Graded on a Curve: Eggs, Teenbeat 96 Exploder

When most people think of Teenbeat Records they conjure up visions of the dapper Mark E. Robinson and his exceptional band Unrest. But anybody that ponders the label for more than just a few fleeting moments should find themselves considering the splendid unit known as Eggs, a prolific and eclectic entity that released one of the best genuine double albums of the ‘90s, Teenbeat 96 Exploder.

Eggs, who hailed from Richmond, VA and then Washington, DC during the nation’s capital’s most fruitful rock era, were essentially singer/guitarist Andrew Beaujon’s band. Sure, guitarist/trombonist/suave towhead Rob Christiansen also became a fixture, but that guy also featured in Teenbeat lounge-pop indie-supergroup Grenadine along with shepherding his own solo project, the very interesting and terribly under-heard Sisterhood of Convoluted Thinkers.

Drummer John Rickman was around from the beginning through the release of 1992’s Bruiser, Eggs swell first album. Along with Christiansen, bassist Evan Shurak joined shortly after the move to the District and stayed until nearly the end, though when I saw them playing with The Wedding Present at the old 9:30 Club sometime in ‘95, he was replaced on the four-string by Jane Buscher.

The only member of the band to hold it down from beginning to end was Beaujon. And he was the main reason I checked out Eggs in the first place; his previous project Scaley Andrew thrived as one of early Teenbeat’s finest cassette-only wildcards, taking up much time in my stereo’s dual deck at the dawn of the ‘90s, particularly with the C-60 The Soul of Post-Modernism.

That tape presented the appeal of Beaujon’s artistic whatsis to fine effect, containing elements of indie pop and DIY experimentalism cut with unusually strong songwriting skills and a choice of cover material that really ran a gamut. Along with friends and label mates Unrest (“Can’t Sit Still”) there was Leadbelly (“Goodnight Irene”), Yaz (“Midnight”) and George Michael (“Faith”), and this endearingly blunt refusal to toe any scene’s behavioral line made it rather easy to jump right in and enjoy the oft-eccentric side of Eggs’ subsequent recording and performance personality.

The big differences between Beaujon’s cassettes of bedroom-style gush and Eggs’ discography were an unflagging dedication to the band dynamic along with a sly awareness of how to engage with a larger sense of scale. While never a Gina Arnold-approved “Go for the big brass ring”-style group, they were also much more than a mere hobby; like many of their ‘90s indie contemporaries, Eggs excelled at being a pro-like band fostered by the intense and in retrospect rather huge Clinton-era American indie scene.

And like many of their cohorts, Eggs helped to greatly expand the acceptable range of influence for acts of their ilk. In a manner similar to Unrest, Beaujon and company weren’t a bit hesitant to indulge a deep appreciation for not only Brit post-punk and indie pop sounds, and they also trumpeted such seemingly far afield yet in some cases quite stylistically simpatico predecessors as samba, disco, and non-hipster ‘70s prog-rock.

That samba element, greatly aided by Christiansen’s very textural trombone work, has caused some to erroneously describe Bruiser as a lounge-pop record in the mode of Grenadine. Nah. It’s actually one of the best indie pop productions of the ‘90s American wave, taking what’s probably a permanent back seat to Unrest’s Imperial f.f.r.r. from the same year, but still a little too slept on for comfort.

And it was kinda that way at the time, as well. All sorts of folks were understandably falling into a love-tizzy over the mightiness of Bridget Cross-era Unrest, but Eggs were always a band for more discerning tastes. Not that they didn’t try to increase their following, both through the playing of many killer shows and by releasing Teenbeat 96 Exploder in 1994, a whopping double-LP that in the eighteen years since its appearance has seen its qualitative achievement grow like a dense thicket of leafy, fragrant vines.

It’s a record that expanded far beyond the horn and guitar driven indie pop of the debut, its ambition at times unwieldy but never off-putting, encompassing a recurring noise-rock inspired album theme, instrumental synthesizer soundscapes that range from the experimental (“Music Without Keys No. 3”), to the infectiously regal (“March of the Triumphant Elephants”), covers both concurrent (Wimp Factor XIV’s “Rebuilding Europe”) and classic (a gorgeous take on Love’s “Willow Willow”), unserious studio tomfoolery (the mood-lightening thirty second goof “Minestrone”), and at least one majestically bold pop creation per album side.

