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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Bedhead - 'WhatFunLifeWas' (Trance Syndicate)

I think you'll find extremely enthusiastic Bedhead fans hidden in pockets of weird all around the world, and I'm certainly one of them. Out of all that 90s indie/post stuff they stand out as something special and though it's been quite awhile since I've given this one a spin, it's a welcome sound to these ears. A lot of bespectacled, button-down shirt-wearing kids with guitars were excited about this band in the mid 90s (hand raised here!) because it falls into that whole guitar-based reaction to punk that was happening at the time. I think not just of Bedhead but of bands like the Sea and Cake, poised on that moment before their musically exploratory tendencies led to outright fusion or experimentalism, but still striving for something. Not that there's anything particularly progressive about Bedhead. It's "indie rock" in the brainy camp, with three guitars, whispered low key vocals and long dramatic arcs that rely on timbre, dynamics and other subtleties. And that was music to my ears in 1997 when I first heard this band, starting with Bedheaded and eventually moving back to this debut. 1994 was when WhatFunLifeWas hit the scene and it's easy enough to mistake these guys for goths with a title like that (and a subsequent Joy Division cover shines more light on that angle) - almost enough to make up for the awkward, slightly stupid band name. And while that first impression of Bedhead was that they avoided rock pyrotechnics in favor of clean channel moodyness and restraint almost to the point of severity, WhatFunLifeWas actually burns quite a bit of amptubes. It's not that it's agressive in any way but rather a slow burn; distortion is more like fuzz, another texture particularly on songs like 'To the Ground' and 'Haywire'. Vocals, well, not any of them stick with me in the slightest and really the same can be said for the songwriting on this one; this is my least-listened-to Bedhead release and the others I've listened to plenty. I got this one last, maybe when that star was fading -- you know how that goes. Which means, if I can get myself back into that mentality, WhatFunLifeWas could be experienced as if for the first time. That would involve re-widening my eyes and truly believing in some sort of Achievable Indierock Ideal, something involving strange tunings, guitar effects as political statements and some narrow astrovision that worked for me then. I guess this was a favorite band during one of those weird transitional periods for me and I haven't shed any of my affection, and there's nothing to be ashamed of here. Though delivery, production, artwork and mood firmly place this in the mid90s guitar indie universe, nothing feels really dated. Time will tell if Bedhead are timeless but I definitely throw on The Dark Ages at least once a year (and we'll get there in a sec) and nothing is lessened. They chose their tools wisely, yet still gave themselves enough room to swing wide. 'Foaming Love' is one such example, where you can hear their Texas roots in the swinging country cadences, yet it's still enough jangle to sweep up the 80s college puddle and enough tension to nod to Mission of Burma, Bitch Magnet, Slint and other more direct precedents. It's rock music but it assaults the conventions, just more quietly. Sometimes subtlety can bash you over the head - let's move on to the CDs I've worn out and let this one stay fresh.

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