Tracy + the Plastics

Culture for Pigeon [CD & DVD]

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Tracy + the Plastics' Culture for Pigeon is both more and less than Muscler's Guide to Videonics, the debut of Wynne Greenwood's self-reflexive synth-punk/performance art project. At just under 26 minutes, Greenwood's second album might have less actual music on it than her first, but Culture for Pigeon covers more sonic territory despite its relatively short running time. From the opening track, the slow-building, yearning "Big Stereo," to the joyous, anthemic "What You Still Want," the album marks a departure from the nonstop intensity of Muscler's Guide to Home Video. Even the more fiery songs, such as "Knit a Claw" and "This Is Dog-City," are more restrained and inviting-sounding, on first listen anyway, than most of Tracy + the Plastics' debut. That doesn't mean that Greenwood has lost her edge, though; "Quaasars" is nearly as noisy as her earlier work, "Henrietta" has keening vocals aplenty, and "Save Me Claude" boasts such sharply drawn lyrics as "Women of Los Angeles/You can't clean it up until you make a mess." But the quieter moments on Culture for Pigeon often end up being the most arresting: the brief but lovely "Cut Glass See Thru" has more in common with Mirah's music than the work of Le Tigre or Erase Errata, and "Happens" is an odd but successful cross-pollination of singer/songwriter confessions and electronic atmospheres. The quieter approach of this track and "Oh Birds" gives Culture for Pigeon a more thoughtful cast that acknowledges Tracy + the Plastics' conceptual nature (in concert, Greenwood performs live as singer Tracy, in front of videotaped versions of herself playing the Plastics: keyboardist Nikki and drummer Cola). The album also attempts to address the fact that listening to a Tracy + the Plastics album isn't as rich an experience as attending one of Greenwood's multimedia-driven concerts by including a DVD with two of her video pieces. Indeed, given the project's high-concept origins, in some ways the DVD is the main attraction of the set. In Culture for Pigeon's semiotics-heavy liner notes, Greenwood describes the videos as "some spaces for you to imagine in," and while they don't quite replace a Tracy + the Plastics concert, they do provide some brain-tickling amusement. The first piece, "We Hear Swooping Guitars," joins Tracy, Nikki, and Cola during one of their practices. Tracy tries to cooperate and mediate with Cola, who looks completely bored as she mimes drumbeats with her mouth and hands, and with Nikki, who complains about how the name Tracy + the Plastics maintains the "historical hierarchy of a rock band" and contemplates "the lesbian creature as constantly disappearing and/or always being something as a remembered past." A fly squished against the wall morphs into an elephant and quickly turns into the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, while snippets of "This Is Dog-City" and "Knit a Claw" are woven into the film with more abstract imagery. The second piece, "Just the Beginning of Something," is even more impressionistic, mixing footage of digging for and painting with mushrooms, beer bottles used as metronomes, hair that becomes fields of wheat, and swimming in a living room that becomes a pool. The sidelong storytelling in Greenwood's videos definitely heighten the impact of her music, but fortunately, it isn't necessary to see the films to appreciate Tracy + the Plastics' music on its own terms. Culture for Pigeon offers the most complete, and complex, version of Greenwood's fascinating and often funny sound and vision.

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