TUESDAY TUNES: Game Theory & Throwing Muses (though not together)

“curious what people shitting on sonic youth listen to as a proper alternative” — flufluflu, 2012

Glad you asked.

About a year before Daydream Nation dropped, Sonic Youth’s labelmates Game Theory released Lolita Nation on Enigma Records.  To many, the album was the band’s defining moment; to me, it’s the best double album with the word “nation” in the title that Enigma released (and I’ll stand on Thurston Moore’s coffee table in my high-button boots and say so).  Where SY’s raison-d’etre was dissonance, Game Theory mastermind Scott Miller reveled in perfect pop melodies, ringing chords, and literate lyrics…but he also had a knack for subverting the pop form with out-of-left-field arrangements, spots of harmonic dissonance, and seemingly non sequitur samples.  The way beauty and melody coexisted in Miller’s songs with intentionally ugly sounds and musical tension showed me that you can use avant-garde techniques alongside traditional structures, and that both can be valid in the same song.  Though Miller died in 2013, Omnivore Records is remastering and reissuing the long-out-of-print Game Theory albums for a new generation to discover.  If you love Big Star, Ted Leo, Aimee Mann, and the New Pornographers, or you like your pop music with a side of weirdness, you owe it to yourself to check out these reissues.  Those wanting a taste of Lolita Nation without dropping a few hundred dollars can check out the video above.

While Throwing Muses don’t have a formal connection to SY, their music also came to me at a time when I should have been delving into the NYC hipsters.  While they also traded in a form of dissonance, the dense arrangements and rhythmic anchor made them sound less messy (and the airy guitar lines read less as harsh and more as pretty to my young ears).  Kristin Hersh’s fractured narratives about outcasts and marginal characters, rife with surreal imagery, fully clicked for me when I heard Rykodisc’s reissue of the first Throwing Muses album, known stateside as “the green album”.  While “Fish” and “Counting Backwards” were radio hits in the pre-Nirvana ’90s, I’ve chosen one of their more notorious songs…a heartbreaking narrative about a shooting at a McDonalds in the mid-80s.  I love the way Kristin’s voice works against the bass groove at the beginning of the song, giving it a lyrical and musical tension.  The Muses released some great records over the years, but for my money the first album is a perfect, perfect record.

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