Originally published in Plan B magazine, January 2009 – www.planbmag.com/shop
Pinkie Maclure – From Memorial Crossing (Liquid)
Lumen – This Day And Age (Ghost Train)
Pinkie Maclure & John Wills – Cat’s Cradle (Trefingle)
Pumajaw (aka Pinkie Maclure & John Wills) – Becoming Pumajaw (Trefingle)
This batch of re-releases charts the emergence of Pumajaw, red-haired brainchild of Loop drummer John Wills and prolific folk singer Pinkie Maclure, in the wake of this year’s quietly triumphant album, the tempered and textured Curiosity Box. Scotland’s Fence Collective, the Fife-based aggregation of folk types (of whom most famous alumnus KT Tunstall is far from representative) has produced some interesting work of late, in particular the increasingly krauty folktronica of James Yorkston, and these four albums go some way to contextualising the increasingly harmonious marriage of two distinct musical heritages.
Pumajaw is derived from a phonetic pronunciation of PMJW, the initials of Maclure and Wills, and such a literal interpretation of the process of collaboration is a useful way into the pair’s ethos. When folk and electronica have historically met, they have tended to read one another, to interpret an already-agreed set of values from another point of view, or to borrow and re-contextualise recognisable gestures; think of Rustin Man’s work with Beth Gibbons on 2002’s Out Of Season, of Four Tet’s Pause, or even of Ultramarine’s Folk. Rarely is the opportunity taken to contest the ground – the values, the tropes, the scope – of either genre, but this is what Maclure and Wills, in their various guises, have succeeded in doing.
Each brings considerable chops to the deconstructive process. Maclure’s range and technical ability as a folk vocalist are both extensive, and her lower register is particularly substantial. Though best known for his work in dronerockers Loop, Wills’s take on avant-noise found a new severity and abandon in later project The Hair And Skin Trading Company. The pair’s first collaboration, 2000’s From Memorial Crossing, finds its early consensus in borrowed otherworlds; the album contains renderings of Tom Waits’ ‘I’ll Shoot The Moon’ and Lynch and Badalamenti’s ‘Sycamore Trees’, from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Further tracks are entitled ‘Blue Rose’ – another Twin Peaks reference – and ‘Fellini Overdrive’. Maclure’s voice swoops through and nestles in these adopted landscapes as though indigenous, but from her lair she scrolls out alien narratives thickly illustrated by Wills. Gradually, feelings of familiarity are subverted, and the pair seem to lament that loss even as they impose it.
The tendency to set up a familiar construct, only to paralyse and undermine it, is carried through their subsequent work, though they no longer need the world on loan. This Day And Age allows itself considerable license with the basis of folk; the vocal and its accompaniment take turns to illustrate and to thwart one another. “I am stranded in language”, Maclure intones repeatedly in ‘Stranded’, in a tone sometimes pleading, sometimes gloating. There is little prettiness, little storytelling, but much feeling here – the sound is reminiscent of later Swans – and an urgency that was to return from sonics to narrative in later work. “Once upon a wickedness, I fell into some arms”, begins ‘Buttons’, “bigger than my belly, tighter than a clown. The key was heavy in my little purse, and every penny burned when I turned and tried to run.” Maclure drags her voice reluctantly along a frightening path, overhung with briars of noise that turn her narrative here and there. On both Cat’s Cradle and Becoming Pumajaw, dream-lore such as this is interspersed with more classical fare, such as the traditionals ‘Rosemary Lane’ and ‘Fine Flowers In The Valley’. Pumajaw point out the dark inconsistency, the fluttering at the heart of folk: its ability to recite, and then forswear a point of view, the abruptness of its tragedy, the abandonment of its swift conclusion. Into the silence after, into the meaning-gap, Pumajaw pour their capricious sound, and they mean to leave the listener no reprieve.