I don’t know how English duo Way Through makes it through airport security, what with the giant set of brass balls they’re carrying. Even in our current musical climate of mad-lib, fill-in-the-blank genre mashups, it takes great temerity to stick a label like “pastoral punk” on your music, and it’s been a point of discussion for a goodly number of the writers who have given them ink. But while I usually jump at the chance to call “bullshit!” at upstart bands tossing off genres all willy-nilly, I gotta say, this one kind of fits. There’s a skewed pop sensibility and a flat, unadorned quality to the production value that puts the band in line with one of the janglier tentacles of 1980s post-punk. At the same time, Arrow Shower has an almost idyllic quality that shines through in its pacing and textures, lending a sort of wistful nostalgia to the medium-fi pop psychedelic collages that loll about the record’s 40 some-odd minutes.
The great strength of the album is the way that Way Through’s plucky punk ditties seem to be perpetually struggling to extricate themselves from a morass of field recordings and tape damage. Every time a song looks like it’s free and clear, up bubbles some more sonic muck to drag it back under. Take album opener “Ruined Acre”: it begins with a distended vocal loop and some mostly formless guitar picking, and then at last pulls itself together into something resembling the first verse of a respectable punk song… for about 20 seconds. Someone yanks an emergency break at the chorus and the track collapses once more into twittering electronics and sputtering guitar noodling. Like a teen delinquent trying to convince her parents that she’s sober, the song’s fleeting moments of coherency only serve as a reminder of how fucked up it really is. That threat of collapse into noise and formlessness snakes its way through the whole album, lurking at the doorstep of even the most straight-laced tracks
These delirious intrusions could easily have come off like brightly colored baubles: something shiny and distracting and wholly superfluous to the real sonic architecture of the songs themselves. But these aren’t merely punk songs + field recordings, and if you tried to extract all the psych weirdness from Arrow Shower, your patient would bleed out on the table. “Widowhood” would be a sad and toothless thing without the breathing, scraping sounds of feedback beneath its surface, growing steadily in intensity. It’s one thing to tell us that our ”pulse is full of the past, which keeps beating” on “Salmon Patch,” but it’s another thing altogether to force our ear up against its thrumming rhythm and into that cacophony of spastic chimes, faded snippets of conversation, and bleached echoes of drinking anthems that make up the song’s extended bridge. In moments like these, Way Through isn’t just singing about England’s pastoral history; they’re scooping up handfuls of it and sticking it right in our faces.
And that, more than anything, is a reason to praise Way Through: Arrow Shower is an album to be felt as much as listened to. And not in some sappy emo way, either. The best songs here are tactile, like dirt under your fingernails or dried sweat on your skin. Pastoral punk? Sounds about right to me.