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New Dawning Time

Sub Pop

They say this isn't a one-album project, nor a fleeting interest, but what do they expect the critics to think when they combine the active ingredients from two seminal Pacific Northwest bands? At its core, Gardener is vocalist Aaron Stauffer of Seattle punk band Seaweed and bassist Van Conner of Seattle rock band Screaming Trees, along with the chosen few members from both bands. The result is a unique hybrid where neither band -- Seaweed's grunge or the Trees' melodicism -- dominates (though I'd give the nod to the Trees). The jazzy opener, "Tamed," is as far away from their respective sounds as possible. With flutes, sitar and other assorted acoustic instruments, it feels like a well-tailored, '60s Nehru suit worn by your typical West Coast slacker at Midnight. Throughout the CD, there's a hippy, psychedelic aesthetic that pokes its head out amidst the clouds of twangy guitars/sitars and snares. The acoustic numbers, such as the trippy "Shakedown Cruise," "Quay," "Canyon," and The Reivers-sounding "Backseat," sound like they stepped right out of a groovy yesteryear. But when the boys plug their guitars back in, the nostalgia is more toward 1995 rather than 1975. "Outside Looking In" has the same feel as Wowie Zowie-era Pavement. The head-pounding "Raincoat (You Wear The)," is the CD's high-water mark, big and booming, with over-the-top guitars and shimmering organ; Stauffer finally pushes his vocals to the next level of angst, and we all feel better for it. In retrospect, the hippy stuff takes over, but the rock stuff wins the day. Either way, it's all hip-trip catchy and, as a whole, a lot more fun than the band members' other projects.

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Originally printed in The Reader May 6, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Rating: Yes