The Posies Do Not Suck
Someone once told me a story about a bunch of college friends who had an inside joke around the line “The Posies suck.” If I understood correctly, this bunch had seen an early, raw, and, no doubt, very cool Nirvana show at their college, and, as a result, viewed themselves on the cutting edge of where rock was headed in the early 90s. The Posies, who played the same college circuit, were less of the moment. With the signature vocal harmonies of principal members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, the Posies were never really a grunge band, even when they turned up their guitars and stomped their fuzz pedals more frequently in the 90s. However, there has never not been a time when they put the power in their power-pop with soulful, creative guitar playing. On the road for a big chunk of 2018, and having appeared recently in New York City, the Posies are still not of the moment, but they endure heartily with their core intact.
Regardless of what a bunch of proto-hipsters may have thought, the Posies do not suck. Now well into their third decade working together, Auer and Stringfellow are most recently out with Solid States, a new album that may be their best collection of songs since their underappreciated 1993 classic, Frosting On the Beater. (Solid States was released April 29, 2016—this is a new edit of a piece written in 2016.) The Posies have always been poppy, in the best sense. At their best, a Posies record flows from hook to hook. Solid States is no change in this respect; the songs are well-structured, melodic, and catchy. There may be stray hints of prog and art rock (“The Sound of Clouds”), but there are no long jams or meandering ambient grooves.
Frosting On the Beater was the Posies’ answer to the grunge zeitgeist of the early 90s. On that album, Auer and Stringfellow surrounded their melodies and hooks with in-your-face guitars. As much as Frosting On the Beater was a Posies album of that time, Solid States is a Posies album of this time. The title probably doesn’t, but may as well, refer to the band’s apparent embracing of contemporary DAW technology. There are certainly plenty of keyboard layers, programmed bits of percussion, and spacious vocal reverbs. The guitars may not be Dream-All-Day in-your-face, but they’re thoroughly key to song dynamics on tracks such as “Squirrel vs. Snake,” on which the crunchy chords bring to mind Alex Lifeson’s more recent work (not to mention the melodic fills of “M Doll,” which sounds like 80s Lifeson or Missing Persons). Auer and Stringfellow have spoken of their love for Rush; I wouldn’t be surprised to find that their Rush knowledge is up-to-date. The dreamy “Rollercoaster Zen” is supported beneath the ambience by a tight distorted-guitar line.
The album concludes with “Radiance,” a deeply textured closer that pulls together Krautrock bass fills; vocoders; a la-la chorus; samples of speaking voices; and a soaring guitar solo, replete with unison bends and a subtle nod to “Purple Rain”—all in just over four minutes. It’s gorgeous stuff that is unlike anything else in the Posies catalog and stands on its own next to its influences.
The Posies have toured consistently since the release of Solid States. It’s not hard to imagine live performance of Solid States songs bringing out more aggressive playing. Maybe Auer and Stringfellow will do Solid States songs with tube amps.
This is a mighty tour itinerary!