The Midwest not only provides a home to this casually intellectual Columbus, Ohio quintet, it also informs their post-collegiate cultural outlook. Following the eight-song Mark, Don & Mel mini-album (a giddily rudimentary introduction to the band’s non-caloric pop), the offhandedly XTC-styled folk-rock of Born in a Barn supports witty lyrics about “Lincoln Logs” (ol’ Abe’s face appears all over the crypto-religious cover), “Rutherford B. Hayes” and the “Columbus Dispatch.” Singer/guitarist Ron House’s tentative voice lends unavoidable humility to the simply conceived but eminently likable tunes.
Great Plains Naked at the Buy, Sell, and Trade is even better, a wonderful topical romp that knowingly tweaks the underground rock culture (“Letter to a Fanzine”), the king of music television (“Dick Clark”) and themselves (“Real Bad,” “Origin of My Silly Grin”). Silly but never unserious, Great Plains is a breath of fresh air in the non-mainstream rock scene. Excellent.
Not only does Sum Things Up cap things off, it cranks them up, with the loudest production sound the band has ever used. This is a bad thing, as the group’s carefree spirit and charming wit wilts in such a brash environment. The punk psychedelia of “The Wind Blows, the Law Breaks” (featuring Mark Wyatt on organ), for instance, is not just clumsy, it’s also too far outside the band’s frame of reference to be taken seriously; elsewhere, sloppy guitar playing is amplified into hair-raising ineptitude. There may be a few good songs buried underneath the overcharged arrangements, but wearing other people’s clothes ill suits the once great Great Plains. (The cassette and CD have two bonus tracks.) Colorized! is a compilation.