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In Defense Of: Soul Coughing

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There's a difference between the iconic music of the 1990s and the music that marked the 1990s. The former is the historically important stuff like Nirvana's Nevermind, the music that echoed from their place in time outward, making an impact on music thereafter. The latter is the music that you associate with the decade, regardless of its actual effect or merit. For a number of reasons, Soul Coughing is one of those bands that marked the 90s and nothing else, so it's easy to see why they might fall into the category of “Not-So-Cool.” Here's why I think that happens: Their biggest hit, “Circles,” is one of those infectious melodies that, a decade removed, many people will recognize but be unable to name. But it doesn't really represent what the rest of their album El Oso sounds like, let alone the rest of their discography. Still, the easily digestible lyrics, bass and country twang stuck with people, especially those who watched Cartoon Network, driving that song into the ground. It didn't help that the band called it quits before the new millennium. With three albums, each with their own hits, spread throughout the 90s, we're inclined to build that permanent association between the decade and their music. On top of that, if you aren't going to leave a crater the way Pavement or Nirvana did, it's easy to see why people may look at “Circles” in hindsight as one of those quirky relics of the past. But being a band of their time doesn't really have to be a hit to their coolness. Because if you take a dive into their discography, you'll find something that is earnestly and truly “alternative.” They employed noise and frills that were seemingly antithetical to the jazzy underpinnings of many of their songs, but instead created an accessible sound that isn't in our ears much these days. They had the ability to turn even the clunkiest, unmusical lines like “I was once misinformed about your intentions” into hot hooks. If Soul Coughing is uncool, then I would think most of that comes from it being dated. They're not yet old enough to be retro cool, but they're no longer new enough to seem cutting edge. At their peak, they were one of the more engaging bands on the radio, with melodies and cadences that put them in the same space as contemporaries like Cake and Odelay-era Beck. Perhaps we would be talking about them in the same way if they had stuck around long enough.

Be sure to check out Vitamin String Quartet Available at iTunes and Amazon

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In Defense Of: Harvey Danger

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It's hard to say what your artistic legacy will be, because no matter how much you want the work to speak for itself, that's only the first half of the battle. The other half is how it's remembered by everyone else. For bands like Harvey Danger, one of the mainstays of 90s alternative, the unfortunate reality is that they're remembered as the dated, “Not-So-Cool” creators of “Flagpole Sitta.” This isn't necessarily a statement on their actual coolness, which is obviously up to you to decide, but on how “Not-So-Cool” may have coagulated around them and how that doesn't have to be a factual assessment. I imagine that those that call Harvey Danger an “un-cool” band are generally talking about the stigma of one hit wonders, and not their work as a whole. “Flagpole Sitta,” which your friends incorrectly call “Paranoia,” is a lasting hit that still gets radio play today as one of the classic, mocking, raucous alternative hits of the 1990s. If you take a quick look at their Last.FM stats, you'll see evidence of the song's longevity, as well as a huge discrepancy between it and everything else they've ever done. People still love the hit, but few seemed to love it enough to dig deeper. This is important because, as evidenced by their short lived reunion, they are not content to lean back and be remembered for that alone. By 2009, Harvey Danger had taken to the studio to create a new album and grab hold of the reigns for their place in the music culture. If you want to see how well that did, I refer you to those earlier Last.FM statistics. It was a good effort, but today's listeners weren't taken by the album and its modern, mature sound. So, Harvey Danger is now a defunct band. They've played their last show and there are no more albums coming out. Unless there's an unexpected turn in the retrospective criticism of their work, the way they'll be remembered is pretty much settled. But they had the will to redefine their place; they weren't content with a legacy of royalties. That, at least, makes them cool in my book.

Be sure to check out Vitamin String Quartet Available at iTunes and Amazon

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