Some music seems more introverted than extroverted, meant to swell in the silence in one’s head or, at most, one’s bedroom rather than ripple through a busy bar or rattle the back of some two-door sedan. Certainly, Talons’ has always seemed this way. For more than a decade, Michael Tolan has released hushed, radiant, haunting, and at times, noisy music under the moniker. Always with something to say, whether it be love songs for the end of the world or portraits of a nervous & disappointed early 21st century population overcome with the blowback of a Great Recession, to more recently songs about sprawl, fading optimism, and a general commentary on our iPhone and Netflix driven landscape of digitally obsessed culture.
Rustic Bullshit is Talons’ 2006 record of sad songs about the Midwest, fast-food, alcohol and heartbreak written and sung in the most plain and literal sense. Recorded at home on S Portage Path in Akron, Ohio over the winter / spring of ’05-‘06. The album mixes lo and mid-fi recording with field recordings and some light noise in an attempt to capture a specific time in life; his simple songs exhibit the intimacy comparable perhaps only to one’s private diary.
Indeed, listening to record feels like eavesdropping—complete with an ambience (empty beer bottles clanking, cicadas and birds, cars cruising past) that places the listener in the same small room with Tolan. “F Everything” and followup “F the World” feature Tolan’s timid guitar and voice, but also the world around them, as if his context were just another instrument. The world is similarly present on “Rustic Bullshit (Goodbye Portage Path),” at least partially recorded while driving a hiccuping, well worn vehicle.
But Tolan’s setting isn’t the only additional instrument. Droplets of piano and glockenspiel, whispered harmonies, occasional accordion and clarinet, and even captured sounds on cassette tapes all appear on “My Life is a Pizza Party,” one of Rustic Bullshit’s more layered songs. Indeed, it’s easy to take the simplicity of these tracks for granted, to only hear Tolan’s voice as it seems to vibrate against his guitar strings. But it’s the quiet swish of cymbals or the somber lead wrung from an electric guitar that give these songs their dark moods, their intricate intimacy, though they may require several listens to even notice.
Originally released as a single-track CD-R (and later as 10" lathe-cut limited to 24 copies), it’s almost as if Rustic Bullshit was never intended to find a broad audience—that, as a record, it was as introverted as its songs seem to suggest. It’s this quiet, reticent quality that makes Tolan’s music seem so honest, so real—so recognizable and human—even if listeners feel a little guilty about all the eavesdropping.