Supreme Dicks - "Jack-O-Lantern" (The Unexamined Life)
Let it be known that much work and frustration went into making an abstract quiver out of the “It’s good because of what it isn’t, not because it’s good” angle used in the remainder of this paragraph. If one dreams of running his very own, profit-turning reissue label, simply read the following recipe/equation and sleep on a mattress stuffed with failed grant proposals. First, take the various nooks and crannies in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s that a reasonable person might consider exhausted of reissue-resources, then add both chronological and regional placement but don’t forget projection of the right stylistic surface-stats. Unknowing victims of the “obscurity/never-released = undeniable quality” con are still among us, if not plentiful.
Though the late-’80s thru the end of the ’90s won’t remain an era immune to the same reissue/retro-bankruptcy certain previous eras and subgenres have suffered or are suffering, the era in question will prove to be a more difficult terrain for the aforementioned hoodwink to gain purchase, though the jury is still out on exactly why this is, or whether it really matters at this nascent stage, namely when we are getting top-shelf projects like Jagjaguwar’s Supreme Dicks reissue campaign, of which this four-CD retrospective Breathing and Not Breathing is the centerpiece.
There’s just so much amazing rock-based music that fell through the cracks that the world may end before anyone is tricked into purchasing a Best Kissers in the World or Green Apple Quick Step reissue box set. Plus, we are amidst a complicating-of-culture via the tightening of the retro-cycle combined with an unconscious (those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it) or willing (the Arrogance of Assumed Originality) adversity towards the recent (five to 25 years in the past) history on the part of contemporary bands. It wasn’t that long ago that much of this amazing rock-based music was overshadowed by a more popular movement of more mediocre origins, or simply ignored altogether.
But unlike, say, Thee Oh Sees, who have made an entire career out of removing the hooks from Fly Ashtray and Uncle Wiggly songs, no one has gained any recent accolades for a lesser version of the Supreme Dicks sound. The neither new nor weird “new weird America” debacle of the early ’00s momentarily felt like it might serve up a proper update of the Supreme Dicks’ “thing,” but that chapter of underground rock isn’t even hiding an accidental rip-off of anything found on the beautifully unsettling proper albums, The Unexamined Life (originally released on Homestead Records, 1993) and The Emotional Plague (ditto, 1995). These two records (which are also reissued separately on vinyl) document a creative apex within the band’s discography/career, but more importantly, they document music that sounds unlike anything that came before, might have been made concurrent to, or that has surfaced since. It’s music like this that reverses rock-writer cliché and justifies terms long rendered meaningless by undeserved and over-used applications. Introducing music that really is haunting; that defines mood so perfectly and singularly that writing about it is…REALLY HARD.
So, with referential comparisons out of the question, we’re left with borderline disclaimers to issue, because songs in the upper echelon of the Supreme Dicks spectrum are so sublime that they might be so good that they went over the heads of their intended audience “back in the day” and this would work towards explaining the level of quiet obscurity that was almost unique to this band. Well, there was the name, of course, which opened the doors to a rather ham-fisted and obvious juxtaposition when presented with the fragile prettiness and (when they were in a frisky mood) a mastery of pop-song craftwork within the context of (and here come a few more terms that have finally found their true audio example) a shambling pace that gives the listener a whole new level of “loose” that threatens to disintegrate at any second.
On the rare occasion that writers decided to give space to this music, an “acquired taste” disclaimer RE: the vocals could be counted on. Now that it is 10 to 15 years later, this sort of thing seems an altogether unnecessary punishment for the warbling tenor that used to sometimes sit awkwardly atop this gorgeous skewing of the traditionally known folk-rock format. Acoustic guitar, electric often played clean, and politely-tapped drums have never married pop beauty and frightening moodiness like they do when Supreme Dicks hit a stride, which, upon positive reevaluation or processing at a more advanced age, is the dominating situation across the two aforementioned albums, and the case more often than not during the singles and EP’s that led up to that ’93 to ’95 stretch of very special inspiration.