Wednesday, June 22, 2011

PULCO "Small Thoughts"

Small Thoughts” is the seventh album from Pulco (aka Ash Cooke), previously of Peel session favs Derrero and for the last ten years solo purveyor of outsider folk-pop, recorded in a ‘wardrobe studio’ and spliced with “poems, field recordings and interruptions by the kids”. After a few listens I started to categorize the fourteen ‘small thoughts’ here into simple categories. There are warm, drowsy soft-voiced psyche-pop tunes like ‘Place Lid On Me’ or ‘Beanbags’; there’s surreal and/or self-referential spoken word pieces such as ‘Oxbow Lake’ or ‘A Self-Made Man’ recalling Ivor Cutler, a more sedate Jad Fair or even the dramatic verse of Dylan Thomas; then there’s more rhythmic, abrasive types like of ‘Machines/Mind’ which comes across as an arcade game shoot-out between Unicorn Kid and Grandaddy.

But the more you listen to the album the more immune to narrow categorization these songs become. Like thoughts themselves they appear errant, unruly even and liable to sudden metamorphosis. ‘Travel Lodge Mirror’ starts as sleepy Spanish guitar serenade before becoming a nocturnal reflection (geddit?) on career, reward and art. ‘Night Owl’ begins as sweet crooning lullaby, finishes as spoken word. ‘Seahorse See Sheep’ mixes soothing nursery rhyme rhythms with over-excited kid’s screams and cries. Even the more straightforward songs throw in a curveball: the simplicity of quiet acoustic ramble ‘Old Stones’ is played over ambient crowd chatter – but you can’t quite work out if that is a party, football match, political rally or shopping centre hubbub you can hear.

One man home recording projects can often be cursed by indulgent repetition or a lack of self-editing. What “Small Thoughts” is ‘cursed’ with is a restless variety of textures, moods and instruments, a sense of trying to make every song sound fresh and different whilst remaining singularly idiosyncratic. The gently ambling tempos, the sudden contrasts and shifting variety plus the sharply detailed sound (despite the talk of hand-held recorders and wardrobe studios) make it a pleasure to spend time in its unfolding tales and ponderings. In both ‘Oxbow Lake’ and ‘Travel Lodge Mirror’ Pulco reflects on his life and works and finds flaws: “I’m 37 and my life is like an oxbow lake...cut back by the persistence erosion of time...a haunted backwater”. But in both songs, touching tiny manifestos that reveal the vulnerability and doubt behind his calling, Pulco resolves to keep striving, to “carve out a new water course” through his art and music.

The final eight and a half minutes track ‘Mexican Mods and Mexican Rockers’ returns to the question posed in opener ‘What’s In A Name?’ as to whether there is any meaning behind the name Pulco: “it can’t just be a random collection of letters?”. Despite some clever, witty red herrings (“the low quality shellac Russian 78s were pressed on before Glasnost...the mangy clumps of fur dropped by a moulting cat.. a Jamaican slang term for all music that is not reggae”), the track is redundant as well as overlong. Because Pulco has admirably defined himself in the previous thirteen tracks.

Photos of Ash Cooke make me think of the kindly, shaggy-haired hippie uncle from the Welsh branch of the family, the one who kids would love to visit in the summer holidays but strait-laced parents would frown on his wayward ways and ‘creative’ leanings. Summer holidays are nearly here kids - and you know where you want to be spending them don’t you?

Pulco Small Thoughts [BUY]


Johnny C said...

Can I get this from the band instead of being fleeced by itoons. Am in Australia though? Help me Kylie.

Nick said...

Hi Johnny C - you can get it here: or here: ... thanks for the great review by the way, FoY