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In 1994 I happened to have a decent local radio station still rollicking in its hey-day. That’s where I discovered Sloan. I remember hearing “Penpals” in the carpool home from school (when it was my turn to pick the radio station), wondering “Where is Algeria?” and “Who is this band?” It only took a few more glimpses on the radio to head over to Harmony House and pick up my first independent record, “Twice Removed” by Sloan. This was one of those records that I could play on repeat all day after school. It had a starring role on many mix tapes throughout high school. It made guest appearances throughout college and then kind of faded away into my CD collection.
This album remains a quintessential 90s indie pop record. That “waaa-wa” sound of the guitar, endemic of Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, and The Dandy Warhols, encapsulates the era that produced “Twice Removed.” Incidentally, Sloan seems to be the Dandys nerdier cousin. They are cut from the same cloth, but do not possess the same hipster swagger. Anyway, the signature guitar sound gives this record a nostalgic gloss without turning into a caricature of 90s music. The funny part is that Sloan ultimately pays homage to the early 70s sound of their youth, thus sealing their place in 90s music. While this album feels like high school for me, it also feels like an eternal autumn. The songs give you a chill to remember your past without necessarily reminding you what you did in 1994 or 95 (in my case, laying on my bed listening to this album). It’s kind of like early Kevin Smith movies – yes it belongs to that era. But it’s still good.
Also like Kevin Smith this early effort by Sloan is clearly low budget. You can nearly hear someone walk in from the kitchen with a pot of coffee. This gives the album a warm homemade quality. It also shows that the band is on their toes, keeping their performance tight so as to avoid wasting precious time and money on extra takes. Their later albums polish up real nice and are highly produced. But, good bands need that early artifact to remind us how special they are.
Many of the songs fit well into a high school motif, lyrically. This is a collection of songs about first loves, early loves, disappointing loves, and unreturned loves. It reminds you of that first person who made your heart and brain explode, but just wanted to be friends.
The album opens with “Pen pals,” an innocent early adolescent crush via international pen pal programs. Sloan next dips into an examination of the times in “I Hate My Generation.” I love how listening to this song now, it feels like it could be the generational anthem of any outsider. It is not the exclusive property of Gen X. After this quick side trip, we return to “People of the Sky,” followed by eight songs of unreturned love. These include the story of a burnout pining for a nerd vixen, “Deeper Than Beauty,” and the eternal self-indulgence: Would you wear something nice to my funeral? with “Bells On.” Somehow this indie pop heartbreak never veers into emo. It is spot-on disappointment without the self-pity, perhaps even with a sweetness. For an album of heartache this album also is fun to listen to, rather than depressing. All of this melancholy really gives an extra punch to “I Can Feel It,” the closing track about the person who shakes you out of it. The lyrics pack a thoughtful punch throughout. It’s hard to pick out highlights from this album because each track is just the way it should be. “Twice Removed” provided four break out hits for Sloan, “Pen pals,” “I Hate My Generation,” “Coax Me,” and “Snowsuit Sound.” If you know only these songs check out “Bells On,” “Deeper Than Beauty,” and “I Can Feel It.”
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