As much as we want to think every underground band in the 1990s was producing quality just because no one was listening, the truth is sometimes underground bands are unknown for a reason. This is the kind of alternative music indie snobs drool over.
Supreme Dicks’ Breathing and Not Breathing is one of those oddities which can be hard to pin down on paper. These are the complete, collected works of a relatively unknown band from Massachusetts that broke up, incidentally, more than a decade ago. For that reason, it is difficult to imagine who the audience is for this four-album set; of all the bands with material out there demanding to be brought back into print, one must wonder why Jagjaguwar chose to highlight the work of a band whose music could be charitably described as unlistenable.
Being that I am in a distinctively less charitable frame of mind after having repeatedly subjected myself to this rambling mess of mediocre experimentation and sonic digressions, I must question whether the band truly was "experimenting" in the first place. Though there are moments when, from an instrumental standpoint, the band members seem capable of stringing together notes into melodies, the most frequent result of their sonic collaborations is for the band to chaotically play pretty much whatever the fuck they want while songwriters Daniel Oxenberg and Jon Shere lyrically masturbate.
The resultant mess is hard to make much sense of. Songs like “All That Returns” seem to revel in their obtuseness, sounding like a Flight of the Conchords joke in which the joke of this music is on us for thinking there’s something deeper there. The guitars in the background repeat a trio of chords repetitively as one vocalist dryly intones a spate of vaguely religious babble. It may be true, as Prelix’s Matt Fiander writes, that “in all this weirdness there’s not a shred of pretension to it,” but a lack of pretension doesn’t make up for the fact that much of this sounds like weirdness for the sake of it.
As much as we want to think every underground band in the 1990s was producing quality just because no one was listening, it should be acknowledged that sometimes underground bands are unknown for a reason. This is the kind of alternative music indie snobs drool over, telling the uninitiated that we’re just unwilling to get our hands dirty digging through the dirt to find the incredible nuggets of creative awesomeness which are obviously there.
But after digging through the mess which is Breathing and Not Breathing, it’s hard to fathom there’s a significant audience out there featuring listeners who both haven’t already heard the Supreme Dicks and who are clamoring for the music they offer here. If a band existed on the fringes of a scene and then fell into obscurity, I see no inherent reason we should think their limited output is somehow suddenly relevant to rock music today. The idea that these guys from Amherst who made chaotic, inscrutable music are somehow ready for the rock canon seems, in itself, to be the height of pretension.
Those who loved them two decades ago will want this four-disc set for the previously unavailable tracks now revealed via the Workingman’s Dick archival recordings and the EP This Is Not A Dick, which features rare and previously unreleased material. But the rest of us are more likely to find the flood of material herein to be an experience best avoided, despite what a few die-hards might tell you to the contrary.