Backyards That Weren’t There Before
There’s usually at least one certifiable wing-nut fluttering around the fringes of Portland’s music scene. They tend to be solitary types, loners who spend sleepless nights obsessively multi-tracking their songs in moldy basements and cluttered apartments. They surface every now and again to play an open mic before a baffled or indifferent audience, then retreat for another year or two to complete their next mad magnum opus.
They also tend to be the most interesting musicians around. Take Britta Pejic, for example.
Pejic is almost certainly nuts. I mean, there’s psychedelic music — with its laughing gnomes and strawberry fields — and then there’s shit that just doesn’t make any sense. Pejic’s lyrics generally fall in the latter category. Take the words to “Heavy Heart,” a song that imagines the Arc de Triomphe being used to fix a faulty heart valve. And “Allium Invasion,” the tale of a giant onion inadvertently planted in the ocean.
If Pejic was just another half-baked busker vocalizing her aural hallucinations on an Old Port street corner, one could justifiably dismiss this music. But most of the songs on her debut album, Backyards That Weren’t There Before, are too catchy and well crafted to ignore.
To wit: the opener, “The Sky and The Woman.” I have no idea what this song is about — “Let the sky and the woman you are mixed with come right before your eyes” — but it’s a glorious piece of psych-rock you’ll want to hear again and again. Same goes for “T.S. Baby.” Lyrically, it’s as inscrutable as an Eliot poem (perhaps that’s the reference). Musically, it’s a bouncy, dreamy pop confection of fine design.
Pejic’s songs are based on her lithe voice and acoustic guitar, then built up from there. She adds piano and Mellotron to most of them, and on these Acadia recordings she’s joined by an acoustic bassist, a drummer or two, and a cellist, plus the ubiquitous Todd Hutchisen, whose pedal steel pretties up the country number “Old Cold Bold.” Throw in some shakers, a djembe and a sousaphone, and voilà, this strange musical stew is ready to serve.
The most elaborate composition on the album is “The Manhole Yarn,” a vaguely Indian/Arabic gem that simultaneously confounds the mind and delights the ears. By contrast, “Summercholy” stands out on the strength of just three elements: a driving acoustic guitar line lifted from Richie Havens, Pejic’s melodious vocals, and some stray Mellotron tones. (The same song shows up again, this time with drums, as a home-recorded bonus track titled “Summercholy B.”)
There are times when the weirdness is just annoying. The two-minute ditty “Garage (How Often Will I Entertain?)” is too cute for its own good. On “Seismic Ballad(e),” Pejic indulges in some wordplay, renaming states that merge after the U.S. folds in upon itself due to a massive Midwestern earthquake: Califlorida, Wisconsilvania. Cringe.
“They say my drive’s commendable, but my delivery’s insane,” Pejic sings on “Lonely Kitchen Zealot,” a humorous song that could be an analogy to her musical career. “Look, I’m just trying to entertain / I don’t want to cause you any pain.”
A couple jokes fall flat, but Backyards definitely entertains. Highly recommended.