[Winspear; 2020]

Today, the idea of an inside joke seems almost implausible. It requires a shared experience, a “you had to be there” moment. Yet, most experiences are virtual, or in-person and clouded with anxiety. Rarely are they funny.

That Chicago-based Slow Pulp named their debut album Moveys based on an inside joke is telling, not because it implies humor, but connection. Members Alexander Leeds, Theodore Mathews, and Henry Stoehr have known each other since childhood, playing in other bands until lead singer Emily Massey joined in 2017 to complete Slow Pulp. Though several songs were written on their 2019 tour with Alex G, the album was finished in quarantine and in separation (Massey was in Wisconsin, taking care of her parents who were recovering from a car crash). Despite the pandemic, family emergencies, and physical distance, Moveys still came to be.

The album succeeds because it extends this connection to its listeners. “New Horse” opens with gentle guitar plucks and Massey’s warm voice, only to crescendo with a wall of keys and echoing vocals. Like the gentlest wave, these additions fall away, leaving the listener where they started. Even if her words are full of skepticism (“Baby don’t tell me / It’s all light in my eyes”), it’s hard not to see how listeners could be pulled into the intimate space they’ve created.

Guitarist Stoehr produced, engineered, and mixed Moveys to satisfying results. The album glistens, yet is wholly intimate, like a childhood keepsake still on your bedroom shelf. The rolling percussion on “Trade It” that enters midway through the track elevates the controlled buildup of Massey’s vocals and Leeds’ bass that come before. “Track” seamlessly moves between Massey’s hushed guitar-and-vocal moments and the dreamscape created by the entire band.

The lyrics, though straightforward at times, come from a place of genuineness and vulnerability. “I don’t wanna be a backwards man / Come on get out of my head,” Massey sings on “Montana”, forcing herself into a place of introspection, when taking a hard look at oneself isn’t easy. Single “Idaho” is a slow yet deliberate testament to how self-doubt can get in the way of love and, by extension, happiness (“I’ll try to be without / Sleep on your shoulder for now”).

Listeners will undoubtedly call up a who’s who of today’s indie rockers — Soccer Mommy, Jay Som, Frankie Cosmos — as they make their way through the album, particularly on tracks like “Idaho” and “At It Again”. Yet there’s enough variety in the tracklist to show that Slow Pulp are full of ideas. “Channel 2” flirts with 1990s shoegaze, and “Falling Apart” features violinist Molly Germer, Alex G’s frequent collaborator. The slide guitar and harmonica contributions from Willie Christianson give “Montana” a country feel to an otherwise clean-cut guitar ballad.

Bridging “Channel 2” and “Falling Apart” is the uplifting piano instrumental “Whispers (In The Outfield)”, written by Stoehr, and featuring Massey’s father Michael at the piano bench. The track might feel out of place at first, but the personal history surrounding Moveys snaps it into focus. This is an album that wears its story on its sleeve: Michael engineered some of Massey’s vocals from their Wisconsin home after recovering from his injuries. Do listeners need to know these details? No, because one can still sense Slow Pulp’s journey throughout the album’s quick runtime.

“Movey”, the album’s (sort of) title track, is a quick, funky tune punctuated by shouted commands (“Scram!” “Get back!”). It’s the audible equivalent to an inside joke. Perhaps that’s the best thing about Moveys — providing the reminder that those kinds of close, intimate connections will return, but for now other ways will make do.

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