New Dawning Time
Gardener was the project of Seaweed vocalist Aaron Stauffer and Screaming Trees guitarist Van Conner. Both fellows had gotten together after their respective bands had gone on hiatus, and the music they would make would bear little in common to either band. New Dawning Time, with its title forecasting something new, would be the duo’s sole album, recorded over long stretches of time and appearing in 1999 via Sub Pop.
Unlike Seaweed’s punk-rock anthems and Screaming Trees’ heavy, morose grunge rock, the music of Gardner was angular and earthy. Stauffer’s voice has always retained a sunny, lackadaisical edge, and with the punk rock aggression stripped away, that edge suddenly becomes sweet and intoxicating. Conner’s arrangements blend stark, minimal instrumentation with weird, angular melodic bits; “Shakedown Cruise” blends acoustic guitar and acoustic drums with pan flute and trumpet. It shouldn’t work, but its cacophonous racket oddly works. On “Quay,” they take this formula, apply it to a ballad, and throw in tabla and sitar, resulting in a song that is oddly middle eastern and most certainly trippy.
When they’re not experimenting, though, they’re making some great no-frills indie rock. Seaweed had a strong connection with the Chapel Hill/DC indie rock scene, and these songs show that influence. Stauffer’s vocal style is similar to Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan, and with “End Up That Way” and “Outside Looking In,” Gardener is flying the Merge Records flag from its SeaTac base. Interestingly enough, the horns and strings on “New Dawning Time” almost predict Superchunk’s experimentation on their album Come Pick Me Up, while the oddly angular sounds on “Tamed” and “Struggle with Sickness” predict another Sub Pop one-off, Isaac Brock’’s superb solo project Ugly Casanova.
New Dawning Time promised much and hinted at greatness at a new dawn for both these veteran musicians, but alas, it would not come to pass. Their only other release was a limited edition single, their take on Don Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer,” and both would find themselves summoned back to their day jobs; Seaweed would soon release its final album (on Merge, no less), while Screaming Trees would begin work on material that would remain unfinished and unreleased for well over a decade. By the time this album was released, they’d moved on, and this little record would become an obscure but enjoyable gem.