Saturday, 4 June 2011

Pumpkin - Wwax

With the advent of the DIY punk movement in the 80's tiny bands were releasing 7 inch singles on their own labels in small numbers more often than not only to a handful of stores in one city. It was a great way of getting your name out there without the hassle of getting signed to a “proper” label. You could record it yourself, get it mastered cheaply and then get them printed up yourself. A large number of these releases will be forever forgotten except by a few die hard local scensters and the band members themselves. On the other side of the coin, some of these tiny releases were the launching pads for some big names. Hüsker Dü for example started off releasing their own singles on their own, tiny, Reflex Records imprint before moving to New Alliance, then SST and finally Warner Bros. Wwax's single Pumpkin kind of falls in between the two. Wwax never made it big but one of its descendents, Superchunk, became a pretty huge name in the 1990's indie rock scene.

Pumpkin, first came to my attention in a completely different guise. I went through a period of buying every Sub Pop release I could get my hands on, including a single called Bill by little known punk group Seaweed. To me the two B-sides of the single were far better than Bill itself. One was Squint: The Killerest Expresion, a brilliant but bizarre and abstract remix of a song from Seaweed's second album and the other was a cover of Pumpkin. Embarrassingly it took me about 10 years and a youtube search to find out that it was a cover and that it was written by Mac McCaughan, who of course is the front man for Superchunk and founded Merge Records! It was the second release by Wwax, coming out as a 7 inch single on the Leopard Gecko imprint in 1989.

The track starts off with ringing guitar harmonics before launching into upbeat indie punk. It's fairly standard in terms of production and instrumentation, although there is an acoustic guitar in the mix which makes a change from the standard sound of two distorted guitars, though you have to be paying attention to hear it. To my mind the song wouldn't be totally out of place on the first couple of Superchunk records. There isn't a huge amount of lyrics to the song, just two verses lasting only a few lines each and no choruses. What lyrics there are are pretty good, funny and lighthearted and sung with enough conviction to carry the song. This track is good, but theres nothing here that'll set the world of music a light. What strikes me about it though is just how melodic it is. That wouldn't be all that surprising if there were more lyrics, or guitar solos throughout the song. There is one solo, but it consists primarily of the same harmonics from the intro. The main substance of this song is the chord progression, but its done in such a way that you're left humming it when the song is finished. Though it's not mind blowing, the track shows a lot of potential. Potential that was lived up to a year later with the release of Superchunk in 1990.

A collection of Wwax's material was compiled and released on McCaughan's label Merge, it's out of print now but you can buy the mp3s from the Merge website or iTunes. For my money though, Pumpkin is by far and away the best track. It's the sound of a young band, finding it's feet and making music for the fun of it. It always amazes me just how many of these obscure, limited punk rock singles are out there. Even before the advent of the internet there was a vast, insurmountable amount of music available, as long as you knew where to look. Not all of it was good, some music stays obscure for a good reason, but there are quite a few gems like this one to be heard and the internet has made it so much easier to find all this music. It's just a shame it's not all on 7 inch single any more.

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