Shep & Me
I'm so glad Pittsburgh is developing a bit of an "experimental folk" community, so we no longer have to just read about the music from Finland or New England in magazines like Signal to Noise and Ptolemaic Terrascope. Artists like Mike Tamburo and Tusk Lord led the charge, and now comes Matt Himes and friends, who moved here two years ago and go under the name Shep & Me. (Himes also plays in the excellent Sonic Youthy noise-rock band Grackles.)
Released on a Maine label and lovingly packaged in a silkscreened recycled cover with a hand-stitched booklet containing lyrics and stark black-and-white collaged photos, Shep & Me's Cloudy Chowder vinyl LP is one of the most beautiful yet unpretentious-sounding releases I've heard this year from the local underground. It was recorded not only in unique locales in Pittsburgh (such as the Waldorf School chapel), but also in Kentucky, Lousiana and Illinois, showing Himes to be quite a ramblin' man.
Every track is a little different, which only adds to the appeal of slapping it on the turntable. Himes leads off with a gentle guitar-picking number featuring backward tape noise (recorded in an oil-refinery tank in Philly), then is joined by Ben Grubb on mandolin and Dan Beckman on guitar/electronics for the lo-fi folk of "Doppleganger." Himes goes back to reverby solo electric and dark keyboard for the droney "Hyphenate," sounding like the quiet parts of an Akron/Family jam. Other highlights include Jason Flack's trombone blurts on the title track and "Spot Treatment"; Himes' plaintive backwoods singsong on "Oh My Dear"; and the subtle abrasions on styrofoam and wine glasses on "Where I Am?"
I'm mightily impressed by the simple yet effective (and effects-laden) production and concept of this LP (and the newly released split cassette with Bloomington, Ind., psych-folkstress Caethua, which will soon be pressed to vinyl). I strongly recommend it to anyone who treasures the New Weird America, from Sunburned Hand of the Man to Jack Rose and Jandek. "After sittin' around all day, I thought I could hear myself breaking," sings Himes. We can hear you too, Matt, and it sounds fine.