An Unreleased Review From Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of 2015

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Herndon and vocalist Claire Tolan use [the song] to deposit the listener, quite literally forcibly, into the megalomaniacal and quite possibly sexual fantasy of an executive weaned on Tolan’s just-world-hypothesis coo: “All of your achievements just seem like your natural right.” The effect is rather like slipping into a warm bath, then realizing it is poison and under your skin.
-Pitchfork Media, reviewing Holly Herndon

I am stunned and pleased to announce that I have found, in my attic, an unreleased review from Pitchfork Staff’s Best Albums of 2015. Presumably, the following review counts as Album #51:

In an interview from late September, Marsha Petrock, the lead singer of Sleeping Carpenters, said — in an interview — to somebody from Pitchfork: “We’re just a band. We make music, because that’s what bands do. Some of us play instruments and others of us sing. I sing.”

And singing is exactly what Petrock does on all forty minutes of INXS-able, the fourth album from Sleeping Carpenters, and the first one to be produced by other people on this same list. She sings in a high, wailing whisper, like a banshee with pneumonia. On the first single, “Summertime,” the band dispels all the rumors that their electronic folk album Four Freaks started — namely, rumors that they were an electronic folk band. Here they are playing blissfully generic pop, and the result is one of the most effortless pieces of affable melodicism since Xiu Xiu. “It’s warm outside,” sings Petrock, and it’s impossible not to hear, from the way she is singing, how literally warm it was when she recorded the song.

But this is not an album where the hedonistic, Balearic, kaleidoscopic pulse of the dancefloor overshadows Petrock’s latest take on the strange sonic experiments that hearken all the way back to her very first non-eponymous solo EP, Simul(album). On INXS-able‘s centerpiece, “Snake Apocalypse,” the sonic cyclone of guitarist Mackenzie Howell’s metal guitar merges with Petrock’s anguished coos amidst a minefield of percussion that sounds like a polar bear drowning while an entire high school watches. The song lasts a shattering ten minutes, shifting from black death metal to lite reggae and back again, as if it seemed briefly like the polar bear was actually going to make it, and be fine, but then nope, it drowned.

At heart, this is still a country band, and one that still remembers how it feels to play electronic folk on a Friday night in Denver, CO, where the band hails from, and where they cut their teeth as part of the “Denver streets” independent hip-hop scene. Petrock’s trademarks are her offhand, indelible portraits of ordinary people struggling to get by — the waitress who is unusually sensitive to sunlight in “Ow, That Hurts,” or the truck driver who inherits a silver mine in “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” — people who must be memorialized using slide guitars so authentic you can smell the dust. INXS-able is the sound of a band finally coming to terms with its own brand of radical art-pop, turning it inside out, and playing their instruments upside down.

Famously, the Sleeping Carpenters recorded all of INXS-able in just six years in a small, commandeered Federal building in Oregon, as if they had to get all of their ideas on tape before any of those ideas “changed or ran off,” as Petrock states on the band’s website, which I just looked at. It’s a fitting place for the genesis of a record that sounds, after repeated listens, like some sort of failed military operation. And if their newfound confidence comes as a surprise to their tiny, dedicated fanbase, Petrock has only one thing to say: “I’ve made it / Like sweet potato fries.” INXS-able is the first Sleeping Carpenters album that won’t be denied, except on its own terms. And in a year filled with news stories, that proved to be exactly the sound many of us were waiting to hear.

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