Despite the first-rate power pop attack led by fine singer/guitarist Peter Hayes, Washington DC’s High Back Chairs is probably best remembered as the final stop in Jeff Nelson’s career as a drummer (besides Minor Threat, the co-owner of Dischord Records spent quality time in Teen Idles, Grand Union, Egg Hunt, 3 and Senator Flux), and as the first group home of Velocity Girl drummer Jim Spellman, who played guitar in the quartet alongside Hayes and bassist Charles Steck (ex-Velvet Monkeys).
Of Two Minds‘ eight songs are polished but gripping, hard and mean. Benefiting from Ted Nicely’s production, the record — underneath the usual great melodic wall of guitars — is one of Dischord’s first excursions into roots-rock pop. “Miles to Inches” and “Doldrums” have the reports of a small cannon and hooks so clean and big they’re as grabby as a little kid in a shopping cart. The mix of spirited earnestness and streamlined rock power is enormously appealing.
Also produced by Nicely, Curiosity and Relief is no departure. Crisp guitars again rule the day, with more sing-song pop choruses, heavy bass and drums, lulling backing vocals and a ’60s-meets-’80s feel. The outstanding “Share” is representative of the half-dozen selections, but the band also tries some quieter moments, such as “Unending,” which approaches prettiness without pulling up lame. Coming out at a time when grunge held a lot of sway in Amerindie land, this breezy, supremely melodic, gutsy rock seemed almost noble. Replacements were enlisted when Nelson decided to retire from playing and Spellman pledged his troth to his other band (selling his Les Paul in the process), but two original Chairs missing soon meant no chairs at all, and the band folded.