Bookending his 1994 stint in the Elastic Purejoy, Seattle guitarist/singer Marc Olsen (not the Jayhawks guy) made a couple of albums with Sage, a trio containing bassist/singer Guy Davis and drummer Mike Williamson. The rangy little combo forgoes fancy furnishings and vocal exactitude in its loose-limbed muso rock explorations: the elusive lyrics (Forked‘s politically charged “Snow” is partly sung in Spanish) don’t interfere with the unpretentiously accomplished instrumental work, which seems to be the band’s real purpose. The first album demonstrates Sage’s well-honed internal mechanism, an intelligent and organic blend of busy drumming, rubbery bass and inventive guitar incursions — jazzy leads, dreamy chords and abrasive punky jabs. Occasionally as dryly cerebral as the Minutemen, Forked could have benefited from fleshier, clearer production. As it stands, the brief album still offers plenty to chew on.
Improved studio facilities and producer Steve Fisk brought 7th Standard Rd. up to bracing sonic snuff, and Sage’s formidable chops take tense advantage of the clarity and presence. The album is much more song-oriented than the debut, leaving the fierce, complex arrangements to fend for themselves in breaks between the verbal foreplay. Mostly sung in an echo-drenched dramatic whisper, traumatic childhood images (“Monkey Bars,” “Doll Factory,” “Teat”) share space with grim narratives of angry silence (“Buzz Saw”), a death in the family (“Nothing to Say”), vague miseries (“Slip Jig”) and ecology (“Buried Water”). “Compadré‚” meanwhile, supplies the album’s Spanish-language component. An uncommon, adventurous and gripping record from a band with a lot weighing on its collective mind. (Cinematic footnote: Olsen performs onscreen in 1995’s Georgia.)