Crippled Pilgrims: Down Here: Collected Recordings (1983-1985)
If you were hanging out in DC back in '83 and listening to Crippled Pilgrims, there was a real good chance that some guy in Minor Threat t-shirt called you a poser. I hope you've gotten over it. From the looks of it, there weren't that many of you anyway, but still, I'm sorry it had to happen. You guys were trying to do your own thing and still support the scene, but, unfortunately, assholes like that had to drag everybody down with them. It seems like it dragged the band down, too. They released an EP which got some college radio play, pretty much broke up, got back together for a full length, and finally split for good. That's it. Twenty years later, the folks at Reaction tracked down virgin vinyl copies of the two albums, re-mastered everything, and packaged it up for our listening pleasure. The band's sound is ominously billed as "contemporary", which is true as long as "contemporary" means jangly like REM and dark like Television. The Pilgrims are also fairly reminiscent of their Southern hemisphere "contemporaries" the Verlaines and the Go-Betweens, who were both in their own way rather "contemporary." The brains behind the outfit was singer/songwriter Jay Moglia, and, for the most part, it's the quality of his songs that keep the listener interested through rough moments of early '80s production decisions. How did they make the drums sound so canned? It's inconceivable. Treble!
Back in '84, the first six tracks of this re-issue were an EP that went by the name of Head Down Hand Out. These songs play to the band's strengths, those being solid songwriting and the guitar playing of then fledgling virtuoso Scott Wingo. The opening cut, "Black and White", boasts a memorable chorus and some nice middle eastern-influenced leads. The sprawling arpeggios behind the refrain lend a moody intensity to "People Going Nowhere" and the slow groove of "Dissolving" is another winner. But the hands down for best cut is the downright infectious "A Side He'll Never Show".
Numbers seven through sixteen are the 1985 full-length Under Water, the first track of which is the notable and compilation title-able "Down Here". Perhaps Moglia's strongest piece, it's got a sad sway that slides into strained and insistent refrain of "We are all happier down here". Unfortunately for the band, this cut sets the bar a little too high in comparison to the rest of the album, which is not to say that it's bad, not in the slightest; it's just that some of the tracks go on a little too long. "Oblivious and Numb" contains some of Moglia's most poignant passages. "A broken light shines so bright on everything that's out of sight / Some things are better in the gray that's why they'll always be that way" is particularly memorable, but the song's deliberate pace and frequent repetition wears thin after six minutes. The same complaint could be made against the seven minutes of "Calculating", although the addition of gloomy piano does add some welcome texture to the proceedings. That being said, "Sad But True" has a great bouncy chorus, and straight ahead tracks like "Undone" and "Pretend Not to Care" are good pop songs but somehow less immediately engaging than either the EP material or the opening moments of the LP. Rounding out this collection are alternate takes of both "Black and White" and "People Going Nowhere" for the complete-ists, if there are any. More likely, though, this compilation will serve as a revival for an otherwise obscure group and as a bit of justification for all those picked on posers.