2009: Strange - Souvenir Album

The story of Strange is a cool one, albeit not that unique: a rotating lineup of high school friends from Olympia, Washington -- some musically trained, others so enamored by West Coast bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, that they learned their instruments via “on-site” training. Let’s face it: it's endlessly fun touring the high school garages of the 20th century, regardless of how the music holds up. It’s often easy to overlook technical proficiency -- and to a leaser extent creativity -- when youthful exuberance is pouring out of a recording. In the best case scenario, these limitations can lend themselves to something not only different from their influences, but something entirely unique unto itself. Since youthful naivety is the crux of Strange's sound, Souvenir Album, though far from essential listening, still has its merits, full of subtle beauty that percolates with repeated listens. Besides, if anyone’s to blame for mediocrity, the ball lies squarely in Shadoks’ court -- they’ve slipped a little with their quality control over the past year. Don’t hold it against the high school kids for not thinking how their music would fare this many years later.

The album itself is culled together from various mid-70s live performances. Organized in a haphazard, piecemeal manner, Souvenir Album’s disjointed trajectory is in large part what makes it interesting. While not as extreme or deliberate as the ever-fractured Faust Tapes, its editing approach (though seemingly naïve) is pretty odd. Segments from extended jams fade in and out, more significant than interludes, while leaving room for more fleshed-out songs to blossom in between. Lo-fi intermingles with hi-fi, and an occasional sound collage or off-kilter (and probably unintentional) production trick makes you wonder what the fuck Strange were thinking.

Their best and most structured moments are loaded with soft rock introspection. Although citing Yes, Zappa, and other art-prog influence in the liner notes, it’s rarely reflected in their music. Coming closer to an early-70s, Laurel Canyon-inspired folk rock, Strange strive for something more mature than their youthful years. While I envision young adults of the time pilfering from The Stooges and Zeppelin, Strange hardly sound enamored with those vehicles for rebellion. Their heaviest, most prog-driven song, “The Ballad of Hollis Spaceman,” although loaded with odd changes and fuzzed-out guitar solos, sounds more akin to Jefferson Airplane than anyone else. It’s also these attempts at heavier rock that keep Souvenir Album from being a total success. They show Strange still searching for their identity. But soft pop was clearly their strong suit, their subtle, piano-driven melancholy sounding like a younger, less experienced sibling of Bill Fay. There’s a formative quality to the whole thing, and I assume that had they developed more on another album, they would have eventually reached Fay's songwriting caliber. Lyrically, Souvenir Album reads like a smarter rendition of high school journal entries -- full of self-loathing, pseudo-introspection, and general discontent, yet somehow wise in its years.

It’s amazing that this music exists at all. Admittedly, I’m kind of a sucker for artifact records that were destined to never be heard. Standout songs like “Segment From Mushroom Wednesday/Lies By Poetic License” and “The Last Song” are quite powerful and make Souvenir Album worth the listen, despite its spotty flow. Originally released in a run of 100, Souvenir Album was “released” just as the band called it quits. It combines the good, the bad, and the ugly that private-press aficionados eat up, but it's probably not worth the time for the more peripheral 70s rock enthusiast.

1. Segment From Barapp
2. Somebody
3. The Ballad of Hollis Spaceman
4. Four Eyes
5. Segment from Barapp
6. A Faced Dream/Segment From On Winning The War
7. Rick’s Song
8. Segment From Mushroom Wednesday/Lies By Poetic Justice
9. Twelve Boats
10. The Last Song

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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