The best band you never heard

Mint ST - - THE SCOOP -

Of all the bands to come out of Athens in the south­ern US state of Ge­or­gia, R.E.M. is prob­a­bly the best known and most pop­u­lar. Their jan­gly al­ter­na­tive rock quickly be­came world fa­mous and their 15 al­bums re­leased over a two-decade ca­reer have mostly been hits. But the list of bands that orig­i­nated in that col­lege town is im­pres­sive. Some were pi­o­neers in their genre—such as the B-52s with their new wave sound. Oth­ers, no­tably The Black Crowes (blues-rock), Drive-by Truck­ers (south­ern, coun­try-in­flected rock), and the itin­er­ant jam band Wide­spread Panic, also be­came suc­cess­ful acts. But be­sides these, there was also Ele­phant 6, a loose con­fed­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians and bands united by their love for retro mu­sic of the 1960s, which in­cluded Neu­tral Milk Ho­tel, The Ap­ples in Stereo, and The Olivia Tre­mor Control.

Sev­eral of the Athens-born bands found wider suc­cess—r.e.m., of course, but also many of the Ele­phant 6 bands that went on to gar­ner fewer but hugely ded­i­cated fans. Yet, some gems among that city’s vi­brant mu­sic scene re­mained largely undis­cov­ered. The Glands is one of them. In­vok­ing the phrase, “the best band you’ve never heard”, may seem like a worn cliché but that de­scrip­tion fits The Glands per­fectly. Formed in the mid-1990s, The Glands were founded by gui­tarist and singer Ross Shapiro, but they were short-lived, re­leas­ing just two al­bums in four years: in 1996, they self-re­leased Dou­ble Thriller, and in 2000, a self-ti­tled al­bum. Al­though The Glands earned peer ap­proval and stead­fastly loyal lo­cal sup­port, they never did make it big on the na­tional or in­ter­na­tional scene, re­main­ing for the most part an Athens phe­nom­e­non.

That is a pity. At a time when the mu­sic scene in Athens was boom­ing, The Glands kept things low pro­file but sin­gu­lar. Shapiro, who died af­ter a bat­tle with lung cancer two years ago, ran a small eatery and a record store to sup­ple­ment his in­come, and shunned the lime­light that other as­pir­ing mu­si­cians yearn for. On both their laid-back, lo-fi al­bums, The

Glands looked for in­spi­ra­tion away from what was hap­pen­ing in the scene im­me­di­ately around them. Bri­tish pop and rock was a great in­spi­ra­tion for them, and on

Dou­ble Thriller’s eclec­tic mix of songs you can dis­cern the im­pact of bands such as the Kinks and the

Rolling Stones.

This year, there’s an op­por­tu­nity to (re)dis­cover The Glands.

This Novem­ber, a new box set, ti­tled I Can See My House From

Here, was re­leased. It’s a com­pi­la­tion of a new ver­sion of their de­but al­bum, Dou­ble Thriller, but with the ad­di­tion of a new set of 23 songs that Shapiro had recorded but hith­erto not re­leased. It’s a bo­nanza for lo-fi lov­ing mu­sic fans, and a great chance to delve deep into the oeu­vre of a band that ought not to have slipped by un­der the radar. Dou­ble Thriller was made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a bunch of lo­cal artists, an out­come of late-night record­ing ses­sions, of­ten at Shapiro’s eatery af­ter closing hours. The mu­si­cians play­ing on it vary with the only con­stant be­ing Shapiro him­self and drum­mer Joe Rowe. Each of the 15 songs sounds very dif­fer­ent from the one pre­ced­ing or fol­low­ing it.

That un­pre­dictabil­ity is one of the great­est ap­peals of The Glands’ mu­sic. As is Shapiro’s un­con­ven­tional, slightly mis­aligned lyrics and man­ner of singing. Dou­ble Thriller is a fine al­bum with its ar­ray of styles—call Me Doc­tor’s folksi­ness; the post-punk cre­den­tials of Grey Hats; and the shoe-gaze low-fi­delity of Wel­come To N.J., which harks of bands such as Pave­ment and Yo La Tengo—but The Glands’ best al­bum has to be their sec­ond one. All 19 songs on that 2000 al­bum are as var­ied as the ones on Dou­ble Thriller but they are crafted with bet­ter ar­range­ments that seem metic­u­lously put to­gether but with­out up­set­ting the in­die, lo-fi at­tributes that the band was known for. The songs vary from be­ing up-tempo sing-alongs (When I Laugh) to ones that are in­tro­spec­tive and moody (Mayflower). On the lat­ter, Shapiro sings whim­si­cally: I was told when I was young, if you dug a hole straight down you’d go all the way to China/ You have many no­ble fea­tures, and the roots that run so deep they go all the way to China.

The new al­bum of 23 un­re­leased songs that came with the re­cently re­leased box set is called Dou­ble Coda and it’s ac­tu­ally like a brand new al­bum by the band. Af­ter their first two records, The Glands went into hi­ber­na­tion and never re­leased any­thing else al­though Shapiro had a cache of record­ings that were ready. Be­fore he died in 2016, he gave per­mis­sion to drum­mer Rowe to re­lease them and Dou­ble Coda is the out­come. In the same vein as the first two al­bums, Dou­ble Coda’s songs are like a roller-coaster ride. There’s some elec­tron­ica (Elec­tric­ity); some gui­tar-led stoner sad­ness (So High); some folk-style bal­lads (Clover); and even jazz (Piano Jazz). And that’s just a tiny peek into how dif­fer­ent each of their songs can be. It’s as dif­fi­cult to get tired of an al­bum by The Glands as it is to fig­ure out why they didn’t get wider recognition ear­lier. The new box set will, hope­fully, make amends. Bet­ter late than never.

First Beat is a col­umn on what’s new and groovy in the world of mu­sic.

@san­joy­narayan

‘I Can See My House From Here’ al­bum cover fea­tur­ing The Glands’ lead singer Ross Shapiro who died of lung cancer in 2016.

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