The music on Andy Powder’s latest release, WhistlePig, flits between psychedelic folk rock, sludge-smothered electric grunge and discordant noise collages. The record tries on a few styles but retains an easily identifiable sonic signature. Despite the variation, it seems Andy Powder can’t help but sound like himself.
This is where the cult appeal comes in, and though the phrase might (unfortunately) hold pejorative undertones for some, I mean it as a compliment. Anyone can throw together a hodgepodge of songs that experiment with disparate genres and call it an album. But it takes a distinct and carefully honed aesthetic — or else a completely natural one — to pull off the trick of making the songs cohere into a unified whole. Prime examples in indie rock include Pavement’s eclectic third record, Wowee Zowee, and most albums by singer/songwriter Beck. His bizarro compilation of early cuts, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, comes closest to the sound on WhistlePig.
Anyway, Andy Powder makes it work. The resultant album is, as many cult-appeal records are, both charming and unsettlingly strange.
The album opens with “They Will Take You,” which melds a field recording of chirping birds with muck-covered heavy-metal played in reverse for amplified creepiness, the sound of a bad trip. The birds chirp over into the next song, “Sleeping Beehive (A),” a melancholy acoustic number with Andy’s vocals clear and close in the mix. The song displays what Andy does best: it’s eerie but tuneful, oblique but heartfelt. Andy sings that he’s “a sleeping beehive,” and the music’s melancholia shapes the cryptic metaphor into a lament.
“To me, this record is kind of a lonely one,” Andy says. “Certainly not a party record. A journey inward. An ugly wolf haired in sheep’s wool.”
Andy claims the themes threaded throughout the record include “manic depressive lonerism,” “overcoming self-doubt and mental illness and/or ego death,” “zoomorphism vs anamorphism,” “sacrifice for loved ones” and “also accidental black magic.”
Listeners likely won’t discern these specific themes, but it’s evident even from a casual play-through that this is troubled, disquieting music.
One can also sense the humor in Andy’s approach, though, especially in outlandish experiments like “The More That You Want,” which bashes together a death-fuzz guitar march with discordant harmonica overdubs, a strafe against the notion of harmony.
Andy describes WhistlePig as “a late-night party” record to be “assisted by a light buzz to full hallucination.” The album is meant to be played just after midnight (at 12:30 am, to be precise), and “a fast is recommended before and after listening.”
Adding to the record’s eccentric appeal is the claim that it was culled mostly from recordings with his wife in their living room in Kent, and partially from abandoned and “kind of cursed” studio sessions with a former band that were recorded by Steve Albini, the producer for the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and Nirvana’s In Utero.
“Steve was very cool and would hang out late and watch TV and shit with us,” Andy says. “We watched Pink Flamingos, the John Waters film, together.”
If that all seems apocryphal and a touch surreal, you’re beginning to understand the world of Andy Powder.