By Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)
Keeping is the longstanding collaborative project composed of DIY rock’s other overly-ambitious Ty and half of All People, and Ruin Value is both the title of their debut record and the thing the trio has evidently done to many of their human relationships. Combining the warmth of All People’s punk rock equivalent to a late night summer pickup basketball game and Tyler Scurlock’s soundtracks to the groggy early morning after, Ruin Value excels at brandishing the musicians’ mutual nostalgia to communicate their heartache through a reproduction of the early ‘90s shoegaze scene had it flourished in the basements of New Orleans.
That may sound like a lot to digest, but thus is the storied history of Community Records, a label which seems to be founded on the ideal of growth within a body of like-minded - though undoubtedly diverse - artists. Case in point, Keeping is an impressive compromise between the jagged, angst-ridden humanism of Greg Rodrigue and Robert Landry’s day job and the soft existential and theological musings of Scurlock’s vast discography. Keeping places itself in the rarely explored middle-ground of collaboration between logical alliances and ill-conceived shock value, culminating in a highly successful experiment in utilitarian songwriting while occasionally summoning the pre-mortem Coachella hologram of Ride (see: “Single Wire,” “Wrapped Up”).
Besides its prominent shoegaze influence, Ruin Value suggests an eager return to the self-proclaimed post-gospel punk initiated by Scurlock’s former outfit Sun Hotel - a sub-subgenre perhaps unique to projects boasting Scurlock’s sepulchral vocals which have most recently been attributed to the synth-pop and spiritual ambience of Sharks’ Teeth. Tracks like “Narrow Shell” and “Calm Returns” sound like extensions of 2015’s farewell record Rational Expectations, while the whole album is injected with a somnambulistic quality inherent in all of Scurlock’s work.
Yet this sleepy energy finds new life under the influence of Landry’s obtrusive percussion and Rodrigue’s peppy bass, as if to match Scurlock’s talents on the court with a ceaseless barrage of awkward white guy layups lighting up the muggy Bayou Area night. In turn, tracks vocalized by both People, “Change Up” (Landry) and “Words Undo” (Rodrigue), sound more calculated than the improvised hook shots and hail mary three pointers perfected on their previous virtually genre-less releases, which possess notable reggae, dream pop, and spoken word influences.
It seems as if Community Records has long been hip to trends in rock’s re-imagination of dated movements, yet their artists refuse to have their personalities stripped or be pigeonholed by trending genres. Yes, Ruin Value recalls a certain jangly renaissance of shoe-consciousness arguably definitive of rock’s final legitimate chapter, but at its core it’s a deeply personal work of art drafted by intimate and vulnerable friends (“acknowledge my heart, it used to beat for you man” confesses Scurlock on “Empty Portal”). As a profound work of synecdoche, the closing “Very Last Party” models the lush guitar and subtle softcore breakdowns uncompromisingly contributed by Scurlock, while an isolated drum patter and a shared microphone expand the open-ended track to a seamless dialogue reminiscent of a heart-to-heart between old pals. ”Don’t mind me,” whispers a flickering likeness of Kevin Shields from behind the couch.