Friday, December 16, 2011

The Great Record Excavation: C is for The Candy Machine

The Albums: The Candy Machine, #25 and A Modest Proposal (#25: Skene!, 1993; A Modest Proposal: Skene!/Eastwest, 1994

Who they were: Not much out there on the interwebs about this band anymore. The Candy Machine were based in Baltimore in the early 1990s. If from that information and a cursory knowledge of what normally can be found in my music collection, you were to infer that they were part of that era's Dischord/Desoto Records post-hardcore scene, you'd get a gold star, skip.

Where i got the record: is, in this case, not as interesting a story as why i bought them. Back in 1998, Yale Delay, the Wizard, and our friend Mandy started a silly little post-punk noise band called The Pop Machine. Our second show ever took place in a little coffee shop in Green Bay called the Factory, and we opened for a little Washington, DC based rock band called Smart Went Crazy. The vocalist for that band (who are essential listening, if you're not familiar) was a rad dude by the name of Chad Clark, who went on to form The Beauty Pill after Smart Went Crazy broke up on that tour (as the promoter, Rich Winker, claimed, in his living room the next morning, but that has little to do with this story). After we played our opening set, Chad was incredibly, flatteringly complimentary of us, saying he was shocked to learn that it was our second show. He then asked us if we had ever heard of a band called The Candy Machine, saying that he saw a lot of similarities between our band and that one. Curious, i picked up their first two discs from some Fox Valley used CD store or another, and gave 'em a spin or two before filing them away. To be honest, i didn't hear a lot of similarities between them and us, and i must not have been all that taken with the band, because i don't think i've touched these CDs since then.

Do they hold up? Here's the first fun thing i noticed about A Modest Proposal: this record came out on Eastwest Records in '94, which at the time was a Fake Indie subdivision of Atlantic Records. Back then, all the majors had these little satellite labels that got pasted on their "alternative" records in lieu of the majors' logo, lest the band have to deal with accusations of "selling out" (not like this worked; the zines caught on to that trick pretty fast, so Jawbox got plenty of guff for going major label, even though Atlantic slapped the vanity label "Tag Records" on them. Of course, the major label Jawbox record is as good or better than anything they put out on Dischord, so whatever). Thinking about the whole "fake indie label" routine in 2011 is powerfully weird; these days, if a big indie band signs to a major, no one blinks an eye, and in some cases, the reaction is one of "why would you do that? The majors are dying." In an age where indie bands are purposely tailoring their music to appeal to talent buyers for TV soundtracks and iPod commercials, and not being remotely shy about it (after all, no one's buying records anymore, right?), it's funny to remember a time when being perceived as a "sellout" was such a scarlet letter than majors tried to hide their dollar bills as much as possible.

In 2011, it's almost baffling listening to these records and thinking that The Candy Machine ever garnered major-label interest. Their sound is classic early-90s DC post-hardcore in the vein of Fugazi, landing directly in a sweet spot between the Monorchid's screaming hysterics and The Most Secret Method's unsettling, mellowed grooves. (Then again, 1993 was the year of In on the Killtaker, when music writers who didn't really have a grasp on Fugazi's ethics were certain that they'd be the next Nirvana, so it follows that a major in that era would want to throw an advance at any band with even a passing Fugazi similarity.) #25 in particular echoes many of Fugazi's quieter, more dub-inspired jams; the dreamy "Two Figures" features subtly rolling drums, a continually repeating bass/guitar groove, and laid back, crooning vocals from often-shouty frontman Peter Quinn.

While #25 is a heck of a debut full-length, and a solid entry onto the shelf of Fugazi soundalikes that emerged alongside Ian and company, the sophomore A Modest Proposal is the real winner here. #25 has a pretty homogeneous vibe throughout; Proposal shifts from high-energy post-punk car crash jams back down to the low-key interludes of the debut, while mixing up the instrumentation on those more meditative tracks. Random horns flow in and out of the mix, hooting or squawking based on requirement. There's a mature flow and thoughtful sequencing happening that makes Proposal a much more rewarding listen than #25. In songs like Proposal's "The Over Under Rule in Progress," there's a nervous energy undercutting the restraint, always threatening to and occasionally bubbling above the surface into an explosion of dynamics and discordance.

Looking back, i guess i can see why i didn't give these records too much of my attention back when i was 24; a lot of these tracks probably sounded awfully too "mellow" for my ears and just not rockin' enough, i dunno. But while a band like the Monorchid may still feel more viscerally exciting, with the constant threat of derailment always lording over their deliriously shambolic clanks and screeks, there's definitely room in my musical diet for some Candy Machine. I'm really glad i went back to these records; anyone with a taste for early 90s noise-rock would likely agree, i suspect. (Hey Absolutely guys--check these records out if you haven't yet!)

Download the first two Candy Machine records here.

1 comment:

  1. A Modest Proposal is an excellent record. I saw them at the Neighborhood House in Madison way back when. Fun fact, the original bass player for Candy Machine, Derek Buisch, is now an art professor at UW-Madison.