Pedal Steel Transmission – In the Winter, it Makes Dead Grass Look Green

Pedal Steel Transmission
In the Winter, it Makes Dead Grass Look Green

As it seems that the natural human propensity is to use music to approximate the beautiful and refined things in life as an escape from the more depressing elements of everyday drudgery, it has always been somewhat interesting that certain people enjoy using their musical moments to create a little more dissonance. From the Africans that don’t think a guitar sounds right without placing aluminum foil under the fret board so that the strings rattle to Appalachian banjo players who intuitively tuned their instruments to drone in admittedly ugly and ominous tones, a part of human nature seems to run starkly parallel to that desire to have music with neat and orderly notes. Still, few genuinely understand this concept. The Velvet Underground did. John Fahey did. Hendrix did, too. With In the Winter, It Makes the Dead Grass Look Green, Pedal Steel Transmission prove that they do, as well.
Sounding like a cross between Built to Spill, R.E.M., and Pavement, Pedal Steel Transmission are experts at finding gorgeously pristine passages of tinkling guitar and crooning pedal steel, only to drown them in an undertow of black guitar belches and cavernous drumming. Female singers coo a chorus of “ba ba ba da ba”s over a gently swaying pedal steel in “Para Ella,” waiting for the eventual drive into a Japancakes-like march to pristine discord and possessed wailing. The epic 10-minute “Self Service Rest” rolls through various passages, lying down in cool obscure shadows and being roused out of its somnambulistic slumber by approaching storms.
Of course, with a name that mentions one of country music’s most recognizable instruments, there is little surprise that there is something of an alternative-country flavor to some of the tracks. Tracks like “Her Dream,” although they have elements of mostly everything floating around in them, definitely swing toward a little twang occasionally. For one thing, the vocals have a great countrified warble in them and the guitars don’t necessarily hide their fondness for pastoral skonk. You hear a little of the Stones in the extended workout of “Half As Well,” as this is one band that actually finds more interesting moments as their songs wind past the four and five minute mark.
Sure, the sound does seem a little formulaic at moments, you know the prettiness is going to be overwhelmed by an eventual violent fit. You wait for it, anticipate it, and are pleasantly relieved when it does finally arrive. Still, the elegance of the understated moments seem all that more delicately sculpted and the vitriol seems all the more vibrantly amplified when they’re mixed and juxtaposed with each other. More than anything, Pedal Steel Transmission realize that there is no sense in dividing your pristine and dissonant elements into two separate piles when you can have them both at the same time.