. issue XI : iv .

by barathron

. artist : satan’s pilgrims .
. album : plymouth rock .
. year : 2004 .
. label : musick .
. grade : a .


The versatility of Satan’s Pilgrims’ two-disc, thirty-song ‘best of’ collection Plymouth Rock is astoundingly sly yet blessedly unpretentious. Like all homages, it’s kind, and through this jukebox montage, the tiresome camp and insular naiveté of the 50’s and 60’s are relieved of their oft-indictment — that they’re only a relief. Summoning tropes from the stock repertoire of surf rock, the listener can see just how much cultural territory such expedients encompass. Satan’s Pilgrims expertly reclothe — reconstitute — the monster mash leer of “Peter Lorre” and “Soul Creepin’,” the British blues shimmer of “Soul Pilgrim” and “Ragtop,” and the castanet pastiche of “The Hondell” and “Seaside Run.” Plymouth Rock is a gesture with the emotional resonance of a scrapbook, a gesture that revitalizes such relief and that reclaims its value.

Plymouth Rock is modeled on a blueprint for palatability and comprehensibility, a simple format that presents a prop or cue — like the malevolently kitschy fireside-and-wood-paneled-study organ of “Peter Lorre” (red velvet? pale cat?) and the tumbleweed aroma of “The Lonely Pilgrim” — to set context, then extrapolates in predictable modes of surf-rock thought and via recognizable phrases. The extrapolations — developments, really, for there’s nothing extraneous — are succinct, most between two and three minutes, and rarified. It’s not unlike definitely restating, after considerable rumination, the precise trajectory of an idea. Satan’s Pilgrims are aware, capable cartographers on well-traveled coasts, depicting refreshing toponymies borne to their own end, even where light, sprightly and cunning (e.g. prompting grins from such immaturity as the cheeky “Harem Nocturne” and “Hot Coco,” no ‘a’).

With one bassist, one drummer, and three guitarists, their approach is based on counterpoint and interplay, but never does the listener have to work or fear. (“And folks, if you want a sunny disposition, you should try relaxing with a cup of Lipton tea after a hard job, like, oh, maybe washing out your window curtains.”) Their exceptionally solid playing invokes the engagement of, say, watching a beach volleyball game — through a tint. The listener trusts because there’s not a single misstep in this execution — instead, the opposite. Plymouth Rock is painlessly meticulous and even full of small gifts: a loquacious drum jabbers at the close of “Sh-t Sandwich,” “Soul Pilgrim” takes a too-simple break, folk dance is seamlessly incorporated into “The Godfather,” and the swishy delay of “Chi Chi” is delightful. Satan’s Pilgrims seem intent on filling — satiating — a jukebox, and, certainly, the assortment of moods provides the necessary diversity while their structural ‘best practice’ assures compelling listenability.

by Brittany Tracy