5 out of 5
Label: Drag City
Produced by: John McEntire, Jeremy Lemos
Purple on Time is U.S. Maple’s sell-out album. Or, rather, it’s a sell-out album by a group that has no idea how to do that. It’s someone without social graces doing their best to present themselves for a date: mimicking what they know of smiles and acceptable attire and banter, but unable to repress their eternal cowlick, tics, and conversational obsessions. This is a band whose raison d’etre is deconstruction, and then, out of the gates, on My Lil’ Shocker, they hit you with something that’s almost like a riff – and stretches that could be pitched as a single! Purple on Time, thereafter, is almost delicate; whereas prior U.S. Maple’s guitar and drums breakdowns were frantic and controlled chaos, here’s there’s a gentle eagerness – testing the waters with pitter patters before allowing things to somewhat gracefully turn in to rhythm. Al Johnson’s rasp is more of a croon; chords and notes are strummed and not slaughtered. There’s a Bob Dylan cover.
But this is still U.S. Maple, and so they cannot repress everything that made them U.S. Maple: these “singles” and legitimately pretty arrangements are still wholly broken; the riffs coalesce from disparate moments and disappear after a moment or two of nigh-poppy joy. It’s not a sell-out, or even a reinvention; rather, Purple on Time seems like a different way of looking at what the group had always been doing, as though reexamining previous songs from this viewpoint would show their hidden beauty, just as viewing Purple on Time through a lens of Long Hair in Three Stages reveals how awesomely fractured all these carefully plunked notes and drum tip-taps might be.
In that sense, it’s kind of fitting that the group would go their separate ways after this. All of U.S. Maple’s albums have merits, and a different attitude, so I wouldn’t call Purple on Time a swan song, necessarily, but for a group that’d made a business of breaking apart music, I love that their last album seem to do the same for their own “sound” by inverting it, and finding a way to express something genuinely affecting, and tuneful, and catchy, with the same essential approach that’d formerly given us some mind-splitting musical violence and bravado.