Monday, February 20, 2012

More potholes in the history of music...

I am embarrassed to admit how long it was before I embraced Sonic Youth. That situation was only fully rectified when a one Mr. Lala loaned me a copy of A Thousand Leaves. (Who could resist Wildflower Soul, really?)  I have since come around fully. I confess I still sort of skirt around popular opinion and favor alternately, Sister and Evol or their later material like Rather Ripped.

While I was busy being blind to SY's charms, I was hard at work falling deeply in love with bands obviously indebted to them: Archers of Loaf and Edsel. The Archers have marched on to a legacy of indie-rock royalty, as shown by their sell-out reunion tour crowds, but Edsel has fallen through the cracks. Never more than a footnote on the scene they lack a cult-ish fanbase to earn a posthumous place in the written history. The Edsel boys failed to fully connect with the cultural zeitgeist of their time. Interestingly, I think they would have fared better nowadays when shoegaze and spacerock in all their flavors are still ascendent.

The label they were on (Grass Records) went under and with it a wide swath of their catalog fell out of print for years. The lead singer, Sohrab Habibion--quiet on the scene for some time--has resurfaced as the guitarist in the Obits (which has its own royal legacy, featuring the singer and frontman of Drive Like Jehu / Hot Snakes fame). Apparently Habibion bribed the engineer mixing the latest Obits record to give a remastering touch-up to the o.o.p. Edsel material so that they could self-release it digitally. Though it never really left my musical vernacular, I am happy to have center stage again.

In fact, being the sort musically obsessed geek that I am, I have kept a sort of personal record of what I believed (at the time) to be the best record of the year, since 1990. To point out the hubris of such an endeavor, I was 15 in 1990; nobody knows shit about anything aged 15. Anyway, come the ripe old age of 18, I selected Edsel's sophomore record The Everlasting Belt Co. as my pick of 1993. I may just  be a nostalgic old geezer at this point, but I think the record holds up. I don't know if I would say it was the record of its year, but I'm not going back to rewrite that history.

Being weened early on with a diet of brit-pop, perhaps it makes sense that Edsel got through to me so easily: this has more in common with the tradition stemming from Echo and the Bunnymen and MBV than Nirvana or their ilk. The guitars are as likely to chime and ripple in psychedelic phasing as much as they are to grind with angsty distortion. They seem have learned as many lessons from Spacemen 3 as Fugazi. Sohrab's frail voice sounds like what it might be to hear Robert Wyatt front a punk band, as he hovers on the edge of a cracking falsetto. More often than not, they don't rely on soaring choruses so much as the compelling verses whose phrasing wend around the beat.

Like many-a-great band, they were restless: each album advanced their voice, progressive gains on a style that was less derivative and more distinctive. The follow-up to Everlasting, Detroit Folly, had some breakthrough moments, but was a bit shy on memorable hooks. My understanding is that they intend to release their swan-song, Techniques of Speed Hypnosis, as well. While for me, that one didn't have the brace of never-heard-this-before newness, I think it was their largest, boldest and even catchiest record. A real winner--keep your eyes peeled.

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