Big Dipper

Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology

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The news that Merge was releasing a retrospective of Big Dipper's non major-label output raised eyebrows around the indie rock community. There were certainly bands with higher profiles, bands that left more of a mark commercially, and groups that had more influence on the music that followed. Big Dipper fall short on all these counts. Funny thing, though -- after listening to Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology, it's easy to understand why Merge decided the group was worth rediscovering. Simply put, they were really good. Their songs are brainy, hooky, and weird, delivered in a jumpy, hyperactive style that echoes great guitar bands like Television, Talking Heads, and Mission of Burma. Each of the three albums compiled here (1987's Boo-Boo EP, that same year's Heavens, and 1988's Craps) are filled with songs that sound like college radio staples, some that are instantly recognizable 20 years later, like "All Going Out Together," "Younger Bums," and "Ron Klaus Wrecked His House." The band could rock out very convincingly (check "Wet Weekend" or one of Kurt Cobain's favorite songs, "You're Not Patsy"), jangle like a frat rock version of the Go-Betweens ("Meet the Witch," "Hey! Mr. Lincoln"), or be downright inspirational ("A Song to Be Beautiful"). At their best on songs like "Faith Healer" and the truly lovely "Bonnie," they were making music on par with the best bands of the era -- music that, apart from the too-bright drum sound endemic to the late '80s, still stands up in the early 2000s and wouldn't sound too far out of place when played alongside such similarly off-kilter guitar bands as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wolf Parade, and Walker Kong. Along with their excellent early records plus some key bonus tracks (like the aforementioned "Patsy" and a demo of "Ron Klaus"), the collection adds a third disc of tracks recorded by the band after its disastrous tour of duty with Epic, which produced one album, 1990's Slam, and effectively wrecked the group's career. These songs are uniformly good, but not up to par with the first two discs. Think of this disc as a nice bonus that's worth hearing once. You'll go back to the first two discs much more often. Thanks have to go to Merge for digging up the band and presenting the music in such a nice package, complete with the bandmembers' song-by-song commentary in the liner notes.

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