Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dust It Off: Walt Mink - El Producto

El Producto
Album: El Producto (Walt Mink)
Atlantic, 1996

This album's biggest claim to fame is that it is one of fewer than a dozen albums to receive a 10/10 from Pitchfork Media upon its initial release, a rating even the band's own mothers must have known was undeserved. But despite it not being a 10/10 sort of record, it is a great record. And it would have been known as one if it weren't for a serious of crappy twists of fate (mostly caused by the messy internal politics at Atlantic) that kept it under most listeners' radars .

Walt Mink is quintessentially 90's and quintessentially American indie, equally because of its clear post-Nirvana wussiness and because of its heavy-handed alt-rock production. The band's catchy pop is delivered at lightspeed in ever-changing time signatures and with a healthy sheen of distortion. It sounds like the poppiest of Husker Du or Mudhoney, but about twice as fast.

Though Walt Mink's line-up changed several times, it always featured John Kimbrough, and only John Kimbrough, on guitar. Backed only by a rhythm section, Kimbrough developed a quick half finger-picking, half strumming technique that allowed him to be both lead and rhythm guitarist, churning out quick riffs while holding down a steady chord with a few fingers. It's not that this approach is revolutionary, but it's surprisingly effective and on El Producto, it's at its best.

Kimbrough's high-ish voice can be a bit whiny and annoying at times, and his lyrics are often, well, dumb. But that doesn't stop songs like "Stood Up" and "Overgrown" from being some of the rockin'est moments of the 90's. And in what was often a heavy decade for rock music, Walt Mink's lightness - achieved through sheer speed and an unswerving refusal to hit weighty, low-register chords on the guitar - makes it a fresh voice among its contemporaries.

From punk-inspired underground pop tracks to a handful of sweet acoustic numbers, El Producto shines because of its superb (if simple) songwriting. The complex hooks are irresistible while the veering time signatures hold a more intellectual appeal. This album didn't shake the foundations of rock'n'roll, but it's solid and smart and it doesn't sound like anyone except Walt Mink.

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