Co-Pilgrim – Pucker Up Buttercup (Low Transit Industries)
The star of Pucker Up Buttercup is, quite irrefutably, Michael Gale’s elastic voice. This might seem a slightly silly statement to make regarding a solo artist (what else could the star be, save for the singer himself?), but the way in which Gale uses his own voice to bring traditional arrangements into another category is occasionally stunning. For the most part, the songs assembled are sweet, quiet, and utterly standard. Jason Molina, Damien Jurado, worry not, for your work goes not unnoticed by Co-Pilgrim. What separates this record is that multi-tasking voice.
Oftentimes on Pucker Up Buttercup we’re lulled into expecting the expected, which maximises the welcome surprise when those expectations are exceeded. Sweet Treason would be a simple-enough alt.country strum were it not for the disarming and extremely chord progression as we leap into the chorus. Gale’s voice gently climbs out of the reach we thought him capable and the surprise is complete. Furthermore, post-chorus, everything stops and we hear free-form, dreamy vocal harmonies before dropping straight back into the next verse. It seems Gale wants us to learn about his voice and skills before pushing himself into top gear.
Similarly, the gorgeous Into The Valley Of Darkness shirks the doom of its title and beautifully falsettos itself to high heaven. The strange effect of singing about “going down” and being buried while the blissful vocal line itself wavers comfortably in the loftiest registers is potent and beguiling – either Gale is an accidental craftsman or quite the knowing musical joker. Either way, this is one of several splendid vocal tricks employed. That the following song Her Soft Voice begins on a terrifyingly low note should, by this point, be no shock, more an expected and quiet “look at me”. Perhaps most confusing is the vignette The Blessing Of A Curse, which plods, Plush-like, with more than a nod in the bassline to Brian Wilson. A curio that’s slightly out of step with the trajectory of the record, but certainly a welcome one.
And so runs the rest of the record, constantly surprising, with the vocal deliveries and layered harmonies impressing the most. If anything, Pucker Up Buttercup is evidence enough that the already-bursting milieu of the singer-songwriter can occasionally be enlivened by thought and the careful construction of surprise.
This record was made available to me by means I’m still not quite sure – a link to download the promo just sort of arrived in my inbox – but more information is undoubtedly available here.