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SEAWEED (Buy CDs by this artist)
Seaweed (Leopard Gecko/Tupelo) 1990
Seaweed EP7 (Leopard Gecko) 1990
Despised (Sub Pop) 1991
Weak (Sub Pop) 1992
Four (Sub Pop) 1993
Go Your Own Way EP (Sub Pop) 1993
Spanaway (Hollywood) 1995
Actions and Indications (Merge) 1999

Weaned on all-ages hardcore shows in their Tacoma, Washington, hometown, the five members of Seaweed struck out in late 1989 to emulate their heroes. The agile hook-core quintet was soon playing bars where its members were too young to drink, wowing onlookers with incessant pogoing and urgent metal-influenced riffs. Six years later, Seaweed's maturation (and punk's newfound commercial appeal) proved marketable, as the band signed on with Disney's Hollywood Records.

Seaweed compiles early singles from K and Leopard Gecko (a label run by Seaweed bassist John Atkins). Highlights include "Deertrap" (wherein vocalist Aaron Stauffer anguishes over his discovery of a dying animal and his inability to save it), "Carousel," "Stargirl" and "Just a Smirk." Even at this early stage, the band's rhythmic punk-metal effectively accompanies Stauffer's yearning confessions of confusion and doubt, and the songs show a solid grasp of the best of mid-'80s post-punk. The sound quality is bargain basement, but the group's sincerity and earnest songwriting make Seaweed too intense to be discounted.

Jack Endino recorded Despised, a six-song EP fattened by four remixed singles, bringing out the crucial rhythm work of Atkins and drummer Bob Bulgrien, heightening the tension between guitarists Clint Werner and Wade Neal. Again, the band's aggressive and brooding, yet catchy, songwriting gives Stauffer ample support for his tales of emotional struggle. ("It's not so clear to me that I was wrong, I betrayed you," he wails on "Stale.") Waning adolescence (in interviews of this period, members discussed their proclivity for masturbation) clashes with thoughtful, unique perspectives on the transition into adulthood (Neal contributes a gorgeous acoustic guitar track to the otherwise forceful "Sit in Glass").

Endino returned for the sarcastically titled Weak. More fully realized and powerful than anything the group had previously done, the ten songs are anything but weak. Neal and Werner boost the guitars, tangling awesome heaviness into chiming rhythmic work. Stauffer ponders more abstract concepts — in the chorus of "Taxing," he bellows, "Sit and watch the world fall down/Crumble into loss/Martyr wrote across my wall/Supervision costs." He sounds changed on "New Tools" ("I understand that I can't understand the new breed"); "Clean Slate," "Baggage," "The Way It Ends" and other tracks focus on the volatile dynamics of relationships.

A sonic architect in his own right, Werner had recorded the demos for Weak at his homemade eight-track studio. By 1993, Werner's basement held a complete 16-track facility, and Seaweed self-produced Four at home. The efforts yielded the epic "Kid Candy," the angry "One Inch Punch" (a Bruce Lee maneuver), the driving "Turn Out," the varied "In Fairness" and the throttling, hooky "Losing Skin." True to its foundations, Seaweed turns out a meaty combination of hard-hitting metallic oomph and subversive hooks.

Co-produced by the band and mixed by Andy Wallace, Spanaway changes little, although increases in budget and studio time enable Seaweed to deliver its best work, an inspired major-label detour. The opening "Free Drug Zone" rumbles furiously; the guitars on "Crush Us All" sound interplanetary. Stauffer turns into a friggin' poet — the tender intro to "Saturday Nitrous" includes the line, "Diving under golden skies so cherry/Blossoms clouding up my sight/Take a breath in cleansing/The nectar sweet and sticky." Sure, he's still obsessing over relationships and arguments ("Not Saying Anything," "Start With"), but other songs commune with nature (the spectacular "Magic Mountainman"), travel ("Defender") and detail visions of am apocalyptic future ("Last Humans"). Having grown up on Spanaway, Seaweed sews together a record that cohesively binds its past and its future.

[Mark Woodlief]