How can I legitimately call this a 'review' when I'm entirely partial to the subject I'm talking about? For arguments sake let's call this a write-up - and a tardy one at that seeing that these reissues have been available for almost half a year already. Lincoln, NE's For Against have been a monumental favorite of mine, and IMO stand as one of the most essential late-twentieth century trios alongside The Police and Husker Du. However for the three-piece this entry concerns, their lineup was remarkably fluid by comparison. Frequently lauded in small circles For Against's first two LPs, Echelons (1987) and December (1988) were the product of frontman/bassist Jeff Runnings, guitar wielder Harry Dingman III, and drummer Greg Hill. Groomed on the likes of Joy Division, early Cure and myriad 4AD and Rough Trade imports, the initial F/A template was marked with a chilly, insular demeanor and an omnipresent post-punk wail, not to mention an air of cool so dense the sharpest Ginsu knife in the world wouldn't breach it. Yet these austere sonic environs were surprisingly approachable thanks to Runnings melodic vocal aplomb, countering Dingman's slicing, echoing chords and Hill's snare-heavy backbeat. Even on a collection of nascent demos (corralled on a 10" record, In the Marshes) For Against's formula was deliriously intoxicating and advanced...not to mention a curious one at that given their deep-red state locale of Nebraska where they must have stuck out conspicuously.
The '90s saw the departure of Dingman and Hill for other endeavors, but thankfully, a revamped incarnation of For Against materialized, and from a creative standpoint thrived exponentially. Runnings not only retained his singer status but abandoned bass for a six string. And instead of bringing aboard a full time bassist he opted for a new lead guitarist in the guise of Steven Hinrichs, whose former jangle pop contingent, the Gladstones I've featured previously on this site. So, no bassist it was for F/A mach II, but new drummer Paul Engalhard filled in Greg Hill's stead capably. The renovated trio arrived with a new album, Aperture, and a veritably different modus operandi to accompany it. 1991's Aperture alongside it's Clinton-era follow-ups, Mason's California Lunchroom and Shelf Life have been lovingly reissued as a lavish vinyl box set on Saint Marie Records. They're also available separately on wax and CD, and even a modest CD bundle.
Whether you're a casual For Against-er or are devoutly For Against (like moi), it would be hard to argue that the afore-critiqued Aperture and it's two subsequent follow-ups, Mason's California Lunch Room and Shelf Life weren't trimmed from the same sackcloth. Not only were all three constructed by the same lineup (Runnings/Hinrichs/Engalhard) they shared a very similar aesthetic. In fact, the most accurate way of differentiating this trio of albums is by their gradations of melancholy. Thoroughly oblivious to the seismic grunge/alt rock reverberations of the era, F/A's 1995 entry, Mason's... curtails Aperture's cathartic tensions ever so mildly. Hinrich's unremittingly clangy guitar fills woo with sweet jangly persuasion, plied with Runnings sharp melodic chops, which seem to heighten with every successive F/A record. "Seesick," "Tagalong" and "Coursing" swell with ambivalent to downright regretful themes, but amidst these forlorn ruminations resides a musical formula so absorbing and heady, that any overarching pessimism invariably stops short of overpowering the songs themselves.
As mentioned all three titles are available separately or as a vinyl box set/CD bundle straight from Saint Marie Records. Digital options are available at your fingertips via Amazon, iTunes and Spotify.
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