Philip Perkins, Drive Time

Michael Wojtas

Philip Perkins, Drive Time [Captured Tracks]

Captured Tracks’ ongoing reissue campaigns have become an intrinsic part of the label’s identity as foremost purveyors of refined indie pop revisionist history. Consider the finest ‘80s music the label has unearthed and compiled, including the Wake’s Here Comes Everybody, the Servants’ Youth Club Disco and a wealth of Cleaners From Venus releases. Such albums exist at the nexus of nascent dream pop and softening post-punk, and offer a highly melodic and elegant antithesis to more abrasive C86-era counterparts. Aside from fulfilling the obvious purpose of rectifying the reputation of underappreciated artists, this run of reissues also draws a clear through-line to the analogous music of current label poster boys like Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing, who deal in a similarly graceful college rock idiom.

All of which makes the rerelease of outré composer Philip Perkins’ Drive Time a bewilderingly welcome change of direction. Available on Body Double, a sister imprint to Captured Tracks which has dealt almost exclusively in the expected kind of post-punk and shoegaze archaeology, Drive Time is a fragmental 23- track suite ostensibly designed to alternately infuriate and liberate commuters. Its spectrum encompasses everything from murky field recordings of indecipherable drive-by conversations to delicate bits of Durutti Column-like fret explorations. It could equitably be filed as library music, or, less charitably, non-music.

Perkins, a one-time audio/visual associate of the Residents, originally released Drive Time in 1985 on Fun Music, a diminutive label he and a few like-minded artists co-founded as a means of gathering and distributing their own orphaned recordings. He often worked in topographical realms, crafting post-Eno, environment-enriching soundscapes, albeit on a micro level. Rather than music for airports or films, Perkins audio-architected scenes from generally prosaic settings: Apartment Life (1980), Neighborhood With a Sky (1982), Hall Of Flowers (1987).

Though Drive Time was specifically constructed for rush hour listening, it’s just as well suited to the act of standing in long lines, grocery shopping or any such chore synonymous with modern drudgery. Intended as accompaniment to a numbingly habitual activity, mutability and curiosity are integral to Drive Time’s design. Perkins is just as adept at conjuring the barely submerged yet omnipresent despair of these situations as he is locating their inherent irony; “Mechanical Piano Parade,” a hybrid of factory dissonance, jaunty ragtime piano and playground ambiance, produces a coal-black horror-humor roughly akin to the placement of Fats Waller songs in the Eraserhead soundtrack.

Though often dislocating and dissonant, Drive Time earns its moments of cathartic, oddly clairvoyant Vangelis-meets-Weather channel ambience. Likely too obscure to have directly influenced present Captured Tracks’ signees (or anybody, really), Perkins sometimes comes off as an accidental Nostradamus. Drive Time’s clouds of electronic drift could comfortably hover beside New Age- inflected contemporary releases from, say, Not Not Fun or New Images. Perhaps even more incidentally prophetic is the mind-mellowing twang of “Guitar Hero,” which, with its organic percussion and skipping-stone guitar lines, could easily pass for an early Real Estate scribble. That Drive Time manages numerous instances of eerie, serendipitous prescience most likely owes to the unabashed sense of discovery discernable even in the album’s darkest corners.

As frustrating yet intermittently sublime as the experience it’s meant to evoke, Drive Time isn’t exactly the kind of reissue that career resurgences are built on. But it’s easily the Captured Tracks/Body Double contingent’s least expected, most mercurial rediscovery yet, just the kind of disruptive wrinkle an especially uniform canon needs.

 
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