Ash Cooke’s seventh album as Pulco is a collection of bedroom pop, stream of consciousness poems, and Cooke’s relentless quest to master noise. Small Thoughts is as much soul bearing, as it is experimental. It takes a collection of misaligned jigsaw pieces and creates a complex puzzle, full of beauty, but not readily discernible.
On the opening track, What’s In A Name, Cooke questions, “Pulco…what does it mean, anyway…it can’t be a random collection of letters, signifying nothing.” Invoking the Bard, while leading us down the rabbit hole, Cooke is at once mischievous and legitimately curious. Pulco is as much an exploration of identity and self-awareness, as it is a reflection of Cooke’s life. He is Pulco, and the album proceeds to unveil this fact through sketches of poems, songs, and random bits and clips.
The second track, Place Lid On Me, is sleepily melodic with lyrics that suggest Cooke is weary, ready to be buried. On Oxbow Lake, he compares his life to an oxbow lake, the water formation created by a river that has meandered off course, stymied and stuck. It’s at once reflective and hopeful, as he recognizes his ambition and need for a new course. The album is dotted with forthright admissions and subtle insights, all the while driven by Cooke’s steady flow of thoughts and introspection.
Pulco – Place Lid On Me
The album comes to a head with Travel Lodge Mirror. It opens with a beautiful bit of Spanish guitar before a narrative that has Cooke waking before a mirror, astounded by his reflection and the middle-aged man before him. As he narrates, Cooke comes to accept his lot in life and embrace his identity as “a musician, an artist, and a poet.” While he contends that his predilections for the arts will ultimately lead to his undoing, these gifts allow him to express small thoughts without appearing self-indulgent.
The album concludes with Mexican Mods Mexican Rockers, which is a cheeky attempt at providing the meaning of Pulco. My favorite explanation, “Pulco: Carlos the beardless revolutionary, leader of the Cuban revolution until it was realized that his face didn’t look good on t-shirts and posters.” He delivers definition upon definition until the album dissipates like a passing reverie, leaving the listener in a wistful, altered state. At the end of it all, it’s clear that Cooke has worked through much of the mid-life angst, and is ready to embrace his alter ego and its calling.
This is a lo-fi bedroom recording, and there are bits with kids interrupting songs, kids telling stories (i.e., Seahorse See Sheep), and sounds common to a house. For example, Old Stones sounds as if Ash left the footie game on while taping the track. These subtle glimpses into Cooke’s life balance the introspection that mark this recording.
Musically, the album is a mish-mash of noise pop, folk, and power pop. Vocally, Cooke favors Elliott Smith. However, he’s a bit more robust and wont to see the humor in things.
In Small Thoughts, Cooke demonstrates the potential of integrated media, as he channels William Blake, Syd Barrett, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and Frank Zappa. The subtleties and sundry pieces combine wonderfully with music to illustrate Cooke’s process of reflection and acceptance of mid-life.
Buy/Stream: Small Thoughts
We featured the Pulco EP, Sketchbook Seasons, last week. Released on November 21, it is still available as a free download via Bandcamp. This is a collection of songs that uses loops and samples to yield creative compositions. While experimental, it’s fairly accessible and an excellent companion to Small Thoughts.