Indie-rock’s open invitation, even to those possessing limited skill and talent, is, unfortunately, a siren song to mediocrity. Openness is fundamental to the scene’s character and development, but it sometimes gives a free ride to hitchhikers on the underground highway-those who sport the right clothes, a friendly smile and the right minimalist attitude rather than discernible talent.
Named for a Sonic Youth song, Eric’s Trip — a sweet noisy/quiet pop quartet from Moncton, New Brunswick (due east of Maine) — has released a gargantuan amount of sketchy music since forming in 1990. Some of it is pleasant, although the band’s full-length debut (1993’s Love Tara) is a sloppy, half-baked indulgence with precious few songs that actually amount to anything. That album followed a total of 33 self-released cassette tracks, the seventeen songs contained on the Belong, Peter and Songs About Chris EPs plus the four items that fill Julie and the Porthole to Dimentia. (And don’t forget the side projects: Elevator to Hell, Broken Girl, Moon Socket and Purple Knight, the band from which drummer Mark Gaudet was “borrowed” in 1991.)
Forever Again is a lot better, but still as sloppy, vague and aimless as a fluffy cloud in a spring breeze. Bassist Julie Doiron takes a greater singing role alongside soft-voiced guitarist Rick White; the songwriting tightens some of the eighteen selections into shapely forms, most noticeably when acoustic lightness is the chosen timbre. The group’s lyrical themes — winsome vulnerability, passing sadness and bemused confusion — get a lot of exercise, but the record moves along briskly enough so nobody has to dwell morbidly on life’s disappointments. Typical of the band’s cursory designs, “About You” consists of Doiron’s admission “I haven’t even told my brother/I just finished telling my mother — she took it OK/I always wondered what they’d do/When I told them about you.” That’s either a brilliant display of musical Cubism or a song fragment. Take your pick.
The release of a third full-length album, Purple Blue, was discolored by the group’s (quickly rescinded) decision to disband several weeks later. By way of implicit explanation, White clearly announces his exhaustion — albeit in a romantic setting — in the excitable “Sun Coming Up”: “I’m sick of writing love-gone-wrong songs/Sick of even trying sometimes.” An assured slip of a record that favors full-on distorted rocketry over airy folk-pop and dinky minimalism, Purple Blue merely lacks the tunes that would defer tedium. (“Now a Friend,” a difficult post-breakup rapprochement, is a notable exception.) The short songs’ near-random designs seem to be based on nothing more than a simple downcast lyrical idea and whatever melody and chords come to mind; longtime producer Bob Weston gets them on tape without any signs of structuring or editing. For all the sensitivity and reflection, such thoughtlessness is hard to fathom.