Before I start, I’ll just put it out there that I’ve never been completely sold on a Pikelet album. In keeping with Bachelorette, Marnie Stern and – forgive this comparison – Kaki King, the previous [Stem](/releases/2000574)* (2009) felt too cerebral, its experimentalism awash with a focus on technique at the expense of its core movement that made Evelyn Morris so arresting live and on her own. Aside from some delicately beautiful examples like ?Miss Her?, ?Pillowcastle? and ?Introducing?, it felt like *Stem* meandered directionless through its new psychedelic oeuvre with nothing to really hold on to, while the earlier *Pikelet (2007) managed excellent melody and lyrical play but fell down in retaining attention beyond a handful of truly incredible tracks.
In her early solo days, Pikelet generated a decaying feedback loop – making you forever conscious of the flow of time as it slipped through your fingers – with little more than an accordion, guitar and a loop pedal. It was an experience that really was engaging, if a poignant reminder of time’s passing. Simple and enveloped in a palpable sadness, here she privileged rather than obscured those lyrics touched by the innocence of songs like ?Bug-in-Mouth? and ?Sewerage Man?; profound truths revealed and best exemplified in one-off Mistletone Christmas release ?Let the Tree Be?: ?Pine tree, you exist only for me.?
Of course, things have moved on since those days of peddling a humble one-woman show, and there’s only so far you can take such a minimal setup. Hence the expansion to a four-piece and another four years of touring and performing before releasing what the presser touts as a real group effort for Calluses. The presumption is, though, that in keeping with the original name applied to only Morris, there’s a certain element of control still centred around her and, when you consider the divergent musical backgrounds of its three other members – one of post-punk anachronisms Witch Hats, art-noise project Bum Creek and long-time collaborator and analogue synth man Shags Chamberlain – you would need a single unifying force to keep it all together. Hence, the sense of a ?band? functioning under the keen eye of its leader, sticking to the program rather than interacting with each other and the material organically.
In ?Projections?, the chiptune vibe of Chamberlain’s keyboard offers pixelated cosmic voyagery as synth delays hang like chimes and subdue Morris? distant vocals along a trundling eight-bit movement. ?Peephole? masters the off-kilter play with rhythm and structure by now unique to the Pikelet oeuvre (but not always successfully executed), while Morris? vocal call moves easily through its subtle groove, a baritone harmony.
But elsewhere it feels like voice and instrumentation rarely congeal. A soft-rock clarinet addition darts through the synth sweep and clacking rhythms of the Seinfeld-referencing ?Festivas?, while the payoff of a sedimentary buildup of textures never quite eventuates. The blues-funk strut of the post-apocalyptic ?Pressure Cooker? finds a melody swathed in cosmic promise but – like most of the record – while all the elements are there, they’re not applied quite consciously enough.