Yesterday...and Tomorrow's Shells
Libraness presents the four-track work of Ash Bowie, an artist whose name should ring a much louder bell than it does. This is not strictly because his name itself is so handsome (how geeky does "David" seem in comparison?), but because of the time he put in playing guitar in Polvo and bass in Helium. Those bands--both now shelved indefinitely--spent the Nineties devising new ways to contort electric guitars. In a post-Sonic Youth environment, novel cacophony was no easy task, but these two groups did it with panache: Polvo (Bowie and his North Carolina buddies) in a clamorous, guy way; Helium (the brainchild of Bowie's girlfriend, Mary Timony) in a clamorous, gal way. Despite the latter group's moderate success, neither band was given the credit they deserved.
Like a lot of indie-rockers, Bowie has always been in the habit of making home-recordings on the side, and, true to form, he is now releasing portions of his audio notebook to the world. Like most records of this ilk, Yesterday should come with one of those warning labels: "For Completists Only." Concentrating on neither the acoustic folk nor the deep-end experimentation that often surfaces on such projects, Bowie's four-track work sounds suspiciously like rejected Polvo demos, with the same punchy vocals, the same howling, crooked guitars, and the same flirtations with Eastern sounds.
Because Bowie remains a formidable musical presence, much of the record also sounds quite nifty. "Toy Planetarium," a hazy instrumental, twirls a sinister organ through a demented noise carnival. "No Separation" invokes the huggable side of Lou Barlow (the undisputed king of this sort of trunk-job disc). The monstrous "Face on Backwards" sounds so much like Polvo (how does Bowie get his guitar to bend over backward like that?) that one wonders what the other guys in the band were doing all those years. But when Yesterday is digested in full, it becomes pretty obvious: They were providing balance, practicing veto power, and ensuring that recordings came bereft of noodling. They were doing all those things that make bands bands and solo side projects attractive indulgences.