R.I.P.S. Eliot: Discovering A Band After It's Broken Up

Music Features P.S. Eliot
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I can’t speak to how many music dorks still feel this way, but I don’t get off on keeping a band all to myself. When I love a band, I want to share them with the world, hype them. I’m a music writer; it would be absurd if I didn’t. I want my favorite bands to eat well and enjoy what they do because I want them to do it more. I don’t want them to get discouraged with the grind and call it quits, because then I won’t have a favorite band anymore. But what happens when you find a new favorite, only to discover they’re already gone? I don’t mean discovering the Beatles as a kid or the Velvet Underground or Nirvana as a teen; I mean a band that few people have heard and even fewer will now.

A pretty obsessive Robert Christgau devotee, I checked his bi-weekly column for MSN Music a few months ago to find good reviews of something that turned out to be very up my alley, a band I’d never heard of called P.S. Eliot, made up of two occasionally harmonizing sisters from Alabama doing lo-fi, ‘90s-style guitar-rock that recalled one of my all-time favorites, that dog. The better and more recent one is available as a free download here. They sounded young and indie-ish. Why hadn’t I heard of them?

Well, the capsule reviews only barely hinted it (“What will become of them, you can’t help wondering, already knowing that in not too long they’ll discontinue.”), but P.S. Eliot apparently called it quits last year. The singers, Allison and Katie Crutchfield, twin sisters who are now just 23, went their separate ways for two higher-profile projects this year—Katie’s acoustic-solo-bedroom thing Waxahatchee, who released American Weekend on Don Giovanni in January, and Allison’s higher-profile (and more P.S.-like) Swearin’, who released the rocking Swearin’ in June.

It’s great that the twins are still playing music, and as this also-post-Eliot NYT article explains, Katie contributed songs to the first Swearin’ EP and supported her sister’s band from the front row. And the Swearin’ album is very good; faster than those of P.S. Eliot and more of a band effort, but also blurrier—never would’ve made out the vicious rape putdown “Your idea of a good time/ Is my idea of a violent crime” in “Shrinking Violet” if Jon Caramanica didn’t mention it.

But the P.S. Eliot albums are better, and the incredible harmonies on “Jesus Christ” or miniature arena bluster of “Cross Eyed” are the same kind of frustratingly rare synthesis (and I’d imagine, a tension-fueled existence) that keeps Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein—or Bob Mould and Grant Hart—out of the same band to this day. And with no ill will to the twins, who are currently in the configurations that make them happy and are talented enough to scale those heights again, there’s a sort of sadness without blame about that.

I can rave about P.S. Eliot’s Sadie—certainly one of the 20 best records I heard in 2012—to anyone who will listen, but it still only exists as a free download (or a vinyl if you’re so inclined, though if they had any savvy they would’ve printed CDs for the ‘90s nuts who’d flip for them anyway, ahem). But I’d just feel like an asshole shouting for a P.S. Eliot song at a Swearin’ show. A reunion’s unlikely; apparently the next Waxahatchee album is about the Crutchfield family and Allison called “much harder for me to even get through and to listen to and without getting upset and sad.” Meanwhile, Swearin’ is co-fronted by Allison and her boyfriend, Kyle Gilbride, a dynamic that fares even poorer in musical history than bands fronted by siblings. It’s the eternal frustration of human interaction in a nutshell, trying to make that perfect music with the perfect partner and maintain love and art equally without going off the rails. I wish the Crutchfield sisters luck, and I’m grateful they were able to provide me with the excellent Sadie along the way.

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