Rustic Bullshit, the 2006 release from Michael Tolan/Talons’, ends with a sound bite of a “text flirting” hotline, presumably recorded out of a humming, ugly television. That field recording endcaps “Fools’ Gold,” a track whose simultaneously idle and shivering desperation is echoed by both Tolan’s grit-choked whisper and a female vocal with the same airy depression. It’s a bleak, jarring portrait, as the rest of the release often is painted, but the most disturbing quality of the track is that the sexy starlet from the late-night channel is more unwelcome than the sounds of breaking glass captured at the song’s onset. Destruction seems to flourish more than discomfort, although the pangs of emotional distance are well on display.
The LP was originally produced as a CD-R with one single track — like Prince’s Lovesexy or how some experience Dopesmoker — and also in the sobering, unsexy lathe-cut record format, limited to a hyper-tiny 25 copies. With that said, the relative obscurity of this record doesn’t hinder its readability. Tracks like opener “My life is a Beyoncé ringtone” isn’t in the running time without irony. A somber, fleeting tale of washing down Colt 45 with Zebra Cakes and Chicken Fries (a visual lovingly reproduced by reissue label Broken Circles below) is replete with grease, not sleek, empowered grace. “My life as a broke-ass Conor Oberst” almost reads as a self-deprecating press pitch on paper. But, Tolan’s foul-mouthed whimper delivers more panache than Bright Eyes ever did, especially when counting the inclusion of a cajon which coughs and disintegrates as quickly as the artist.
Critics of Rustic Bullshit, had it received a contemporary rollout in its heyday, may have downgraded its star scores due to the record’s one-tone (is that tone grayscale?) sameness or emotional transience. (Case in point, “(The last time)” and the rootsy “Saving Words” ring with a searing clarity, but both end too soon for their intended virility to sink in.) However, considering Tolan’s numbing to human interaction — the apt “Fuck the World” chronicles the death of a grandmother and a decaying relationship with his girlfriend in one full, smoky-voiced swoop — and the bland, fat-smeared landscape of the Midwest, the dozen tracks stand as a relic of their surroundings, or at least, the surrounding state of one lo-fi musician.
According to Tolan, a 2005 press release for Mount Eerie’s No Flashlight exclaimed “this is what laptop music could be.” Rustic Bullshit seems like a sonic successor to that release: a cryptic, staticky rendering of degenerative folk, and the vinyl translation isn’t lo-fi by circumstance, but by design. Field recordings, like those on “Plants & Animals,” the title track, and the previously-mentioned “Fools’ Gold” shine in higher fidelity than the music they accompany, but perhaps that’s the ingenuity of the source material: the noises pervading Tolan’s 2006 universe sometimes overpowered his musical escape from them. The 12″ is cut at 45 RPM.
The release is housed in a hand-screened chipboard jacket with a printed, full-color inner sleeve displaying the release’s lyrics. An envelope is included, unadorned and unassuming, with two photographs taken in 2006 Akron (reprinted thanks to Snapfish) and a series of hand-typed liner notes. Tolan’s introduction to the record and the subsequent track-by-track history paints Rustic Bullshit as “funny as it is sad and the humor in it — self-depricating [sic] and otherwise ‚ is what keeps it afloat.” Although the chosen Rustic Bullshit typeface, a vintage script font, can be hard to read due to the way it’s been reproduced, the spelling errors and stories within the liner notes are illuminating, and key to Broken Circles’ most involved, expansive reissue. The release was pressed on transparent red vinyl, limited to 300 copies. No digital download card was included, but if ordered from the label, the store sends a download link.
“Rustic Bullshit” is available on transparent red vinyl via Broken Circles.