Epic Soundtracks: Rise Above (1992)
Epic Sountracks was the drummer for Swell Maps, a somewhat raw, experimental (and awesome) early post-punk band, playing with his brother Nikki Sudden (no, not their real names). Soundtracks then went on to play drums with some other dark and iconoclastic indie bands. For his 1992 solo debut, he was joined by members of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and the Birthday Party, among the loudest, most raging indie bands.
So, not surprisingly, the album sounded like... well, like early Todd Rundgren crossed with Laura Nyro crossed with Carole King crossed with John Cale. Pretty piano ballads as far as the eye can see.
Huh. Go figure.
Certainly not what I expected when I first brought it home. And the other thing I didn't expect was just how emotionally draining and melancholy the thing would sound. Even the more poppy, upbeat tracks, which sounded like they'd been orchestrated by Burt Bacharach, with gentle sax accompaniments, had an underlying sadness. And while Soundtracks, after a few more releases, sadly took his own life, that's not what drives the melancholy here. I think it's more in the overall musical vibe, that instant nostalgia for the early 70s that brings me back to my childhood.
The album opens with "Fallen Down," a stellar pop tune, sweet and absolutely gorgeous, which blows up into a lush, full band rocker by the end. If someone had told me they had pulled this from some obscure singer-songwriter album from 1972, I'd have no reason to doubt that. Other great tunes include "Farmer's Daughter" (not the Beach Boys track, though it could be a Beach Boys track), another simple pop song with some rousing instrumentation to perk it up; "Everybody Else Is Wrong," with stark lyrics ("everybody else is so fucked up they just haven't got a clue") but a nice affirmative message; the complex, John Cale-like multi-part epic "Big Apple Graveyard"; and closing number "She Sleeps Alone," a nice counterpart to the opener, lovely piano-driven pop with a wonderful hook.
Some of the quieter moments call to mind Big Star's Third, dark and haunting. If you like that album, or Elliott Smith, or John Cale, you won't go wrong with this. It's a truly surprising album, but one that really digs into your gut.
Here's an audio rip of "Fallen Down" if you're not Spotify-enabled: