For Against: December (Words on Music, 2005)
Hot on the heels of last year’s re-release of legendary band For Against’s Echelons, Minneapolis-based record label Words on Music is offering another long-lost release from the band. Recorded in Nebraska in 1988, December is another full-length of pensive songs that reflect the early beginnings of dreampop, as interpreted through a post-punk lens. As such, For Against’s songs on December quake with intensity from the frantic drumming by Greg Hilland the passionate vocals of Jeffery Runnings, while the jangly guitars of Harry Dingman emote just a hint of the ethereal. The result is a stunning collection of well-written melodious songs performed with a tinge of brooding emotion.
Just on Echelons, another re-release of hard-to-find material from For Against which also dates back to the late 1980’s, December sounds remarkably fresh, owing to the energy in the performances, the passion inherent in the songs, and the quality production and recording that the band employed when they originally recorded the material. This isn’t 80’s shtick…December is a very respectable release filled with timeless songs and a visionary ethic. Words on Music has repackaged December in an attractive cardboard gatefold, and added two videos as a bonus cd-rom feature of “Autocrat” and “Echelons”, which appear on Echelons. All of these aspect of the release confirm what we already knew about Words on Music: that they have a tremendous ear for talent, as well as an eye for sharp artwork to accompany their releases.
December stands out as a work of art through such songs as the opener “Sabres”, which is at once an energetic post-punk jam as well as a resigned dreampop song. With fluid guitar work from Dingman, and detached vocals by Runnings, “Sabres” is a stellar introduction to December. “Stranded in Greenland” retains the same elements as “Sabres”, but employs an even stronger melody and a slightly more aggressive approach as Hill crashes to Dingman’s almost distorted guitars. The title song is a drifting 5 minute exploration of brooding dreampop goodness, with mournful vocals, slithering guitars, and a foreboding rhythm section. The song builds to a full emotional climax, with Runnings belting out his most passionate notes. It seems unfair, though, to pick out specific songs off of December, because all nine of the songs on this disc are stellar, whether charging through post-punk territory sounding something like The Cure crossed with R.E.M., or whether beginning to explore the dreampop territory that early Slowdive inhabited. For Against ends off their release with “Clandestine High Holy”, a song that demonstrates their ability to write a dark pop melodies (the first half of the song), and their penchant for expanding their sound into more spacious arrangements (the second half of the song, where the band plays a dreamy outro).
For Against was ahead of its time, and Words on Music is wise to be delving back into the archives to make this band’s releases more accessible for today’s music listener. Chances are that only the most knowledgeable music fans would remember For Against’s short but productive on the scene. This fabulous re-release of December makes this band’s evocative music available for today’s music fan. In the current glut of cookie-cutter “indie” bands, such a release of uncompromised music is welcome indeed.
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