Monday, October 12, 2009

#82. 'I'm not drunk enough to tell you the truth just yet'

No video? WTF is this shit?

The 90 Day Men "Too Late or Too Dead"

It was late 2003 when our family finally got high-speed internet of any kind, and it was 2003 when I began to immerse myself fully in every type of music I could get my hands on. I had been gathering sources in our days on a 56k modem - a time I now refer to as The Dark Ages - and used our newfound speed to exploit them to their fullest. Gone was the choppiness of any attempt to stream the math-rock playlist from Epitonic, I could now work through the thing systematically to find bands worth delving into. It was a joyous time, especially when combined with the fact that being in college allowed me ample extra time to engage in these activities and still keep on top of my studies. That ability to balance didn't last long, but it was probably the biggest explosion of my musical knowledge in a short time period, so I look upon it fondly.

Back to that math-rock playlist though, the fact that it lead me to sight unseen download The 90 Day Men's whole discography based on the bookends of their debut EP 1975-77-98 led to the biggest shock of that whole burst. The advance single for 2004's Panda Park had just been unveiled as I was discovering the joys of that raucous, noisy first EP, so I made the jump straight to it rather than working systematically through the pair of full lengths that separated the two.To call the shift in tone jarring would be an understatement. While 1975-77-98 sounded like U.S. Maple by way of Fugazi, "Too Late or Too Dead" sounded like, well, wussy piano rock by way of wussy piano rock. I couldn't get my head around it at first: how did the band behind that first EP become so damned boring? I was a bit of a fool in retrospect, not a new thing for me by any means, since "Too Late" is on this list a mere 6 years later, but the shift that The 90 Day Men made in about as much time was utterly confounding. It took a bit of time, but once I got on the band's wavelength it became clear to me that a) their last two albums were the best things they recorded and b) "Too Late or Too Dead" was a near-masterpiece.

It wasn't even the highlight from the latter period of the band, but as a single "Too Late or Too Dead" came off as the best summation of what The90 day Men mach two were all about. The major difference in the two stages of the band was the presence of pianist Andy Lansangan, who added a distinctive otherness to their sound, moving them from the expansive post-hardcore of (It (Is) It) Critical Band into a sound more in line with psychedelia with prog touches on To Everybody. By the time the "Too Late or Too Dead" single rolled around he had become a bit of a driving force in the band, and the main riffs of the single in question spelled that out pretty clearly. Between introductory bass-hand rumblings and the later, near-jubilliant but still minor key piano hook, Lansangan's handiwork is all over this one to a much greater extent than any other 90 Day Men song. He's integral to all their post-2001 work, but he's never been the singular focal point the way he is here, and it serves the song well.

However, as you might expect, it's the smaller parts that give it its particular greatness. The loping, almost random drum pattern acts as the perfect counterpoint to the clean, precise piano introduction, the mild touches of acoustic guitar - which I didn't realize were there fr a good month or so of heavy listening - add a lot to the sections they feature in and when the guitar comes in towards the end to double the piano hook it's almost transcendent. On top of that you've got singer Brian Case delivering an affecting relationship post-mortem - I think at least - in his distinct, Malkmus-on-Quaaludes tone. When it all comes together at the end, as Case draws out a resigned 'where do we go from here?' the song gets thrown to new heights as a great example of a band working in perfect harmony with eachother, and when it strips down to a reprise of the opening piano-and-drum pattern it ends the song on a similarly resigned note. Where do they go from here? Back to the beginning. It's a bit of a downer, but a gorgeous one to listen to at any rate.

Coming up tomorrow: Yee-frickin'-haw part 2 or The God Factor.

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