Saturday, December 1, 2012

Crashes On The Platinum Planet: A Review Of The First New Big Dipper Record In 22 Years

I really can't tell you how happy I was to write that headline. I sometimes get overexcited about bands, or about simply getting something free to review, but as a longtime fan I'm quite delighted to be here to write about the new Big Dipper record -- Crashes On The Platinum Planet (Almost Ready Records) -- and to report that it's just fantastic.

I saw these guys a whole mess of times back in the late 1980s at the old 9:30 Club. It seems like they were always opening up for someone else -- I could make a joke here about the ignominy for the band at having to open up for Australia's Died Pretty but, despite their obscurity, Died Pretty were an awesome live band who killed with a wicked cover of "The Cross" by Prince -- or how unfairly they got shafted by the major labels after 1990's Slam.

For what it's worth, I think The Onion's AV Club got the whole story wrong; Big Dipper were not the victim of Nirvana's success -- on the contrary, they would have immensely benefited from that post-"Smells Like Teen Spirit" major label embrace of American postpunk and indie rock had they stuck around -- but the victim of the era.

Big Dipper were just too good for the times, too smart, too loud -- whatever you want to say.

Which brings us to Crashes On The Platinum Planet. Easily one of the best American releases of 2012, this is just a flat-out great record. Big Dipper have refined their sound, smoothed the edges of their guitar-slab attack, honed their wit, and delivered a near-masterpiece.

I just can't believe that I had to wait 22 years to hear it.

"Lord Scrumptious" unfurls like Andy Summers trying his hand at an old Feelies cut. The harmonies -- smooth then shouty -- come in over Fripp-arpeggios and Andy Partridge-style vocal lines. Welcome back boys!

What Big Dipper have done with "Robert Pollard" is nothing short of genius. Namechecking Paul McCartney and then the Dipper's own Gary Waelick, the band place themselves in the same league as the ex-Beatle but reserve their highest praise for a clear fan of themselves -- Guided By Voices always seemed like a bunch of guys who heard "Younger Bums" and ran out and formed a band. If the point is that Robert Pollard is able to crank out so many "gems" while other legendary artists cannot anymore -- "Listen Randy Newman... -- it's also a sort of self-aware paean to Big Dipper's own place in rock history. A long-time listener can't help but remember how much a guy like Robert Pollard owes to the boys in Big Dipper. But, in a magnanimous spirit, Big Dipper sing the praises of the GBV wizard.

"Princess Warrior" is a witty -- "That chest is good to go" -- and punchy little number that recalls the best stuff of Bill Goffrier's earlier The Embarrassment.

"Hurricane Bill" borrows a melody line from "Afternoon Delight" to make a sweet little indie rock ditty -- dig those vaguely Talking Heads-like guitar riffs.

The loping "Market Scare" provides a cautionary tale about these economically fucked years.

Organs usher in "Happy New Year" and the mood gets a bit somber. Lovely vocal work shapes this downbeat number.

Choppy, nearly Steve Vai-like guitar hooks help "Pitbull Cruiser, Blue" ride in on a wave of goodwill. Pavement-style vocal lines married to a strange and vague echo of Van Halen -- the mid-tempo DLR stuff -- make this another highlight of Crashes On The Platinum Planet.

"Forget the Chef" is a long-lost cousin of "Impossible Things" and a few other tracks from Slam.

"Joke Outfit" mixes the sort of beat Pulp would have used to ridicule Eurotrash disco with some good lines.

"Sarah and Monica" is, quite simply, beautiful. It's the sort of languid Itune that Yo La Tengo can crank out without much effort -- YLT another band who owe huge debts to Big Dipper -- but here the boys in Big Dipper pen a lovely ditty. If the cut is not too similar to some of those Big Dipper tunes from 22 years ago, that's okay. Like I said, Big Dipper have refined their sound. When the vocal harmonies coalesce on the bridge of the cut, it's a swoon-worthy moment. For all their smart-assedness, Big Dipper are great tunesmiths. They know their way around a melody.

"New Machine" is the 2012 update of "Lunar Module", more or less. It's the loud reminder of what these guys did so well in the 1980s. It's the sound of noisy American rock before the Pixies and Nirvana redefined everything. Dig that guitar line!

"Guitar Named Desire: The Animated Sequel" somehow echoes both "She's Fetching" and "All Going Out Together". Surf guitars and surf rock drums pull this along to finally close out the record.

I really can't stress enough how much I flat-out enjoyed Crashes On The Platinum Planet. It's such a pleasure to have these guys back. This a collection of 12 well-crafted, funny, poppy, and rocking tracks.

Quite simply this is a reminder of the joy of American indie music from guys who can remember when this sort of music was called alternative or, worse yet, college rock.

These guys are rock veterans but they can still work their magic. They have. Get Crashes On The Platinum Planet (Almost Ready Records) as soon as you can.

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And buy Crashes On The Platinum Planet. You can get it on iTunes, Amazon, the usual places, and, of course, on the Almost Ready Records website.