New Zealand’s Stefan Neville may have been toiling away at his Pumice project for a good 15 years, but now just might be the time it was meant for. His latest opus, PUNY, is tailor-made for the new cassette culture, celebrating noise to near excess. Neville’s voice and keyboards are overdriven and oversaturated to a brittle, as distortion and feedback ride every acoustic guitar, Casio synth, and loose snare drum. A little tape hiss might be just the aesthetic choice he intended, serving as the phantom instrument to be played by the listener.
“Hey Crap Crab” and “Smell the Towel” are experiments rather than structured pieces, the foundation for something bigger. Sloppy drums don’t bother with keeping time; a capella vocals swell with feedback, slowed to a moan and barely leaving a discernible melody. Everything starts and stops, and starts and stops. It’s a jigsaw puzzle with unmatched pieces jammed into place – a deliberate force that insists this is not amateur sloppiness, but the art of a man enamored with broken sounds.
To the contrary, 12-minute standout “Trophy” is a sailor’s funeral dirge that progresses imperceptibly. Its lone organ gives way to the rolling of distorted waves, succumbing to the sea. It could easily occupy one side of an LP all its own (perhaps it should) and stands as proof that Neville knows exactly what he’s doing. “Trophy” bears the pace of his slow heart and steady breath; it honestly feels alive.
Between the meditative and outright exploitation, the duality of Pumice is uncomfortably at odds. PUNY crackles brightly with sonic anomalies, but suffers out of tune street urchin one-man-band tendencies. It’s clear that Neville, when restrained, is capable of making a clean collage from a musical waste, but it’s a rare find on PUNY.