Album Reviews

Musical Chairs: Retraced 1992-1999 (Jigsaw)

musical chairs

The Nineties were a very prolific time for musicians; the sudden popularity of DIY culture and underground, independent music, tempered with the easy access to affordable recording equipment and physical reproduction–these factors all led to small but fertile scenes. For me, I was quite fond of the indie-pop/indie-rock scene; though both terms are now meaningless thanks to major label and capitalist exploitation–as well as an overwhelming tidal wave of mediocrity–some bands and labels were favorites.

One such band was Musical Chairs, a New England-based indiepop band, led by Ian Schlein. They were a strictly 1990s band, retired at the beginning of the new millennium, with Schlein forming The Asperations. This collection compiles thirty-two of the band’s singles, compilation tracks, and unreleased numbers. Mostly lo-fi, the band captured the zeitgeist, with heartfelt songs sung by a guy whose sincerity compensated for his rather limited singing voice.

Two of this compilation’s covers serve as a Rosetta stone for the rest of the album; a cover of Galaxie 500‘s “Fourth of July” and The Field Mice‘s “I Couldn’t Feel Safer” helps connects the likeness of Schlein’s voice to that of Dean Wareham and Bobby Wratten. Indeed, one can hear the influences in the mellow, On Fire-like “Dream of Tomorrow” or the Snowball/Her Handwriting melancholy of “Not Afraid Anymore.”

The remaining twenty-eight songs are of varying quality–a natural occurrence when dealing with such a large amount of songs. Other highlights include the joyous rock of “Youth Anthem” and “Well Read,” the jangle of “Turn Around and Sigh,” the dreamy instrumental romanticism of “Wide Eyed For Now” and “The Light Song,” or the wonderful scene commentaries “Pop Is Not A Four Letter Word” and “Where Have All The Popkids Gone?”

Indiepop may no longer have the same cache and recognition it once did, but  Retraced helps recapture the vigor and the innocence of the scene by highlighting a forgotten favorite.

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