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The Haul 2010: Heavy Vegetable's Frisbie + The Amazing Undersea Adventures of Aqua Kitty and Friends

Heavy Vegetable – Frisbie + The Amazing Undersea Adventures of Aqua Kitty and Friends LP – Headhunter, 1995 – $14

Heavy Vegetable's Frisbie + The Amazing Undersea Adventures of Aqua Kitty and Friends

Like many listeners, I came to Pinback without any knowledge of Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV’s prior bands. Pinback, to their credit, doesn’t require any prerequisites for understanding or enjoying their intricately melodic indie rock, but nevertheless, Crow and Smith provide an awful lot of material for the Related If You Like column of a music review. Smith’s side is easier to collate: he’s a past and current member of San Diego indie rockers Three Mile Pilot (who now share space on Temporary Residence Limited with Pinback and have a new album out now) and strikes out on his own as Systems Officer, whose Underslept made my top 20 of 2009. Rob Crow’s catalog, however, is a bit harder to summarize.

Solo albums? Three of them. Stints in the instrumental Physics, the heavy metal Goblin Cock (as Lord Phallus), the optigon-pop Optigonally Yours, the ADHD indie rockers the Ladies? Check! Background vocals on Drive Like Jehu’s “Luau” from the classic Yank Crime? Naturally. Lead vocals on four songs from Deftones’ singer Chino Moreno’s 2005 Team Sleep album? Why yes, who else should join Mary Timony on that endeavor? There are certainly other stray examples of Crow’s prolific nature, but the branch I’m most interested in started with Heavy Vegetable. Yes, an entire branch.

Heavy Vegetable started out as contemporaries of the just-name-dropped Drive Like Jehu in the early 1990s San Diego scene, offering a unique combination of power-pop enthusiasm, math-rock time changes, and tidy hardcore song lengths set to conversational, day-to-day lyrics. A sugar-coated Minutemen, if you will. They even had a song called “Slint” on their 1993 A Bunch of Stuff EP7, which tidied that group’s post-rock dynamics into a tight two-and-a-half minutes. Following the release of The Amazing Undersea Adventures of Aqua Kitty and Friends in 1994 and Frisbie in 1995, Heavy Vegetable split up, collecting their odds and ends on the 2000 compilation Mondo Aqua Kitty. Rob Crow and singer Eléa Tenuta reconvened with a new rhythm section as Thingy, releasing the Staring Contest EP in 1996, Songs About Angels, Evil, and Running Around on Fire in 1996, and the downright excellent To the Innocent in 2000. They’ve since split up, but Crow is rumored to be finishing up a final Thingy studio album any day now. Never one to miss an opportunity, Crow formed the Other Men with the two members of Heavy Vegetable not involved in Thingy, drummer Manolo Turner and guitarist Travis Nelson, and released Wake Up Swimming in 2007. As of June 2010, that’s the extent of the Heavy Vegetable branch, but Crow’s feverish release schedule will surely date this round-up within a few months.

I can heartily recommend two starting points for Rob Crow’s seemingly endless discography beyond Pinback. First, I’ll suggest the one I semi-randomly chose back in the day: Thingy’s To the Innocent. It’s an involving mix of tight, energetic rock and delicate acoustic ballads about topics as varied as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Rob Crow’s cat, and not having any money. The carefully arranged vocal trade-offs between Crow and Tenuta should appeal to Pinback fans. Plus, unlike the Heavy Vegetable and Thingy albums released on Headhunter, it’s still in print, so the band might see a few bucks from the purchase.

If you’re willing to hit up eBay or scour LP bins (or live on the west coast, where this album is apparently still available), you can’t go wrong with this 2LP set of Heavy Vegetable’s two full-lengths. With 45 total songs spread across four (infuriatingly mislabeled) sides of lime green vinyl, winning songs fly by you at a breakneck pace. True to form, there are Star Wars drawings denoting specific song authorship and lyrics about Jackie Chan, food, and video games. The Amazing Undersea Adventures of Aqua Kitty and Friends is more aggressive and rough around the edges than Thingy, but Frisbie balances this abandon with quieting doses of acoustic guitar. It’ll take a few spins before the best songs sift their way out of this onslaught, but much like the similarly sprawling Double Nickels on the Dime, you’re likely to find a new favorite with each listen.