Reviewed by Frederick Luis Aldama
Monday, September 13 1999, 6:21 PM
It's hard to imagine what part of today's Seattle fed the eclectic collection of sounds on the locally-produced Up Next compilation. It's a combination of indie-backed thrash, grunge, porch-sitting country, blues, indie rock and post-dance fusion. Compilations like Up Next make the late eighties working class youth that put Seattle's punk-cum-grunge on the alternative music map seem like an endangered species, if they haven't been wiped out already.
Last October, when I visited the post-Cobain city, it was overrun by SUV-driving, grunge-gone-pop blaring, nerdy-spectacled Bill Gates avatars. I figured the last bastion of alternative music would be that grunge/punk safe haven: the famed Crocodile Cafe, which first limelighted the likes of Nirvana, Mudhoney and Tad. Tonight's performers, Problem, promised some metal/grunge combo so, in spite of the perennial downpour, I made the trek to The Croc.
Dozens of damp, mostly, white twenty-to-thirtysomethings lined the sidewalk. There were waifs wearing over-used Converse and that ripped jean/plaid shirt combo; others in tanks and leather pants stood slantwise, arm tattoos and piercings glimmering in the rain-pelted street light. But despite grunge uniforms, they were pulling up in the same Ford Expeditions, checking the time on the same Storm watches as the Gates yuppies, counting the hours 'till it was time to show up to work at Microsoft. Were Seattle's twenty-thirtysomethings now carrying stock options out shopping for a problem for the night?
Problem ended up being a total dud. I expected a steaming rage thrash-up but I was served a damp 'n drippy Bjork. When the night ended, it felt like a woolly wet blanket had smothered Seattle's mythical alternative rock scene.
The overwhelming variety of post-grunge-inspired sounds collected in Up Next adds up to that same damp feeling. The artists dress their songs up in different clothes--fusing, say, indie rock, grunge strums, and techno drum 'n bass beats, but underneath lies a alternative rock striking a new stylistic pose. For example, when San Jose's Duster syncopates a Jane's Addiction-styled jam with an off-key Joni Mitchell lull, their track "Closer to the Speed of Sound" comes off as overdetermined.
But, refreshingly, not all the tracks are thick with contrived fusions: A cut 'n mix technophile Land of The Loops (sporting a post-dance Massive Attack style deep bass rhythm) gives the album an energetic edge. And the non-sequitur vocal riffs and indie guitar strummings of The Pastels nicely syncopate with the jazz-synth rhythm and maraca shake in Brent Arnold's "Sweetness." However, in spite of the great variety of fusions, both bands simply add up to much of the same. That aftertaste of wannabe disaffection lingers long after the last track of the album is over.
Up Next is an Up Records release.