my favorite album is pony express record

my favorite album of all time is pony express record by shudder to think. here’s how i first heard it and why it’s my favorite.

i used to get cmj magazine in the 90s when it came with a mix cd and that was my way of hearing new music and new artists. in september 1994 there was a track called “hit liquor” from a band called shudder to think – it started with the crack of a snare drum and this weird ass voice singing “deadddddd … asleeeeeeppp” and this odd syncopated rhythm and within a minute i was in fucking LOVE – they were doing the distorted guitar and discernible bass thing that was popular then – think nirvana, stone temple pilots, etc – but they were so not at all like anything i had ever heard

cmj told me this shudder to think band was from dc (craig wedren/vocals, stuart hill/bass, nathan larson/guitar, adam wade/drums) and the track i heard was from their album called pony express record so i went out and bought it – on tape, because i had just gotten my license earlier in the year and was driving the old family van, which only had a tape deck – anyway, i pop the tape in and there’s the snare hit and craig wedren’s voice and i’m rocking out and it’s all good

then the next song started and my auditory boner deflated – i think i may have finished the song and hated it (it’s called “gang of $” – which is actually on right now because i’m listening to the album as i write this) – so i figured it was a sucky album with one good track, right at the beginning, and put on a stupid mix cd to make me think they might be any good – so i tossed it in the back

it was probably about january of the following year when i decided to just listen to it all the way through and at least give it a chance – so i put it on and listened and something changed because i didn’t hate it – it was odd and there was a lot i didn’t get, and even a few moments that made me wince – craig wedren is trained in opera and his vocals are NUTS – his range is wide and he jumps all around the scale and also has a strong falsetto – but there were just time when his notes and the guitar and the odd drums and i just couldn’t keep up – i didn’t love it, but didn’t hate it

so i listened again and i started to get a hang of the rhythms, the syncopations, craig’s voice and i realized that i loved the album – i played it over and over until i memorized everything about it – every note, every snare hit, every twittle of craig’s falsetto

pony express record turned 25 years old last year and it remains my favorite album and i have never heard anything else like it – even their own follow up efforts paled in comparison (though i love 50, 000 bc, it’s a very sugary, poppy album – their albums prior to were rougher, but showed where they were headed and get your goat is – to me – the most clear line to pony express record in their catalog)

so, i’ve given you the back story but really not said a lot about exactly what there is to love about this album, and there is a lot. you can listen as you read if you want, or you can just stop here and consider it a nice story

each song is it’s own experience and though they all work together, it’s not a concept piece (or is it?!) – it’s the band at their best, it’s their beautifully weird little corner of the musical world occupied by nothing else – the recording/mixing is pretty good, though sometimes the guitars sound a little muddy (some of which can be attributed to them running through effects pedals), but the bass is grindy-grainy in just the right way and the vocals fucking sparkle – just the listen to this album, to hear this band so tight and polished and weird and lovely

the album starts with the snare hit from “hit liquor” and rocks all the way though – the closest thing they had to a hit was “x-french tee shirt” which is a brilliant song (i was in a band in all 4 years of high school and for a hot minute had a side band with my first boyfriend – him on drums, me on bass, and another dude on guitar – we attempted to cover x-french but our minute ran up) – there was a video on mtv that was banned in canada for “unnecessary cannibalism” to which the band (according to an interview i read) said “very necessary!” – but really what stands out about x-french to me is the second half of the song with the “hey jude” style repetitive long fade out thing only with actual lyrics, written in the album liner in one long phrase:

holdbacktheroadthatgoessothattheothersmaytoothatyouletmeinjusttopourmedowntheirmouths

the lyrical melody in the second half of x-french does something that is (to me) a hallmark of shudder to think – that extra beat or couple words that give a slight stretch to what you expected to hear, as if the band is tugging on your ear, pulling you towards them – leading you somewhere and then going just a touch further, bringing you along – they do this in “gang of $” when craig sings “one honey donut and your lips are stuck to the seat – you close the door on … and you think he’s gonna say “me” but he says “my machine” and it’s soooooo good and in “earthquakes come home” when the song ends after that repeated chorus of “heaven is holding out for high scores – up there tears pour down” and as the music fades, craig sings “the rope”

“no room 9, kentucky” has always been one of my favorite tracks from the album – almost a decade ago, the guy i was dating at the time (who is still my best friend) found out how to contact craig wedren and had him call me on my birthday (which he still does every year!) and sings no room 9, ky to me – what i love about it is how it differs from the other songs up to that point in the album (it’s the 8th song of 13) – it’s less hard, less rock and a lot more of craig’s voice and the band slogging through all on point and building and releasing tension over and over, until the song ends and you swear there will be a small puff of fragrant smoke emitted from your headphones

“9 fingers on you” and “chakka” remind me of each other because they both feature crunchy distorted guitar and pointy sharp rhythms but then they go in their own ways – “chakka” flirts with pop, especially at the very end with the repeated, layered and echoed whoas – while 9 fingers is definitely more of the rock song and has a more clear emotion – 9 fingers comes right in the middle of a run (gang of $ – 9 fingers on you – sweet year old – earthquakes come home) that show you that shudder to think is, at their core, a rock band

“trackstar” (the penultimate song) borrows from “x-french tee shirt” and matures the premise a bit – the first part is definitely slower and denser and there’s a hazy middle section that includes some of their random noises that they often stuck into late album songs – but then right around 4:20 the song erupts into a wall of sound with heavy guitars and thick bass and crisp drums and craig’s voice flitting like a butterfly, singing in circles and you can tell he’s lonely in love – ending with “i think about you everywhere” (and another time the ending is so light and graceful you expect it to exhale a small puff of pleasantly-scented vapor)

so, i’ve been listening to the album as i type – sometimes going back to a song, sometimes pausing to think about a memory a song evokes and as i’ve been listening, i’ve been trying to figure out which song is my favorite but i can’t name one – i’ve been listening to whatever track and thinking about how much i love it and maybe it’s my favorite and then the next one comes on and i can’t decide – i guess after thousands of obsessive listens and drumming along with my hands and singing along in the shower, i can’t hear the album as parts

and that’s what it comes down to for me – pony express record is no longer a set of songs that sound cool together – it’s a single piece of work, a statement of where the band was, a challenge to my ear to expand how and what i listen to – what started as a track on a cd spawned a life-long desire to listen, to hear, and to give things enough time to show their beauty



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *