San Francisco's Donner Party released one self-titled album in 1987 before they were brought to the attention of then-Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery, who signed them to his Pitch a Tent label for their second and final recording in 1988. The power trio played shrewd pop executed naïvely, mainly because singer Sam Coomes delivered his whimsical lyrics in a strained, nonchalant vocal style. The purposefully childlike approach by the rest of the band (drummer and vocalist Melanie Clarin and Reinhold Johnson) veered from a primitive folk-rock sound to full-tilt, noisy indie rock. Clarin played with the group while simultaneously recording and touring with another San Francisco guitar-based band, the Cat Heads. Clarin continues to record with an array of Bay Area bands, while Coomes relocated to Portland and formed Motorgoat and Quasi.
Quasi often serves as a backup band for singer/songwriter Elliott Smith and Coomes played on Smith's Figure 8 (DreamWorks 2000). In March 2000, Innerstate Records released a two-CD anthology of the group's collected works, Complete Recordings 1987-1989; it includes the self-titled Cryptovision and Pitch a Tent releases and a third, previously unreleased album in addition to eight live tracks. In April 2000, the band re-formed for one night only in San Francisco for the first time in over ten years.