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Like the members of his former group, the Beta Band, Gordon Anderson is a folk-pop deconstructionist. Unsurprisingly, Concubine Rice, Anderson’s third full-length under the nom de musique the Lone Pigeon, has a few distinctly Betaslike characteristics. For one, Anderson is a willful eccentric, turning the private and/or mundane details of his personal life in Fife, Scotland, into fodder for his fragile, fragmentary songs. For another, Anderson has made chaos part of his aesthetic: Concubine Rice opens with the sound of a gurgling synthesizer and random keystrokes on an accordion. It closes with a fuzzy, five-minute hidden track that features an outta-control psych-pop chord progression culled straight from the heart of the Nuggets series, the ’60s-pop excavation project that’s currently providing the template for the garage-rock-revival revival.
But Anderson is a garage rocker only in the sense that most of Concubine Rice sounds as if it had been recorded in someone’s toolshed next to a rusted-out VW bus. Production value is not high on the man’s priority list. Musically, though, the disc is ambitious, full of spacey, tuneful detritus that runs the gamut from droning lullaby (“King Creosote’s Wineglass Symphony”) to Enoesque sound collage (“The Road up to Harlow Square”) to something that surely doesn’t pass for hiphop even in Fife (“Beatmix Chocbar Rap”). All this, mind you, in less than an hour: Anderson’s tendency to lose interest quickly in any one chord progression or style leads to a supereclectic disc chock-full of abbreviated gems. Most tunes, in fact, clock in at three minutes or under, effectively bypassing the jam-happy self-indulgence that sometimes plagues Anderson’s Beta brethren.
As with that band, however, the potential for collapse always lurks right below the paper-thin surface of the tunes, which sometimes sound like ideas that got scratched through so often that the scratches themselves started to look pretty interesting. And like his former mates, the Lone Pigeon is an amateur musicologist, as interested in getting his hands on oddball instruments (the kazoo, anyone? How ’bout wineglasses?) as he is the verse-chorus-verses of his songs, which are sometimes just melodic scraps strung together under a single, perplexing title. Occasionally, Anderson even rekindles the organic groove-making he helped concoct on early Beta Band tracks such as “Dry the Rain” and “The Cow’s Wrong.” But on Concubine Rice, the effect is less hippy-dippy than avant-gardey, cerebral, and weird.
And sometimes it’s just plain absurd. The title track, for example, is a delicate piece of cabaret chamber-pop, albeit one that’s generously slathered with children’s-book surrealism: “She walks down to the elephant sanctuary tonight,” Anderson sings nonsensically, over music that could be emanating from a Victrola. “And writes a letter for the chimpanzee by the candlelight.”
Anderson, in other words, is a musical dadaist, a merry sonic prankster given to pulling the rug out from under his fey, mostly wispy tunes with Lewis Carroll-style imagery and a copious musical imagination that spans most of the last millennium. The Beatles are an obvious influence, but, truth be told, Anderson seems at least as interested in marginal early Wings records such as Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway as he is in the Fab Four’s back catalog. Red Rose Speedway, in fact, includes a rollicking little number called “Single Pigeon” that I’m guessing this Lone Pigeon (the name derives from an early Beta Band moniker) has spent some serious quality time with.
So yep, Paul is obviously Anderson’s favorite Beatle, and his influence is smeared haphazardly across at least half of Concubine Rice. The fragmentary piano ballad “Heaven Come Down,” for instance, sounds like a lo-fi exercise in figuring out just how many melodies you can squeeze out of the chord changes in “Fool on the Hill.” The beautiful “Waterfall” bears a remarkable, fingerpicked resemblance to “Waterfalls,” a fine track on the otherwise negligible McCartney II. And during the first minute of “Sally Bradwell,” a kind of Abbey Road-style pop song writ small and wobbly, you keep waiting for Maxwell’s silver hammer to come down upon your head.
But Concubine Rice is more than an elaborate game of spot-the-influence. Most of its tracks are too strange for that, betraying, perhaps, the reported mental instability that led to Anderson’s early departure from the Beta Band. “The Road up to Harlow Square” rolls garage rock, roller-rink organ, and sun-kissed Beach Boys pop into a mere two minutes of tape. And throughout the disc, the Lone Pigeon proves his indie bona fides by avoiding slickness and studio gimmickry by any means necessary—even stopping a song dead in its tracks and moving on, Guided by Voices-like, to the next, wait-this-one’s-even-better! idea. The two minutes and 41 seconds that span “Endless Ballad of a Riccoco Moon” and “Melonbeard” are a good example, beginning as a facile ’60s-style protest song (“They’ve shot another plane down/What more can I say?” Anderson sings, over some very lonesome guitar) before getting transformed into something completely different by the Lone Pigeon’s considerable DIY charm (i.e., a pretty melody gets cold-cocked by Anderson’s overamped six-string and overaspirated P’s).
Of course, that’s been the Lone Pigeon’s MO for a while. Though Concubine Rice arrives amid a fair amount of hype, Anderson’s early LPs were basically home-burned CD-Rs culled from boxes of under-the-bed tapes and passed furtively through the mail over the past five years. In the meantime, the psychedelic fetishists in the Elephant 6 collective—not to mention the Betas themselves—have done plenty of advance work, coalescing an audience for such warped ‘n’ retrofied fare as the spoken-word “Ancient Hubbard Cow of Bubbletoop,” the folksy “Old Mr. Muncherman” and the spidery, keybsy “Lonely Vagabond.” Anderson parts ways with his peers, however, with lines like the last number’s “You might feel a little down/When the cold wind blows around/And I open up but I don’t mind at all,” which, despite himself, he sings like an old-pro pop crooner.
And that’s the thing: Otherworldly artist-fartist that he is, Anderson also knows how to write some snazzy tunes. Along with an admirable impulse to never let a song overstay its welcome, that makes Concubine Rice one addictive album. It’s replete with lovely guitar shapes and bittersweet harmonies that dissipate all too soon and repay repeated listening by driving you nuts the next day, when you can’t shake their quirky little melodies. True enough, Anderson seems to suffer from something like the musical equivalent of ADD, but one man’s short attention span never sounded so good. CP