The Lassie Foundation: California (Velvet Blue Music, 1996)
Ahhh, the legend of The Lassie Foundation. By now, many of you know who they are, and what they’ve accomplished as a band, but let’s go back a few years, shall we? Back to the time when I first heard their brilliant, obscure little ep, California.
I was (and still am) a big fan of the Christian band The Prayer Chain. No matter what you think of Christian music, The Prayer Chain wrote and recorded some of the most fiercely beautiful and passionate music I have ever heard. Their ultimate achievement, the post rock epic Mercury, remains my favorite cd of all time. Nevertheless, in 1996, I had learned through a magazine that my favorite band of all time, was no more. They broke up. They were gone.
For a while, I would see the names of the band members appear on other cd’s by groups like Starflyer 59, The Choir, Honey, and even the legendary Violet Burning self- titled album. But in all of these, the former Prayer Chain musicians were just background players or producers. So began a long drought of not hearing any music from the hearts and minds of these artists who had touched me so before.
Then a glimmer of hope. Sometime in 1996 or 1997, I read in a magazine about the release of a cd called California by The Lassie Foundation. What really grabbed my attention was that, smack dab in the back pages of this magazine, the review stated that The Lassie Foundation was comprised of two former members of The Prayer Chain, Wayne Everett and Eric Campuzano! The review compared this new project favorably to The Prayer Chain in its dreamy guitars and buried vocals. I was immediately intrigued and had to get this disc.
Problem, though. I live in Canada. And the internet was foreign and inaccessible to me at that point.
Fast forward 3 long years. I was applying for a job at a Youth Ministry agency, and the agency was housed in a local Bible College. So, after my interview, I decided to browse the book store on the campus. After looking around for a few minutes, I was just about to leave empty-handed, disappointed that a College store had little to offer in much of anything. Just as I was leaving, something caught the corner of my eye. Yes, every music fan loves them….it was a cheap bin. There were only 10 or so cd’s in it, but I decided I’d give it a shot. Flipping through the cd’s, I came across one that startled me. I’m sure my jaw dropped to the floor. I must’ve looked like an idiot, standing there staring at cd’s that no one else wanted. It was California by Lassie! I immediately bought it, drove way too fast home, popped it into the cd player, and braced myself not to have my hopes to high (it was a little late for that).
The legend of Lassie…it was all true!!
The first thing I noticed was, the British guy announcing the the band on the first song. Then, I noticed that I had heard the singer’s voice before…in the background vocals of The Prayer Chain. “I can be her man” dazzled me with it’s beautiful melodies, cool and strange harmonies, and it’s climax “Seraphs, Sages, Loose and Grand..”. A beautiful pop song reminding me of summer. Next came the rather loose, and almost noisy “I’m Stealin'”. The song is coated in layers and layers of guitar sounds, so much that you can barely hear Everett’s vocals. But it works nicely again, as the strange marriage of pop songwriting and shoegaze production ethics again produce a song that is hummable and ethereal at the same time.
The next three songs blow me away. Even as good as the first two are, the next three are simply perfect to me. “Laid With Cool” is a loud rocker of a song with weird time signatures giving the effect that the drummer is just freaking out sporadically. Yet, again, painfully beautiful melodies sore over the distorted and hectic instrumentation. What a killer song! Next up is “WalkingSpinningBackingFree”…the song that the magazine alluded to in The Prayer Chain comparison. A bit of a lazy comparison, but one well taken, I suppose. This song features a buried vocal melody struggling to find its way from under an insane wall of guitars. My Bloody Valentine is a definite influence on this song. I still can’t get enough of this song, with it’s many layers producing strange and crazy sounds that I keep uncovering.
Finally, this California ep, the little 5 song ep that could, ends on perhaps its most brilliant moment with “Save Yourself and Watch Yourself Win”. The song features a pulsating rhythm, with loud and droning guitars supporting Everett‘s vulnerable vocals. The melody itself is simple, but the effect is staggering as the song comes to a climax, with a double thunder beat giving structure to the guitars and Wayne’s airy vocals. It all ends in a shower of feedback. Amazing.
Why write so much about a little, independent, 5 song ep. A debut ep, for that matter? Well, simply put, California surpassed all of my expectations, and has easily become one of my favorite releases of all time. The Prayer Chain boys did it again. Lightning struck twice. The legend of Lassie Foundation was indeed true, and lives on….
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