Birmingham Bohos, Side 2

Bad Banana: Crushfield (2010) Clearly demos, with sound quality that makes early Sebadoh proud. But if you listen past that you’ll hear what might have been, which is Allison moving into the second guitar position and for the first time alternating lead vocals and writing credits with Katie. The one-two punch of openers “Stand Next to Me” (Allison’s) and “Pretty Like A Girl” (Katie’s) are wake-up calls about post-teen sexual dynamics, and the remaining eight songs move at the same clip. Your guess is as good as mine— this band is barely documented— but I suspect Bad Banana was an ill-fated next step after P.S. Eliot that determined there was too much talent for one band. But their brief existence could just as easily be the natural history of a typical Crutchfield project. I’m not often in the habit of suggesting you listen to demos except for historical purposes, but I make an exception for Crushfield.

Bad Banana: Cry About ItEP (2011) Well, they put their best songs on the demo tape so think of this four-song 7” as their rant record—distorted vocals, minimalist arrangements, tossed off lyrics that don’t always rise above the caterwaul.

Dear Marje: Demos (2011) Allison goes back to drums and in fact takes a backseat overall in this twee-pop tribute. Off-key female vocals: check. Jangly guitar: check. Bass guitar playing the melody: check. Rat-a-tat drums: check. Everyone has a little C86 in them I guess.

Swearin’: What A Dump EP (2011) Allison takes front and center (finally!) in twelve minutes of heavy punk thunder that recall nothing less than The Replacements Stink! if not Metal Circus in its succinct declamation of post-teenage riot. Musical proof if you need one: the circular guitar hook in “Snag”. But crashin’ on the couch gives her opportunity to intuit such rhetorical gems as “This quandary that we create/You can exhale but suffocate” until the doo wop manqué title tune casts away any hint of residual self-pity.  “Being pretty is infinite but being angry is real important” is both an heirloom notion and a secret potion.

Swearin’: Swearin’ (2012) More inchoate than the EP, more prone to rant, plus a great exploration of that sonic wonder: the muddy mix. Fans of L.A.M.F. and Exile of Main Street will rejoice. And trust me, muddy mixes are only worth the songs that you find when you dive into them deeply. Which is where the angular charms reside. File it next to Superchunk conveniently, but it took Mac a couple decades to come up with a line like “No one likes you when you’re as old as we are”.

Waxahatchee and Chris Clavin: Dragon (2012) Katie begins to break free from the punk rock chains by stepping backwards all the way into her bedroom, where her side of this cassette must have been recorded, and the state of Alabama, where Waxahatchee Creek is. Sounds more like demos, another pivot point. “Black Candy” though, you have to hear it.

Waxahatchee: American Weekend (2012) More Katie solo, but this time with tunes. For once, the world (or at least a tiny sliver of it) starts to pay attention, perhaps in the wake of an elegiac New York Times blog item about Crutchfield bands past. The fact though is that the production (for want of a better word) on this long-player is flat: Katie performed most of these songs better live on an improbable February 2013 evening in her brief hometown Brooklyn, when a Philly snow stranded the rest of what by then had become Waxahatchee-the-band. By herself, Katie brought depth to these songs that was only hinted in the “studio” versions. Heroism brings out her best instincts and “Catfish”, which name-checks Sam Cooke although it’s a bad precedent in this context, belongs on the short list of great breakup songs. “Blue (Part 2)” does too. Is there a pattern here?

Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (2013) Back to the electric band format, Katie sucks her bedroom parlor game up into her mouth and spits it into rock and roll as patiently rancorous as Every Picture Tells a Story.  Perfectly capturing that last great moment before the party fades, the wry juxtapositions of kiddy-tune and Ardent Records make space for this Crutchfield band to effortlessly, finally slow down a little bit. Result: an avenue out of pure punk, a chance for Katie to broaden her palette and her audience, an artist in complete control of her medium.

Great Thunder: Sounds of Great Thunder  (2012) “Clandestine music project by brother/sister duo currently residing in Philadelphia” sez the Facebook page, but it’s really Katie and her boyfriend Keith Spencer so take that Jack White. This is a 22-song surge/purge— riffs reduced to tape, fragments, and some real songs, basically world-meet-Great Thunder— that could be edited down to a palatable portion but gives Katie a pure punk outlet to parallel Waxahatchee. She’ll make something of it.

 Great Thunder: Strange Kicks EP (2013) And make something of it Katie does. Recorded just weeks after Sounds of Great Thunder, but at six songs (plus a bonus download-only cover of “Fade Into You”) the editorial function is intact, and that gets this into your brain big-time. As you may surmise by the Mazzy Star shout-out and the leisurely track lengths (over three minutes thrice!), Great Thunder add a soupcon of heavy goth to the punk-pop spectrum (“You Get Sad When You Cry”, “Wormhole”), and this spasm of awesomeness is enough to bring Bela Legosi back from the dead. Rumor is that there is another double cassette in the can— let’s hope some sense prevails because this spooked out stomach-punch proves Katie can move forward without losing her past.  Is it time to get some real production behind her? A label with pockets? You think?

 Future: A new Swearin’ record is in the works, and both Swearin’ and Waxahatchee have cuts on a four-song 7” single in tribute to GBV that should be available any day now. P.S. Eliot reformed for the Salinas Records ten-year anniversary, and I hope that set pops up somewhere. Who knows what’s next for Waxahatchee and Great Thunder? Which new band will turn up under the Crutchfield imprimatur? And on and on. If I missed anything let me know, and maybe send it my way.