Album of the Week, March 2: Dear 23 by the Posies

PosiesDear23Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow met in Seattle in 1986, bonding over shared interests in music. Over the next couple of years they began writing together and performing as an acoustic duo. Intending to form a full-fledged band, they released as set of songs to drum up attention. Failure, on PopLlama, showed their amazing harmonies and great pop instincts. Bassist Rick Roberts and drummer Mike Musberger joined the team as the Posies built a solid local following. As “college rock” was taking off, the band landed a deal with DGC and prepared their first major release. Built solidly on the founding duo’s love of classic power pop and impeccable sonic instincts, the disc opened up the sound of the Posies for a larger audience.

Title Dear 23
Act The Posies
Label DGC Release Date August 1990
Producer John Leckie and the Posies
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. My Big Mouth
  2. Golden Blunders
  3. Apology
  4. Any Other Way
  5. You Avoid Parties
  6. Suddenly Mary
  7. Help Yourself
  8. Mrs. Green
  9. Everyone Moves Away
  10. Flood of Sunshine

Things start off with a solid one-two punch. Rooted in the band’s live power, co-producer John Leckie’s sympathetic ear helped craft a sound that manages to swirl and crunch at the same time. My Big Mouth moves at breakneck speed, with vocals that sear up into the singers’ higher registers as the tension builds. The tale of a man reluctant to engage — based, it seems on the trouble his opinions have caused before — it’s a great, ironic opening statement for an album of almost raw honesty. Golden Blunders, the band’s first radio success, is a tragic tale of marriage based on intensity rather than intimacy. Built around a lovely acoustic core, it’s a powerful song that moves from the personal to the universal, with a warning break at the end reminiscent of classic Beatles or Kinks work.

Demonstrating a knack for great sequencing, Apology re-personalizes the tone, crafting a lushly subdued, heartfelt message that humanizes the singer of the first two tracks more fully. Any Other Way celebrates making the best of the life one has. It also shows off Jon and Ken’s harmonies in a tight but ragged sound that clinches the sense of determination nicely. You Avoid Parties switches to a full second-person narrative, painfully capturing a descent into depression and alienation. It’s a masterful lyric sung with sympathetic power.

Suddenly Mary brings us back to first person with another compelling narrative. A more intimate look at a flawed relationship, it mixes witty rhymes and biting insights. The singers manage to make Mary human enough that there is no villain in the piece — everyone brings something to the dysfunctional table. Capitalizing on that theme, Help Yourself lays out its title theme sternly. Kicking up the pace again after a number of more sedate tracks, it’s both a lyrical and musical kick in the pants, once again showing the production team’s great sensibilities.

Mrs. Green is a classic domestic abuse song, telling the tale of a lonely, damaged woman. With a musical backdrop that draws on Eleanor Rigby filtered through a Big Star amp, it’s fragile and gripping. The production is impeccable, showing off the band’s ability to craft the perfect soundscapes to bolster their songs. From there we get the jarring Everyone Moves Away, a narrative of the struggle for independence. Blending strength and loss, Jon and Ken offer a vocal with the perfect amount of sonic white space. Things wrap up like they started, with an amazing demonstration of musical power. Flood of Sunshine could be the title of a textbook on power pop, and the stunning guitar and vocal work could be a perfect classroom demonstration. Far from clinical, however, the wash of music captures the optimism of the lyrics, showing the power of love and the strength of the human spirit. It’s an achingly beautiful conclusion to a wonderful album.

FURTHER LISTENING: Ironically, a different sound from Seattle took over the alt-rock landscape just as the Posies were finding their audience. Jon and Ken worked with a couple of different rhythm sections throughout the 90s, releasing three wonderful albums that showed off different aspects of their talents. The Posies broke up as the leaders pursued separate interests, reuniting in 2005. They’ve released two albums since then. Fans of great pop music, smart songwriting, and lovely harmonies will enjoy all their discs. The best are the simple but potent debut, Failure (1988); the slightly inconsistent but sonically powerful Amazing Disgrace (1996); and their most recent, Blood/Candy (2010), which shows a band with all of its spirit or power fully intact after two decades of sonic adventures.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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