Thursday, July 20, 2006
SUPREME DICKS - The Unexamined Life CD (Homestead/1993)
Funny how things work out. When this originally came out in 1993 it was seen as a bit of an unwanted dog. Tim Adams, in his Ajax catalogue at the time (which is where I purchased my copy), hailed it as possibly the "sleeper" of the year. I can only assume that means it didn't sell a lot. I drooled over it at the time and wrote at great length of its brilliance. I even interviewed the band in 1995 for the last issue of Year Zero fanzine.
Prior to throwing this into the car stereo mix this week, it hadn't graced my presence in over 5 years, maybe not since the late '90s. What urged me on? A friend brought it up the other week and was green w/ envy by my ownership of its wares. He claimed it now goes for medium-sized bucks on eBay w/ indie geeks too young or clueless to've picked it up when it was in print (and don't ask me when it went out of print; I don't know. Is Homestead still around?). That claim kinda took me by surprise, considering I always thought the Supreme Dicks to be one of those no-name bands littering the vast Homestead catalogue which absolutely no-one on earth ever cared about, except for myself and a few other socially-challenged associates.
The 'Dicks, a Massechussetts ensemble who date back to the late '80s, were a smart-arse troupe of collegiate types who mocked the indie scene of the day yet were firmly entrenched in its world. Such a description sums up their music to a tee. That is, I won't kid you and claim this mini-masterpiece is anything but a strain of "indie rock", yet it possesses a sense of slightly detached charm that weathers it better than probably 90% of its contemporaries.
In my outrageously probing interview ca. '95, I asked the band for their alleged influences. Always start 'em off w/ the tough ones, I say. The response: "Willhelm Reich, St. Francis of Assissi, McKinley Moore, Joan of Arc and the Baal Shem... there's definitely a 'Floydian influence, and we also like Fairport Convention, Flying Burrito Bros., Nick Drake, Lou Reed, Buffy Saint-Marie, Bob Dylan, Alex Chilton, Tim Hardin, Beach Boys, Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs, Phil Spector, Mountain Goats, Sandy Denny, Susanne Lewis, Leonard Cohen, etc., etc.". Maybe you're starting to get the picture. Tim at Ajax compared 'em to late '60s Tim Buckley and even Miles Davis ca. In A Silent Way. Don't really know where that latter reference came from; I know In A Silent Way like the back of my hand. This album does not resemble it.
I'll throw in the two cents and state that if you like the fractured, crawling-from-the-abyss aura you get whilst spinning the likes of Skip Spence's Oar or Neil Young's On The Beach, then The Unexamined Life is a disc you need sitting pretty in your house. It possesses the slightly damaged persona of Oar (OK, maybe not as real as Spence's damage at the time, but it's a nice impersonation) and the sprawling song structures of On The Beach (esp. side B). Mostly quiet, "smart" and cynical, and in many parts sounding semi-improvised, if this platter had been released in an edition of 50 on turd-coloured vinyl wrapped in old fish-&-chip wrappers, it'd be seen as a hidden treasure by the hipster elite. It was released on Homestead and remains, I must now conclude, one of the better albums of Clinton-era America.