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

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

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.