Creeper Lagoon: I Become Small And Go (1998)

Here's a great half-album from the late 90s. By which I mean half of it is great, and half is... definitely not.  And yeah, there are plenty of wholly great albums I'd like to get to here, but this was something I listened to quite a bit back in the day (and still do), so I figured I'd put it out there, warts and all.

Creeper Lagoon were a San Francisco-based indie/alt.rock band falling somewhere between Pavement and Beck.  (I remember seeing them open for Pavement -- maybe Pavement's last local show before breaking up? -- and they were a lot of fun.)  Guitarist Sharky Laguana has been the band's constant presence, with Ian Sefchick on vocals during their initial run but dropping out for some later albums.  This LP, their full-length debut, benefited from production (in part) by the Dust Brothers, best known for their work with Beck (as well as some far less palatable 90s alt.rockers), who gave the otherwise murky lo-fi indie rock some more booming beats (while keeping the music from ever becoming too slick).

The half of the album I enjoy is the more upbeat half (mostly Dust Bros-abetted).  While there is some redundancy among these songs, they've got some killer hooks.  "Dear Deadly" has a funky, mid-tempo groove, some studio trickery giving it an entrancing, dynamic feel.  It blows away much of what passed for radio-friendly "alternative rock" in the post-Nirvana 90s, yet oddly didn't get much traction.  "Empty Ships" is fantastic catharsis, a cramped-feeling claustrophobic sound in the opening verse exploding into a huge, sweeping chorus, the rest of the song simply great indie pop-rock.  "Chasing Tracy" features a similar dynamic, a soft, slow verse broadening into a fun, buoyant chorus.  And opening track "Wonderful Love" has that dynamic production boosting an otherwise low-key indie rock guitar tune.

The balance of the album is far quieter, more restrained, lacking those killer hooks.  This isn't always bad; "Sylvia" is moody, ambient psychedelia; and closing "Claustrophobia" sums up the vibe of much of the album without falling victim to it.  But others are just way too somber and, well, claustrophobic, lacking the infectious appeal that makes the upbeat tracks stand out.

The album got some decent press -- Spin named them best new artist in '98 -- and they followed it with the more blatant reach for some commercial success, the Dreamworks release Take Back The Universe -- arguably a better album, with some fantastic tracks like the stunning "Sunfair" (which may have won them some brief radio play) -- but I remain loyal to the debut, or at least the handful of upbeat tracks that soundtracked a particular period in my life.

Here's an audio rip of "Empty Ships":
Here's a live version of "Dear Deadly" from a reunion show (performed, for some reason, with a stage full of kids):