Music

Big Dipper: Crashes on the Platinum Planet

On their first record since 1990, Big Dipper proves (yet again) that they are the real deal: a band with as much personality as talent, a band owed their due.


Big Dipper

Crashes on the Platinum Planet

US Release: 2012-11-27
Label: Almost Ready
UK Release: 2012-11-27
Artist Website
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

Back in 2008, Merge Records gave us one of the more indispensable rock reissues in recent memory. Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology was a huge chunk of music from a band that had slipped through the cracks of musical history, one of those late '80s rock bands that get drowned out in conversation by the '90s bands that followed them. But Supercluster gave us all their greats from albums like Craps and Heavens and also included an album's worth of material recorded after their major-label album, Slam, but before the band broke up in 1992.

So, for a while anyway, that seemed like our best guess at what these guys could have done if they carried on, those jettisoned by excellent songs for an album that never happened. But, after playing a few shows in 2008 following the reissue, the band has returned with their first proper album in 22 years, Crashes on the Platinum Planet, and it is a welcome, goofy, charming return for one of the past 30 years finest power-pop acts. The band took their time recording these, with no deadlines, in their own home studio, and the results feel both precise and cut loose, intricately layered by never overthought.

The album sneaks its way to life with the unassuming watery guitars, and mid-tempo opening of "Lord Scrumptious", one of many songs with an imagined, eccentric character. Here, the main characters excesses are rendered in fantastic imagery -- "Lord Scrumptious chows down on a cloud that's made of delicious whole cream" or "He's chewing on part of the world" -- while Bill Goffrier and Gary Waleik's guitars swirl over the lean drums of Jeff Oliphant. It's got all the trademarks of great Big Dipper songs: sweet vocal harmonies, hooks upon hooks, and an irrepressible oddball charm. But it also represents a more lived-in sound. There was always an edge of anxiety to their older work and now, as the older-wiser Big Dipper, Waleik and company feel more comfortable in their skin than ever.

This, of course, doesn't cut the energy of the record at all. In fact, their comfort amps up the confident structures of these songs, which allows the band to stretch out and try subtle experiments. Even a song like "Robert Pollard" plays like a calculated risk. Since Waleik recorded an album with Pollard last year under the band title Mars Classroom, and Big Dipper played with Pollard's Boston Spaceships back in 2008, and hell it's Pollard who provides this new album with its cover art, this song could seem like some inside joke or the musical equivalent to hearing a best-man's toast at a wedding you weren't invited to. But Waleik and company are too clever for such traps, and instead "Robert Pollard" is not about the man, but rather an image of the process of creating. Pollard is displayed, unsurprisingly, like a hook-and-chorus machine, while Waleik namechecks himself as the struggling writer, churning out song parts that are "all wrong", and then shifts to, believe it or not, Sir Paul McCartney, who apparently can still write "but hides it away". Under the funny self-mocking here is a genuine and thoughtful rumination on creativity, on its struggles and successes. And it's got one hell of a chorus.

This is how Big Dipper works. They lure you in with strange images and sweet riffs, but surprise you with the subtle emotions underneath. "Princess Warrior" seems like another winking character study, but in the end is a sweet, heartfelt ode to a cancer survivor. Closer "Guitar Named Desire: The Animated Sequel" updates an old instrument from the band's history with lyrics that pay homage to, yup, the guitar itself. But it's no mere toss-off closer, but instead a celebration of the making of music itself. And make many different sounds they do here, and they hit each note with their usual, off-kilter precision. There's the blue-light organ crunch of "Market Scare", the lilting, high-register balladry of "Happy New Year", and the space-pop moody echo of "Sarah and Monica". These don't shift away from the band's power-pop wheelhouse so much as twist it and pull it in new directions.

It's this breadth of sounds, and the zeal with which they are delivered, that makes Crashes on the Platinum Planet such an excellent rock record. Big Dipper are still the underdogs you want to root for, but they are still cranking out riffs and rattling off sweet harmonies that would make bigger bands blush. This album celebrates the very creation of music both thematically and in the unbridled zeal of its sound. They use these sounds to pay tribute to friends, to create their own sonic worlds, to wonder over inspiration and creation even as they seem to both inspire and create effortlessly. 22 years is a long time to way for another record from a band, but Crashes on the Platinum Planet makes up for it in spades. In a time of empty reunions and watered-down new music from long washed-up bands cashing in on nostalgia, Big Dipper proves (yet again) that they are the real deal: a band with as much personality as talent, a band owed their due. If nothing else, this excellent new collection gives us another opportunity to give it to them.

8
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Film

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image