Dart – ’36 Cents An Hour’ – Round 15: Rob’s choice

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.


10 thoughts on “Dart – ’36 Cents An Hour’ – Round 15: Rob’s choice”

  1. can’t believe I just saw this. Hi Nick. I didn’t see the ILM mentions, but I know I mentioned them there. I wasn’t in Dart but everyone I know was. Charles Wyatt went on to be in Piano Magic and then Charles Atlas, along with Matt Greenberg who was also in Dart. But none of those guys were on this first album, which is actually my favorite. Lauren works in LA now and Ned knows her though. It’s a beautiful little album. Yes Rick was pretty influenced by AMC. I have a cd of scotched demos for another album where he covered ‘At My Mercy’ from ‘Engine’ oddly. Rick stopped playing music entirely and now DJs dance nights in SF, very well I should add. Anyway, this album might be part of the reason why I now play music (in a band called Carta). Che of course metamorphosed into RocketGirl. The seeds of lots of great stuff are here.

    1. Hey. Thanks for the comment. Good to know that they all went on to do more stuff. I always thought it was incredible that ’36 Cents’ managed to completely bypass any form of public attention. It’s an absolute favourite of mine and I still play it all the time. I got Rick’s later album ‘Turn Me On…’ and liked it pretty well, but I always hoped there’d be another Dart record lurking somewhere out there. If you ever feel like passing those demos on to someone else for safe keeping, you know where I am…

  2. I just saw this page while taking a stroll down memory lane… I can fill in some details about Dart, I worked with Rick and Lauren from the time they were demoing songs through 36 Cents an Hour and some stuff after that. I played drums, piano, trumpet and some guitar on a lot of recordings with them. I still have a copy or two (including the vinyl) of everything we did while I was involved in the band. I even played in a band with Rick previous to Dart that was much more along the lines of Nine Inch Nails. Dart was quite a change from that. Sadly I lost touch with Rick after leaving that early incarnation of Dart but I followed their progress down to LA from San Francisco and always hoped they’d get another full album together. Rick’s “Turn Me On, Turn Me Out” was the last thing I heard that had any ties remaining to Dart.

    36 Cents an Hour was recorded at a long-gone studio in San Mateo, CA called Phoenix Bay. It was a converted apartment set above retail spaces below with a long, steep stairwell to haul all the gear up. I recall that we borrowed some mics from Emeryville studio Dancing Dog (via their engineer Damien Rasmussen) and had a short time in which to track drums. Our original drummer, whose name I don’t recall, assured Rick he had played with a click track but the first session was a disaster and Rick had to dismiss him 2 hours into it. I ended up playing drums on the record learning the songs as I went while watching Rick direct me through the control room window. That stairwell got used too – we setup a mic down the stairs and tracked the drum ambiance for sections of “10 Below.” Other than the cellist and violinist who recorded on a couple of songs (Peter and Carrie), the album was Rick, Lauren, and myself plus Eugene Knight adding bass guitar. I remember doing lots of overdubs and layering with Rick late at night and manning the console while Rick recorded his vocal tracks. We mixed with Damien at Dancing Dog. The whole thing was a great experience and is still holds significant memories for me today.

    Dart later played out at the CMJ festival in New York and Lauren and Rick had a falling out before the performance. I don’t think Lauren even played the show in full that night. We had Anthony Koutsos (of Red House Painters) as our drummer then and he went on to play multiple shows with us. A trip to Tempe, AZ for some shows also included Jerry (???) from Red House Painters playing additional guitar. Fun times.

    If you can find them, look for the “Bugger” EP and the first single (on vinyl). Both were issued under Che’ I believe.

  3. Being a mad fan of obscure 7″ vinyl and liking the art work I purchased their singles on che via a non profit bookshop in Southampton, uk where I was a student at the time. This shop stocked maybe 30 singles at a time but amazingly great stuff. Dart was scheduled to play a gig / gigs with bear also on che and I bought my ticket and went along to the joiners in Southampton. Well Dart never made the trip to the uk and were replaced by urasai yatsura who were just great, a tuneful mess and fun. Later in their career they played the joiners again and remembered me and a friend and dedicated the gig to us….sweet. Anyhow I had gone to see both bands and dart didn’t show and bear had just imploded and regrouped without their female singer, who’s voice I loved so sadly I didn’t really get to see the bear I wanted either. Anyhow there were 5 people at this gig myself and two friends and two other people with a dog!! I purchased a tshirt from both bands for about 4 quid each and some other singles they had. Skip forward around six months and I was in San Fran visiting my parents who lived there. I saw a gig in the paper for dart at the Dublin castle I believe in the upstairs part. Myself and my then partner went along and both wore the tshirts from the gig they should have been part of in the uk. Well it didn’t go unnoticed and rick stone came over after the show and chatted to us because of it. The red house painters drummer was playing with them and a few other members were in the bar downstairs. Anyhow Rick invited my friend and I to meet up for some food and to hang out a few days later which we did. We went to dancing dog studio (rhp) and we were also given a copy of the second album demos on cassette. I really loved the stuff on there and it was approaching 75% completion I believe. Anyhow we hung out got drunk played pool and drive round in his car and he played us a couple of bjork covers they had done. He was clearly a huge fan of red house painters first couple of albums, he thought ocean beach was very patchy and the forthcoming songs for a blue guitar he said was just awful, it was really. Anyhow I wish I knew where the cassette was now and it was a happy coincidence we got to see them play and hang out with rick who seemed a really nice guy but slightly brooding at times. Just thought I would share my story to add to this collection as there rally is nothing about the band to be found anywhere now.

    1. Thanks Paul. That’s a great story. Such a great shame the band weren’t appreciated in their lifetime, so to speak. However, i’m not going to waste time telling you that I envy your experiences with them when you could be up in your loft trying to FIND THAT LOST ALBUM!

  4. I sang back ups on the Dart Record. Myself and my dear friend Lilli (RIP) I sang all of the tracks myself on Black Harvest. I have been trying to find Rick Stone for so long …if anyone knows where to find him…I am living in San Francisco..I miss him and hope he is ok.

    1. Hi Sally. Thanks for the comment. The previous comments seem to suggest that a couple of the people involved with making the record are still in touch with Rick. ‘akmonday’ suggested he was DJing dance nights in SF, although that was 12 months ago. Why not drop some of the commenters a line and see if they can help you? And if you do track him down, make sure you post an update for us.

  5. Thanks for this post. I just decided on a random to listen to this album again, many years since I did last – a seriously good piece of work, so it’s great to know there were a few other ears out there it made its way into.

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