No, I’m not going there. Sad Baby Wolf has garnered a lot of ink because two of its members were in the most successful band to come out of Burque, but this doesn’t mean they should be forever defined by that.
And yet, Sad Baby Wolf’s debut LP, Electric Sounds, does remind me of guitarists Marty Crandall and Neal Langford’s earlier band, one that gathered acclaim and made its mark on the scene. Okay, I’ll say it once and once only: Flake. Flake had many of the pop sensibilities of that … other … band but was also a product of its time.
Also known as Flake Music—depending on whether one heard them in ’93 or ’97—Flake dispensed with the trashy punk aesthetic of local contemporaries like Scared of Chaka and helped usher in what we then called emo. In those days, emo didn’t mean your sad bastard-whining or the über-sensitive suicide fodder of your Elliott Smiths. We used it—somewhat disparagingly I’ll admit—to denote a musical style rather than subject matter: lots of minor chords, turn-on-a-dime changes from soft to loud and back again and emotive vocals that weren't snarled à la The Drags but were every bit as biting.
On the national stage, bands like Samiam and Discount brought emo wide recognition although its fans took offense at that label. By 2000, the “punk” revival was dead, and emo—or whatever you want to call it—was the predominant form, barely edging out math rock. Many of us had had enough, and local glam aficionado Zed Stardust famously threatened to publicly hang himself from the decrepit heater that hung over the Golden West stage if another touring emo band showed up.
Still, there were a few local outfits that did justice to the form. For my money, Pilot to Bombardier was at the top of that heap; consider this a cheap foreshadowing trick of a cheaper journalist, but it's noteworthy that Sad Baby Wolf bassist Sean McCullough was their guitar slinger. McCullough was armed with an heroic array of pedals, the most I’d ever seen. He later brought this feature with him to The Oktober People. Concurrently, third Sad Baby Wolf guitarist Jason Ward was rocking local stages with Starsky’s workingman-core indie rock.
So here we are, a decade and half on, and Sad Baby Wolf is cited as being influenced by everyone from Arcade Fire to The Promise Ring, when in fact they’ve been in on the deal from the get-go. My memory of those days is a bit dim, but there were shared stages and bills between any number of bands boasting Crandall, Ward, McCullough and Langford. A bit later, drummer Maury Crandall made his mark with his wife Connie in the fine and powerful pop of Giranimals, who are sorely missed but are valiantly raising a brood of Cowsills-like, musically knowledgeable kids.
Completing some sort of circle, Sad Baby Wolf is hosting their official Electric Sounds release show at Low Spirits (2823 Second Street NW), which is owned by Starsky alum Joe Anderson. Featuring Crandall and Ward’s vocals, this limited pressing of 300 records (with free download) isn't stuck in the past by any means, but moves forward with a bit of swirl, jangle, pop and soaring emo—when that word meant more than it does now.
Capably engineered by McCullough, I hear in it snatches of Pavement and even Pete Townshend, but especially “old” emo’s hallmark: intricate and deliberate progressions, here backed with Maury’s pop-styled drums. And, if you think there’s no such thing as pop drums, you haven’t been listening; pay attention to his beats and you’ll see what I mean.
I suppose no one ever truly escapes their past, but I see no reason to focus on only one past accomplishment when this band has a collective body of work of which they can be quite proud. From this point on, I hope Sad Baby Wolf’s worth is measured by their considerable prowess and not by past laurels. If we can do that locally, it can be done in the national press as well.