Retro Review: The CVB in 1989

This review was originally posted on Crap Filter.



In the year of 1989, I was a mere 8 years old and didn’t really know much about the indy music scene… well, I knew nothing about the scene, but that’s understandable at 8 years old. In fact, my musical diet at the time consisted of my mother’s contemporary Christian music and my dad’s oldies… not exactly what I’m into now. It is safe to say that my knowledge of indie rock and the music underground was not quite… well, existent.

But, whether I knew about them or not, Camper Van Beethoven, a great indie band that had already won over college radio and post-punkers alike, came to see 1989 as the year they would release their seemingly final album. In 1990, CVB disbanded and David Lowery went on to form the slightly more commercially successful band Cracker (whom you probably know from the alt-radio smash “Low”) and the rest of the band pursued their previously formed non-Lowery project Monks of Doom.

Not until Michael Moore chose a cover of their 80’s college-rock cult hit, “Take the Skinheads Bowling”, as the theme to his Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine, did CVB truly hit the mainstream. In recent years, they reunited and put out the 2004 album that won over a new generation of fans (including me), New Roman Times. To support this album, CVB toured with indie band on the rise, Modest Mouse in 2005 and now seems to be gaining a new younger fanbase.

1989’s Key Lime Pie could quite well be heralded as the band’s crowning achievement (others may argue for 1988’s Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart). This album not only produced the only commercial radio single they had during their original inception (“Pictures of Matchstick Men”), but it showcased their amazing ability to write (and, in the case of “Matchstick Men”, create unique covers of) songs that were challenging yet still had a simplicity about them. As I am only familiar with this and the two aforementioned albums, I cannot compare it to their discography as a whole… and further, since I was only a whopping 8 years old when this was released, I don’t know what effect it had when it was first released… but I do know that this is a brilliant album that could stand up next to any modern album in this now-popularized genre of independent-sounding emotional rock (read: indy rock that isn’t actually independent) and put the opposition to shame.

I have a hard time choosing a favorite CVB album among the three I own, each is incredible and solid. “Key Lime Pie” is as adventurous and experimental as any CD in the genre, showcasing amazing instrumentation, witty lyricism, and an ability to make it all seem so simple. What makes this CD standout among their catalag (or at least among the three CD’s I own) is not in that it sounds any better than the others, but rather, in that the CD was their first to have any mainstream appeal… thus aiding in creating an outlet for future indy rock minds in the mainstream. Bands like Modest Mouse, The Arcade Fire, and Polyphonic Spree may never have been able to be as experimental and yet mainsteam without “Key Lime Pie” breaking into the mainstream in 1989. I may have only been 8 and had no idea who they were or what effect they were having at the time, but without them I may not have known about or ever gotten to hear many like-minded artists in the 90’s and today.

All in all, an expectedly solid album that will remain in my rotation for years to come. An album that is both a great listen and an important step for the underground… and since they are back together, I am lucky enough to get to hear these and other great CVB tunes live. Trust me, you too should catch the next CVB show in a city near you.

~ by thepaintedman on June 25, 2008.

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