s is the be-all and end-all of musical recordings, and they channel and mold that spirit to fit their compositions.

Carol Cleveland Sings continues to fly that freaky Brit pop (but not “Britpop,” mind you) flag, and Hughes, along with partner in crime Gretchen Lohse, wrestles some essence of the Fab Four to the ground and pins it with its arms behind its back so it can’t wriggle away to the other side of the room. The brief songs are heavy on the optimist vibe, and you really can’t tell that they were all “recorded in various bedrooms across Pennsylvania and Vermont.” The sound quality is great, certainly better than that first Marbles record, and the instruments are orchestrated with an ear that would make George Martin proud to call Hughes and Lohse his biological children. Although of course they aren’t, it just seems like their DNA has a few strands of Martin’s floating around in there. Hey, you never know with this gene pool.

All that’s to say these short songs are lush and fully formed, and the bedrooms they were forged in were clearly magic. Hughes has a reedy voice not dissimilar to the Apples’ Robert Schneider, and that combined with his chops at arranging brief orchestral pop likely got him through the shady back-alley door with the password slot I imagine served as the entryway to the E6 headquarters throughout its official duration. There’s a total playfulness exhibited here, not least where CCS’s choice of cover songs is concerned, as they take on Japanese cute-synth-pop-overload maestro Takako Minekawa’s “Destron” on side B, an appropriate choice if I ever heard one. And even though “Paperback Writer” does at first glance appear to be a Beatles cover (how ap-effing-propriate), it’s not – it’s a song about the song “Paperback Writer,” its release, and how it how had two chords, among other things. Tracklist red herring? You bet. Annoying that it wasn’t the cover? Naw. I like how CCS wrote it – they’re so self-referential in the tune that they even mention the fact that they’re self-referential. What song even does that (besides “Trompe Le Monde” of course)?

This tape was originally released in 2010, so it’s a good thing it’s seeing the light of day again on its fifth anniversary, even in a small edition of 200. I’m glad it hasn’t yet become a five-year-old footnote. It’s a gas from start to finish, and it’ll have you reaching for the rewind button often.



--Ryan Masteller

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