Noise Pollution: Sam Gendel’s R&B Interpretations, Laurie Styvers & A Sci-Fi Concept Album

Noise Pollution returns for its first edition of 2023 with Will Schube's coverage on new music from Corntuth, Laurie Styvers, Sam Gendel and Will Epstein.
By    March 8, 2023

Will Epstein/Instagram

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Will Schube still can’t believe Larry David got Salman Rushdie to say ‘fatwa sex’ on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Will Epstein ― Wendy

Here’s one from a Noise Pollution favorite (and a close collaborator of a Noise Pollution Hall of Famer). Will Epstein, who used to make music under High Water, has returned with a shiny new Fat Possum deal and Wendy, a collection of broken and bent pop gems that hit in the exact right spot. I’m not sure if it’s possible for ramshackle and minimal to be in the same sentence working together, but somehow these songs are stripped to only essential instrumentation while still sounding like a cacophony of whimsy and joy. Epstein, who plays in Darkside and does a lot of stuff with Dave Harrington (the aforementioned HOF’er), has become one of my favorite musicians on the planet since I discovered his 2016 release Crush, and his outstanding dub/reggae remix of Lucinda Williams’ “Changed The Locks.” If that sounds weird in the absolutely most wonderful way possible, that’s sort of what Epstein is doing on Wendy, though with less dub covers and something that sounds more like–bear with me–Burial doing doowop interpretations of Peter Gabriel songs sent through a chopped n screwed carwash.

Sam Gendel – COOKUP

File this week’s Noise Pollution into the “Noise Pollution about artists Will writes about a lot” because NP graduate Sam Gendel returns to the big board thanks to his stellar and inventive-as-always new project, COOKUP. Like so much of Gendel’s best work, the album is built around a central conceit that could perhaps be construed as a bit gimmicky, but in his deft and wizardly hands, completely obfuscates what we expect from such a structure and instead reveals that the only thing that matters is the actual notes emanating from your headphones or speakers. On COOKUP, Gendel records his own interpretations of R&B and soul hits originally released between 1992 and 2004. Choices include cuts from Ginuwine, 112, Aaliyah, All-4-One, Soul 4 Real, Beyoncé, Joe, Erykah Badu, Mario, SWV, and Boyz II Men, but more interesting than the songs he tackles is to hear Gendel and his band create these compositions separate from their original source material. It’s like they’re building musical memories that have been excavated from the deep recesses of their combined listening history, and the result is an album less indebted to its concept than one that redefines the function of said concept entirely.

Laurie Styvers – Gemini Girl: The Complete Hush Recordings

Shout out to High Moon records who have released an absolute front-to-back banger from long lost crooner Laurie Styvers. This collection offers all-time heaters in a number of 70s traditions. There are Laurel Canyon folk cruisers, AM soft rock jams that go down as sweet as a cold glass of white wine, impossibly crisp session arrangements in the vein of The Wrecking Crew, and some positively filthy Texas inspired outlaw country. Styvers was born in Texas, but was a student at the American School in London when she joined the cult psych-folk outfit Justine in the 1960s. She left the band to attend college in Colorado (lame) before returning to the UK and embarking on a solo career that would establish her as a cult figure in her own right. I had never heard of her before this collection emerged, but based on the front-to-back brilliance within this collection, it’s about damn time Ms. Styvers is given her flowers, not unlike the ones she probably picked from those hippie-littered fields as a young rockstar in the 70s.

Corntuth – Letters To My Robot Son

I don’t know anything about Corntuth other than a) his name is fun as hell to say, b) he resides in Brooklyn, and c) his music makes me feel like I imagine weed makes most people feel. Because pot literally turns me into a shaking fetal position, I have no idea that the sensation of Corntuth’s music is actually equivalent to the relief of that sweet, sweet bud, but writing is all about finding creative ways to express normal things, so let’s just accept the following formula as true: Will + Corntuth’s music = The average toker’s sensation after a nice hit. I guess I can be labeled a Corntuth devotee of sorts. The artist–who remains a mystery but has confirmed the pronouns he/his–first reached out in 2021 after reading my review of Anenon’s Tongue on the website that gives albums hyper-specific scores on a scale of 1-10. I covered his 2021 release, The Desert Is Paper Thin, writing, “The Desert is Paper Thin is a gorgeous pedal steel and synth affair; the platonic ideal of what Edward Abbey was envisioning when he was blabbing on and on and on about the beauty of the desert.” That was a pretty good descriptor, but doesn’t apply to his new album, Letter To My Robot Son, which sounds like Mort Garson soundtracking Space Mountain. Plants and outer space abound on this heady concept album about a human father who leaves modules after his death so that his robot son may become sentient. A concept album this sci-fi-y could be extremely corny in the wrong hands, but Corntuth treats it with diligence and seriousness. The result is a half-ambient half-futuristic journey to a faraway land entirely unknown but not scary in the least.

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