Sept. 22, 2016 11:40 AM

Between their other duties, the members of Plush Claw have little time to actually man the band, gigging only three shows last year. They were, however, able to squeeze out a debut, but, honestly, the band was more studio project than anything. Members James Van Way (KRVS), Christiaan Mader (Brass Bed) and Greg Travasos (who tours with Dege Legg) won’t exactly set the performing circuit on fire anytime soon but will look to pick up more gigs in the future and release a follow-up to their self-titled debut. The next record, which is already written, has yet to be recorded. For now, there is Better Artists, a three-song digital EP offering songs Van Way says didn’t fit on that future release.

In a way, Better Artists is three B-sides that didn’t make the cut. Van Way half skewers the songs using words like silly and weak when he talks about why exactly they were left on the cutting room floor. Yet, these are good songs in their own right and, at about the price of a snow cone, not a bad investment at all.

Better Artists is more grounded than the ethereal and mellow sounds of their debut and features fewer members. Compared to the previous release’s ambient, shoe-gazer sounds, it has a stripped-down mid-gear indie rock feel. Plush Claw almost seems to find the feel of the debut’s closer and standout track, “Sportcoats,” and stay in or near it. Van Way’s songwriting is also a bit more earthbound. Some of his previous scribing — although poetic and enjoyable — sometimes needed a Cliff Notes companion to give away their meanings. Here, things are a lot more direct.

Van Way disliked “Horn Meeting” at first, but it has grown into a staple of their live shows. With a nice and bouncy beat from drummer Travasos, the song about first impressions makes a good one. The title track is a story song for modern times — a tale of two artists contemplating the turning point of living life as broke artists or getting jobs as managers at some store or a chain restaurant. It is heartbreaking in its full dose of reality and delivered perfectly with Van Way’s gravely, melancholic no-frills voice.

“Superstars of the Past” is a tribute to 1980s wrestlers. Van Way, a lifelong wrestling fan, decided to tuck the track away because the band Mountain Goats recorded an entire album on the same subject. A romp of allusions to polka dots and snakes, it is lighthearted with dark tinges waiting around the corner like an evil manager with a folding chair. Along with entertaining grandmothers, he slips in the brutal honesty of “we killed ourselves just for laughs” and “broke our backs for your children.”

After a few listens — about 12 minutes each — Better Artists is a bit disheartening in its brevity. Yet, if the gems here are clues to better and bigger things when the band does get around to their next full-length, it will instead be remembered as a welcome harbinger.

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