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Ken Mairui’s Clubland: Mood cycle: Peyton Pinkerton’s new album blends serenity, turbulence

  • Peyton Pinkerton ANNE PINKERTON


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dystopian noir. Cyberpunk intrigue. That’s what whirls around my brain while listening to “Rapid Cycler,” the new album by Peyton Pinkerton.

The title refers to someone with bipolar disorder who quickly cycles through severe mood states, from high elation to low points of depression.

The 10 songs on “Rapid Cycler” juxtapose all sorts of ups and downs, marrying minor keys and dark lyrics to energetic rhythms that get funky at times, influenced by bands like Wire, early Talking Heads and Scottish post-punk band APB.

I interviewed Pinkerton in his Valley home, hanging out at the kitchen table and getting leaping visits from Levon the cat, who rubbed his nose firmly against my pen as I attempted to take notes, porch chimes jingling in the wind outside.

Pinkerton, known for his old band New Radiant Storm King and his time in such groups as the Pernice Brothers and Silver Jews, recorded “Rapid Cycler” at home in his relaxed workshop-like studio up on the third floor. He played all the instruments except for drums, which were played by longtime musical collaborator J.J. O’Connell, recorded at his home in the wilds of Williamsburg.

The serene spots produced some turbulent songs, like the album-opening instrumental “Bender,” which sets the scene with a steady rock groove under stormy skies. With no vocals, Pinkerton’s love of guitar textures and tones gets the spotlight. There’s a fluttering hook that sounds like a plaintive songbird, but then a growly bass line kicks in — an ominous undertow that doesn’t bode well for the bird, or much else.

“This tension rules me lately,” Pinkerton sings at the start of the funky “Baseline” — a sentiment I very much feel in this world of President-elect Trump — and the music mirrors the unease, with vertiginous guitar lines spiraling down. The song’s ending is abruptly cut off by what sounds like a far-off explosion.

Though the above song isn’t one of them, Pinkerton said there are two political songs on the record: “Lips & Lungs,” which he wrote after a maddening gander at Fox News (“Oh my god, you’re just a useless pair of lips and lungs” is a catchy chorus that’s not soon forgotten), and “Gunning For,” about “the hypothetical situation of fascists running our country.” “They come for us / looking practical inside their fitted brown shirts,” Pinkerton sings calmly over a hard-hitting, dance-friendly and tense drumbeat; by the time you reach the song’s urgent bridge, multiple instruments are clanging like alarms and sirens.

“Pool,” another instrumental, is one of the most noir moments on the record, a funky stomp with elements of dub in the arrangement; the movie in my mind is someone on foot, on the run, maneuvering through rain-battered streets and alleys, steam rising from manhole covers, dead ends. Spooky guitar effects gather and grow in the song’s background, like ghosts hovering over the action.

“Placement” combines taut minor chords and maybe the grooviest music Pinkerton has ever recorded, with popping bass (think Duran Duran’s John Taylor, or funky early-’80s new-wave/post-punk bands). “Falling down the escalator” goes the chorus, but Pinkerton ends it with a fun vocal whoop that sets off a groovy wave of percussion, including conga and shakers.

“I was considerably less self-conscious than I’ve been during past recordings,” he said. “I didn’t care if some of the songs took on a different vibe than I expected. A few people have used the words ‘danceable’ and even ‘disco-ish’ in describing some of the songs. That’s definitely something I never expected to hear.”

Pinkerton originally had a much larger batch of songs to choose from for the new album, but 47 of them got lost forever when his hard drive crashed during a routine backup. “These were the ones that survived.”

“Rapid Cycler,” released on the Darla label, is available now at peytonpinkerton.com.

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.