When first arriving on the Bay Area music scene in late 2014, Pllush made a dent with a powerful set of tracks that fit nicely within the rising wave of shoegaze/dream pop revival bands at the time. However, due to an undeniable songwriting prowess that extends far beyond convoluted pedal-board setups or louder amps, Pllush had elevated themselves into a league of sonic mastery, not dissimilar from obvious touchstone influences (i.e. Mazzy Star, Slowdive, Portishead). The quartet’s second batch of songs, Please, furthered their growing following and replaced their initial gravitation towards maxed-out guitars and splashed cymbals with an eerie, groove-filled bent, channeling Drop Nineteens at their most tender, and imbuing Grass Widow-esque layers of harmony into songs already dense with melody.
As the world around the band has changed in the interim between releases, they have followed suit- they added an “L” to the name, and undergone the whirlwinds of personal flux that naturally occur in such extended periods of time. But rest assured: the only dynamic of the band that has changed is by each member doubling down into the personal qualities that made this group so special in the first place. Which brings us to the year 2018 and the release of Pllush’s debut LP, Stranger to the Pain.
Whereas on earlier releases, singer/guitarist Karli Helm merely teased her abilities as a singer, here she fully embraces her natural pop-tinged mastery of the human voice, now sounding far more like a contemporary of Kate Bush and Alicia Keys on standouts like “Restart”, pushing the boundaries of the Rock and Roll genre while layering dizzying harmonies over an instrumental track that Built to Spill would kick themselves for not thinking of first. Meanwhile, Eva Treadway provides a perfect foil with an effortlessly cool approach to laying her sometimes light-hearted (“Ortega”) and frequently heartbreaking (“Fallout”) lyrics over her more driving style of guitar playing, as indebted to Slanted and Enchanted era Pavement as it is to the best work of The Donnas, seamlessly working clanging guitar abrasion into pop gems. Dylan Lockey and Sinclair Riley fill out the rhythm section on drums and bass, respectively, with Lockey’s snap-tight precision guiding the mood and tempo of the record (i.e. highlights such as “3:45”), and Riley’s complex bass work constructing a rich and deeply melodic backbone for Helm and Treadway to build upon. Stranger to the Pain is the kind of record that reintroduces a band whose previous catalog stands assuredly on its own as a new and fresh face- and like a conversation with an old friend, once it’s over, you will want to restart.