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REVIEW: Tugboat Annie, _Superfriends*_ (Sonic Bubblegum)

Now that all the distortion and flannel is settling, there are enough bands with a “grunge” sound to see the outlines of factions. Roughly speaking, there is that grunge faction characterized by an interchangeability with Pearl Jam, and hence also characterized by guitar soloing and a distinct Led Zeppelin cock-rock aura (e.g. Silverchair). This faction tends to dominate the “alternative” part of the new hybrid classic-rock/modern-rock station playlists.

Buffalo’s Tugboat Annie does NOT fall into this category (which I personally consider a point in their favor); instead, they fall into the camp of grunge rockers that use three-note (at most) guitar parts and four chord grooves for verse and chorus. This faction tends to sound a lot like _Doolittle_-era Pixies, and Tugboat Annie is no real exception. This is the kind of record you might love after seeing a band put on a great live show as some kind of memento, but in itself it’s unremarkable though it suggests untapped potential. Your best bet would be somehow sampling their single “Jack-Knife”, or their album cuts “Circus” or “Adaptor” before buying. If these songs stick in your head, buy the album.

Most of the songs are mellow and quite accessible. The songs are produced cleanly and the guitars ring with a distortion that soothes rather than provokes. Singer Mike Bethmann sings with a pleasant rasp, a grungy Peter Gabriel who uses his limited range well and with conviction. The band plays with a certain integrity and the production of this record is very clean and clear.

They display a good ear for a simple guitar lines and a few catchy hooks. Their songs generally have an genuinely downtrodden air, although they sometimes undercut it with oddball lyrics sung completely deadpan (the title comes from a song comparing the League of Nations to the Justice League). Their songs manage to avoid sounding identifiably derivative, which is also a plus, but they never transcend their side of the grunge genre.