A long time ago (say, 25 years or so), one could turn on a college radio station and get a steady diet of loud, sludgy pop music. Some of it was sludgier (Mudhoney), some of it was louder (Soundgarden) and some of it was poppier (Jawbox). Some of it was weirder (Sonic Youth), but that's another story entirely.

Happy Diving
Big World
(Father/Daughter Records)

My personal favorite entry is a band that went by the name of Ff. I heard We're #1 almost 20 years ago, and it remains one of my favorite albums. Apparently there is at least one other album from those folks, but I haven't heard it. And as #1 exists in my brain as a form of perfection, I'm not sure I want to hear anything else from the band. In any case, whenever I hear something in the sludge pop vein, I always compare it to We're #1. This process weeds out all of the pretenders--which Is just about everyone.

Happy Diving makes the grade. There are squalls of feedback, vocals buried behind the guitars and infectious riffage. These songs sound great at normal volume, but the pleasure increases exponentially as the volume gets upped.

The hardest part about this sound is balancing poppy hooks with brutal licks. Too poppy and it sounds like a parlor trick or cheesy metal. Too heavy and you get into full-on Skin Yard grunge territory (which is fine in its own right, but at that point we're talking about a different sound entirely). And then there are the folks who don't actually know how to write songs, but those can be safely ignored.

If I might make an odd comparison, Happy Diving uses feedback and riffage much the same way Neil Young did back in his Ragged Glory and Mirror Ball phase. When it's time for the song to shine, the scrim is pulled back just enough. The playing is just as rough-and-tumble, but the tune shines through. At the edges, though, there's an imminent threat of sonic doom.

Happy Diving doesn't do anything new here. But I haven't heard someone rip up a sound like this in some time. Stay loud, my friends.

Jon Worley

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