Last week, Bedhead, the renowned slowcore pioneers from Dallas led by brothers Matthew and Bubba Kadane, saw the re-release of its entire body of recorded work. Chicago-based record label Numero Group, a label that specializes in offering up richly detailed, comprehensive collections from artists deserving of further inspection, released the box set Bedhead: 1992-1998. The collection contains the band's three studio albums (1994's WhatFunLifeWas, 1996's Beheaded and 1998's Transaction de Novo) in addition to an extra disc of demos, singles and unreleased tracks.
2014 has been a year rife with backward-looking reissues (Dallas artists have been no exception to the rule), but when one takes into account the thoughtfully written 25,000 word essay/book, this box set is a stunning addition to any personal music collection. Don't just take our word for it - Pitchfork, NPR and the A.V. Club are but a few of the notable outlets hurling hosannas at the band and this early Christmas gift.
But unlike the 20th birthday celebration of the Toadies' seminal Rubberneck, the recent deluxe-issue release of the Old 97's killer Hitchhike to Rhome or even the swan song victory lap of Centro-matic, this Bedhead offering is as unassuming as the band itself seems to have been during its short, Clinton-era existence. Where the celebratory concerts or re-releases of other bands are significant enough, that significance, it can be argued, lies primarily within the music fan that has been listening to those acts for many years.
The importance of this Bedhead box set is of a different sort. Someone just now getting into Centro-matic's excellent final LP, Take Pride in Your Long Odds, will likely be sorely disappointed should they go to one of the farewell shows next month and expect to hear that album from stem to stern. Kids that have only recently picked up Rubberneck will need to get cracking on the Toadies' other fine albums if they're going to truly engage in any future Toadies shows.
It's not to diminish the Toadies, Old 97's or Centro-matic in any way by suggesting their current projects are (probably unintentionally) geared towards the group of fans that have followed then for years and want to relive some flannel-covered glory days. Personally, I've enjoyed my jaunt down memory lane immensely this year, as I've made a point to see two Rubberneck shows and catch the Old 97's every chance I've been able to, and I've revisited Centro-matic's masterful catalog more in the past month as a way to hold on just a little longer. The Bedhead box set, however, is for those of us who didn't have much of a clue as to what slowcore was in the mid-1990s, though we most likely loved Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" and many of the Codeine and Galaxie 500 videos we would watch on MTV's 120 Minutes.
Because of the time in which it was active, there's a definite, alluring mystique revolving around Bedhead. If its six-year existence had begun in 1998, instead of ending then, it's highly likely we'd be privy to a treasure trove of videos, blog posts, magazine covers and fully focused looks into the band and the creation of each of its records. Sure, there was some coverage when the group was active, but it doesn't take too much Googling to find there's much less info floating around on Bedhead than the slowcore bands that followed them. But that mid-section of the '90s wasn't as ready to virtually burst at the broadband seams compared to when the 2000s charged ahead.
The bare-bones title of the set is quite telling. By pointing out the years 1992 to 1998, its clear there's no celebration, no anniversary-marking taking place here. While we can still hear "Breakfast at Tiffany's" on the radio and feel the joyous spirit of Tripping Daisy every time Tim DeLaughter and his Polyphonic Spree play, Bedhead is seemingly dead as a unit. There's no report of a reunion, or even a couple of isolated shows to promote the release of this set. Such a perspective allows room to those who are looking to learn more about Bedhead, its music and its role as a pioneering act. There's no need to boast an "I was there for the whole thing" mentality that is often required when enjoying more nostalgia-flavored offerings.
To be fair, the Kadane's more recent projects the New Year and Overseas, the collaboration with Centro-matic's Will Johnson and David Bazan, certainly share sonic and lyrical qualities with Bedhead. But the Kadane's have reportedly refrained from playing even the occasional Bedhead tune since they closed it down. Simply taking in four beautiful records will give anyone willing the chance to become a Bedhead scholar.
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The way in which the Kadane's wrote in a plain yet highly philosophical manner, while basically speaking the lyrics helped to lend a clarity that so much indie and alt rock from the '90s refused to provide. There's a reason this box set has caused a great deal of keyboard exhaustion in recent weeks: The band was influential -- The A.V. Club article notes that Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie have cite Bedhead as influences -- and its fans from the beginning have every right to look back with great fondness, of course.
Thanks to the lack of local Kadane-style saturation, the fact that slowcore music remains an enigma to many and the fact that Bedhead is a vital, rightfully beloved act in our music history, this box set is simply essential. This is true whether you were a regular of Club Clearview in 1996 or if you're a middle-aged, balding suburban father who simply recognizes he now has the chance to get caught up on some of the good stuff.
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