Liam Hayes: Slurrup

Liam Hayes is an accidental perfectionist. In hindsight, the Chicago-bred/Milwaukee-based songwriter’s disjointed two-decade trajectory—under his nom de pop Plush and, now, his birth name—was pretty much spelled out in the title of his early signature “Soaring and Boring”: high expectations followed by agonizingly long periods of inactivity. On the surface, Hayes’ backstory boasts all the hallmarks of a contrarian eccentric genius, whether he was answering the orch-pop promise of Plush’s splendorous 1994 debut single “Three-Quarters Blind Eyes”/”Found a Little Baby” with 1998’s starkly somber solo-piano effort More You Becomes You; tinkering with the symphono-soul follow-up Fed so much he had to release it in two different versions; or issuing certain albums in Japan only. But the uncommon lags between albums have mostly been a factor of Hayes losing his money rather than his mind, and trying to find sympathetic label backers to support a vision of tastefully constructed, soft-focus pop music that’s always been out of step with both mainstream and underground orthodoxies.  

Of course, the best way for a musician to kill their mythos is to simply release more music, which Hayes is now doing at unprecedented rate. Slurrup is actually the third album he’s put out this decade so far, following last year’s Japanese issue Korp Sole Roller and a soundtrack for Roman Coppola’s (widely panned) Jason Schwartzman vehicle A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III that also doubled as a career overview. But this is the first to receive a proper Stateside release since 2009’s Bright Penny, whose “Liam Hayes & Plush” branding offered the first hint that Hayes was eager to step out from the long shadow cast by his enigmatic alias. Slurrup presents more conclusive proof—coming on like the Nazz to Korp Sole Roller’s Something/Anything?, its scrappy power-pop vigor and oddball found-sound interludes basically amount to Hayes tearing up his horn charts and saying, “fuck it.”

From its opening snippets of studio chatter to its closing minute of, yes, actual slurping sounds, Slurrup frames itself as Hayes’ most irreverent, off-the-cuff album yet, complete with sloppy warm-up jams (the title track), GBV-scaled micro-anthems (“Fokus”), and creepy, carnivalesque audio collages (“Channel 44”). With the album clocking in at just over a half hour, there’s an impatient, impulsive energy at play here that’s never surfaced on any of Hayes’ previous work, as if the weight of his recalcitrant reputation was driving him to crank out the album as quickly as possible, imperfections and all. But the stripped-down setting ultimately provides a better showcase of Hayes’ songwriting smarts than his more immaculately orchestrated efforts, putting the focus squarely on his swoon-worthy melodicism and underrated sense of humor. 

Though beholden to the big-B holy trinity of power pop (Beatles, Badfinger, Big Star), Slurrup is the unmistakable product of Hayes’ peculiar personality, infusing songs that feel like lost ’70s classics with dispiriting images of stardom unattained, from the “broken green Mercedes” of “Keys to Heaven” to the delirious “Outhouse”, the perfect complement to the next existential crisis you suffer while trapped in a music-festival porta-potty. Even the album’s more gracefully subdued moments simmer with discomfort: On the gorgeous nocturnal ballad “Greenfield”, Hayes manages to make the line “I went to find a grocery store with imitation meat” sound like the ultimate fool’s errand, while the luxuriant lost-love lament “August Fourteen” feels like a transmission from Alex Chilton’s darkest hour—and like Third/Sister Lovers, when the violins do finally appear, the effect is more haunting than haughty.

But with the valiant, unicorn-riding closer “Fight Magic With Magic”, Hayes embraces his role as a pop outsider with a renewed sense of gusto: “I used to watch the hit parade/ Contaminated everything it played/ Then you came along and let me see/ How to pull the tricks they pulled on me.” The triumph of Slurrup is that, for the first time since his debut single, Hayes makes that trickery seem effortless. In short: talented songwriter releases quality album loaded with quality tunes. It may not make for the sexiest rock’n’roll myth, but it’s the simple narrative Hayes has been trying to assert since day one.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork