Tracy & The Plastics
Culture for Pigeon
t’s tricky getting psychological disorders to work in your favor—trickier still when said disorders involve a beautiful lesbian feminist making electroclash with her two alter egos. While John Nash’s beautiful mind popularized the idea that there might, after all, be some method to apparent madness (or was it the other way around?), things are fuzzier when trying to determine if Tracy & The Plastics’ newest release, Culture for Pigeon lives up to the buzz that’s been generating in indie circles. Doubtless, all twenty-five minutes of Culture for Pigeon is worth more than its fair share of spins (maybe three… three’s a good number). Still, the question lies in whether or not Wynne Greenwood (the beautiful lesbian and Bard grad student) is doing anything more than the art-punk you’d expect from a beautiful lesbian Bard grad student. Case in point: Greenwood is Tracy; her backing “band,” The Plastics, are keyboardist Nikki and drummer Cola—revealed, in the accompanying DVD, to be Greenwood in wigs and different outfits. Enlisting help from JD Samson of Le Tigre and Rachel Carns of King Cobra and The Need, Tracy & The Plastics end up sounding like some amalgamation of Sleater-Kinney, I Am The World Trade Center, PJ Harvey and Le Tigre.
While staged multiple disorder might’ve been fascinating at best and disastrous at worst, Culture for Pigeon lands squarely on middle ground. The drum machines, the synthesizers, and the simplicity of it all work both for and against Greenwood. There are tracks you can’t help but love, and others you could care less about; there are times the album’s sparseness is precisely what renders the lyrics believable, and others when it seems empty and gimmicky—an almost lame attempt to sound retro and lo-fi.
From the onset, you’re made aware that Culture for Pigeon isn’t a rehash of Greenwood’s danceable full-length Muscler's Guide To Videonics. “Big Stereo” leads things off, a track that could probably pass for a synthesized Cat Power cover and “Happens”—a “song for your sad and silent spring”—follows in the same vein. It’s in cases like these (see also “Cut Glass See Thru” and “Oh Birds”) that the album’s simplicity speaks volumes. Here, when Greenwood sings lyrics like, “This is the song I could not write you” to single notes, it comes off beautifully, rather than the aforementioned gimmicky that emerges later on.
But Greenwood is no shy Chan Marshall—not musically, anyway—and makes that clear in “Knit a Claw” and “Henrietta,” which are two of the album’s more upbeat highlights. And, before you know it, it’s all over. Even though the album clocks in at under half an hour, it’s either too long or not long enough. Who knew twenty-five minutes was more than enough time to have songs start sounding the same and, daresay, dull?
Ultimately, Culture for Pigeon falls short of being a wholly convincing album—coming across as more of an artsy fartsy novelty act than the sweep of genius we were hoping for. If freaks and geeks are huge with the hipsters, a beautiful lesbian Bard grad student with multiple personality disorder is as safe a bet as any. Ultimately, Tracy & The Plastics just need to make up their (her?) mind.
According to interviews with Greenwood—excuse me, Tracy—Nikki is into art for art’s sake, and Cola “is really political.” Greenwood writes, in her liner notes, that “there’s a process of coming out that is inherent in making a video, as well as living as an independent, feminist, artist,” and makes clear that she has something to say. But is Culture for Pigeon l’art pour l’art, or isn’t it? Can’t we just, like, pick one and go with it? Nikki and Cola can stay, but let’s hope that, the next time around, there’s a reason to want them to.
Reviewed by: Rachel Khong
Reviewed on: 2004-08-18