Tuesday, April 2, 2013

THE BEST ALBUMS YOU'VE NEVER HEARD: Freemasonry "Sparrin' With The Varmint"

I'm hoping to avoid too much of a nostalgia trap by not picking albums for this series that are important to the same time of my life. Or something.  There will be some overlap, of course, but I want to make an effort not to dump my long-ago tastes on you.

I think when most people are asked to name a band from Georgia, they would immediately pick REM, and that would be fine. We all know that there is more to a state- or city or country, even- than just the most tallest poppy. Apparently there was a quite a thriving post-hardcore scene in Atlanta in the early-mid 90s, stretching into BFE and onward by way of North Carolina and thereabouts. I can't help but feel that perhaps this was an outgrowth of the DC stuff of just a couple years earlier- but I am not an expert on that by any means.

What I am an expert on is an album by the most successful band of that scene- Freemasonry. It was the third CD I ever bought, the summer after I graduated high school. (Negatron and Katy Lied were first and second, if you must know) I was browsing a record shop on Hawthorne- name I can't recall- and stumbled on a CD that caught my eye.

Now, I am a sucker for that Cherenkov radiation color scheme, and when I was 17 I thought it was THE BOMB. Looking back, I think the cover is okay but definitely dated. The fonts and the visual pun- it makes it seem less of a real band's album art than something from a CD duplicator's sales brochure. With song titles like "Templar Fighting Monk"(another instant appeal to me) and an engraving of Simon de Montfort in the liner notes, I would guess that the Freemasonry boys might have had a certain old-school aesthetic in mind, but their label probably boned them on that.

Taking it home, of course I was in fact blown away. This is the post-hardcore that with a few more years, a touch of autism, and marginally less weed would become math-rock. I listened to the hell out of that CD that summer, and in fact listened to it so much that in a couple years it had been rendered unplayable.  I despaired of finding it again- this was 1997 or so, and there wasn't much in the way of Amazon or eBay... at least for me. I don't think I even had a computer yet.  But then I had a stroke of luck in a Mexican 99 cent store.. yes, a brand spankin' new copy of Sparrin' With The Varmint.  This second copy became an integral part of my writing soundtrack at the time. It ended up languishing in a CD wallet for a bit, getting taken out every so often when I needed awesome driving music.

For the past year or so I thought I had lost it, and when I did find it recently found it was, yes, scratched all to hell and gone and unplayable. It's easy enough to find on eBay now, despite rumors of the label having destroyed all remaining copies. My guess is that "destroy" is a euphemism for them being sold off to a liquidator, if my 99-cent find is any indication. Luckily for us... the internet exists, and you can freely download the album from a number of sources. Actually, I think you should do that.

What to expect? I've never really been able to describe Freemasonry to people, and more often than not just dig out my CD and play it. I've found some blog posts by afficionados of that Atlanta post-hardcore scene, and a lot of their opinions seem to be somewhat negative- not of the band, but of this specific album. Most claims are that it is too sterile, vocals aren't strong enough, and mixed funny.

I agree with the substance of these opinions but not the conclusion. I had just joined my first real band when this album was released, and we were on the raw sound bandwagon, which I think kept us from really shining. I see a degree of similarity between us and Freemasonry. A number of the fans of the scene maintain that the raw live sound of Freemasonry was the best way to experience them, and that Sparrin' is too long of a time to spend with the band's fury. I do somewhat agree with that- it's hard to maintain your focus on the second half of the album, for whatever reason. But we are in the age of the Feuilleton, and there's a little thing called "shuffle" that takes care of that problem nicely.  The mixing I can forgive.  I like a lot of separation anyway, and as far as the lead singer's vocals- their placement seems just right. This is definitely a stoner's album, and to have the lyrics just on the verge of ambient is just right.

Where does that leave us with this album that you've never heard? It's totally rockin'. A great driving album. Conversation piece. Slice of regional music history. Download it and see for yourself- you won't regret it.

Oh- and one more thing. I'm sure that in my ignorance of the GA scene and the post-hardcore of the 90s, I'm sure I have missed crucial details or misrepresented something. If you know about these things and stumble on this article- feel free to chime in. I'd love to corrected!

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