So, we were challenged with bringing ‘Underappreciated albums of the 1990s’.
Way below ‘underappreciated’, Dart’s ’36 Cents An Hour’ was practically invisible. I was sent it to review in 1995, left it on the shelf for a few months, gave it a cursory listen and found it seeping slowly into my musical memory.
I can’t tell you too much about it. Nor can anyone. There’s barely anything online about Dart. Google the album title and you’ll find four blog posts (five now), three of which are empty. It’s mentioned just 4 times on I Love Music, 3 times by the same guy who used to know the band. I know there’s nothing out there about Dart because I’ve looked quite often over the last decades and even sent an email to lead singer Rick Stone 8 or 9 years ago praising the album and asking whether there was more music to come. He never emailed back and that remains the only time i’ve ever written to a band or singer. Some time later I did manage to track down a subsequent solo album by Stone, ‘Turn Me On, Turn Me Out’ which offered some sort of coda.
Dart were a four piece from San Francisco, or thereabouts. ’36 Cents An Hour’ is a rich, warm album that blends the careful craft of fuzzy alt-country with the pedal-driven oomph of prime shoe gaze. The apparently effortless combination is one of the things that that make it sound so timeless, one of those records that by the second time you hear it feels like it’s always been with you, but which is never wrung dry. The others are down to Stone. Without knowing the background I can’t be sure, but he sounds like kith and kin with David Gedge and Mark Eitzel, carving a complete body of work from one relationship gone bad. It’s mopey, pretty much, but fine with it. Then there’s his phrasing. Just as his band know precisely when to hit the effects pedal for maximum effect without losing subtlety, Stone knows just when to add an extra rasp and push to his voice to grab a line by the scruff of it’s neck. Together it’s a quietly powerful package.
It’s unusual for such a perfectly formed record, complete with lovely cover art, to arrive unbidden as if from nowhere, and a real shame that the band who produced it then disappeared into obscurity once more. If you get the chance, track them down and let them in.
Newsflash: I found a review on allmusic.com. Bless you Ned Raggett. He reckons they were based in London. Who knows where they are now? They could be just around the corner.
Tom Listened:I heard little of American Music Club in the music of Dart but I am minded to draw a comparison between listening to Engine (my first AMC purchase) and 36 Cents An Hour. At the previous meeting (I think it was when Meadowlands by The Wrens was playing) Nick posited that with enough plays almost any record can, through familiarity, become pleasurable to listen to …at least, I think that was what he was saying. Not sure how this applies to Barbie Girl, but I suppose there is an exception to every rule. I got the impression this would happen if I listened to 36 Cents An Hour, in much the same way as it did when I used to listen to, say, Buffalo Tom or Bright Eyes or The Lemonheads. All pretty unremarkable artists who have a habit of producing records crammed with pleasant enough songs that, over time, come to assume a disproportionate place in my affections. I dare say The Wrens may yet pull off this trick, if I ever get round to listening to it again!
American Music Club, however, I pretty much hated on first listen. In fact, if it wasn’t for Melody Maker’s Allan Jones’ championing of them (and the song Nightwatchman), we would probably have never got past first base. I couldn’t stand Mark Eitzel’s foghorn of a voice and the arrangements of the songs on Engine seemed far too rocky, too bombastic to my ears. To say it jarred is an understatement. But, with countless repeated listens, they came to be my favourite band for a while and I treasure my AMC collection (for all its flaws) as much as any other artist in my collection. Dart sounded to me to have come out of the Buffalo Tom stable, I liked it well enough, but there was nothing there that said, ‘you’re going to have to work hard to really appreciate me, now come on and rise to the challenge’ and, for me, that part of the process is the bit I like best.
Nick listened: I’m always surprised when Rob brings records like this – pleasant, tuneful, crafted but unremarkable indie rock – to Devon Record Club, which he’s now done a few times, as one of the first questions he asked me when we started talking about music two or so years ago was “what’s the most extreme music you listen to?”, which prompted in me a vague sense of inadequacy that my tastes weren’t ever going to be savage and abrasive enough to cut the mustard. So it’s always puzzling when he brings something that strikes me as being a little middle of the road.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that (I wrote the liner notes to Embrace’s b-sides compilation, for god’s sake), I just expect extreme noise terror more often! Likewise there’s nothing wrong with Dart (who won the prize for most unheard-of choice this week), but, as Tom suggested, it felt very much like the kind of record that would need time to soak in and reveal itself. It reminded me of many things – a little REM, a little shoegaze, a little alt.country, a little Pearl Jam, a little Embrace b-side, even – most of which I like. Had I stumbled across 36 Cents and Hour 16 years ago I might have loved it; today I’ve probably not got time to, sadly.
Graham listened: A very accomplished and mature debut offering. The style of sound ticked loads of boxes for me about things I would be listening to around late 80’s/early 90’s. There were some anthemic moments that would seem to be killer tracks for live performance. No sense that the vocalist was trying to sound like Michael Stipe but there were some moments when he sounded incredibly similar. Wonder if timing played a part here and maybe there was just not the apetite for this sort of sound by 1995? Clearly hugely underappreciated.