2002: 90 Day Men - To Everybody

I don’t know many people that like To Everybody. Admittedly, 90 Day Men aren’t exactly a band that comes up in conversation all that often nowadays (well, maybe as an aside when discussing front man Brian Case’s current band Disappears), but of the people I know that were aware of them, most fall into one of two camps: either they like the band’s earlier “Fugazi and Slint go to University together” material, or the full-blown arty prog-psych of Panda Park. I vastly prefer the former, but I admire how each of the band’s records sound distinct, demonstrating the Chicago-via-St. Louis group’s artistic tenacity in continually pushing themselves forward. That said, I think Panda Park, with precious few moments aside, is a turgid mess of a record, losing much of what makes its comparatively overlooked predecessor, To Everybody, such an intriguing album to revisit.

To briefly contextualize, To Everybody signals a turning point in 90 Day Men’s discography. The band’s previous record, (It (Is) It) Critical Band, was more or less the summation of where they could take their contemptuously self-aware (I mean, look at the album’s title!) math-rock at the time. Not content to stagnate or make the same record again, the time following Critical Band saw them foregrounding keyboardist Andy Lansangan and making To Everybody, a piano-laced collection of lengthy, often-grandiose art rock songs. No wonder the red flags of suspicion popped up.

It would be easy to designate To Everybody as a transitional record, having been released between the vastly different Panda Park and Critical Band, but the more I listen, the more this feels inaccurate. There are elements of transition, to be sure, but To Everybody is more concerned with exploration, like a riskier version of what Fugazi did with The Argument — that is, to make a dynamic, challenging record that demonstrates a band’s strengths while also making an assured journey into unexplored territory. The key difference here is that 90 Day Men also shifted instrumental focus — Lansangan’s keys are all over To Everybody and, combined with the album’s density and prog-leanings, it initially feels alienating. Furthermore, there’s a sense of detachment here, as To Everybody makes relatively few concessions to reveal itself to an impatient listener; however meandering it may feel at points, this is a record that can’t be gently absorbed in passivity.

For me, the best parts of To Everybody are when the band will latch onto a groove and utterly refuse to let go. Take “St. Theresa in Ecstasy,” a track anchored by Robert Lowe’s fluid bass pulse set alongside blossoming piano keys and a steadfast, deceptively intricate drum pattern. Throughout the song’s last half, there are moments where it feels like drummer Cayce Key is battling to keep the enveloping swirl of instrumentation neatly contained and flowing, with errant fills resetting the track’s shifting sense of timing. This last half of “St. Theresa” is the most lucid, well-sustained segment on the record, and I could listen to it for hours.

To Everybody was an ambitious album, and while I don’t think it fully succeeds (the second half has some questionable moments), I find its ability to remain polarizing and unique ten years after its release commendable. I may listen to Critical Band more often, but To Everybody is the more interesting and distinctively artistic record, despite its inconsistencies and comparatively neglected spot in the band’s discography. If someone tries to tell you that Panda Park is the best 90 Day Men record, I’d wager they haven’t listened to this one since it came out.

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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