Album of the Day: The Peacers, “Introducing the Crimsmen”

It’s tough to make music that’s both reliable and unpredictable, but Mike Donovan knows how. If you’re a fan of his work with Sic Alps and The Peacers, you know what you’re going to get: curving melodies with subtle hooks and Donovan’s world-weary croons. But you never know exactly how you’re going to get it. It could appear as brightly-polished pop, downbeat acoustic folk, fuzzy guitar jamming, or disjointed lo-fi collage. Whatever mode Donovan enters, he rarely stays there for long.

On Donovan’s second Peacers album, Introducing the Crimsmen, we get all of the above and more. On their 2015 self-titled debut, the Peacers were a duo with Donovan and Drag City label mate Ty Segall, but now the group is a four-piece including Fresh & Onlys bassist Shayde Sartin (Segall is no longer involved). Expanding the lineup seems to have freed Donovan to explore his wide musical toolbox even further, resulting in the most sonically diverse effort of his career. It’s odd to say this about such patient, measured music, but in many ways Introducing the Crimsmen is a 17-track roller coaster.

The thrill is in the juxtapositions. Donovan loves to swerve from one tone to its opposite, stringing together songs that sound pretty similar but feel totally different. He’ll swing from the classic-sounding “D.T.M.T.Y.C.Y.M.,” which could pass for a Big Star outtake, to the reddened guitar squall of “Robot Flame,” then dip down into “Windy Car,” an acoustic-heavy ballad so subdued it sounds like Low playing around a campfire. The most carefully crafted gem on Introducing the Crimsmen, the swaying “Theme From Sonny,” feels lifted from a ‘60s folk-pop compilation—which, of course, means Donovan follows with the shambling guitar of a distorted one-minute ditty called “On Matt.”

Many bands would kill to come up with just one song as catchy as “Theme From Sonny,” but for Donovan, no single tune is an end in itself. The best way to listen to Introducing the Crimsmen is to think of each track as another stepping stone toward Donovan’s weird vision of musical nirvana, a place where any sound goes but it all sounds good.

Marc Masters

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