Vermont Cynic (Univ. Of Vermont)


FEB 16 1995

They ain’t no potatos Idaho



There are thousands of names that catch your attention when you browse through a music store: Babes in Toyland, Corrosion of Confor­mity, Fugazi etc. Nonetheless, the word Idaho might not jump out and grab you. But it should. You might think this hodgepodge of musicians assembled by Jeff Martin hails from the state most famous for its potatoes, but :they are, in fact, an L.A. based band. Their latest release on the much coveted label, Caroline Records (who have spawn such offspring as Smashing Pumpkins), is  called “This Way Out”

This album is the first product of a divided Idaho. Long time member John Berry was replaced by guest musicians Beck/Walt Mink drummer Joey Waronker, That Dog/9 Iron drummer Tony Maxwell and recording and mixing assistant Marty Brumbach. This combination seems to fit like your favorite jeans and a pair of old work boots, their admitted influences are Codeine; Leonard Cohen, Sebadoh, Pavement and Neil Young. But critics have described them as having the melancholy of Morissey and the depression of Joy Division.

Track one, called “Drop Off,” talks about the death of friends or when friendship fades away. Jeff Martin’s unadorned, simple truth voice gives extra edge to the realization that people leave. Along similar lines, “Drive it” is about disappointment and failed expectations. “Weird Wood” presents a fragment of a failed relationship with a great line; “I will not fail to offer you gifts from my heart that will stay with you if it falls apart.” The song “Fuel” has a little more power and less melancholy. It is featured on the soundtrack for “Floundering” a new movie from the producer of “Repo Man,” “Sid & Nancy,” and ‘Tapeheads”. But don’t let the music fool you into thinking he’s happier, this song also has the line, “I have got to go drown on a beach somewhere.”

This album also contains “Crawling Out” and “Glow” (which are my personal favorites) and a Cure-like instrumental song. Track eight, ‘Taken,” has a more jazz influenced background and “Sweep” (track 6) has got a dreamy riff and a very Joy Division fed to it. On the whole, these songs are about death, disappointment, lost love, regret and failed relationships. A critic from the Alternative Press said that if this album were a person “it would be prescribed Prozac and advised to seek psychotherapy”. It might not have the angst and energy of punk rock but Insight Magazine said it is “the slowest record you’ll ever love.”

Jeff Martin has a kind of killing me softly vocal style made popular by such greats as My Bloody Valentine, Ian Curtis of Joy Division and the Smiths, but the sound itself does not come off a whiny (as Morrissey does at times). In fact, he resembles more the depression of J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. (A very In a Jar type sound). If you are an early Dinosaur Jr. fan I think you will appreciate this album although the energy level is much more sedate.

This album is the one you want to listen to when you feel like wallowing in self-pity or petty depression, but its morbidity is contagious, so I would not recommend strict attention to the contents of the lyrics. The musical arrangements are beautiful at times and angry at others. Jeff Martin puts a lot of emotion into these songs, almost rendering himself one of the confessional poets of our time. He lets the somewhat voyeuristic audience listen to and feel slices of his pain and his worry hidden in his simplistic guitar style (i.e. his signature 4 - string detuned Fender Telecaster).

These are not a bunch of guys who are in it for the money. Jeff Martin even spent three weeks as a music composition, major at a California college. His conception of music was vastly different from the curriculum. You could say they had artistic differences. ”Jeff’s idea of how to make rock is to throw mood on it like acid and watch it slowly explode.” His painful words are neutralized by his cathartic melodies and mesh together perfectly.

You may not get to see them live because Jeff says it takes him “a while to get into his stuff,” their music is not really “quick impact.” So playing live is hard for him. You can catch them on the “Floundering” soundtrack, their latest album “Year After Year” or their Ep, “The Palms” (which is supposed to be excellent). I would highly recommend that you pick up Idaho’s “This Way Out.” If you like any of the bands mention throughout this article it will be a welcome- addition to your music collection. .