Screaming Trees: Clairvoyance

Screaming Trees’ first full-length album, their only release on Velvetone, was destined for a three-clown review, but it benefits from my busy schedule. I couldn’t find the time to sit down and hammer out the review so just kept listening to it and a lot more of the songs became a lot more fun to listen to.

So let’s start with my initial assessment, which really hasn’t changed. This is a solid disc with no bad songs on it. A couple of songs, “The Turning,” which was also on Other Worlds, and “Standing On The Edge,” rise above the crowd, but for the most part it’s an even listen throughout. It suffers from muffled, thin sound (though, to be fair, I’m listening on a new device (Lumia 920), and I’m pretty unhappy with its sound in general) and what I feel is poor drumming from original drummer Mark Pickerel. The band feels very rushed and the tempi are uneven. There’s no groove that they can settle in to.

Mark Lanegan’s voice has gotten rougher since Other Worlds, but he still hasn’t settled into what it will be. It feels like he’s experimenting with what he wants to do with it. Guitarist Gary Lee Conner has the clearest vision of what he wants to do, as well as the best chops, though those two things tend to go hand in hand. Even before I warmed up to the rest of the album I enjoyed his melodies and appreciated them being so forward in the mix.

The band as a whole still hasn’t found their later style yet, either. Again, their strengths lie in writing good melodies, but you don’t really get any sense of where it’s going to end up. On this album I heard a very strong influence of The Doors, something I’ve never heard on their other stuff (though I have a feeling I will from here on out). Lanegan definitely goes Jim Morrison in a few places, in particular on “Standing On The Edge” and the Doors-esque titled “Strange Out Here,” and the way they use the keys to kick off “You Tell Me All These Things” is reminiscent of “Light My Fire.”

So what changed to earn this album another half-clown? Just letting it run, spending more time with it, I started to differentiate the songs in the middle part of the album. And when the melodies weren’t there to carry a song, I started to appreciate that they were rocking pretty hard. And once I picked out Pickerel as the weak link in my experience, I was able to focus on what the Conner brothers were able to pull off in spite of his performance.

I’m not sure this album or Other Worlds would have been enough to grab my attention on their own, but getting to them via the band’s later stuff has been an enjoyable experience.

Rating:

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– “Orange Airplane,” “Standing On The Edge,” “Lonely Girl,” “The Turning,” “Clairvoyance”
– “You Tell Me All These Things,” “Forever,” “Seeing And Believing,” “I See Stars,” “Strange Out Here”
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Other Worlds

otherworlds On Screaming Trees’ debut EP, there is little sign of the band that would come or of the “Seattle sound” of the early 90’s. That’s not that surprising given that this is from 1985(!) or that the band is really from Ellensburg, a college town over one hundred miles east on I-90, on the other side of the mountains. But it is striking in that the other bands from that era–Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden–all had at least some parts of their sound in their very early stuff. Mudhoney (nee Green River) and Alice In Chains in particular had their sound figured out and nailed down very early

With Other Worlds, though, the only real similarity is smartly written, guitar-driven pop songs. It’s more like hippie dippie psychedlia poppy stuff than grunge. Even Mark Lanegan’s voice, which would go on to become, more than anything, the band’s calling card, is nascent here. Instead of the dark, brooding bass, it’s more of a thin, reedy, though competent, tenor.

I like every one of these songs. I wouldn’t skip past a single one. Not one really jumps out at you, though, and that’s in no small part due to the thin, distant sound quality. Great melodies, tightly packed hooks, and no screwing around. It’s an auspicious beginning for one of my favorite bands.

Rating:
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– “Like I Said,” “Pictures In My Mind,” “The Turning,” “Other Worlds,” “Barriers,” “Now Your Mind Is Next To Mine”
Song Notes: After the jump
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