There's lo-fi and then there's lo-fi and this record is lower than a limbo pole at Billy Barty's house.
This bad boy sounds like it was recored in a rec room in Cleveland in 1979.
However, that's part of the charm.
As you wade through this stuff -- the early work of David Berman and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastonovich -- you find little gems that are essential tunes from these artists.
Early Times, out 19 June on Drag City, is a fun collection of old recordings from these guys.
Tracks like "Canada" make this collection such a keeper. It's a messy set of messy tunes -- no fancy production here -- but I liked that. I felt like I had found this tape by the side of the road, or something, and discovered a lost, great band.
The first 5 tunes on Early Times come from the 1992 7-inch "Dime Map of the Reef" release on Drag City. The clear highlight here is "Canada" with its shouty, scratchy exuberance and Malkmus (?) vocals making it seem like a lost Pavement jam.
Stuff like "September 1999" is abrasive at best. Sure, there are moments of melody here but the joy really comes from listening to things fall apart.
The short "The Unchained Melody" shows a hint of the Fall-love that Pavement would incorporate into their own work. Malkmus barks the lyrics with a hint of menace -- Mark E. Smith as a Yank?
The rest of Early Times features 1993's The Arizona Record release.
"Secret Knowledge of Back Roads" is a seeming precursor to Pavement's own "Range Life", all long guitar lines and vaguely blues-y slow wails. Languid and downright lazy, the song still charms a listener.
"I Love The Rights" is choppy, punky, and insistent.
"Jackson Nightz" is all Slanted and Enchanted hooks spliced into a messy-but-catchy tune. Malkmus (?) croons like Peter Brady with his voice cracking. There are harmonies but none to be proud of. Lo-fi genius on this one!
Like most of Early Times, this tune is a jumble of ideas and half-baked noodlings thrown into song-shape.
Still, I don't mean those things in a bad way.
No, Silver Jews, thanks to the presence of those guys from Pavement, had some appeal. These were ramshackle tunes at best but they work still. It's a set of reminders of a more interesting era in US indie. These are reminders of a time when risk-takers could still crack out of the underground.
Think of Early Times as the slow-witted -- but charming -- cousin of Slanted and Enchanted.
For all its abrasiveness, it's a fun and essential record for any fan of Malkmus and David Berman.
Early Times will be released on 19 June 2012 on Drag City.