Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Squires of the Subterrain - Pop in a CD - 1998

How can you go wrong with an artist who has his own theme song à la the Monkees? The Squires of the Subterrain -- in truth, one-man brainchild Christopher Earl, a ubiquitous presence on the Rochester music scene of the 1990s -- has exactly that in, well, "Theme Song," and it kicks off the debut CD, Pop in a CD, culled from a decade-long string of way underground (but way outstanding) four- and eight-track cassette releases that he recorded on the sly as the Squires while doing stints in many a local rock and pop combo. As a result, the music on the album is understandably inconsistent from a stylistic point of view, but it does not deviate in quality and, after moving into its second half, turns near-genius as an ambitious and unique pastiche. The Squires graft together a list of influences into a hybrid that recalls the work of Brian Wilson (at his most off-center), the Beatles (both John and Paul), Ray Davies, Syd Barrett, and XTC, or, as Earl himself once confessed unabashedly, "I yearn to hear more of that kind of music…and if it takes writing it, so be it." That kind of music turns out to be at the most gloriously eccentric end of the spectrum, where phasing, reverb, and intriguingly structured (but somehow accessible, an attribute that some of his heroes couldn't even manage) tunes draw on everything from complex psychedelia to the sweetest pop/rock and bubblegum music to the jauntiness of Tin Pan Alley. Earl never seems overburdened by his influences and, as a result, the music is never heavy with the weight of its inspirations, but by and large is its own unique animal. There is a surface level of derivation, certainly, but Earl does wonderful and unique things with the tricks that he nicks, from Phil Spector-ish production ("East Coast Surfin'") to brilliantly loopy Turtles-style folk-pop ("Mrs. Maude") to jaw-dropping mid-period Beatlesque inventions ("Scrapbook"). The first half of the album, as accomplished as it is, features mostly lighter, breezier fare, whether the Squires are replicating Paul McCartney's early solo work on "Admiral Albert's Apparition" or an Emitt Rhodes-by-way-of-Peter Noone ditty ("She Fell Down"), and it shows that Earl does not take himself too seriously, unlike so many other artists working with similar raw materials. His music, however, can only be taken seriously, especially when it begins to grow in scale on the disc's second half. The lost Beach Boys masterwork Smile looms largest over this part of Pop in a CD, and the grasp that the Squires have on that mysteriously odd and appealing music is virtually complete, most exceptionally on "Into a Void" and "Stained Glass Summer." Earl doesn't short shrift the later, ruggedly blue-eyed soulful comedown years of the band either, as "Leave It to Pam" (with its interesting Hawaiian slack key guitar sound) shows. It doesn't do justice to call the music "lo-fi" (although that is precisely what it is) because it is so layered with sophisticated production touches and full of intriguing ideas. With many or all of the early cassettes virtually impossible to come by anymore, this CD is the place to begin delving into the amazing world of the Squires of the Subterrain. Hopefully it is not the last of the music from those initial tapes to see wider release. - AMG



Anonymous said...

wow--thanks for posting this! it's great to see the Squires here on Powerpop Overdose! :) Chris Earl has been keeping pretty busy since the release of "Pop in a CD"--check out for the latest news, MP3 downloads, and the new On The Go! video series! It's totally fun! :)

dangie said...

The Squire is one of THE best out there in regards to Indie-Pop. On The Go! rules!!!!

- Da

zappahead said...

Having got the colabiration with big boy pete,....I had to give this a try so looking forward to seeing how it sounds.....thannks once again for a superb blog and for the info...and music ...cheers.

Gerorge Kramer said...

None of the links seem to work now. Any chance of redoing them?

Curty Ray said...

Links have been updated!

Gerorge Kramer said...

Thanks Curtis.


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