Sentimental Favourites makes Andrew Pekler's debut recording, 2002's Station to Station, seem long ago and far away on more than just temporal grounds. Hearing the earlier album's quasi-jazz stylings next to the tongue-in-cheek irreverence of the new project makes Pekler sound like someone artistically afflicted with Multiple Personality Disorder. It's hardly the first time he's brought such a trickster sensibility to his work: a recent project found him compiling and assembling Sonne=Blackbox, a collection credited to Ursula Bogner, though the evidence suggests it to be the handiwork of Jan Jelinek. At the same time, while the contrasts in Pekler's recordings are pronounced, what's common is that they both exemplify his plunderphonic sensibility and approach.
With Pekler accompanied by the, ahem, Silhouette Strings & Chorus, Sentimental Favourites mines the respective ‘60s-‘70s songwriting catalogues of Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, and The Carpenters and twists their MOR sounds into fourteen alien fusions of melodic pop, electronica, and psychedelia, with the result probably unlike anything you've heard before. Song titles alone give the game away with the first three, for example—“Yesterday of Love,” “Close to Strangers,” and “(They Long to Be) Misty Blue”—directly referencing The Carpenters. The irreverence even extends to the clarifications Pekler provides for the songs; we're told that “Close to Strangers,” for instance, is the love theme from the film Soft Mirrors and that “Wichita Forever” is the main title theme from Midnight Rhinestone. The concept naturally extends to a cover design that simulates the crude stitched-together photo-collages of the pre-digital era, plus there are even liner notes—written, of course, with the straightest of faces.
So how does it sound? The chorus makes its first appearance (rather woozily, for the record) during “(They Long to Be) Misty Blue,” after which the loopy jaunt of “Wichita Forever” strolls into view. Each song segues into the next without pause, with the mood of one feeding into the next. Birds chirp joyfully during the waltz-styled “Samba De Cherbourg (Les parapluies de verao)” before “Prelude to a Summer” and “Suddenly (Naturally)” transport us to the beachside, with the daze induced by the sun's heat personified in the stuttering repetition of the word “suddenly.” On the album's second side, the material quietens and becomes more ponderous. Things take an especially mysterious turn during “Un vent et une femme” when we plunge deep into a dark forest and encounter the remains of a still-crackling fire. The music slows and grows eerie, all the better to absorb the animal sounds emanating from the bushes and trees. Incandescent and evocative, the closing piece “Moon Velvet (Shadows, Whispers, Rivers, Windmills)” softly shimmers as it distills the passage from night to morn into sonic form.Tracks such as “The Twilight of Your Smile” suggest that Pekler's album is closer in spirit to modern-day electronica, no matter how much it draws its inspiration from an earlier era and no matter how syrupy this particular track's strings might be. Chopped-up voice samples and sounds of thunder, rainstorms, and owls bob intermittently to the surface, and Pekler augments his electronic textures and loops with vibes, bass, and assorted other recognizable instruments. Though a title such as Sentimental Favourites clearly suggests an ironic approach on Pekler's part, the material itself evidences affection rather than ridicule.