Hearing a track before its LP can sometimes be a mixed blessing. Loss leaders have become a necessary evil as every band attempts to push their material into an already saturated market. In the name of advertising, I no longer believe it would be possible for an unestablished band to sell any records without first offering up free versions of their best songs in order to generate media speculation in the form of journalist hype. On the one hand, this widespread practice is fantastic for savvy speculators for whom free downloads offer the primary window into the new music. Yet websites like bandcamp exist for a reason- so as to provide cost free shop fronts in which to display EPs, B-sides and even full lengths. The curse of the downloadable single is that prejudgements as to a band’s abilities will be made over one snap listen, love it or hate it, decisions are made quickly in an automatic world.
This brings me neatly to the problem of Optimist Park. Last December’s release Mount St Helens provided a good, if not a little long, introduction into the solo project of Kiss Kiss Fantastic’s Jeremy Mullins, whilst Friday gone brought about the release of The Clouds And The Mountain EP. I must accredit No Fear Of Pop with turning my attentions back to Optimist Park, whom I were happy to led fade from memory following one too many listens to Mount St Helens. As by blog convention, the track giving its name to the EP ‘the clouds and the mountain’ was available to stream beneath an enticingly descriptive paragraph, and due to NFOP’s usual knack for unearthing gems, I was powerless not to listen. A seamless shoegaze texture was the first layer to strike me; its ambiance enveloping the plodding guitar line beneath it. Mullins’ typically reverb heavy vocals entered the fray not long after, solemnly recalling ‘soft brown hair in the breeze’. The song plays like a sad memory upon the skull, clear and desperate, before irrationality overcomes. In that very moment, a tremolo enhanced guitar rises and an anthemic drum beat begins its steady march toward uncontrollable emotion- merely to be purged once spent of rage; the memory re-suppressed, a quickened heartbeat all that remains from last minute’s fury.
Only could a track of such intensity create the urge I now felt to listen to The Clouds And The Mountain in its entirety and here in lies the problem at hand. The record was a massive let down. Opener ‘CRUSHER’ attempts to rehash a classic rock riff with an indistinct vocal melody and a whining synthesised lead line, all condensed into an anti-climactic 1 minute 46 seconds. Follow up ‘pulsar’ isn’t much better, its ambient pulses unable to be fully explored in another inexplicably short track. Heavily syncopated drumming and filtered vocals on ‘collapse’ begin to redeem the EP whilst ‘where the road begins’ provides a welcome acoustic break, this is until the incessant ‘pulsar’ is re-administered, this time dressed as ‘down in the park’. Only once all of this has been digested does Mullins produce his clincher, ‘the clouds and the mountain’.
I am indeed a sucker for a cathartic album closer, but this does not mean I am always happy to wade through hours of misdirection to reach it. All this probably shows is that I am more product of my rapid fire culture than I would care to accept. The question of the free download stands unresolved, as it probably will for quite some time. There is of course only a limit to what can be listened to, and some manner of filtering is imperative. Whether this means that in the future I miss out on a buried treasure is the opportunity cost of the broader search and the risk I will continue to take.