And Teenbeat 96 Exploder is one of the few ‘90s releases that can be legitimately described as a double-LP instead of just a really long compact disc. In fact, the CD version includes three Side Divisions, gaps of silence intended by the band to relieve some the above referenced unwieldiness (to quote Beaujon in the notes; “We recommend taking it a side or two at a time”). Those minute long pauses certainly do help on the CD, but in reality the music is best absorbed via the vinyl edition, where the listener can take as long a break between sides as they wish.

The first three sides in particular deliver fully realized and concise standalone statements, in large part through the inclusion of those shrewdly sequenced pop “hits.” Hell, I can distinctly recall my reaction after first hearing “Why Am I So Tired All the Time?,”the record’s second track and inaugural pop nugget; specifically, I reflected that through this provocatively catchy exploration of emotional and physical lethargy, both Eggs and indie-rock in general had taken a considerable leap forward.

However, side two’s “A Pit With Spikes” is essentially Exploder’s centerpiece of deluxe pop erudition. Essentially a retro-new wave concoction that serves as a tart emotional kiss-off, it builds to a fine melodramatic froth before redirecting into a falsetto-drenched disco breakdown halfway between dancefloor-era Bee Gees and “One Night in Bangkok.” No fooling, partner.

And this stylistic detour wasn’t the slightest bit discordant at the time, since it fit right into Teenbeat’s general Anglophilic pro-post-punk/new wave tendency, a zone that included a Factory Records tribute 7-inch from Unrest issued in Sup Pop’s singles club, the same band’s songic ode to Miaow’s Cath Carroll on their LP Perfect Teeth and even a homemade cassette reissue of Crispy Ambulance material from long before the bubbling up of any retroactive vogue for obscure Brit post-punk acts.

But if “A Pit With Spikes” is the record’s pop showcase then side three’s “Saturday’s Cool” blends their occasional penchant for straight-up rocking with that previously detailed eccentric streak; I witnessed the song’s prog-rock keyboards flipping-out more than one listener back in the day. And I’m not talking about Krautrock, Magma, or even King Crimson. Nope, the song’s splooshy bombastic noodling is distinctly reminiscent of Kansas at their most grandiose.

Maybe Eggs’ sweetest trick is how they could integrate elements of the Gibb Brothers, Murray Head, and “Carry on My Wayward Son” into the recipe of their sonic stew and make it all work for listeners who’d never consider those additives as positives. I’m not talking about me. No way. I’m speaking of those disco-hating new wave-disdaining prog-despisers that haunt our collective existence on this rock called Earth. A real bunch of tough customers, they are.

But back in ’94 the estimable sprawl and prominent trombone waves of side four’s “Rollercoaster” made it very tempting to persist in citing Eggs as a sort of East Coast equivalent to San Fran weird-meats Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. This comparison is ultimately faulty; after all, Eggs were about the extension of indie pop and the Fellers were a loopy, expansive examination of the avant-garage. But they both had a tight handle on that bold ‘bone, of this fact there is no denying.

As Teenbeat 96 Exploder was underappreciated at the time of its release it’s no surprise that the Eggs did crack. Yes, breaking up was just around the corner, but they left behind not just two fine full-length records but an additional CD/digital comp of their many vinyl singles and comp tracks titled How Do You Like Your Lobster?

Amongst continued musical pursuits, Andrew Beaujon also authored some top-notch journalism, contributing to the small press (Chickfactor), the big mags (Spin), and the free weeklies (Washington City Paper). He also wrote a book on Christian rock titled Body Piercing Saved My Life that looks quite interesting.

But to me and many others he’ll always be the sparkplug for one of the ‘90’s least predictable indie bands, a group whose music continues to sound extremely fresh in the present day. This makes them quite ripe for rediscovery, and Teenbeat 96 Exploder is a great place to start.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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