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The Haul 2010: Seam's Kernel EP

Seam – Kernel CD – City Slang, 1992 – $1 (10/15, Broadway Avenue Reckless Records)

Seam's Kernel EP

Following my purchase of their debut “Days of Thunder” single, I continue to fill in the gaps in my Seam collection by rescuing a used copy of their 1992 Kernel EP from a dollar bin at Reckless Records. How the import pressing from City Slang ended up in the city of Touch & Go is beyond me, but I was relieved not to have the “EPs are too expensive” excuse for once. Back in my Signal Drench days, I wrote a column about that very issue, citing how a few mid-length EPs from bands like Hurl and Helium cost almost as much as their full-lengths. A member of Hurl contacted me with the financial constraints of recording thirty minutes worth of music and pressing it, which immediately made me regret writing the column. That understanding doesn’t make forking over $9 for fifteen minutes of music any easier, however, and neither did the odds-and-sods appearance of Kernel.

Kernel’s four songs comprise one original, two alternate versions, and a cover, which doesn’t look like a filling buffet, but look closer. “Kernel,” the lone original, could have easily fit on the excellent The Problem with Me with its welcome crunch of distortion, laconic vocals, and hooky chorus. “Sweet Pea” (Editor's note: Holy shit they made a video for it) is an earlier version of a song from TPWM, a situation reminiscent of a later two version Seam song, “The Prizefighters.” I prefer the original take from the Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation compilation, since The Pace Is Glacial version suffers from a touch of forced aggression in Soo-Young Park’s vocals. The Kernel take on “Sweet Pea” has fuzzier edges and a less confident vocal than on TPWM, but those are both things I appreciate about early Seam. It doesn’t invalidate the later version, but it might have if I’d heard it here first. The other alternate take on Kernel is “Shame,” which appeared first on Headsparks as an up-tempo track with guest vocals from Sarah Shannon of Velocity Girl. This take slows things down to a meditative crawl and brings back Soo-Young’s signature whispers. Those vocals continue on the album’s cover of Breaking Circus’s “Driving the Dynamite Truck” (a Minneapolis post-punk band featuring current Shellac drummer Todd Trainer) until they erupt in passion midway through the six-minute-long song.

Seam’s Kernel EP isn’t as monumental as the reigning champions of 1990s indie rock EPs (Pavement’s Watery, Domestic, Archers of Loaf’s Vs. the Greatest of All Time, Polvo’s Celebrate the New Dark Age), but its stealthy success shouldn’t go overlooked. I certainly regret missing out on the wonderful alternate take of “Shame” for all of these years. Kernel appears to be out of print in physical formats, but you can purchase the mp3s direct from the sadly idling Touch & Go.