Folks holding a fondness for cerebral yet non-forbidding instrumental music just might find the debut LP from Baltimore duo Peals very much to their liking. While guitar focused and wielding a palpable experimental bent, the record also ...
Folks holding a fondness for cerebral yet non-forbidding instrumental music just might find the debut LP from Baltimore duo Peals very much to their liking. While guitar focused and wielding a palpable experimental bent, the record also features a naturally-derived accessibility that compromises their ambitions not a bit, and if somewhat brief in impact, Walking Field successfully whets the appetite for further material.
Peals are composed of William Cashion and Bruce Willen, their individual résumés each essaying prior musical successes which sprang from the fertile environs of the Charm City. And while not at odds, the dissimilar genres of their past achievements sorta predicted that a stylistic merger of their extant work was highly unlikely.
However, it would still be understandable for those familiar, either in part or in full, with the pair’s previous activities to expect some sort of overtly digestible progression from either the brainy synth-pop Cashion deals out as part of Future Islands or the aggressively arty post-hardcore (think McLusky or Wire’s recent output) that was Willen’s specialty via the now defunct Double Dagger.
But interestingly, Peals essentially registers as a clean break from what both of the participants have been up to in the recent past. The biggest surprise isn’t the lack of vocals, for neither Cashion nor Willen were the singing members of the combos listed above. For Willen, the lack of bass is a considerably bigger change in tactics, for he swung the four-stringer rather mightily in a group that lacked any other guitars.
Also notable in the aural scheme of Peals’ debut is the absence of drums or even any percussion devices at all save for a modest tambourine. Both members are credited with guitars, and their shared duties on the instrument provide the biggest portion of Walking Field’s thrust, though the record also employs the utilization of keyboards, field recordings, walkie-talkies, feedback, cello, toy piano, and microphones to complete the totality of its sound.
Thrill Jockey’s press materials for the LP mention both Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins and “the minimalist recordings from the sonic pioneers of the 1970s German scene” as directly inspiring the creation of Walking Field, but the resulting album, while not without moments that mildly recall these associations, is revealed as far less beholden to either influence than might be assumed from a simple perusal of that description.
To tackle the Germanic side of the scenario first, while Peals certainly share in a minimalist outlook that’s similar to the early motions of such groups as Tangerine Dream, Cluster, and Harmonia, there is also an immediately noticeable difference, specifically a missing desire for frequently prog-like, and often ominous, audio sprawl.
In its place comes a considerably tidier orientation coupled with an outlook that while never cloying, can nevertheless be accurately described as engagingly pretty. And this approachability is where the nod to Guthrie is most properly assessed, but in the end Peals’ debut connects much differently from the lush post-Goth spillage of the Cocteau Twins.
If Peals don’t directly rip any pages from that 4AD group’s hefty textbook, or for that matter ransack the multi-volume encyclopedia of Musik Kosmische (i.e. the more abstract, less rhythmically-focused groups corralled under the Krautrock designation) for obvious form moves, they are ultimately much better for it. However, a loose comparison perhaps can be made between Walking Field and Evening Star, the 1976 collaboration between Brian Eno and guitarist Robert Fripp, particularly that LP’s title cut.
It’s surely possible that I’m guilty of awarding a disproportionate level of influence to Evening Star, for I made the same connection regarding last year’s excellent Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads from Peals’ city/label cohort Dustin Wong. But if so, I can’t shake the reliably glistening lack of abrasion found in th