A phrase that always reminds me of the scene in Johnny Depp's Ed Wood film where the Bella Lugosi character is seen sat, immobile apart from flamboyant hand movements, in front of a moving backdrop of rampaging buffalo repeating the same phrase for all he's worth."
Sandy Dillon – Pull the Strings
(One Little Indian/Bertus)
Pull ze strings! Pull ze strings!
A phrase that always reminds me of the scene in Johnny Depp's Ed Wood film where the Bella Lugosi character is seen sat, immobile apart from flamboyant hand movements, in front of a moving backdrop of rampaging buffalo repeating the same phrase for all he's worth.
A strange introduction to a frankly strange, if pretty impressive album. Sandy Dillon sounds as unhinged as the mental image that I conjured up for your benefit at the start of this review. To say this is the feminine riposte to Tom Waits' Bone Machine would not be too wide of the mark. (According to her website, producer and multi-instrumentalist David Coulter was recently associate musical director for Faustian theatre production The Black Rider by Tom Waits, William Burroughs and Robert Wilson, and there are guest turns from Waits' longtime horn-man, Ralph Carney, and Robert Love, singer from Alabama 3).
Certainly the opener and title track is very much in mind is very much in the "found sounds" genre; lots of growling and kitchen implements are utilised. The other, bar room lament side of Dillon's work is mirrored in Play with Ruth; a more downbeat affair, a love song with only brushed drums and a quiet organ accompaniment. It is a truly moving track. I Fell In Love is best described as psychedelic bluegrass, guitars are drunken in their discordance compete in outrageousness with the coffee grinder voice of Miss Dillon. Think of Animal Collective's female alter ego and you are not far away. In fact, on reflection, that's a rubbish and slack description. Think of Animal Collective's youngest and angriest female fan who has been locked up in a cupboard till she behaves and you are getting much closer.
Other tracks that grab the attention early on are Enter The Flame and Documents. Enter the Flame is a return to the downbeat, breathy distressed chanteuse-isms of Play With Ruth. On repeated listening to this song, I am increasingly convinced that this song is a celebration of Suttee. The brilliant Velvets pastiche of Documents follows on; a sublime mix of Venus in Furs and Waiting for the Man (with of course some witch doctor vocals from Ms Dillon).
Pull the Strings contains a strong set of ballads. There is a notable run of five songs slap bang in the middle of this record, starting with Broken Promises, a sweet song about going to the flicks, replete with weird Clangers style noises in the background. There's a fabbo tinkly piano refrain in there as well. Blindcore, which follows on, is a midnight prowl along the rooftops. Why is another beautiful, wheezy accordion ballad accompanied by the Alabama Three's Robert Love. Who's Answering and Baltimore Oriole are two of the strongest tracks on the LP; Dillon plays the sultry bar room moll for all its worth on these two numbers.
After this short set there's a welcome shift in tempo for Over My Head and lots of refreshing dissonance in a mix of trumpet, harmonica and a rhythm section that sounds suspiciously like a packing case or an upturned bath. The word "freak" is spat out with some disdain at regular intervals. Homesick is plain weird. It sounds like a diseased fly-blown lung. Motherless Children is as morose and as beautiful as you would expect; a stripped back accompaniment only adding to the song's potency. Following that, Wedding Night goes even further back into the emotional womb seemingly with only one echoey keyboard and rather drunken strings for company. A lovely guitar break enlivens matters near the end. The Midway is a mere interlude, like an abridged Yann Tiersin track with its Gallic sounding accordion. Last up, Carnival of Dreams is, as you would expect, utterly deranged. It has a middle European feel to it, not too dissimilar to The Young Gods circa 1989 with its swirling psychedelic keyboards played at a haunted fair.
Well, in conclusion I can tell you that Pull the Strings is an emotionally draining listen, demanding every particle of your being during its lifetime. But it is worth it. Off it's head, but none the worse for it. Check it out.
Words: Richard Foster