by Corey Sustarich
San Francisco’s self-described ‘sob rock’ outfit Pllush pull together twelve songs that reach across their genre-bending alternative music and into the light of pop values. Karli Helm and Eva Treadway are the vocals and guitar on the album. Helm sings masterfully and urgently while Treadway pushes her guitar playing fiercely and sings with cool nonchalance. Dylan Lockey drums with exclamation and intonation giving this dozen of demanding songs the dynamics they merit. Sinclair Riley folds complex low structure into the mix with wildly appropriate bass composition. Together they made a complex album with varying song stylings and structures that demand repeating.
"Elliot," the first track from Stranger to the Pain weighs heavily and honestly on a lost camaraderie. Clean guitar and vocals claim the first few moments of the record. In those fleeting seconds, we are inaugurated to the immensity of Helm’s voice before a burly chord progression bursts into a quick end to the shortest song of the album. The second track, "Syrup," moves spastically with a lunging progression toying with its dynamic shifts all the while. Playful drums push "Ortega"’s distorted bass line toward a short-lived and seriously cool guitar riff. Lyrics hum about moments where everything falls apart. Metallic banging, feedback, and more awesome guitar hooks give this song’s pop sentiments a frayed edge.
"Big Train" is the third single off the album and it gushes with tragedy. Vocals sing to the pain that comes with writing a song as good and as true as this one. Pllush’s Karli Helm pleads: “Do you know how to gauge right from wrong?” suggesting that setting a moral compass can be just as confusing as following its fluttering directions. "Fallout" starts out noticeably more tranquil than its predecessors and, for the first half anyway, it is. A flourish of cymbals, strings, and vocal cords at the midway point momentarily turn that tranquility into a ferocious beauty. "3:45" is jangling guitar and swaying rhythm fronted by a confident voice nodding into a series of beaming guitar notes that chirp with poise. The drums draw attention to their intricate, woody timbre and the reeling nature of the song structure before a celestial framework shuffles it’s way to the front. Tremendous distorted guitar and surging melody swoop in efficaciously to give it the end it deserves.
High-climbing vocals wash themselves onto the shore of the interweaving strings that make up "Restart". Instrumentation layers its complements on a sweeping voice describing the innate desire to start over and dismissing smears against trying again. "Sleeper Cab" is a piano-styling of "Big Train"’s melody. It holds a grand impression of love inside the chorus walls built from shivering organ and string sounds. "Stuck to You" contrasts the previous track with pointedness and glib confidence in a lack of amiability. It throws a sunny smile at rough circumstance. This one is fun, short, and it feels good to hear someone singing the truth.
"Okay" is that breath of calm. Its lyrics hold the title to the album drumming up its creator's feelings toward its importance to them. Laid bare for all to hear we listen to affecting words with the attention they deserve. My favorite of the bunch being “but nothing really changes quite like something that is true.”
"Shannon" is the first single from the album and it’s the obvious choice upon listening. With its ornate bass, deeply personal lyricism, and guitar tones as unmistakable as two friends’ voices, this song is made up of its next best part. Each time listening is a chance to wait with anticipation to fall for the exquisite personality rounding the bend. "Blue Room" is the last and longest song on the album. Instrumentation swells and vocals float like watching clouds pass overhead. Plumes of strings and bass notes sound sweet like a bedtime story until the calm certainty of drums play us out.
This album was co-produced by Grace Coleman who has worked on all of the previous Pllush releases. She maintains their consistency of sound while offering a chance for the band to be inspired by a newer, cleaner approach to their recordings. On their album’s recording process, Helm stated: “Sonically, we finally leaned into a cleaner sound, letting go of the shoegaze influence we may have had in the past. We’re all heavily influenced by pop music so we wanted to ‘clean up’ our sound and tune into those influences a bit more.” Pllush has pulled together their best elements, added pop sentiments, and made their best album yet all because of it.