THE 85TH GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME: DAWSON - How To Follow So That Others Will Willingly Lead LP (1992/Gruff Wit)
Well, okay, I'm being a little facetious here; this isn't really the 85th greatest album of all time, even though I listed it as number 85 in the list I published a year or so ago. That Top 100 list wasn't really in any order, though I stand by the entry: this is, at the very least, in a top 100 somewhere as being one of my fave albums of all eternity and amen to that etc. I thought I'd discuss it since it's also one which very few people seem to've ever heard of. In fact, one Michael Row of Pig State Recon blog wrote to me after I published the list and noted to me that Dawson were the one band or artist I had mentioned whom he had never even heard of. So, lemme tell you something...
I first heard of the group in late '92 when I read a review for the album in Maximum Rock 'n' Roll which mentioned - in relation to the group's sound and approach - the Minutemen and Gang Of Four. My eyebrows raised. Browsing throughout the rest of the reviews, there were also entries for discs by Badgewearer and Whirling Pig Dervish, two more Scottish bands on Dawson's Gruff Wit imprint - a label actually run by Dawson's main man, Jer Reid - and once again the likes of The Fall and the Minutemen were mentioned in said reviews. Before you could say "music-obsessed dork with a socially-challenged personality disorder" (and I think I've overcome at least part of that description in the 15 years which have passed), I chucked a few pounds of legal tender in ol' blighty into an envelope, addressed it to Gruff Wit and told 'em I'll take whatever they've got. A few weeks later I got a bunch of LPs and 7"s in the mail and I thanked my obsessive personality for at least steering me in the right direction on this occasion .
But let's talk of this LP... My copy comes in a hand-spray-painted fold-out sleeve in a plastic slip and contains a plethora of pamphlets, posters, political rants, lyric sheets and all kinds of ephemera crammed within its walls. DIY, kiddo. I have never seen another single copy of this LP, so I can't vouch for how different other versions may be, but I'll presume that there are no two identical copies. I don't thrill at this hand-made/DIY nonsense as much as I used to - maybe I'm just too jaded - though when the music holds up on its own two feet as this good, the personal touch given in its presentation makes it all the more sweeter.
Dawson do sound, in parts, a whole lot like the Minutemen and Gang Of Four, but so do a lot of bands. Such scratchy-guitar/funky bass/political-slogan schtick is beyond cliche at this point in time, though Dawson add a whole lot more to the stew, so much so that, in general, I can't pinpoint them as sounding like anyone else in particular. This LP is split into two schizophrenic halves, if only to prove such a point. Side A is a collection of short, fast and fairly "heavy" hardcore-ish post-punk which combines truly ace musicianship, insane twists and turns and a white-hot rhythm section which borrows heavily from the Watt/Hurley stop-on-a-dime school of songwriting. If you do like, say, Minutemen, The Pop Group or even early Boredoms, you'll find something to chew on here.
Side B takes a radical detour: 5 long(er) tracks which jumps from style to style like a totally different group - dub, a kinda free-jazz guitar noise piece with spoken samples on top, and two ending numbers which feature no guitars or bass whatsoever: just rambling percussion, whistles, whoops and screams. If you think that possibly amounts to "filler", you'd be wrong. Upon first playing this very LP, I flipped. I figured I'd just discovered the World's Greatest Band Whom No-One On Earth Had Ever Heard Of. Outside of the likes of Badgewearer and Whirling Pig Dervish, and their hombres The Ex and Dog Faced Hermans, there was no context to place them in. The band - a Scottish three-piece - appeared to exist within their own universe. They booked their own tours, released their own astonishing records, and yet few people cared. That was amended some 9 months later when the good folks from NYC's God Is My Co-Pilot released this and Dawson's previous LP - Barf Market: You're Ontae Plums (must be a Scottish thing) - onto one CD entitled Cheeze Market. If you can locate a copy of this CD, or indeed any of the band's original vinyl, then you can count yourself lucky indeed. In the last three or four years in which I have been wasting my life and money on the likes of ebay, I have never seen a copy of any such item listed.
Which brings me to the grand finale: I actually own the master DAT of How To Follow... and every other Dawson record. That is, except for their final LP from 1993, Terminal Island. I have been in the possession of these DATs and master reels for over three years. Jer is still trying to track down the Terminal Island master, and I get a feeling I might have to just do the thing off vinyl, much as I don't want to. One day, before I drop dead, that pesky Complete Discography double CD will come to fruition. Until then, keep on searching, I say.