The Pleasures of Merely Circulating, Four Songs 530 Seconds of Pleasure/The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

The Pleasures of Merely Circulating, Four Songs 530 Seconds of Pleasure/The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

The Pleasures of Merely Circulating are from Marfa. If that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s a town of about 2500 near Big Bend. Far from being one of the innumerable backwards hamlets that litter East, West, North, South, and Central Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia, Marfa is, in part, a thriving, modern artists’ community, known for modern art, location filming, and something called “soaring.”

So although the Pleasures are a punk trio from a small town, they’re not your everyday punk trio that made it out of a shitty small town, like the Gossip. And yet, nor are they exactly cosmopolitan. They do live in West Texas, and it’s not as if your average touring band stops there between Austin and L.A. (Sonic Youth hardly qualifying as your average band). Their unusual location, which does away with both the conservatism that sometimes plagues small towns and the competition and variety that drives big cities, may explain some things about their music: it’s traditional, but not rooted; intellectual, but not musically intelligent; loud, but not angry; self-aware, but not self-actualized.

Speaking for the music itself, Pleasures’ take on punk rock is so conservative as to approach the retrograde. This by itself is not necessarily a drawback, especially considering guitarist Jeanne Sinclair’s messy whirlwinds of solos, but it does mean that it needs both conviction and seriously butch sound to work. Four Songs 530 Seconds is thin and weak; it doesn’t sound as if the band is really digging in. The self-titled full-length record, which includes re-recorded versions of three of the four songs on the EP, is at least louder, but here, too, the music suffers from production and performances that are too polite.

Sinclair’s vocals have their own problems. She has a pleasant voice, but her singing bounces and squeaks, rather than roaring or screeching as Pleasures’ ultra-traditional punk songs seem to demand. Combined with her rapid and largely tuneless delivery — again, neither drawbacks on their own — it makes her lyrics difficult to understand and further contributes to the general impression of non-badassness. It also doesn’t help that the record lacks strong hooks, which, again, is only a drawback because the music is so unimaginative. Sinclair’s lyrics are fairly interesting, but without more intelligent and appropriate music to support them, they simply fly by. And on songs like “Unbellyfeel,” a rant about American foreign policy, and “Half-Life,” a catalog of one-liners from old rock and roll songs, they are too self-conscious to be enjoyable.

The overall picture, from both 530 Seconds and Pleasures, is of a band that is simply playing the wrong kind of music. It’s as if the band chose three-chord punk because they couldn’t think of anything else, not because they had anything particularly punk-ish to express. The Pleasures of Merely Circulating need to either pick a genre that’s more expressive — perhaps just slow down and explore a little more, as they do on the better-than-average “Orbison’s Glasses” — or dig a little deeper to find something that really makes them angry. International politics does not count.

(self-released/Ettabelle Records -- P.O. Box 1639, Marfa, TX. 79843;; The Pleasures of Merely Circulating --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Thursday, May 29th, 2008. Filed under Reviews.

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