Cleaning out the computer this morning, I found that article. I read it. And I wondered what the hell my problem had been that day. Did I really dislike the album that much?
So I pulled Sugar from the dregs of my computer and gave it a listen. then another listen. Then a couple more.
And I have to admit, I'd been pretty unfair. But why?
Well let's go back in time and start at the beginning, shall we?
I read a promising review--a few promising reviews of Dead Confederate's first effort, Wrecking Ball. They praise the unique, fresh sound of the young "neo-grunge" band.
Hm. Nifty. Grunge was probably my first major musical influence that my parents did not provide, and it gave me some of my first musical "aha" moments. It felt good, and it's been long enough. Comeback? Sure, great.
So I listen to the album. I really, really hate it. And the fact that someone would talk like it makes you spontaneously cum takes it from poor into the realm of obnoxious. I can't understand what is supposed to be "fresh" and there's nothing "neo" about it--this is straight-up mimicry. You can't trot out the past and call it the future. The Emperor has no relevence, people.
But let's keep going:
I'm at Osheaga and Sonic Youth is on the bill. Heading in, I'm pretty excited about it. In my cassette-buying days I'd been in love with Kim Gordon, muddy guitar riffs, and army booted misery. So I know this is going to rock.
And then it doesn't.
As I watch one of my very early musical influences drag through feedback and distortion it feels...uncomfortable. Everything is just as it should be, but it's also vaguely incomprehensible, out of touch, like someone reading the Dead Sea Scrolls over a cell phone. About a quarter of the way through the set, my buddy turns to me and says "Yeah, this...just doesn't make sense anymore."
"It did at the time," I say, faintly dazed. "I remember it did...at the time."
I decide--God knows why-- to take a listen to the new Dead Confederate album Sugar. Summer has just ended, I'm nine time zones into jet-lag, back working, and the slow-acting but powerful combination of the Montreal fiasco and Wrecking Ball has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. The idea of grunge in 2010 seems impossible. I write some cranky words to that effect and forget about it.
Now to the present:
|Seriously, this picture is #2 when you google "back in time"|
I am cleaning out my...ah wait, we did that. So you can see how the whole hate came about. But now that I've given it a new listen--and possibly been softened by No Joy's excellent, actual grunge-reviving Ghost Blonde-- I can somehow listen to Sugar and admit that for all the bad things I had pounced on, there were just as many good things I'd ignored.
The fact is, whatever genre you're trying to revive, it's good to remember that you are not actually in that time any more. You want revival, not time warp. Influence, not mimicry. When even the real thing can disappoint, watching someone ape it is that much worse. If you're writing for now, now has to to watermark the music. And it seems that Dead Confederate may have had a bit of a "Sonic-Youth-at-Osheaga" moment all their own, because they've evolved past their early aping.
Firstly, they've axed the seven-to-twelve minute odes to feedback and misery, which thankbloodygod. It's not the '90s and no one does fucking heroin anymore. We don't have the inclination to lie there and try to get into it as you slur your way through.
Secondly, they've learned to take the tools of grunge and use them to create something for this decade. While the heavy distortion of the last album was just throwback, Semi-thought uses it to almost melodic advantage, making for epic sweep rather than fuzzy angst. And while the psychadelic-grunge of Father Figure would have been at home nestled into Siamese Dream, it works even better in a two-thousand-and-something playlist.
Collaborations also help: Run From the Gun and Giving it All Away (featuring Ben Wigler of Arizona and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, respectively) are easily two of the catchiest songs on the record. Let's hope the irony of someone from a 90's alt-rock outfit teaching you to move forward wasn't lost on the Dead Cons.
That's not to say that the band has quite wrapped its head around itself yet. Sugar is nothing if not a little confused. Run from the Gun, for example, sounds downright folkish and barely belongs. And the production is a little slick for the genre at times--you can practically hear where the producers were trying to chisel out a single. But overall, what felt like a void between here and 1994 during Wrecking Ball is now a manageable gap. And that I can appreciate.
Sugar isn't going to be making any year-end lists, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Because Dead Confederate have finally realised that to bring something back from the dead you've got to put some life in it, dammit.
And me? I'm feeling a little more optimistic about this whole grunge-revival thing.