Some people sit around whining about the limitations of standard rock instrumentation — others do something about it. Firm believers in pure DIY aesthetics, Birmingham’s Pram fabricated a thoroughly original, if not universally palatable, sound based on a framework of homemade theremin and assorted electronic widgets, topped off with the ominous little-girl-lost vocals of Rosie Cuckston.
On the group’s earliest records, Pram’s bare-bones electro-drone brings back fond memories of vanguard ’60s noisemakers — like Silver Apples and Fifty Foot Hose — who jerry-rigged gizmos that made watching the itinerary get laid out as much fun as actually taking the trip. Gash doesn’t hold up particularly well to repeated listens, since its four tracks offer little more than affirmation they’d bought that krautrock program card for the old synthesizer. Iron Lung is more interesting, if only for the inexhaustible enthusiasm with which the group approaches sound: “Cumulus” finds Pram maddeningly fixated on the tone of a pennywhistle; “Water Toy” could be just that. (The group has a serious fetish for kiddie trinkets.) Good, clean — if bleary — fun.
Pram grew up (and how!) during the making of the full-length The Stars Are So Big, the Earth Is So Small…Stay as You Are. While stretches of the record are friendly enough — the mekkanik rhythms rumble pleasantly beneath Cuckston’s distracted trill — some decidedly menacing shapes are thrown by tracks like the gradually cresting title cut and “Radio Freak in a Storm.” By the latter’s crescendo (the song clocks in at nearly eleven minutes), cold sweats will be the least of your worries. Only marginally more linear, Helium provides more restful listening: the theremin swirls that emanate from “Gravity” (which, unlike a lot of the band’s output, actually allows the listener the luxury of experiencing the titular state) and “Dancing on a Star” verge on the sanguine. In the meantime, Cuckston honed her delivery to a deadpan recitation, all the better to transmit crypto-beatnik cyber-madrigals like “Things Left on the Pavement.” Sargasso Sea stays the course, embellishing tracks like the apocalypto-tango “Loose Threads” with muted, lounge-jazz horns. Even Mr. Sinatra might approve — provided he doesn’t listen too closely.