Picastro’s I’ve never met a stranger is a diaphanous record that offers a new encounter every time you put it on.
In the liner notes to I’ve never met a stranger, one-time Picastro member Owen Pallett says that his former band’s body of work “is a monument to longevity, a demonstration that an idea sometimes needs a decade (or two) to be fully realized.” In Picastro’s case, a dedicated talent pool doesn’t hurt, either. Principal member and visionary Liz Hysen has led Picastro as an ever-changing, ever-evolving work-in-progress that Pallett says is always “in a state of transition, restless, searching for a sonic niche.”
Hysen and her collaborators over the years have always struck me as adventurers, explorers hungry for new frontiers. I’ve never met a stranger sticks to that tradition, embracing uncertainty and accepting forces beyond our control. For a pandemic-inspired record, its theme is quite simple: when you suddenly find yourself with all the time in the world on your hands, how do you make the most of it? For Hysen, the answer was to make a record that re-connected her with friends, colleagues, and her muses through the work of others. A brief yet powerful collection of covers, I’ve never met a stranger features songs by the Velvet Underground, the Silt, Elfin Saddle, Fire on Fire, and Richard Dawson whose lyrics conveyed Hysen’s experiences and emotions at the time. As individual and unclassifiable as each of the original artists are, their words are universal when it comes to describing our collective pandemic experience: “Sometimes I feel so happy, sometimes I feel so sad” (the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”).
Hysen’s assembled co-conspirators on I’ve never met a stranger hint at the five-song collection’s nature and direction. She’s joined by Luka Kuplowsky and Brandon Valdivia (Mas Aya) on the Silt’s “Tell Me White Horses”; Nick Storring, Karen Ng (Badge Époque Ensemble), Matt “Doc” Dunn, and Marker Starling on “Pale Blue Eyes”; and Tim Condon (Fresh Snow), Germaine Liu, Soren Brothers (Man Meets Bear), and Mike Duffield (Beams, Blonde Elvis, Germaphobes) on Richard Dawson’s “Man’s Been Struck By Hands Unseen,” Fire by Fire’s “Hangman,” and Elfin Saddle’s “Chaos Hands.” The result is a diaphanous record that moves through haunting, ethereal passages and chant-like vocals (“Chaos Hands”) to relaxed jam-like improvs (“Man’s Been Struck By Hands Unseen” and “Tell Me White Horses”) and lo-fi art-rock dissonance (“Hangman” and “Pale Blue Eyes”).
What’s most striking and impressive about Picastro’s I’ve never met a stranger is that even when finished and committed to tape, these five songs are the living embodiment of the restless nature Pallett was referring to. Each listen reveals elements that you swear were not there the last time. It’s strange — and yet somehow wholly appropriate — that a record based on connecting friends and communities across pandemic barriers and restrictions offers a new encounter every time you put it on.