When Merge announced they were doing a Big Dipper retrospective, the three-disc set Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology, the initial reaction here was "really?" And then, "why?" They aren't that influential or even that well remembered of a band, so it seemed like an odd choice. When Matador gave Chavez the royal treatment a few years ago with Better Days Will Haunt You, at least they were dealing with a band who could claim a high degree of influence and cred. Big Dipper just seemed like an arbitrary choice. Here's the thing, though. Big Dipper were surprisingly good. The albums (and EP) gathered here (1987's Boo Boo EP, that same year's Heavens and 1988's Craps) are strong collections of impressively melodic and powerful guitar pop. Listening to the disc the first time brought a lot of "hey, I remember that song" moments and a slow realization that Big Dipper were one of the better bands of the college-rock era. It's also quite clear that Big Dipper's sound is pretty timeless. Even though it's doubtful bands like Clap Your Hands or Wolf Parade ever heard the Dipper, they all share jittery guitar work, charmingly odd lyrics and a goofball braininess that has been appealing to indie-rock types ever since the heyday of the Talking Heads.
Here are few samples to jog your memory:
"All Going Out Together"
"You're Not Patsy"
Hats off to Merge for using some of the Arcade Fire and Spoon money to shine a light on the neglected corners of their dusty record collection and bring Big Dipper some recognition. Here's a short, highly personal list of bands that some thoughtful label like Merge should lavish with the deluxe treatment:
Codeine: Their staggeringly slow, stark and bleak sound is not recommended for all occasions. Please steer clear if you've had a broken heart within 60 days of use. Between the crawling shards of guitar and the doomsday clock drumming, you have enough to ruin even the stoutest soul. Add Stephen Immerwahr's wispy, totally wrecked vocals and it's like you're trapped under ice with no hope of escape. Codeine spawned a few imitators (most notably the also excellent Bedhead) but they are kind of a forgotten band these days, and that's something that needs to be rectified soon.
Das Damen: In the heady days of the late '80s when guitar strangling was back in vogue and bands were wanting to be the toughest, rawest biker rockers on the block, Das Damen stood out as dreamy 98-lb weaklings in paisley shirts who spread a hazy, murky web of guitars over happily melodic tunes. They were kind of like the Association to Dinosaur Jr.'s Move or maybe the Millennium to Sonic Youth's Mothers of Invention. Okay, maybe not. but Triskaidekaphobe and Mousetrap are first-class noisy guitar pop albums that deserve a better fate than obscurity.
Small Factory: These guys were just so damn cute! Energetic, hooky, sweet and peppy like a walk in the park in springtime. Cute! The drummer was named Phoebe Summersqaush for twee's sake! Any indie pop kid who hasn't heard them should. That's really all there is to it. Did you get that they were cute?
These Immortal Souls. The Grifters. Love Child. Guvner. There are a bunch of bands just itching to be re-discovered. You can probably think of a few too.