Saturday, September 1, 2012

Forgotten Classics vol. 1 - Shudder to Think's "pony express record"

~this review was originally posted on myspace back in, oh, maybe 2008.


if you are among the lucky few who are familiar with the 1994 masterpiece "pony express record" by Shudder to Think, you almost surely have a strong opinion about it. You either find their unique style of art-fag pop music abstraction completely unlistenable or you hold them among the greatest musical acts of the decade. From the very first notes you hear, whether it's one of their patented never-before-heard guitar chords, an impossibly strange time signature, or singer Craig Wedren's truly bizarre supergayass high falsetto and nonsensical Dali-esque lyrics, it's hard not to have an immediate opinion. This is some of the weirdest music you will ever hear, more so than avant-garde noise experiments because, after all, it's one thing to make weird music, but it's another thing entirely to make it all catchy as hell. That takes an unusual talent. and the fact that this came out on a major label is a huge accomplishment.

HIT LIQUOR – what a weird fucking song. Bassist Stuart Hill lays down a serpentine bass line as Nathan larson shoots out jagged slivers of guitar noise. This is a seriously focused beam of creative stream of consciousness. Very disorientating. By the end of this drink you are suspecting that Shudder to Think has slipped you something. Up is down and right is wrong, your head is spinning. It feels good. warning: homosexual/cannibalistic overtones in this vid. did not earn many brand new fans, i'm afraid.

GANG OF $ - the drunken stumble down the street…unusual guitar riffs that are oddly catchy and melodic tho they are completely foreign sounding. STT takes the verse-chorus-verse guitar pop tune to the extreme, shattering it and reassembling it into an unrecognizable collage. by the way, adam wade is one of the best drummers around. how he keeps time on this record is a superhuman feat.

9 FINGERS ON YOU – It's official, Shudder has coerced you back to their place. You kinda wanna leave, but it's pretty swanky. And, shit, are they musical freaks… The sex toys are pulled out and you get a vague idea about what is to come.

SWEET YEAR OLD – the wine glasses are pulled out, and a fine bottle of red is served. Candles are lit. your head is REALLY swimming by this point.

EARTHQUAKES COME HOME – it's with this song that you realize that shudder is never going to take the easy way with their pop music. They had a perfectly good radio-friendly song going here, great soaring chorus, and they disassembled the whole goddamn thing and put it back together into their unique style.

KISSI PENNY – same thing goes for this tune. Just staggeringly beautifully arranged. What a cool, weird song.

X-FRENCH T-SHIRT – if you had a good radio station around in '94, you might have heard this one. Funny enough, while the rest of the record is all about schizophrenic time changes, this tune goes completely into the opposite direction and boils an eternal pop song down to 2 chords (it's basically one chord the majority of the time) with an endless chorus that builds and builds and spins off into the universe, A truly beautiful fucking tune. That chorus, cryptically written in the liner notes as "holdbacktheroadthatgoessothattheothermaydothatyouletmeinjusttopourmedowntheirmouths" wedges itself into the sticky parts of your brain and never leaves. The bold repetition of a single chord is effectively hypnotic, with those strange vocals floating above, and a disarmingly complex drum beat holding it all together. Perfect layering of guitars with a great, almost invisible solo over the ending, and very thoughtfully placed backing vocals. Perfection.

NO RM. 9 KENTUCKY – first things first, what a song title! Doesn't even pretend to make sense. Starts off with a heartbreaking guitar and vocal performance, without question a craig wedren highpoint that awkwardly ends and is replaced with hushed brushes on the drums. The sexy mood is set. But, of course, even their romantic slow dance numbers have to disintegrate into chaos. It eventually calms down and ends quietly. Whew…  (this is a slightly different demo version)


CHAKKA - just when you finally get settled, the band blasts in with their most focused performance of the album. They aren't interested in throwing you off of the trail with odd and ridiculous lyrics, or to impress you with their savvy time changes, they are out to smash your face with their guitars and they succeed. The lyrics are a total mystery.

OWN ME – you start to kinda black out around this point… things get stranger and more abstract again, and than all of a sudden, there's a huge arena rock chorus thrown at you. Didn't see that one coming… and of course it runs off the tracks smashes itself to a slow halt. Pop music deconstructionists, for sure.

SO INTO YOU – the classic slo-burning 70's tune by the Atlanta Rhythm Section is captured, tied up, mutilated, and turned inside out. This version will blow yer mind if you let it. One of the most visionary cover tunes of all time.

TRACKSTAR – hard to describe. A musical Salvador dali painting. A minimalistic first half, with the ending crashing in unexpectedly like a 747, bludgeoning you into submission as wedren's croon soars over it all, "oooh/to the future/I never imagined a worse fate." Nice.

FULL BODY ANCHOR – a plaintive ending with wedren's always-odd harmonies and acousic guitar.

Overall, folks, I gotta say… this album totally fucking rules. one of the most original records you will ever hear. Throw away your preconceptions, approach it with a fresh ear, ready for something different, and Shudder to Think's "pony express record" will give you something beautiful and weird and sexy and ridiculous, and, most importantly, GOOD, that will take you years to chew through.

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