True anti-careerism in rock is a rarity. Some performers, especially in the posturing realm of all things indie, paradoxically turn willful obscurity into a selling point. Not, for whatever that’s worth, Wingtip Sloat. As the group’s unpretentious homebrew weirdness and wisdom wafts up in abundance from a basement somewhere in Falls Church, Virginia, mortgages, straight jobs, wives and kids take priority over touring or even using a “proper” studio. Straddling the fine line between easygoing and tossed-off, all of Sloat’s records sound like crap (please don’t say “lo-fi”) — and a couple truly are — but most have gimmick-free smartboy allure.
Guitarist/vocalist Patrick Foster (who publishes the Sweet Portable You fanzine) and bassist/vocalist Andy Dubuc forged Sloat out of the ruins of the Washington-area Empty Box (who released one promising cassette), collaborating with drummer Dave Bishop and second guitarist Brad Maylor. Engineered by Geoff Turner at Inner Ear Studios, the emo-damaged As Though I Was Waiting for That soured the fellows on making records away from home.
Maylor left, although he did make a final appearance on User Friendly Bowl Wrapper, a rehearsal facscimile full of scrappy guitars, rickety tempos and Simpsons references. “Ashcan School” and “Loss of a Halo” test-drive a ferocity since lost, but the cassette’s post-punk jukebox cover versions would become a Sloat tradition.
The self-titled 7-inch, each copy of which came housed in a messy, uniquely handmade sleeve, and a slew of gigs with Pavement (to whom idiots often compared them) caught the attention of bedroom America. Minus the mass of two guitars, a less agitated but tighter band emerged. “M31,” with its menacing two-note bass hook, is a perfect record collector anthem — timeless velocity saturated in DC and NZ history. The EP’s three more abstract volleys also hit the mark.
The double 7-inch Half Past I’ve Got is Sloat at its best, a semi-coherent half-hour of head-bobbing angularitites, acoustic balladry with what sounds like dishwashing in the background, a Sun City Girls favorite and hysterical self-indulgent nonsense. It provides compelling evidence that beer-guzzling suburbanites are often far stranger and more talented than inner-city art-puds.
Return of the Night of the Ardent Straggler materialized in a third handmade package. Consisting of two patented prods, a mellow sigh and a Tall Dwarfs cover, it mimics previous efforts but lacks oomph and conviction.
After countless false starts, Sloat cobbled together the Chewyfoot album. The layers of six-string crag, strained/shy vox, melody-sniffing bass and rusty-but-right drum flopping of “Slouching Towards Dulles” and “Eye Has Not Seen” surpass the band’s prior highlights, as do several other toothy, hummable wonders. Perhaps to counter any untoward listener satisfaction, though, spare dashes of fall-apart awfulness and a disappointing, poetic trilogy of Minutemen songs just about ruin Chewyfoot’s cohesion.
Santa on the Crappa is a whole lotta muck, some recorded with Bill Kellum from Rake/Doldrums/VHF on second guitar. It’s impossible to sit through and cringeworthy in spots, but contains a few worthwhile originals and covers. It isn’t nearly as rank as the abominable fucking-around-at-practice atrocities on the Tuba Frenzy magazine EP (marked as a Friction Media release) shared with Trans Am. It sounds like Sloat didn’t have any real material to offer. Only “Bob Howe” is passable, but with sound so thin it doesn’t matter.
Though still stained by occasional aimlessness and awkwardness (ignore the erotic poetry jam entitled “Take the Safeway Back”), the far stronger If Only for the Hatchery finds the trio at ease with the LP format. Marginally higher fidelity and improved musicianship streamline this easily digested — though still rather thorny — collision of quirked-out pop, arty aggression and literate weirdness. Appropriately enough, Sloat followed its most consistent product with many years of near-dormancy.