Album Review: Slow Pulp – Yard

[Anti-; 2023]

Fans of the Chicago-based Slow Pulp will undoubtedly be pleased with the band’s second album Yard. Their 2020 full-length debut Moveys – recorded in isolation due to the pandemic and other familial responsibilities – served as a much-needed tonic of indie rock. The band mixed inside jokes with rolling indie rock melodies, creating an album that emulated that feeling of connection when we needed it most. 

“I feel like there’s an interesting interplay between the albums,” explains band member Alex Leeds in the new album’s bio. “Where the isolation during Moveys was forced, it was something we used intentionally with Yard.” Their latest certainly takes cues from its predecessor: opener “Gone 2” is a gentle and spacious track driven by Massey’s introspection. The band winds down both albums with a penultimate alt-country track; Yard’s take, “Broadview”, features Peter Briggs on the pedal steel and Willie Christianson on harmonica and banjo (on Moveys, the moment similarly highlighted Christianson on “Montana”).

Nevertheless, Yard is also much more than a direct sequel. The past few years have left their marks on Slow Pulp; their lyrics have grown darker and more authentic in their themes of self-doubt. Single “Doubt” glistens with rolling percussion and a singalong chorus, yet is truly driven by Massey’s questioning of her value to others. The line “Am I not enough or too much” acts as the song’s key: the fact that she’s on their mind is validation enough. The quality of those feelings is besides the point; after all, who doesn’t want to be in the mind of others?

And more often than not, it’s Massey that’s doing the thinking. “Slugs” describes an old flame as a summer hit; “Cause you’re a summer hit / I’m singing it” she admits on the chorus. The song presents itself as a cozy indie rock track, but offers up moments of vulnerability; “Listen I wanna tell you how I’ve been / That I want you despite my defense”. Massey’s hazy vocals blend into crunchy guitars on album highlight “Worms”, easily the band’s most dizzying track. The worm is, in fact, someone on her mind, someone so significant that their name woke Massey up and inspired the song: “It’s your name,” Massey declares again and again.

Slow Pulp learned a lot during the production of Moveys, and carried what worked into the making of Yard. Chief among them was Massey’s working with her father Michael. With Massey at her parents’ home during the pandemic, she had no choice but to work in her father’s home studio on Moveys (he’s featured on that album’s track “Whispers (In The Outfield)”). But Massey explained that her father can get the best takes out of her, and decided to work with him on their latest effort – all vocals on Yard were recorded with Michael.

Indeed, the band has never shied from self-referencing, and Yard includes commentary on songwriting. The album’s title track, guided by a homey, arpeggiating piano line, finds Massey describe herself and her self-perceived shortcomings. Yet what strikes her the most is how the details of her childhood home have changed; “They put the house for sale sign up / Didn’t know that I cared that much”. It’s an observation that many young adults can relate to.

Of course, ageing and self-doubt go hand-in-hand; more years leave behind more questions unanswered, more paths left unchosen. “Yard” encapsulates the guilt trips we can take ourselves on (note how nobody makes Massey feel this way). Yet Slow Pulp also find moments of peace: “Carina Phone 1000” opens with the brightest strumming on the album. Massey’s insecurity remains front and center, yet for once, she’s offered a moment of reassurance; “And then / You called and you wondered how I’ve been”. Slow Pulp capture what shoegaze and dreampop do best: offering reassurance not that your decisions are right, but that questioning them is what life is about.