The nostalgia wave is rolling in ahead of schedule for P.S. Eliot, but the stars are aligned for maximum impact. Frontwoman Katie Crutchfield is riding high as Waxahatchee, and drummer/twin sister Allison has put her own successor band Swearin’ on extended hiatus to sign a solo deal with Merge as well. Newcomers’ interest in looking back to their Birmingham roots is unlikely to spike much further.
As the title of this everything-they-ever-released-and-more retrospective implies, P.S. Eliot disbanded five years ago. Songwriter Katie took Waxahatchee in a more pensive direction, while Swearin’ charged forth in an ebullient, Superchunk-like basement punk one. The beauty of P.S. Eliot lies in how it captured the intersection of those styles – resolutely DIY and uncommonly wise for a young band.
Both of the quartet’s proper albums are crammed onto the first disc of this two-CD set, and it’s hard to pick a favorite between them. Debut Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds crackles with that recorded-live-in-the-same-room energy, more than compensating for the muffled drums and vocals that result. Amid the ruckus it quickly becomes apparent that 1) Katie can really sing, her southern twang lending the slightest country shading to the proceedings, and 2) P.S. Eliot’s melodic chops are several notches above most garage punk. Follow-up Sadie continues in a similar vein, with slightly better audio quality and a bit more subtlety (check out “Untitled” as well as the title track) alongside plenty of top-notch bashers like “Peach” and “Talk.”
It would be a mistake to view this collection merely as The Crutchfield Show, however. Katherine Simonetti’s rumbling bass is key to the band’s sound (she continues to play in Waxahatchee) and Will Granger’s guitar provides an important jolt of energy.
Disc one is already a great value, but the fun’s just starting. Disc two kicks off with the five-song “Living in Squalor” EP. Recorded between the two proper albums, it’s the loudest, fastest and angriest music P.S. Eliot recorded – it also sounds a lot better here than it did on a seven-inch. It’s easy to imagine Allison playing a copy for Swearin’ and saying “let’s sound like this!”
Next comes the “Bike Wreck Demo,” five songs recorded by Katie and Allison in their parents’ garage before the P.S. lineup had even been finalized, for the sole purpose of scoring out-of-town gigs. In a fascinating 70-page zine-formatted oral history of the band (available separately at the Don Giovanni website) the sisters explain that they saw the band as their ticket out of Alabama after making their mark in the Birmingham scene as the Ackleys. These are the only tracks that truly qualify as lo-fi – Katie sounds like she’s wailing through a transistor radio – and as a result they convey a riot grrrl vibe.
The package is rounded out by fifteen demos recorded solo by Katie on acoustic guitar. Most of the songs found their way to the proper albums, but these versions cast them in a more serene light, further highlighting the depth of Katie’s songwriting from the start.
Waxahatchee is on a winning trajectory and based on the set opening for her sister at the Five Spot this summer Allison Crutchfield’s upcoming solo turn Tourist in This Town (due out Jan. 27 on Merge) looks promising as well. But it’s always hard to beat that spark of freedom and discovery from the early days.