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Pumice - Pebbles

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Artist: Pumice

Album: Pebbles

Label: Soft Abuse

Review date: Jul. 23, 2007

Many of the noisier New Zealand acts that proliferated during the ’90s and early oughts have reacted mightily against the more song-oriented work of the successive waves of Flying Nun ensembles. Pumice, the one man and his tape machine band of Stefan Neville, adopts a more centrist position analogous to Xpressway alumni like the Terminals, David Mitchell and Alastair Galbraith, putting his noise and his songs on the same plate. He makes all the right moves, and his heart is definitely in the right place; I just wish he could put them across more effectively than he does on Pebbles.

The record starts promisingly enough with “Eyebath,” a stumbling instrumental that brings to mind early rockabilly played and recorded in a tin shed by a band whose members have at least one wooden limb each. If rickety is your thing, it delivers. “Northland,” another instrumental, accomplishes similar ends with different materials; its stiff beat and trebly guitars sound like a blend of Swell Maps and 1978-vintage Fall.

When he starts singing, however, things go somewhat amiss. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with his voice; Neville’s pipes, generously filtered with analogue distortion, resemble Galbraith’s in timbre and accent, which is a very good thing. No, the problem is more with a lack of focus. His vocal melodies sound attractive when he’s singing them, but they don’t stick in the head after he’s done. Galbraith, Mitchell and Tall Dwarfs all come to a point, roughly made but definitely finished, but Neville’s songs simply sound rough and unfinished and in need of a little more. It’s a lack that can’t be explained by inexperience; Neville is no rookie, he’s been recording for over a decade. Perhaps he needs someone to tell him where his ideas need more work?

By Bill Meyer

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