Cut the leg off a starfish and the leg grows back. Break up a band and within a year you’ll be hearing about a new band featuring “former members of,” and these are trickier because they hold out the promise of former greatness and all too often don’t deliver. At least not what you’ve come to expect. There’s nothing worse than buying one of these records, desperately trying to keep one hand on the raiment of former glory, and then finding yourself fighting an urge to snatch it off the turntable and break it into pieces.
Now then: I admit that I was pretty bummed out when Dead and Gone broke up some three years ago. Things weren’t very chummy between us, especially after the nearly infamous Chicken Broth Rebuke of ’94 and the resulting childish controversy involving myself, them, and their label, Alternative Tentacles. But for my money they were one of the most exciting bands to come out of the Bay Area in the early ’90s, and I guiltily ran right out and bought everything they put out right up until the end: 1996’s crushingly heavy, convoluted, pounding God Loves Everyone But You. Apparently, some weeks after their second and last show in Missoula—supporting that same album—an onstage melee somewhere in Texas ended in singer Shane Black either quitting or getting fired and the death knell for Dead and Gone.
And so, for a few years, fans of Dead and Gone were left to cry lonesome tears in their Anchor Steams. But now—o, merciful fate—three quarters of the original lineup have reunited as Creeps on Candy. And guess what? It sounds almost exactly like Dead and Gone, minus the choking, tormented menace of the old singer. Everything else in place: the furious rhythm section (there is nothing in modern hardcore to even compare with the cohesion of Joey Perales, a most inventive drummer, and bassist Brian Stern), and, just as importantly, the crucial balance between face-punching guitar power (courtesy of Rockey Crane) and the spooky Echoplex excursions that colored Dead and Gone every bit as indelibly as did the frequent syzygy of all three players focused unswervingly, mindlessly on crushing one topheavy riff within an inch of its life. Musically, there won’t be many surprises for fans of the old cruelty—but then, Dead and Gone didn’t put out near enough records to let anyone get comfortable with the impact. Damn, man, I can’t get enough. (AS)
Arcwelder Everest (Touch and Go)
To put it plainly, I’d rather listen to Arcwelder’s Scott MacDonald sing than just about any other indie rocker out there, with the possible exception of Mark Lanegan. And it’s MacDonald’s monotone drone of a voice that catapults his band’s latest from relative Arcwelder obscurity into or very near the realm of one of the best records of the year. The moment MacDonald intones, “You were floating/Awash in your sea/Where does that leave me?” on Everest’s lead track, you know that you’re in for an emotional assault that’ll have you trying desperately to remember why you get involved in relationships in the first place.
MacDonald, along with brothers Rob and Bill Graber on bass/vocals and guitar, formed Tilt-a-Whirl in 1988, but soon changed their name to Arcwelder (the title of an instrumental track that appeared on 1990’s This) after the carnival ride manufacturer of the Tilt-a-Whirl threatened to sue. The following year, 1991, spawned Arcwelder’s second release for Minneapolis label Big Money, Inc., the aptly titled Jacket Made in Canada. By 1992, Arcwelder’s brand of grinding, minor chord rock had garnered critical acclaim, made them regional heroes (read: Minnesota and other cold states) and raised some eyebrows among the folks at Touch and Go.
Newly signed to Chicago’s iconic indie label, Arcwelder released Pull in 1993 and then began an unfortunate spiral into mediocrity that took a turn for the better with 1996’s Entropy. Three years later, we find Arcwelder slightly more mature, but also bound and determined to make their ultimate musical statement. And considering that Bill Graber began his musician’s life never having played electric guitar, they’ve succeeded on more than one level.
Everest is steeped in the same urgency as Entropy, but there’s more passion here and MacDonald’s vocals have become more central to their overall slightly sinister sound. Strange chordal figures and MacDonald’s relentlessly syncopated drumming only heighten the effect. If you got bored with Arcwelder’s previous catalogue, Everest is a great place to start afresh and recapture some of that old, forlorn indie rock magic. (MH)