Graded on a Curve:
Try the Pie, Rest

Bean Kaloni Tupou is perhaps best known for singing and playing in the San Jose, CA four-piece Sourpatch, but as Try the Pie she additionally offers solo artistry of considerable acumen and growing prominence. Her most recent work in this mode emerged this past April, but those wishing to explore Try the Pie’s beginnings are graced with good luck for the venture’s earliest recordings have been given a fresh vinyl pressing courtesy of the Happy Happy Birthday To Me label. Featuring 13 of Tupou’s songs delivered up close and very personal through guitar and voice, Rest is available now.

Together with her contribution to the San Jose-based Think and Die Thinking Collective, Bean Tupou’s credits include Crabapple, Salt Flat, and Plume, but thus far her highest profile undertaking has been Sourpatch, a sadly defunct outfit (their Bandcamp refers to them in the past tense, anyway) having specialized in a dead-solid expansion of a particular wrinkle of the early ‘90s indie aesthetic.

Specifically, think of the Slumberland and SpinArt enterprises. Diversity and focus worked in Sourpatch’s favor, the group actually offering a broader sound than some of their influences but not so wide-ranging that 2010’s Crushin’ and ‘12’s Stagger & Fade (both released by Happy Happy Birthday To Me) connect like samplers of a bygone era.

Sourpatch also wielded a punkish energy at times somewhat reminiscent of certain chapters in the tale of K Records. By extension they were occasionally described as twee punk, though to these ears this observation continues to seem a little off-target; Sourpatch weren’t childlike, instead proffering guitar pop of a cosmopolitan but still fairly snarly bent.

The lack of affected innocence extends to Try the Pie’s Domestication as issued on the prolific Salinas Records, an LP utilizing an array of assistance to land nearer to the output of Kim Deal (to whom she’s been compared more than once), Tanya Donelly, Kristin Hersh, and Juliana Hatfield than to Sourpatch’s various points of reference.

To some this may not be a huge difference. Admittedly it’s not a chasm-like divide but the distinction is tangible and worthy of note as Sourpatch’s cosmo thrust gives way to the depth of Tupou’s songwriting and a gritty full band treatment. The roots of Domestication’s developments span back to Rest, the album’s contents written over the course of three years beginning in 2005, the results self-recorded in a manner truly alone and offered as a Bandcamp download in ’08.

While alone she’s not really on a loner kind of trip, and if steeped in emotionalism Rest thankfully avoids sounding like a headfirst plunge into a bucketful of tears; rather, Tupou excels at judicious prettiness and well-harnessed ache. Opener “A Lot of Things” establishes stripped down fidelity not necessarily aptly assessed as lo-fi, the aura of tape hiss taking a back seat to abundant string friction. A mild resemblance to Deal is indeed detectable (mostly through vocal timbre) though I don’t recall ever hearing the Pixie/Breeder in a setting this nude.

Although the unpolished presentation does share aspects with the ‘90s indie scene, the gist is neither fragile nor precious as Tupou’s delivery cuts deep. “It’s Been Days” is more melodic (possessing a tinge of ‘60s sweetness) but the thrust remains non-ornate with subtly applied production flourishes, mainly in the area of her overdubbed vocals.

“Please! Please! Please!” sports tougher guitar, bolder multi-tracking of voice and a trimmer duration as the tune gets as much emphasis as the mood enveloping it; long or short, nothing is overstretched or undernourished on Rest, though “Willing” does feel abbreviated as Tupou brandishes what sounds like a ukulele, a switch that impressively resists succumbing to cutesiness.

This is partially due to loose threads of pluck coalescing into a contrasting bit of melody around her uke strumming and appealing singing. “Bunkbed” conjures a tidy and memorable ditty through just acoustic and vocal cords, the personal edge making it better suited for a campfire or a late-night living room than a coffeehouse or small club stage.

If this suggests an amateurish angle it shouldn’t; “Alu ‘A” enhances the disc’s progression via mechanical rhythms (a robotic foot-stomp of sorts) and waves of noisier amp texture. Amongst Rest’s standouts, the song’s title is the “Tongan word for goodbye when you are staying and the other person is going,” Tupou adding that the record is dedicated to this sentiment.

As the tracks unwind her statement is easily absorbed, Rest benefiting from thematic consistency without stumbling into monochrome territory. Scaling back to just strums and syllables, “F.Y.I.” could surely be finessed into a full-band paradigm and yet works perfectly well as a solo piece, the sum here eschewing the vibe of demos and dry-runs.

With a basic rhythmic shuffle adorning the directness of Tupou’s axe and sung words, “The Hottest Day of the Year” does exude a graspable non-pro sensibility, but it’s a non-labored no-nonsense ambiance (and largely distinct from Calvin’s K) that’s biggest asset is warmth. The LP’s promo text mentions intimacy bordering on eavesdropping, this scenario reaching an apex as “Eight” raises the urgency and tension significantly, the music’s rawness insinuating a clandestine snapshot of creativity unburdened by marketplace fine-tuning.

As stated, Rest isn’t a loner situation; to the contrary, these recordings were first assembled onto CD-Rs and given to friends, and under the right circumstances “Seahorse” could blossom into a sing-along. Tupou isn’t strung-out on solitude and her emotional intensity is never embarrassing, “Legs” sauntering back into the Deal zone in an acoustic framework of potential appeal to indie folk fans.

Unlike the endeavors of some folkers, the instrumentation here isn’t an afterthought; the guitar tone of “Like Train” is quite satisfying for one example. Returning to the sonic breadth of “Alu ‘A,” “Root to Branch” interweaves voice, guitars and rhythm box into a gorgeous slab of melodiousness to provide Rest with an effective finale.

Intermingled with a few loose digital tracks, Tupou progressed to the 10-song collection “Bedroom” in 2010 and the vivid guitars of the “Wondrous” 7-inch in ’13. Both are roughly comparable to Try the Pie’s debut and position Domestication as a change of tactics; for many that platter served as an introduction to Tupou’s solo activity, but Rest’s arrival on LP helps to clarify the narrative through a strong, cohesive batch of material.


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