Shudder to Think Funeral at the Movies

[Dischord; 1991]

Styles: art rock
Others: Jawbox, Jane’s Addiction

In the world of song craft, there’s no telling where a Shudder to Think song might lead. “Chocolate,” for example, enters with an abrupt rush of power chords and drums that would lead you to assume you’d just purchased another DC-hardcore album. This assumption would be further confirmed if you’d peer down to an album’s notes and find it was released by Dischord Records and noise-monger Wharton Tiers had mixed a good portion of it. In those first moments your thoughts may have led to Government Issue or Dag Nasty or even Bad Brains. It would be at that point, however, that “Chocolate” would down shift into the sway of a pop song. “Am I really second best/ To the one who’s on your chest?” Craig Wedren asks in his high, restrained howl. Then you’d realize that something much more complex is happening.

Funeral at the Movies, released on the heels of the rougher, yet no less angular Ten Spot is Shudder’s most accessible and inaccessible release. Shudder to Think, you see, reveals itself amid its own duality. It attempts to marry pop with hardcore themes and luscious imagery. It melds the band’s proclivity for gentle verse and awkward chord progressions. “Lies About the Sky” and “Day Ditty” twinkle with Wedren’s children’s poetry and Chris Matthews’ resourceful and pleasant guitar. Simultaneously, the rhythm section hints at a deeper intensity that is never completely disclosed. This dichotomy, mastered on this release, is at the core of what makes Funeral at the Movies the band’s most reaching effort. The first version of the brilliant “Red House” (revisions of the song would later appear on two future releases), makes its recorded debut in this vain. It begins with bedroom quality guitar, strumming unsure above a woodblock’s urgent tap. Wedren again inserts his idiosyncratic verse: “Like an overdose/And the dose of my brain goes to yours/ And something comes quite clear.” As the song progresses, it gains confidence with Matthews finding a groove that shifts between stuttering and soaring melody lines. “Red House” ends as a cathartic, full-on
rocker leaving no riff uncovered and no question unasked, “Can’t stop the rain or the snow,” they insist. The band executes an uptempo rendition of Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic”, with some success; the main riff being hummed instead of played.

The album’s closer “I Blew Away/Ride That Sexy Horse” again underscores Shudder to Think’s affinity for the unpredictable. The first component of the piece begins as a slow anthem, building to towering vocal harmonies reminiscent of the twin melodies Michael Stipe and Michael Mills crafted in their early years. The piece casually transitions, into a budding chain of rain-puddle feedback. Above the shimmering mess, a man’s monotone voice recites a cryptic poem. Soon he’s joined by a maniacally jovial man urging us over and over to “Ride that sexy horse.” Once again demonstrating their flair for duality, a girl’s voice later joins, “Ride the pretty horse,” she says.

The mid-1990s saw Shudder to Think falling under the influence of mainstream rock, leading to the release of two nice, but overly manufactured major-label records. This left Funeral at the Movies and its heir, the equally complex Get Your Goat, to stand as the high points for the band’s artistic expression. Through these two records we glimpse a thoroughly intriguing craft that time has neither defied nor duplicated.

1. Chocolate
2. Lies About the Sky
3. Day Ditty
4. Crosstown Traffic
5. Red House
6. Funeral At the Movies
7. I Blew Away/Ride that Sexy Horse