Monday, March 24, 2008

Lamestain may hate the Posies sometimes

Although the Posies sometimes get lumped in with the rest of the Seattle bands from the late 80s and early 90s, in truth, the only factors that connect the Posies with grunge, Sub Pop, etc. were geography and time period. They sprouted up 90 miles north of Seatttle, at Sehome High School in Bellingham, having almost nothing to do with the nascent grunge scene down south. In fact, they had even less to do with the garage rock/Estrus Records scene in their home town. While everyone else bashed out fuzzed-out, three-chord rock at the Central and while their bands formed, disbanded, and interbred, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were crafting pop songs in their bedrooms and overdubbing bass and drum tracks on demo tapes. In fact, the record Failure,

later released by Pop Llama Records, had been well circulated as a demo tape in1988 before the Posies had added bassist Mike Musbeger and drummer Rick Roberts and started gigging regularly as a four-piece.

The common reference point for the Posies these days is Big Star, at least in part because Ken and Jon joined the reactivated Big Star in the late 90s. (It’s even mentioned in the first sentence of Trouser Press’s entry on the Posies.) At a certain point (specifically, “Apology” on Dear 23), the influence of Alex Chilton and co. started creeping into their music, but Failure doesn’t contain even the slightest hint of Big Star. Rather—as all of the press and even my dad noted at the time—the Posies resembled the Hollies, with a significant dash of early 80s English pop, like XTC.

In fact, for Dear 23, they even recruited former XTC producer Jon Leckie to man the boards. (Leckie also worked with the Fall, the Stone Roses, New Order, and, erm, Gene Loves Jezebel.) It’s awfully difficult to listen to this record (or even Failure) objectively anymore, as everything about it reminds me of high school. Some of Leckie’s lush soundscapes and effects (e.g., song endings fade into the sound of falling rain) layer a bit too much melodrama on the music; this, combined with the Posies sometimes corny lyrics, makes it a perfect soundtrack for high school’s melodramas but perhaps not for older listening. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a great record, but one that must be accepted with its limitations in mind. I don’t think it’s an accident that my absolute favorite track from this era is the completely unadorned b-side to “Suddenly Mary,” “Spite and Malice.”

"Solar Sister" live.

The wikipedia entry has a brief explanation of the nasty label pressure put on the Posies after Dear 23 (which was actually fairly successful!). In short: they started recording a follow-up, dumped/lost their bassist, scrapped the follow-up, started a new follow-up with Don Fleming, received a thumbs down from the label, added a few “hits,” got the thumbs up, replaced the rhythm section, yadda yadda yadda. The follow-up, Frosting on the Beater, has without a doubt aged the best of all their records; the harder edge that Fleming emphasized always existed in their live shows but not on their records, and it compliments the sugary harmonies wonderfully. I won’t talk about it much here, as I’m already rambling on like an old man. Failure came out when I was in high school? Christ, I should start sprinkling No Salt on my supper. Then again, if I’m making jokes about being old, it means I’m not old yet: unfortunately, it means I’m middle aged and unfunny.

We got off the train around this time. I never cottoned to the fourth record, Amazing Disgrace, and we kind of burned out on seeing them live. (We saw them around a dozen times, as they played frequently in Bellingham and Seattle. A few shows were terrible, but others were fantastic.) They had attracted a considerable cult following by this point—I remember reading an old email mailing list ages ago and learning that some fans had seen them fifty and even 75 times before Amazing Disgrace was even released! The Posies soon broke up, somehow managed to become extremely prolific while inactive, and then reformed. The new songs I’ve heard from their myspace page aren’t bad at all—in fact, I quite like some of them. What’s notable is that sounds remarkably different than their previous eras, and I commend any band that exists for 20 years while both maintaining their strengths and exploring new grounds.

Burning Sky Records will release a tribute record this spring. The band’s homepage is here. A good discography can be found here, and if you’re burning to download live shows via bittorrent, check out the message board on their homepage.

From Failure:
“I May Hate You Sometimes”
“Ironing Tuesdays”

From Dear 23:
“You Avoid Parties”

Suddenly Mary ep

“Suddenly Mary”
“Feel” (Big Star cover)
“Spite & Malice”

From Frosting on the Beater:

“Solar Sister”
“When Mute Tongues Speak”

And all of them are handily collected on this .zip file.



MJAPA said...

This is great, but one correction, Mike was the drummer and Rick was the bassist. You have them swapped up in the beginning of this.

AtothemfT said...

Is that a Jeff Kleinsmith poster at the top of the post? Hey, one of the most fascinating things about the Posies, for me, was the fact that Ken Stringfellow was married to Kim Warnick of the Fastbacks for awhile.


Kaijsa said...

It was a cool surprise to see this post on my favorite band from my high school days. It took me a long time to get into Amazing Disgrace, but I love it now and think that of all the Posies' albums, it has held up the best over time. Thanks for the great post.

jay said...

hey bill & tom. this is jay. i just found your blog. oh, the memories...

when i hear the posies now it makes me embarrased that i liked them as much as i did back in 1990 or so. ridiculous.

but here's the funny thing: my little sister is getting married this summer and they actually considered hiring the posies for the reception, until they decided to have a tiny wedding instead.

Lamestain HQ said...


What a surprise to hear from you! Email us at the addy in our profile.


Dan 10Things said...

I hated "Failure" when it came out. And what made it worse was every girl I knew seemed to love it, including my girlfriend, who played it all the time. It was so sappy and poppy. And those guys lived on my block on 12th in the U-District. I'd walk home from Cellophane Square with new punk records and they'd be hanging out drinking beers and playing those songs acoustically on their front porch, it was like I couldn't escape them!

Anonymous said...

Can you re-up these? the links are down.

I haven't really heard much from The Posies, only what I have from the Another Damned Seattle Compilation and the HYPE! comp. Other than that I haven't heard much. I hear and read here alot of the albums are hit and miss with some people. Or half like it, half don't like it type of band. Searching for a record or something to better understand the sound.

Mike said...

Can you re-up these? the links are down.

I haven't really heard much from The Posies, only what I have from the Another Damned Seattle Compilation and the HYPE! comp. Other than that I haven't heard much. I hear and read here alot of the albums are hit and miss with some people. Or half like it, half don't like it type of band. Searching for a record or something to better understand the sound.

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