Music

Poi Dog Pondering: The Best of Poi Dog Pondering (The Austin Years)

Michael Metivier

Excellent early career retrospective from this eclectic collective, neither hectic or corrective, just respectful and resplendent.


Poi Dog Pondering

The Best of Poi Dog Pondering (The Austin Years)

Label: The Austin Years
US Release Date: 2005-05-17
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

The year is 2025. The place: St. Paul Simon's Academy, nestled in the rustic autumn-shaded hills of central New England. A clutch of wool-scarf wearing, fresh-faced lads is rifling through the stacks of the school's musty music library, in the basement of its famous vine-clad clock tower. After spending several minutes marveling at the inconveniently bulky size of the retro "compact discs", they get down to business poring through the vaults for the secret inspiration that will unite them not only as future millionaires with hippie tendencies, but also as friends. They are the Dead Jam Band Society. The boy with the biggest, most camera-friendly eyes and strongest jawline picks up a disc that appears to be the Grail: a multi-ethnic, co-ed group of happy faces looking up through curls and dreads in a slightly sepia-toned photograph. Carpe diem! it seems to whisper to him. Carpe diem!

The disc in question is The Best of Poi Dog Pondering (The Austin Years), and it may very well come to be viewed as a lodestone of '80s/'90's jam-oriented music. Less commercially explosive than any of the successive waves of similar bands that spread across the continents in their wake, Poi Dog might nonetheless possess a good deal more lasting power. A young prep in 2025 might be as surprised as this old prep in 2005 at how fresh the first track, "Pulling Touch", sounds though it was recorded in 1989, the pinnacle year of bad music production decisions. It's telling that "Pulling Touch" is presented first on a non-chronological compilation, as it represents "the heart and soul of the early Poi sound" according to bandleader Frank Orrall's liner notes. It's a sound born out of the band's egalitarian ethos-which in a band that encapsulates upwards of ten individuals, is decidedly diverse. It doesn't sound like world music by design, but by nature. Traditional rock elements of bass, guitar, and drums are augmented by strings, conga, mandocello, Cajun-style accordion, even turntables and samples. None of these sounds tilts the scales towards separate and distinct genres, it all ends up part of a stew.

Some eyes may roll when Orrall writes of "plugging our espresso machine into gas station outlets along the way" on early tours, or at the incessant tin whistle on "Living With the Dreaming Body", but I'll take the geeky sincerity of the funk-lite peace/freedom anthem "The Hardest Thing" over the smarmy frat-boy posturing of current college circuit jammers every time. In a lesser band's hands, the mariachi-style horns on "The Watermelon Song" would be a goofy gimmick or a self-consciously multi-cultural statement of PC-ness. But Poi Dog was kicking it on their own terms, cool or uncool, long before DMB (to their credit) helped familiarize mainstream ears with worldbeat textures and rhythms.

Poi Dog's career is ongoing, and they've experimented and diversified even further over the years, so The Austin Years covers the band from their inception until their move to Chicago in 1992, including tracks from three albums. As opposed to a band like Nirvana, where most people who would buy a "Best Of" already own all of their regular albums, Poi Dog's likely to be the first exposure many people have to their recorded output. In that respect it's a well-sequenced, cohesive document of eclectic, exuberant rock. And if you're already an aficionado, there are a couple single edits of songs like "Everybody's Trying" and "Be The One", as well as a Roky Erikson cover and the unreleased track, "Bury Me Deep". That song closes the album with buoyant bass, swirling fiddles, and themes of reincarnation to spur all good hacky-sackers present and future to seize the day and dance in the dirt.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.