Given my fondness for reunited ’90s indie rock bands and current bands influenced by ’90s indie rock, you might think I’m paralyzed by nostalgia for 1996, spending my days watching reruns of The Single Guy, flipping through my high school yearbook, and circling future purchases in the Touch and Go catalog. Unbelievable as it may be, this scenario is not accurate. Two key distinctions: first, I do not pine for my 1996 existence, a key aspect of nostalgia. No part of me wants to return to high school—I literally have nightmares about it happening. Second, with regards to the ’90s music mentioned above, I never stopped enjoying it. I’m not returning to a time when I listened to Chavez, Hum, and Girls Against Boys—I still listen Chavez, Hum, and Girls Against Boys. It’s not like I’m making playlists of the ’90s alt-rock hits that were shoved down my throat; the mere thought of “Brimful of Asha” beckons a cold sweat.
The closest I’ll come to being properly nostalgic is recalling my 120 Minutes routine. I’d stay up until midnight on Sundays to press record, rightfully distrusting the programmable VCR's ability to perform its advertised duty. When I watched the tape, I’d dub favorites like Girls Against Boys’ “Super-Fire” to audio cassette, where school-bus replays would encourage a trip to Circuit City or Media Play to purchase a CD that would, by fiscal necessity, receive almost exclusive attention for a few weeks. A tedious process, yes, but it was my primary method of learning about new music. Contrast that set-up with 2013, where recommendations are dumped on me on an hourly basis from a wide range of sources, music can be freely and easily heard, and new records become ancient within a week. The singularity of my 120 Minutes indoctrination tempts a rose-colored remembrance, at least until Matt Pinfield’s visage starts blathering on about the latest Oasis single.
The song that triggered this 120 Minutes flashback is “Blood from a Loyal Hound,” from Two Inch Astronaut’s Bad Brother. Its component parts project a low-budget video courtesy of Alias or Caroline Records on my wall—the ear-catching opening riff, the verse slow-down, the energy burst into the chorus, the falsetto hook, the passionate spike of its final refrain, and a careening-off-the-walls conclusion. While I can’t create a proper treatment for this hypothetical video without rewatching the clips for "Harnessed in Slums" and "Pat's Trick" all afternoon, here’s the pitch: it opens with a sped-up, possibly colorized version of a mundane day-job (copy shop or coffee house), switches to the band performing when the first verse starts, deftly jump-cuts between the practice space and the day job scenes, gets progressively weirder with the band's wardrobe in each space, then closes on them first performing in and then destroying their hated workplace. The video for "Blood from a Loyal Hound" might never make it into regular rotation or the beloved Buzz Bin, but it would certainly prompt my cycle of cassette dub / Media Play CD purchase / four weeks of singular rotation. Media Play and Circuit City are still doing well, right?
Apologies to Two Inch Astronaut for focusing so heavily on the past; by no means is Bad Brother solely reminiscent of mid-'90s cut-out classics. Like I mentioned in my review of their split single with Boston's Grass Is Green, there's plenty of DeSoto/Dischord post-punk influence here, with particular nods to Devin Ocampo's Faraquet (in the leads) and Medications (in the knotty structures of "He Was Our Boy"). But Two Inch Astronaut push the songs in both more aggressive, post-hardcore and more melodic, '90s alternative rock directions. The wild energy and throttling chords of "Spank Jail" represent the former nicely, splitting the difference between the control of Drive Like Jehu and the caterwauling of Daniel Striped Tiger. As for the alt-rock reference points, I've absolutely racked my brain trying to determine which synapses are firing over mid-tempo anthems like "Check the Yard," and the best I can come up with from the 120 Minutes pool is a less goofy Self, although Hammer No More the Fingers provide a good contemporary touchstone. Consider the crucial difference between a band being melodic and a band having memorable melodies; Two Inch Astronaut belongs firmly in the latter category.
Two Inch Astronaut’s triumvirate of tricky, aggressive, and catchy is awfully hard to top in my book, and Bad Brother flies by even faster than its fat-free twenty-seven-minute runtime. It’s almost a shame that so many of their peers have released similarly excellent LPs of late—almost—since Bad Brother deserves a few weeks of your undivided attention (and not just because you can’t afford any other albums).