The backstory is easy and almost pointless to recount: If their members’ former bands—bookish Kansan horndogs the Embarrassment, post–Mission of Burma power trio Volcano Suns—mean anything to you, then it’s likely Big Dipper will as well. If not, these three discs should fill you in, collecting the six-song EP (Boo-Boo) and two full-lengths (Heavens and Craps) that the Boston-based quartet made for Homestead in the late ’80s, and charting a lost strain of post-hardcore, pre-grunge American indiedom. Big Dipper’s three rotating frontmen (plus piston-armed drummer Jeff Oliphant) channeled their previous outfits’ guitar-centric firepower into shapelier vessels. Hooky choruses, hooky leads, hooky harmonies—their top-shelf songs (“Faith Healer,” “She’s Fetching,” “All Going Out Together”) had all three, often all at once. The albums’ deep cuts could be dramatic (“Mr. Woods”) or gratifyingly noisy (“A Song to Be Beautiful”), but with no interest in sexual excess or other “dangerous” themes, even anti-stardom eluded the band while the likes of Big Black and Lydia Lunch reigned. Supercluster also collects superior B-sides and compilation tracks—notably, the uncharacteristically pissed off “You’re Not Patsy” and the apostolic, showily rhymed “He Is God.” Disc three, subtitled Very Loud Array, culls 15 tracks, all but two unreleased, from sessions undertaken after the original lineup collapsed into the black hole of an eight-album deal with Epic.
Dipper’s recordings focused on the basics: keeping the energy up and perfecting the fit between Bill Goffrier and Gary Waleik’s guitars. Goffrier’s voice rode the sweet end of the yearn-to-strain continuum, while his bandmates often wrote better melodies than they could sing. (You can practically hear bassist Steve Michener giving himself nodes on the outchorus of “Easter Eve.”) The straightforwardness of their sound was a background against which the songs’ otherworldliness stood out sharply, like unexplained blips on a monochromatic sonar screen. Supercluster is populated by elusive beasts (“Loch Ness Monster”), ectoplasmic presences (“The Ghost of Emily”), and, repeatedly, celestially oriented entities, from astronauts and astronomers (“Lunar Module,” “Humason”) to aliens (abductee narrative “Missing Time,” made self-referential by its 17-odd years in tape-vault limbo). Even the love songs assign their objects transformative powers: As the chiming single-that-wasn’t from Craps advises, “You’re not alive until you meet the witch.” Live, Dipper often paired “The Witch” with the Embarrassment’s Samantha Stevens tribute “Elizabeth Montgomery’s Face”; maybe they’ll unleash the same double-whammy at this week’s reunion shows.
Big Dipper play Maxwell’s April 24 and Southpaw April 25
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 22, 2008