Album Review: Pickle Darling – Laundromat

[Father/Daughter; 2023]

On “Achieve Lift!” – the opening track to their 2021 album Cosmonaut – Lukas Mayo (aka Pickle Darling) sang “these things take their time.” It’s a line that rings out a little more poignantly two years later. On their new album, Laundromat, time – or rather the lack of it –  is central to its creation. Mayo needed a reset of sorts in regards to their songwriting; on Cosmonaut they spent months labouring over some songs, but on Laundromat they went with letting the briefest idea be enough. 

Inspired by the short stories of Lydia Davis and William Morris’ book News From Nowhere, the New Zealand musician sought to make music that didn’t need to be extensively tinkered with and built upon. “I wanted it to be a lot more immediate,” Mayo says of the music here. And they follow through: most of the album’s 12 tracks are under two minutes long, offering snippets of daily life, tiny stories that don’t need more explanation than given. On “Computer Repair” they describe getting caught going down a rabbit hole of internet content, leaving the listener on the small precipice at the end: “I clicked to see more / Nothing could prepare my eyes for what was in store.”

Despite the brevity of the majority of the songs, there’s still time for wit and small-scale profundity. Over ticking guitar notes on “King of Joy” Mayo laments warmly “I wish you had a friendlier face / then I could take your complaints” while on the 70-second “Marcie” they observe “the engine of a plane / seagull caught between the blades” with a wry lilt in their voice to accentuate the black humour. Channelling The Boy Least Likely To, “Head Terrarium” finds them with their head in the clouds at their job. “When I’m at work I serve and ponder the great expanse,” they detail, contrasting mundanity with universal abstrusity. Two songs in one, the track splits from its perky banjo chords into a fingerpicked, autotuned coda where Mayo reflects on themself. “No i’m not as pretty as I like / No I’m not as brilliant as I like,” brings their astral thinking back to Earth with some self-reflection.

“Head Terrarium” is one of two tracks where Mayo allows themself to really spread out. They don’t add heaps of unnecessary words though, instead opting to let the mood and the music carry on. “Invercargill Angel” is the other, a starry galaxy of synths to float about in. Evoking the music box melodies and early folktronica stylings of múm, Mayo explores the world they create with a simple and sugar-frosted melody; they could even have gone on longer too, an additional few minutes of the sweet expanse an undeniably lovely prospect. It shows Mayo’s knack for knowing when they have a good thing though. Even though the tinier songs don’t want for anything more, another artist would have been all too tempted to double their length to make them more in line with traditional song structures.

At 24 minutes, Laundromat doesn’t demand a great amount of time, and its rewards are swift for those who enjoy Mayo’s brand of sweet folk. (All the banjo and brevity make the album feel like it would be more at home on the Asthmatic Kitty label, alongside records by Sufjan Stevens and Half-handed Cloud.) It also completes the task as aimed for, serving up Mayo’s “new kind of normal” with their miniature songwriting. Collecting various voice notes from friends that are threaded through the songs here, Mayo also weaves in a communal, searching tone, like they have reached out to their buddies for advice on where to go. “I don’t think I said a single profound thing,” fellow musician Bedbug realises over the swirling toy synths, musing over the musical creation process. “Sorry,” they add immediately after. They needn’t have though: as Pickle Darling proves on these tracks, profundity comes from exploration, placing yourself in a new setting, and just letting little ideas speak for themselves.