The CDs You Gave Me: Uncluttering the genre tropes with magic realism and psychedelia

When you think of a psychedelic rock band, you don’t tend to think about uncluttering the gutter spouts or other mundane tasks , but Greenfield-based alternative psych-folk band, The frost heaves and hales, does just that — marrying everyday tasks with a dash of magic realism.

The band’s newest six-song extended play (EP), Uncluttering the Gutter Spouts, released on May 12 brings together an eclectic mix of genres from a classic rock ballad to a country heartbreak tune, but dials up the weirdo psych-folk influences, allowing otherwise straight ahead rock songs room to breathe.

The introductory track on the record is “By the Light,” a rock ballad built for sing-a-longs that combines otherwise mundane tasks with romantic nostalgia. “By the light of the ATM booth, I look at my wallet picture of you/ Remember the day I took it/ We stayed in bed until late afternoon,” lead vocalist Daniel Hales sings with a breathy calmness that evokes bittersweet emotions.

“The Mountains Grow Unnoticed” is an alternative rock adaptation of an Emily Dickinson poem with high falsetto vocals, the chirp of crickets, and a foreboding sense of decay. Although only a minute long, this song manages to capture a sense of place — one can imagine a full moon rising over a silhouetted peak. This song is reminiscent of former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett’s adaptation of a James Joyce poem, “Golden Hair,” from Barrett’s first solo record, The Madcap Laughs.

“Future Artifact” is arguably one of the weaker tracks on this record with a lackluster post punk melody that’s partially saved by bizarre lyrics like “plastic replicas of Kerouac’s nut sack,” angular guitar riffs, and a theme of entropy and aging. This song is pretty much dad rock through and through, which isn’t bad, but isn’t always the cup of tea you’re looking for. 

A short and sweet song called “All My Umbrellas” is encased in a thin layer of twee pop that’s quaint and endearing. A song all about lost umbrellas is a brillant metaphor for unrequited or failed love. There’s a bit of magic realism to the imagery of umbrellas flying off to find new homes that’s absurdly hilarious while still being heartfelt. “Someday I’ll release all my umbrellas/ Watch them all fly on back to their homes/ I’ll wave as they go/ And try to keep my eyes dry/ The next time it rains I’ll get soaked to the bone.”

“The Cactus in a Fishbowl Blues” is an Americana styled acoustic country song that eschews the typical tears in your beer heartbreak. Instead, listeners are treated with surrealistic metaphors for ragged and love worn emotions. Lines like “tears are grains of sand turning my eyes into dunes” and “Wash it down with Elmer’s glue/ Now my lips are sealed like an old chimney flue.” are a little grotesque, but are better country one liners compared to most songs you’d hear on mainstream radio.

The final track on the album is “Uncluttering” a psychedelic ode to mundane yardwork that’s more about one’s psyche than it is about wedding out flower beds. It’s repetitive vocal melody is infectious and one can imagine this as a mantra for whenever there’s a mental roadblock or a divergent path in life.

On the whole, Uncluttering the Gutter Spouts has a lot of gems, but feels like it should be part of a longer piece of work. I would have liked to see The Frost Heaves and Hales create a more complete picture with variations on the themes presented on the record. However, I can’t deny that this EP serves as a minute snapshot of a band that’s artistically explorative musically and lyrically.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at Send your CDs, cassettes, or vinyl to Chris Goudreau at the Valley Advocate, 115 Conz St., Northampton, MA, 01060.

Author: Chris Goudreau

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