January 08, 2005

Plush "Underfed"

Plush mastermind Liam Hayes is an underrated genius. Though he’s hardly the definition of a prolific musician, he’s been making seemingly wonderful music for the past decade--just take a listen to his debut single “Three-Quarters Blind Eyes” or his 1998 debut album More You Becomes You. With one listen you’ll quickly recognize that Hayes is an extraordinary talent. Hayes has always teetered on becoming the next Harry Nilsson, and with good reason; he possesses one of the best singing voices of the last twenty years; though it’s not “perfect” it is very rich, very lush and very succulent.

In 2002, he released his masterpiece, Fed. With it, he realized his dream of making an over-the-top 70’s-inspired big-band pop album--one that, ultimately sounded not unlike Nilsson. Though available only as a very obscure Japanese import, Fed suffered the fate of being an excellent (and rather expensively produced) record that nobody heard. For the few of us who actually heard Fed, two thoughts instantly came to mind: “Wow” and “why the hell isn’t anyone going to release this record over here?” (Rumor going around said that the album’s overhead costs scared off many a label.)

Underfed, then, is an interesting concept. Presented in packaging that makes it look like a studio tape, this record is nothing more than the demo version of Fed. (Get the pun?) Instead of an orchestra’s accompaniment, it’s just Hayes with a backing band of Rian Murphy and Matt Lux and Steve Albini behind the recording deck. Though the liner notes state that Fed was an album developed over a seven year period, these sketches were made in 1999. Hayes felt more needed to be added—and another two and a half years was spent developing and recording and masterminding the tapes. When he finished…his record label Drag City chose not to release it, and the only label that would was the tiny Japanese label After Hours.

Far be it for me to suggest what an artist should or shouldn’t do, it’s quite obvious that Hayes shouldn’t have worried too much about making the arrangements bigger and bolder, because, truth be told, Underfed is a wonderful album on its own. Regardless of arrangement, in the end, a great song is a great song, and it’s an impressive enough feat for any artist to make music this lush with only the barest of accompaniment. These songs are raw, rough and utterly gorgeous—and, in some cases, even better than the finished product!

Really, though, how could you not be charmed by the stripped-down simplicity of “Burn Together,” with simple guitar strumming and “la-la” parts sung in place of an orchestra? Could any amount of studio shine ever really make the ‘naked’ version of “Bus Station” any lesser of a song? And let’s not neglect the wonderful ten-minute jam session of “Fed (Intro),”which sounds like a wonderfully jazzy soundtrack to late-night shenanigans. Indeed, Underfed shows that the simplistic beauty that made More You Becomes You wasn’t lost—it was just glossed over beyond belief.

In the time since Fed’s release, two great “lost” records have been released—Brian Wilson’s remade ‘interpretation’ of Smile and the ‘naked’ version of the Beatles’ Let It Be. While such releases are of interest to music aficionados, they do eliminate two of the great mysteries of the music world, and—to be perfectly honest—are quite mediocre. Personally, I think it’s kind of sad that such enigmas have been ruined in such a boring way, because the world needs a little mystery. It’s unfortunate that Fed is lost to the rest of the world—though I’m sure finding it is only one Soulseek session away--Underfed makes a case that Fed should, over time, become the Holy Grail of indie-rock.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.dragcity.com

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