October 29, 2009: Point Juncture, WA, Heart to Elk

Where Bitte Orca is an example of a great album made exceptional by its track ordering, Heart to Elk is an example of a really good album made merely okay by its track ordering. Point Juncture, WA have been working on refining a dreamy/noisy sound of the Yo La Tengo/Broken Social Scene variety since their 2004 Juxtapony EP, and the opening three tracks of Heart to Elk feel like a breakthrough, with the band finally able to wrangle all of their elements into a cohesive, thoughtfully arranged whole. Rising melodic lines from horns and vibes transform “Rocks & Sand” into a languid reveille; after a similarly mellow beginning, “Once Tasted Ever Wanted” bursts open with nervous clattering drums and noisy guitars; “New Machine”‘s whispery ache is punctuated by a surprising bari-sax solo that briefly transforms it into a Menomena song (fellow Portland bands represent!).

But then comes the dark, distorted, drum-machine-abetted “Biathalon”, which sounds a bit like a Metric B-side. It comes as a jarring stylistic changeup in what I usually consider to be the cleanup spot in the tracklist (yes, I do think of tracklists the same way I think of batting lineups in baseball. Am I wrong?), so it feels like a bit of an anticlimax leading into the middle stretch of the album. However! If “Biathalon” were to switch places with “Sick on Sugar”— a more upbeat, straightforwardly pop tune that’s buried down in the number eight spot— then suddenly things start sounding a lot better. “Sick on Sugar” becomes the killer single that caps Heart to Elk‘s opening run of excellent tracks, and then fifth track “Sioux Arrow” turns into the changeup track: something a little moodier and more plodding, but still dreamy in an Autolux-like sort of way. Likewise, “Biathalon” becomes more of a palate cleanser, shifting gears for the equally driving (though in a Krautrockier way) “Melon Bird” in slot number nine.

The other tracklist adjustment I have is one I feel a little bad about, because it involves throwing out tracks. But every time I listen to Heart to Elk, I feel like it ought to end on “Fleet and Small”. It doesn’t, though; two more tracks follow, and neither of them feel necessary. “Viking Mission to Mars” tries to be as light and breezy as “Sick on Sugar” but comes off as awkward and unfinished; “The Easy Winners”, with its tinny drum loop, shakers, watery organ, and “ba-ba”s, is too blatantly derivative of YLT circa And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. (Although I will say that it’s difficult to entirely dismiss a song that references Helicopter String Quartet). The upside of removing them entirely from the tracklist, however, means that the album now ends on “Fleet & Small” where it ought, and the album then clocks in at a pleasantly concise 42 minutes. Despite these minor issues, though, Heart to Elk is exactly the kind of album that gets me excited about Point Juncture, WA; they sound like a band on the verge of something really incredible.