Thursday 25 August 2022

Big Dipper - Lifetime Achievement Award


Big Dipper formed in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, in 1985 by bassist Steve Michener and guitarist/vocalist Gary Waleik (both formerly of Volcano Suns), guitarist/vocalist Bill Goffrier (formerly of The Embarrassment) and Waleik's cousin Jeff Oliphant on drums. They released one mini-album and three albums between 1987 and 1990, before splitting up. The band reunited in 2008. They were described in a New York Times article as "musical contortionists: they love to toy with extremes, juxtaposing ferocious guitar noise with celestial vocal harmonies or planting a delicate melody in jagged rhythm".

Their first release was the 1987 mini-album "Boo-Boo", issued by Homestead Records. Their first full-length studio album, "Heavens", released later in 1987, was later described by AllMusic as "one of the finest American indie albums of its era". Their second album, "Craps", followed in 1988. Big Dipper signed to Epic Records for 1990's "Slam". Michener left the band, and they continued with various players for two years, splitting up in 1992 after releasing the "Approach of a Human Being" single (1991, Feel Good All Over) and recording more than an album's worth of material.

In 2008, Merge Records released "Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology", a 3-disc collection of Big Dipper's Homestead recordings, with additional material including the unreleased tracks recorded after Michener left. This renewed interest prompted the band to reform for some live shows in April 2008. In November 2012, they released their first new studio album in 22 years, "Crashes on the Platinum Planet", on Almost Ready Records.

Here's another band Manerg introduced me to back in the late 80s, and for that I'm very grateful. Big Dipper were one of my favourite bands back then, well at least up until their major label release "Slam". Many people regard "Heavens" as their best album, for  me I think "Craps" just shades it, and why tracks from that album feature the heaviest here. Regarding the album "Slam", I remember the excitement on purchasing it, though somewhat concerned by the awful record cover. Well... let's just say on first listen I thought the record cover just about summed up the contents of the album, it was bloody awful! I think I played it twice, and then got rid of. It was such a crushing disappointment after their previous releases on Homestead.

Go forward to 2008 and the "Supercluster" anthology on Merge, reigniting my love for the band, especially the several unreleased tracks which would have most likely been their 4th album, "Very Loud Array", after being ditched by Epic. This would've definitely been a return to form after the overproduced rather flat "Slam", and maybe they wouldn't have sadly split up. It still took me several years to even try and listen to "Slam" again, but once I did it surprisingly wasn't as bad as I remembered. Sure there are many weak songs, but on closer listen I found at least half a dozen tracks that really are quite good!

This anthology comprises mostly of tracks from "Supercluster", plus 3 tracks from "Slam", and the odd EP/compilation track. Focusing on their recordings from 1987 to 1992, I decided at the last minute to include a 'bonus' track from their 2012 comeback album "Crashes on the Platinum Planet", an album which stands up very well to their earlier Homestead releases. "Supercluster" was originally a limited edition release of only 5000 copies, but can now be found easily on bandcamp. I recommend you purchase it, there's hardly a dud on it.

  1. You're Not Patsy (2:28)
  2. Mr. Woods (3:09)
  3. Meet the Witch (3:53)
  4. San Quentin, CA (2:17)
  5. Impossible Things (3:00)
  6. Wrong in the Charts (2:58)
  7. Making Plans for Bison (2:00)
  8. Restaurant Cloud (3:10)
  9. The Insane Girl (3:37)
10. Lou Gehrig's Disease (3:47)
11. Approach of a Human Being (4:30)
12. Man o' War (2:40)
13. Slam (2:49)
14. Faith Healer (3:01)
15. Ron Klaus Wrecked His House (5:02)
16. Extraordinary Worm (3:24)
17. Homosapien (4:29)
18. Which Would You Rather? (featuring Ellie Marshall) (2:40)
19. Younger Bums (2:56)
20. Semjáse (4:34)
21. Life Inside the Cemetery (3:42)
22. Silentium (2:39)
23. The Monsters of Jazz (2:41)
24. A Song to Be Beautiful (4:05)
25. Untitled (2:08)
     "bonus track"
26. Robert Pollard (4:13)

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