Thrush Hermit – [Box Set]

Thursday, 08 September 2011

For as many bands who have come along and changed the face of rock n' roll over the years, there have been an equal or greater number of equally deserving groups who came close, but fell just short of the level they should have achieved. The perfect tragedy of the matter is, while some bands break and become household names and leave an expansive and fantastic crater in the place where they impacted rock n' roll, some other great bands fall comparatively unnoticed between the cracks in the yellow brick road to rock stardom. One such band is Thrush Hermit. While it's true that Thrush Hermit did not work its entire seven-year career in complete obscurity (one song, “Hated It” appeared on the soundtrack to Kevin Smith's film Mallrats), but Thrush Hermit's achievements paled in comparison to those of Sloan (Thrush Hermit was signed briefly to Elektra Records – although the label bought the band out of their contract after their debut album, Sweet Homewrecker, failed to meet expectations), who had come up around the same time, owned the first label Thrush Hermit was signed to before Elektra (Murderecords) and were even from the same proverbial neighborhood in Nova Scotia – who ended up becoming the enduring stars of East Coast alt-rock.

Was it fair? Was it right? Certainly not – such injustices are simply indicative of the way things can go in the music business; an industry in which it's important to have talent and ability, but it's also important to have an outstanding amount of luck. Right or wrong, fair or not, Thrush Hermit ended up being the private pleasure of a small but devoted group of followers and buit the credibility that both Joel Plaskett and Rob Benvie utilized to launch successful careers after Thrush Hermit fell apart.

As unfortunate as their fate may have been, there's no discounting the music Thrush Hermit made while they were together. For those who found the band, they sort of became the gold nugget hidden on the East coast of Canada – a treasure buried among so many gray rocks. The music is most definitely worth finding and, to facilitate that, singer Joel Plaskett has boxed up a set of everything the band ever recorded and released it under the perfectly utilitarian name The Complete Recordings.

As totally anonymous as some of the outward trappings and aesthetics of this box set might be, listeners will know they're hearing something great as soon as any of the set's six discs begins to play. “Hated It” (from the 1994 EP Smart Bomb) is only the tip of the iceberg here as songs like “The Great Pacific Ocean,” “Every Morning I Reread the Postcards,” “Skip The Life,” “North Dakota,” “The Day We Hit The Coast,” “Take Another Drag” and “Everybody's Gotta Move” dot the six audio discs which comprise this set, and mark some phenomenal moments which really should be heard by everyone and lay out everything good rock n' roll is about: nervous energy, loud chords, melodies hot enough to make hearts melt, and enough courage to damn the torpedoes and just say what needs saying instead of worrying about being cool. There's nothing complicated or indecipherable about these songs or any others on The Complete Recordings (the closest to “complicated” this set gets is when it begins to bog down under Clayton Park – Thrush Hermit's final album – which plays a little like All Shook Down by The Replacements in all the wrong ways); at their best, Thrush Hermit exemplified the image of the kids you knew from high school geography class who were a little sweet, friendly and awkward, turned godly with the power of indie rock.

That sort of “sweet, introverted kid” image really did come across in Thrush Hermit's music, but watching the two DVDs included with The Complete Recordings proves that the band was just exactly the same way live as they were on tape. Learn To Party – the VHS tape Thrush Hermit created and sold off their merch table on their final tour – puts the 'goofy but imposing' side of Thrush Hermit into perfect focus as footage of the band taken from tours between 1994 and 1999 illustrates both the lighthearted side of Thrush Hermit (the footage shot by Benvie and Sloan guitarist Chris Murphy on a Thrush Hermit tour with Sloan is priceless), how perfectly dorky they could be, and how brilliant too. Sure, Learn To Party couldn't ever be mistaken for an essential document (same with the second DVD, which is mostly just bonus material that couldn't fit on the first), but those won over by the songs will fall in love with this “band's eye view” production because it does offer a bit more candor for those who crave it.

After absorbing all that, there's no way to claim that The Complete Recordings doesn't edge occasionally into the realm of excessive indulgence, but there's also no way to say that it doesn't live up to its name. In this box set, listeners will find every success that, by rights, Thrush Hermit should have enjoyed (as well as the few they actually did enjoy too) and every foible that ever tripped the band up; no punches pulled, no falls omitted, no greatness glossed over. Because of that approach, The Complete Recordings can only be called a brave release which also happens to be a really really, important and rewarding one; (once again) those who hear it won't be able to stop themselves from falling in love with this band.



Thrush Hermit's The Complete Recordings Box Set is out now. Buy it here from Maplemusic.

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