Great Albums Seldom Heard, Ep. 1

There are great albums that everyone has heard of. Great albums that nobody has heard of. Then there are those that a small amount of people have heard of. This weekly Wednesday column will focus on this last category. Here we go!

1280x1280Plankeye: Strange Exchange:
Plankeye began as a reasonably alright, occasionally preachy Christian pop punk band in the mid 90s, during a time when Christian indie music was reasonably not horrible and usually preachy. In 1999 Plankeye’s frontman Scott Silletta left, as did drummer Adam Ferry. Rather than fully disband, guitars/singer Eric Balmer and bassist Luis Garcia continued. Together, they were co-lead singers. Unlike Goo Goo Dolls, both contributed equally and were in turn equally well received by their loyal fans. Even stranger, Plankeye was suddenly good. I mean really, really good. Their debut as a duo was the shoegazery, sorta punk, and barely preachy Relocation. Aside from a couple stinkers (the horribly sexist, uninteresting Proverbial track “Honey & Oil,” comes to mind) there wasn’t a bad song on it. They attained a little bit of critical acclaim from totally secular sources for their originality and songwriting chops which, unsurprisingly, led to them being completely rejected and abandoned by their prior Contemporary Christian Music family. You may have seen this video on MTV2 or even MTV, for that matter:

In 2001 this fine album was then followed by Strange Exchange. And here we are.

This album is to Plankeye what In Utero was to Nirvana. It sounds like the kind album a fairly straight forward rock band would make to piss off their fans. Strange Exchance is a noisey, spooky, ear-ringing mess that, when it works, is weird and wonderful and sounds as good as their more-famous contemporaries (The Pixes, Pavement, and Beat Happening  are a few that come to mind). It sounds like something that could have been released on Merge or Kill Rock Stars or Secretly Canadian and, if it had, would have received a much larger, curious audience. It is so, so much better than any other album they put out before it. I can’t help but think that perfection of Strange Exchange is a direct result of the fact that they had all but totally alienated themselves from their Christian rock beginnings. The lyrics focus on some heavy stuff. Death and drugs, love and loss, funerals and fidelity (they’ve never ceased to be religiously devout). The guitars on this album screech and wail, recalling My Bloody Valentine at their bloodiest and Jesus and Mary Chain at their Jesusiest. The duo’s vocals move fluidly yet surprisingly between shrieks and whispers, melodies and madness.

This proved to be their last album. Eric Balmer is in the excellent folk-rock duet Fielding with his wife. I have no idea what Luis Garcia is up to. Maybe they’ll follow the recent reunion trend. Maybe this album will survive through bargain bins, yard sales, and the occasional Spotify visitor. Whatever happens to Plankeye, I pray to God Strange Exchange will somehow, someday be recognized for the gem it is.

Standout Tracks: “Chemicals & Sleep,” “By Design,” and the 8 minute avant-downer titled “Untitled.”

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