BY FRED MILLS
When the Posies first appeared on the Bellingham, Wash., scene circa 1987 it’s safe to say that the Northwest scene was already transitioning to the gnarly, dissonant, metallic sound that would come to be characterized by grunge; a year earlier the epochal Sub Pop 100 compilation had come out, and the following year would see the release of Nirvana’s debut single. So despite there already being an established pop “scene” for the region as spearheaded by the likes of the Young Fresh Fellows (Scott McCaughey’s early, much-loved band), the Squirrels and the Fastbacks and championed by the PopLlama label and other tiny, grassroots operations, it would soon be decisively overshadowed by the harder, heavier stuff.
But was it truly eclipsed? Judging by the longevity of Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer and their multi-faceted careers—which notably included their involvement in the latterday revival of Big Star—amid periodic Posies activity, one might make a case for the opposite. Failure, originally released on cassette and LP by PopLlama in 1989, marked the pair’s precocious beginnings; while it unquestionably is the sound of two young (all of 17 years, in fact) songwriters learning their craft while wearing their influences on their sleeves, it also clearly forecasts a musical greatness to come. Tracks like “At Least For Now,” a shimmering delicacy that’d make Carl Wilson weep with envy; or the strummy “Under Easy” blissful harmonies of “I May Hate You Sometimes,” both so Hollies-centric that Graham Nash and Allan Clarke should call up Ken and Jon and put together an authentic version of the Hollies to replace the ringers who go out on the road under that name; and certainly the ecstatically thrumming janglepop that is “What Little Remains,” which proudly takes its place in the pantheon of ‘80s powerpop pioneered a few years earlier by The dB’s, R.E.M. and Let’s Active”—these are not minor league compositions, but songs steeped in tradition and evidencing a keen understanding and then-looming mastery of the form.
With the LP version of the Failure reissue pressed on eye-candy greenish-gold vinyl and the CD edition boasting 8 bonus tracks comprising demos (an early version of “I May Hate You Sometimes” sounds so confident and fully-realized that you’re left wondering how the duo was able to make their final selections for the actual album back in ’89), instrumentals and live material, the Posies and the astute archivists at Omnivore have done fans a huge service. Make that a gift, in fact. A “failure”? Ironic title or not, to paraphrase a great philosopher, from small things, big things one day will come. Herein find some of those small thing—pop nuggets that turned out to be a musical goldmine.
DOWNLOAD: “I May Hate You Sometimes,” “What Little Remains,” “At Least For Now”