EP // Pulco – Sketchbook Season
Suddenly finding yourself making significant revisions to your personal conception of the pop music canon can be simultaneously exhilarating, embarrassing and humbling, at once a delightful reminder that there remains ever more wonderful music to discover, and a reason to chide yourself (if you’re the right sort of obsessive) for not encountering something earlier.
Ash Cooke, alias Pulco, once with defunct Welsh band Derrero can quite reasonably be canonized next to a number of established UK pop music figures I’ve long been particularly attached to, Guff Rhys, Alasdair MacLean and Steve Mason among them. To use his most recent work, the five track Sketchbook Season from November last, as an example, “Whistle Frog Finds A Way” opening with an amiable spoken-word introduction, leads to a hypnotic guitar and bass figure ornamented with tape effects and lo-fi bells and (literal) whistles that would feel at home on The Beta Band’s earliest records. “Don’t Stand Down” is every bit as dreamy as a song by The Clientele, but its mood runs more towards the reassuring than the melancholy, and it replaces well-turned out pop-classicist arrangements with a synth choral voice, acoustic guitar, and a bit of gently tapping percussion. “Party Started,” would, if it were from the Super Furry Animals, qualify as their most relaxed groove in history. “Hair,” as an insistently catchy (its aesthetic could be described as “cheerful alarm clock”) mediation on the hirsute condition, serves as an exemplar for the whimsical strain that runs through Cooke’s material, the last decade of which is all easily accessible via bandcamp.
Perhaps that hearthstone warmth and intimacy, as well as being so charming, is some of the reason that Pulco isn’t so well-known outside of the UK (if that’s not just my ignorance at work.) Cooke’s first-class pop craft is up to the standards of his above-mentioned, but doesn’t bring with it the spacey mystery of the Beta Band, the all-enveloping emotional sweep of The Clientele, or the Paul McCartney-eating-a-carrot quality of Rhys’ time spent being a Big Deal. The lo-fi quality, ramshackle instrumentation, exuberant doodlings, free experimentation and lyrical friendliness displayed in a decade of home recording bespeak a holistic hominess that proves extremely inviting, yet isn’t so conducive to filling arenas or doing record store magic tricks.
Fortunately, we can all make up for late introductions by spending some quality time enveloped in the Pulco sound. Away you go!