Waterline by potpie
by Duncan Edwards,
Waterline spends some time brooding upon the shattered landscape of New Orleans, as should anyone with a heart. When the waters of the flood receded, a dirty brown/black/beige line remained on buildings everywhere. The disturbing unease of Potpie's avant-expressionism perfectly compliments this physical manifestation of the community's psychological scar.
As per minimalist instruction, Potpie's releases have largely pursued his own version of a straight line for nigh on a decade. All the better then, for being a straight line unfit for use as a sobriety test. At their best, in spite of (or due to) the use of comparitively primitive methods, his hypnotic slabs of monolithic sound have a balance between disquiet and allure akin to a Rothko, albeit one in wax-crayon or marker pen.
On Waterline the trademark sine-wave-generated drones are as intense as ever, yet guitar, chord organ, bullhorn and their ilk, are succesfully reintegrated, without compromising the less-is-more aesthetic. Opener "The Embryo Hunts In Secret" slowly comes into focus as if offering an answer to the unasked and unanswerable question: To what would The Sphinx listen? By contrast, the urgent jolt of "Saturn Jam" suggests a sudden change in circumstances. Perhaps the imagined sound of Sun Ra's life support system being switched off and his soul instantly transported to an unexplored outpost, for a final welcome from jabbering angels and demons.
The clever "Manson/Nixon Jam" has a shrill, threatening atmosphere, but with a detectable Canterbury feel sauntering innocently through the space inhabited by bullhorn and guitar. I anxiously began to imagine Robert Wyatt's injuries arising from a stray bullet on an Ohio campus, rather than from his tumble out of a window.
With very few exceptions, mostly yet to be heard, I detest the sound (almost as much as the social history) of the organ. So, while I personally don't care for "Untitled chord organ solo #1" as a track, (and hope #2 remains unconceived or is strangled at birth) the piece definitely provides useful contrast. Similarly, although organ-free, the immersing and complex claustrophobia of "Instruction in the Great Science of the Six-Syllable Mantra" is every bit as impressive as it is unloveable.
Potpie—like cave painters, boxcar artists, and Mark E. Smith—appears driven to articulate with whatever tools are to hand and in a style of his own choosing. The music has evolved despite an environment predominently composed of disinterest, puzzlement, passive hostility and accidental acclaim. Nevertheless, some of his previous pieces could have flushed Orwellian-style enemy figureheads from hiding, days before Metal Marine Music could take effect. I mean that as nothing less than the square root of a compliment.
The short "Blues For The Lower 9" is undoubtedly the centerpiece of this release and leaves me wishing the track was at least five times as long. It combines a poignant acoustic guitar figure, a drone, and apparently the faraway voices of urban children at play. You've seen them: yelling and barechested, laughing at play in fire-hydrant water, oblivious to being as statistically doomed as kids can be. In New Orleans, they are largely absent now. Eat shit Dr John, Aaron Neville and Wynton Marsalis, for this simple collage is as apt a post-Katrina depiction as I can imagine, in part because, like so many of the displaced lives to which it's echoes pay subtle tribute, it is destined to never be widely heard.
The Backporch Revolution label issues Potpie’s releases in editions of 50, with hand drawn and submerged CD covers. This particular Waterline will soon disappear.