Penn Sultan’s Museum Legs — Traversing the Flat Circle
Museum Legs is a new project from Penn Sultan, best known as the frontman for indie folk outfit Last Good Tooth, a live favorite in the area for the better part of a decade. Their first album, Giving the Clock Its Weight, Its Sway, wrestles with the colossal subject of time on a sonically smaller scale than his previous work.
Originally from NYC, Sultan attended RISD and decided to stick around. Giving the Clock Its Weight, Its Sway is the first of three albums that were a product of five years of writing and recording. “I was quietly amassing all these songs, thinking they’d probably be for Last Good Tooth. But as I began to complete them, I figured ‘what the hell’ and made it my own project,” said Sultan. Last Good Tooth has slowed down as of late because the band members are split between Providence and NYC.
In many ways, Giving the Clock is the best outcome for someone with Penn’s resume, showing true growth and a new range of influences. Sultan’s unmistakable dulcet baritone infuses everything, and the songs sound like a mix of the symphonic folk of the Barr Brothers and the noir of Neko Case. The interlocked guitar parts in “Column of Words” play off each other, creating a swaying, reggae feel. The opener, “Inherent Habits,” chugs along with a bit of twang, reminiscent of The Handsome Family.
“I had been listening to a lot of African music and synth-based Asian psychedelic music that featured sort of crazy arrangements,” said Sultan. “For some reason, I really took to the droning, repetitive element of it.” The trancelike nature works to inform the subject matter but, for the modern-day, shrunk-down attention spans, this element may be too much. “Films and Proofs” essentially plays off the same pattern the whole time, and the album has long run times, sometimes more than six minutes.
Providence has a crowded field of folk artists these days, but this is truly an original sound, a product of the freedom of DIY bedroom recording; he recorded it all layer by layer with just a laptop, an interface and “pretty much just one microphone.” The one guest is Morgan Eve Swain of The Huntress and Holder of Hands and Last Good Tooth, who provided backing vocals and viola.
“Because I was doing this recording myself, I had all the time in the world to just add or take away things,” said Sultan. He plays almost all the instruments on Giving the Clock, his talent for arranging apparent throughout. All songs are guitar-based, but full of clever, sparse instrumentation; a small cymbal flourish here and there or some organ in the background gives it a lo-fi, but orchestral, quality.
In a fragmented world, it’s a huge accomplishment to make something as cohesive as a themed album. “I tend to think of albums as chapters in a bigger book,” said Sultan. He said there’s no specific influence for this, but he’s always been drawn to the idea of a full album instead of just a compilation of songs. “The approach helps me to get things completed and out of my system.”
Though Sultan describes the process modestly, what’s a weightier topic than the passage of time? And it really isn’t a stretch; the songs do a great job conveying the enigma and agitation that comes from even attempting to consider the concept of minutes, years and moments soaring past.
The resonant ballad, “Pendulum,” asks, “When will the day hide the ripple of last night?” and “Inherent Habit” describes running your day through your head: “At home and undercover, playing all the moments backward/the burden starts again in the morning.” The inspired seven-minute epic, “Belt Hole Calendar,” examines the masochistic mindset of people who spend their days toiling away at artistic pursuits: “What was the song that made me want to waste my time on this?”
To fully realize the project, Sultan has put together a six-piece band, including Swain, that has been practicing for about a month. “I’m really having fun again with the collaborative element, and the musicians have been really receptive to the material,” said Sultan. “Sitting around in your room is only fun for so long.” Museum Legs’ two other albums are basically ready to go, and Sultan plans to space them out, likely releasing the second before the end of this year.
Right now, the band is gearing up for their first performance next month at AS220, and Sultan says he’s having fun putting his bedroom recordings in the context of a six-piece band. In the end, everything does come back to the time crunch for Sultan. “I essentially booked the show as a deadline to force myself to actually get this music out there. I had been talking about it for years.”
Giving the Clock Its Weight, Its Sway can be purchased at: museumlegs.bandcamp.com/album/giving-the-clock-its-weight-its-sway
Museum Legs performs their first show at AS220 on Apr 17 at 9pm with Wildflower, Cyrus Gengras, and Glenna Van Nostrand.
The Bartholomewtown Podcast
This isn’t an editorially mandated plug, but I’ve been listening to and enjoying the excellent Bartholomewtown Podcast (check out excerpts in Motif), hosted by Bill Bartholomew. The high-profile political guests (the Whitehouses, the Elorzas, the Heims, and what have you) may draw more attention, but Bartholomew has been featuring some engaging interviews with local musicians and other creative people talking about the craft. He recently posted an episode with Z Boys and Heather Rose in Clover, and previously talked to artists Dan Blakeslee and Roz Raskin.
Check out the podcast at the link below, or wherever you get ‘em: btown.buzzsprout.com