- Rudderless – The Lemonheads
- You Just Don’t Exist – Plumtree
- Shady Lane – Pavement
- It’s a Shame About Ray – The Lemonheads
- Faith in Anyone – Gold Connections
- Stereo – Pavement
- Plumb Line – Archers of Loaf
- Harness Your Hopes – Pavement
- Racing Gloves – Plumtree
- Head On – The Jesus and Mary Chain
- Rockin Stroll – The Lemonheads
- Baby – Tomorrows Tulips
- Fatherhood – Plumtree
It’s hard not to hear the first chords of “Rudderless” by the ever-upbeat melancholics The Lemonheads and not feel the air get a little cooler, the colors a little more vibrant. I find it to be music that perfectly fits those mundane teenage experiences that end up cinematic when backed by the right song. Never worry again about the late-to-class trek and shameful walk through the door. With Pavement in your headphones, it’s a declaration of lackadaisical genius. Altogether, the whole aesthetic is yellowed, earth tones, sepia.
There are three albums I love at the heart of this review: “It’s a Shame About Ray” by The Lemonheads, “Predicts the Future” by Plumtree, and “Brighten the Corners” by Pavement. All of whom arrive at the same jadedly joyous look on life despite their different sounds. Special guest appearance goes to the Archers of Loaf for their distorted, fuzzy, indie rock vibe and unique vocal delivery.
Pavement’s ’97 masterpiece “Brighten the Corners” (and all of the album’s B-sides) doesn’t miss on a single track. The infamous “Harness Your Hopes” sits tucked perfectly into place between Stereo’s young poet sound and the rolling melody of “Shady Lane.” Underneath Pavement’s ramshackle image, there’s sharp “rhyme-a-second wordplay” (show me a word that rhymes with Pavement) and observant commentary about the pop world we live in still. On “Shady Lane,” singer Stephen Malkmus chimes that “You’ve been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation of the sequel to your life.” That’s a line I think about a lot. “Brighten the Corners” is a mandatory listen and one of the best introductions to Pavement’s off-kilter little world you could get.
On the same shelf as Pavement, The Lemonheads freshman album, “It’s a Shame About Ray,” is also notable for its waves of loud choruses and quiet strumming. But where Pavement sounds as if it’ll only take a moderate breeze to blow them away, The Lemonheads are singing directly into the wind.
Though it’s difficult to label what it is precisely about this album that’s so appealing, the borrowed terms “slacker pop” and “junkie album” are an excellent place to start. The simple yet charged hooks with Jesse Peretz’s backing vocals create such a full, surprisingly upbeat sound despite Evan Dando’s infamous moping. These songs are as restless as leaves in fall or teenagers itching for a three-day weekend. “I Just Want a Bit Part in Your Life” begins with raw, isolated shouts before rolling into what would be a pretty bubbly melody if not for the anxious speed, almost frantic strumming. “I just want a bit part in your life / A walk on would be fine,” and Pavement’s perspective on the cinema of life (“Shady Lane”) sit together like brothers.
Finally, Plumtree’s “Predicts the Future.” If you’re a Scott Pilgrim fan, you might recognize Plumtree’s name on Michael Cera’s yellow t-shirt, a nod to their song “Scott Pilgrim” that inspired Bryan Lee O’Malley to name his character. The song came first, and the graphic novel series captures what the entire album does beautifully. Plumtree’s guitar lines duck and dodge around drum breaks and even bass as Carla Gillis delivers her notes on romance and growing up with a won’t-back-down attitude.
“Eighteen years and a comfortable haircut” on “Racing gloves” struck me as one of those truly memorable lines, while slow strumming kicks into high gear. It’s truly incredible for a group of high schoolers. “Well I know you’re havin’ a hard time/ Tomorrow will be tough and today will too,” opens the pop-rock “You Just Don’t Exist.” Accepting that life sucks, but also admitting there’s some good in helping out those we love, this energetic track perfectly captures the harmony, rather than conflict, between the band’s sound and its content.
This weird little niche of 90’s brainy indie rock is the type teen movies go nuts for — why else would “Twilight” open with Death Cab for Cutie or Dashboard Confessional appear in both Gossip Girl and Clone High? But I digress.
For how “positive” these albums sound, I absolutely do not want to undermine the musical maturity reflected here. Plumtree is deceptively simple, helping to set the scene in Canadian pop-rock perfection. Pavement is a work of art that takes itself very seriously, despite the non-sequitur lyrics. And The Lemonheads couldn’t have come off as anything but emotionally developed, sonically full-blooded, and thoughtful even if the album tried. To sum it all up, this music is charmingly honest and excited, with a hidden maturity and poignancy.
These albums are best heard alone, or perhaps with a best friend. So kick up your converse, push your math homework to the floor, and get swept away by these little snapshots of life.