Review Summary: Pygmy Lush continue their consistent history with another release.
The trouble with Pygmy Lush is their associations. The members of the group have been in an assortment of well regarded Virginia bands. Most of the bands focused on playing very heavy music. Pygmy Lush coming from a lineage including Malady and pg.99 retained a fetish for hardcore on their debut "BItter River". Numerous simple folk songs were also included on "Bitter River" hinting at the sound Pygmy Lush would grow into. It wasn't until the band recorded "Mount Hope" that they settled into being mainly a folk band minus the heavier parts. "Old Friends" the group's latest release seems to do even more to encourage that theory.
"Old Friends" is not "Mount Hope". "Mount Hope" remains one of my favorite records of the past decade. Its beautiful blend of folk, indie, and post-rock make it one of the most personal records for me. "Old Friends" has a decidedly different sound. It comes off more calculated and produced than the bands previous two records. The songs are generally more upbeat and explore brighter textures. The guitars that suffocated the tracks on "Mount Hope" with sheer noise have been cleaned up and now provide more textural harmonies. On their website the band cites a key element of "Old Friends" being the fact that guitarist Mike Taylor was basically only interested in playing one chord drones at the time. This may be why songs like 'I'll Wait With You' and 'Pals' are filled with uncharacteristic crescendos resembling those of a group like Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The tone on this record has changed from "Mount Hope" but not necessarily in a bad way. Instead of relying on simplicity these songs seem more detailed and traditional than those the band have done in their past. The change is welcome and the groups more layered and technical sound suits them.
The main issue with "Old Friends" is the production style. "Bitter River" and "Mount Hope" both had some bizarre production. They were lo-fi to a degree, but not overwhelmingly so. "Old Friends" seems like it has been overproduced. It seems in my mind perhaps this is the band's first record they had time to record and that caused for a cleaner sound. The brighter mix causes some of the effects on guitars to lack emphasis. Its odd because one would assume that it would be the other way around, but truly the issue here is that the mix seems cluttered. Still the strength of these songs over power any minor nitpick like that.
The band has also changed their outlook it seems. Where "Bitter River" and "Mount Hope" seemed to concern the pains of living, this record seems concerned with the joys of it. The old Pygmy Lush comes out in a couple of tracks. 'Penny on my Death Bed' and 'Yellow Hall' both encapsulate the sound that older tracks like 'Throw the Jockey' and 'Butch's Dream' ventured into. The lighter songs are excellent for a group of people that have been so concerned with heavy sounding music throughout their careers.
"Old Friends" doesn't best Pygmy Lush's past two releases, but it certainly is another great record. The movement to this type of sound seemed clear after their split with Turboslut, but the change is somewhat jarring. Its weird to hear the people associated with a record like "Document # 8" making a record this clean and beautiful. Its weird to hear a band so unabashedly be themselves. Their willingness to explore sounds has made this group of artists continually stick out from how mundane hardcore and punk can be. All there is to do is hope they can stick it out in this incarnation for a little longer than any of their past projects. Pygmy Lush is easily one of the most interesting remnants of hardcore and in the future I won't be surprised in the slightest if they continually impress with records as consistently enjoyable as "Old Friends" and "Mount Hope".