4 out of 5
Label: Grass Records
Produced by: Keith Cleversley
Existing during that wondrous era of mid 90s grunge, during which we coming-of-age types thought that such music would last forever (before inevitably being gutted and turned into a business-like product, eventually morphing into edge-shorn nu-metal or somesuch), Grass Records was very much a telltale sign of what was to come, offering up some great tweaks on the scene before, whoops, turning into Wind-Up Records and giving us Creed.
Fitting in just under the wire was Godplow’s final album, Soft Formal Static. Seemingly carved out of lo-fi by producer Keith Cleversley, Static is rather immediately grabbing once guitarist Hunter Jonakin starts huskily shrieking across a really warm, fuzzy riff, all of it exploding into bursts of punkiness backed by drummer Gary Reid, some perfect alterna-rock layering by second guitarist William Anderson, and a boppy bassline courtesy of Shane Stubblefield. It’s a very recognizable sound – see: grunge – but the band has a raw and unclean edge that was disappearing at this point, very reminiscent of not only some classic stuff like Sub Pop Nirvana, but also going slightly more underground, dipping into the noisier wash of Dinosaur Jr. Thus crossing between waves of distortion and an undercurrent of pop and bluster, Godplow further step off the map at points to lean into a studio’s offerings of effects and extras; this is quite a mini-masterpiece of indie rock on the verge of radio ready sheen, except the half-and-half mix is probably a bit too of one side or the other to wholly hit the mark of either. This gets hiccuped another notch by Jonakin’s lyrics, which never quite congeal into a solid picture that matches his pattern: select lines start to tell a tale, and then he’ll veer off with connected imagery, though it also feels like a new or separate thought.
But every track on the album has its moments, and more than that: excepting some beats that feel like a “okay, weird breakdown here; bridge goes here” playbook, all of Soft Formal Static really works, and has a unique, edgy vibe to it that still stands out today.
Grunge all seemed to come crashing down soon after this; Godplow’s release was timely in that sense, with a celebratory sense of pop smashed against a rush of emotive rock, ready to evolve if we’ll let it, but resigned to existing on the cusp if we won’t. (We didn’t, and got Scott Stapp instead.)