Before hearing this nifty 10" EP, I was not familiar with the music of Pumice. New Zealander Stefan Neville has been releasing material under this guise for over ten years; I knew vaguely of his work through exposure to Sunken, his duo with Antony Milton, but any preconceived ideas I'd had of what he did on his own didn't prepare me for the mesmeric noise-pop of his new mini-album on Doubtful Sounds.
Disarmingly described by Neville in the EP's one-sheet as "dumb punk slop, some tape loop soup, and a pretty love song," the music here burns with great guitar tones, hazy distorted vocals, and a murky, blissful sense of melody. "Fool Fool Fool Moon" manages to evoke the gritty noise scuzz of the Dead C both in the guitar work and the muttered, distorted vocals. The lyrics are indecipherable but the gentle repetition of the vocal melody quickly hypnotizes, as a stumbling pulse moves the morass of blistering, droning guitars forward. It's a great tune as well as a great jam; a four-note keyboard riff signals a descent from the skyscraping earlier sections and the song gently collapses around yet another cool guitar part.
The b-side kicks off with "Head High Tackle," which initially comes off as more of a noise piece, complete with fractured riffing and crunching, primitive drumming. A drunken, wavering groove is established as bits of scorching guitar alternate in the right and left channels. The drums drop out and the tinny, lacerating guitar is left to battle with booming distorted bass. Finale "The Screaming Heap" is indeed pretty, replete with soaring voices soaked with plenty of reverb and anthemically-strummed acoustic guitar. What sounds like a harmonium enters in the song's second refrain, giving some tonal warmth to the scratchy guitar work. Despite the thin sound the song qualifies as a true epic—its deceptively complicated structure runs through several seamless parts as Neville's frantic strumming recalls Sir Richard Bishop or Sterling Morrison.
Sure, it's only three songs—but they're all pretty damn good. Neville manages to touch on elements of past songwriting traditions while infusing the music with the type of spontaneity and intensity associated with noise and improv. It's in an edition of 500, so there should be some left out there. As for myself, I need to check out more of Pumice's stuff. 9/10 -- Mike Griffin (8 September, 2010)