Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Significant Albums: Jellyfish - Spilt Milk (1993)

File:Spilt Milk albumcover.jpg

This album. I can't recall the exact time, even year exactly, but it had to have been in the mid 90's, possibly 1996 or 1997, when I would guess Mike Portnoy had dropped the name Jellyfish in 1 or more interviews I read. Per Metal Edge or maybe even on the old "Under a Cyber Moon" Dream Theater website.

But I distinctly remember checking this album and Bellybutton out, and finding both for not a lot, likely at Cheapo. And the truth was, I wasn't crazy about them. Maybe it was the title "Spilt Milk" or the girl on the cover, but it didn't jump out at me.

So, they both remained in my cd collection, and I think the next point their name came up was when I was at KFAI around 2000, interviewing of all bands, local prog metal/Queensryche-like band Conditioned Response. And one of those guys on the air mentioned that he was listening to Jellyfish.

So, at that point I recall re-checking them and those cds I had out. And I do remember liking them, actually Bellybutton more.

And in the coming years, with listening to both albums more, and also seeing Mike Portnoy and some others online use their name more and more, I became pretty won over by them.

And I'd say over the last 7 or 8 years at least, maybe more, they have stood out more and more as being ahead of their time in a lot of ways.

Now with this album compared to Bellybutton, I came to see them as about equal, but in the past 4 or 5 years, I've given in to the fact this is their finest work. It just works so well on a production level, and on a flow or track-2-track level.

I recall once thinking and telling people about them as being like The Beach Boys doing progressive rock, which in a vague sense still makes some sense. But I also hear a ton of Beatles influence, as well as Queen, XTC and even groups like ELO. Along with sharing some qualities with some of their contemporaries like King's X, Galactic Cowboys and even Faith No More to a small degree. And Toy Matinee even I would later come to hear/agree with.

Even people like local Minnesota songwriter/popstress Jenny Case and Jimmy Gnecco of Ours have spoken about their love of Jellyfish and this album.

They just found a way to combine power-pop with a classic rock feel, that somehow sounded really clean and modern. When you listen to Jellyfish, and Spilt Milk specifically, you think it was music made in the 70's, but like it was remastered or something, because the recording sounds very hot and almost glitzy and layered.

To not name some of my favorites would be silly. Songs like "New Mistake" and "Sabrina Paste and Plato" are just so catchy and ear-worm like, they are impossible to not love, the more I hear them.
"So serene, Sabrina makes me feel..dah dah dah dah dah dah dahhhhhhhhhh"

"Joining a Fanclub" is a great sort of track to kickstart this album off, which I always think of Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning being in some Beatles fanclub.

Andy Sturmer, not only is an incredible drummer, but his voice is 1 of the biggest reasons I think Jellyfish stands out. It is just so crisp and the little raspy element makes it sound so distinct.

I have always felt the 1st half of this album has this amazing energy, which has only seldom been matched, so much so, I always look for, but rarely find other albums that have that.

Also the lyrics seem to stay with me frequently,

like from Ghost at Number 1:

 "how does it feel to be the only one that knows that you're right"

That certainly is a line that I can and have related to in many ways.

I'm sure there are a ton of points I am not remembering at this very moment about this album, that I may or may not try and edit in eventually. But the thing about Jellyfish and Spilt Milk is, it was clearly to me ahead of its time, and frankly. there has not been a band to make a record as good or quite like it since in this sort of progressive power-pop. Combining similar if not the same influences. Some have tried like The Wondermints or recently The Pillbugs (or even Bleu), but it hasn't happened. I guess I keep waiting for it to happen. The New Pornographers and The Apples in Stereo are sort of the closest thing to modern bands who have made power-pop I enjoy a lot (or getting a bit looser, stuff like Self, The Dissociatives, Bend Sinister and many others), but neither have come close to matching either JF LP, and this being their Swan Song thus the 1 to think of.

A reunion would be a miracle at this point as Roger and Andy can't stand each other I guess, so their likely is a better chance I join 1 of them live or in the studio, but I guess I still keep a small fraction of hope it could happen before I die.

If only I had been a fan and been old enough to go, I probably would have seen them at First Ave supporting this album in '93 (or '94).

The thing is, when Jellyfish came out, they were such a contrast to the whole Grunge movement, that it probably was as big of a reason they ended. Why a band like Dream Theater didn't go by the wayside, and they did? I dunno, maybe personalities. But the 90's pop and alternative music really doesn't compare to them in so many ways. A band like Weezer for example, were around not long after, but because they had enough of a garage sound, I think made it.

It's kind of a shame, but also likely a case where had Jellyfish continued on, their music may have suffered. So in that sense, their legacy never got tainted.

It is also definitely worth mentioning how this was their Swan Song, after 3 years from Bellybutton their debut album. Spilt Milk does not include the work of singer/songwriter Jason Falkner, who was on Bellybutton. Why this album is as good as it is may speak to why Jason left, i.e. he wasn't getting enough of his songwriting involved with the band. Of course there's no way to know what this or other work may have been like with him, but it may have ultimately been for the benefit of both JF and Jason.