A GUEST POSTING by HYBRID SOC. PROF
Something wrong in my stars
Could you look at my charts
Help me healing these scars
Could you learn to read minds
In the case of mine
Do you read in the dark
Second stanza from “Honey Don’t Think”
I’ve hesitated to put this ICA together. Grant Lee Buffalo only recorded 4 long-players and that meant the choices were going to be pretty constrained. On top of that, I was worried I’d want too many songs to come from Jubilee. And then there’s the issue that sometimes I find Grant Lee Phillips a bit twee, more sensitive than some versions of me can tolerate. But when I chanced on Truly, Truly this week and forced iTunes/Music to play “Superslomotion” and “Come to Momma, She Say” before I had to leave the laptop I figured I’d take a stab at it… good band.
I’m pretty sure Fuzzy, their first record, was released when I was still at KZSC and I remember liking the record as a whole more than the individual songs on it. Not much in the way of WOW! but, as a unity, there was a structured feeling. I’m probably wrong but, retrospectively, ’93 has long felt like the apogee of the arc from The Feelies through REM splitting into Nirvana and Uncle Tupelo before the two tendencies interwove as the dominance of guitars at the heart of indie/alt/whatever started its slide into the second and third tiers of music sales. I’m not making an argument the Grant Lee Buffalo tracked that arc – they arrive late in the trajectory and their four records are musically consistent. But they were one of the last bands I remember arriving on that scene and staying with that sound as the scaffolding splintered. Other earlier bands continued the tradition, some – miraculously – to this day (whether through stubbornness or reformation) but as I’ve constructed it for myself, these guys signal something, their appearance marked a transition point.
The reason they land where they do, why the signal something meaningful is because – at their best – they make me sway, shimmy, shimmer and shift… they leave my arms akimbo, head back, soaking in their handsome comfort. Notes are sustained, the sonic terrain is vast, the poetry lyrical but their pacing easily as important as the words themselves, and songs glide and swell generating a cocoon into which I settle and nestle. Grant Lee hits the sweet spot between talk
The reason they land where they do, why the signal something meaningful is because – at their best – they make me sway, shimmy, shimmer and shift… they leave my arms akimbo, head back, soaking in their handsome comfort. Notes are sustained, the sonic terrain is vast, the poetry lyrical but their pacing easily as important as the words themselves, and songs glide and swell generating a cocoon into which I settle and nestle. Grant Lee hits the sweet spot between talk singing and sing talking, there are anthemic guitars, strummed acoustics, organ glissades and drones, subtle feedback and falsettos, pedestrian/walking bass and steady drumming each and all staying out of the way but reinforcing the foundation for the pretty. And all with periodic little hints of deep soul and microscopic elements of almost funk. I find them excellent music to cook to.
Perhaps you have, but I haven’t followed Grant Lee Phillips closely since the band split around the turn of the century but he keeps pumping out music and actively touring the acoustic and singer-songwriter side of the band. I’ve liked, but not liked so much I went out in pursuit of more, a number of the songs I’ve found on best-of lists or in magazine compilations but I think the band had something holistic that grabbed me that ends up missing in the solo work.
In any event, my expectations about what would be on this were not realized. I’ve long found that the ICA format means that some songs that would be on a “best of” rather than a “representative sample that works as an album” collection just don’t make it. The fact that “Truly Truly” and “Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary” aren’t here and that there’s more Mighty Joe Moon than Jubilee genuinely surprised me but, I tried moving things all around and this simply worked best. Forgive me.
It’s The Life, from Mighty Joe Moon (1994)
Testimony, from Jubilee (1999)
Wish You Well, from Fuzzy (1993)
Arousing Thunder, from Copperopolis (1996)
Honey Don’t Think, from Mighty Joe Moon (1994)
My, My, My, from Jubilee (1999)
Mighty Joe Moon, from Mighty Joe Moon (1994)
SuperSloMotion, from Jubilee (1999)
The Hook, from Fuzzy (1993)
Rock Of Ages, from Mighty Joe Moon (1994)