On Shuffle: The Posies – "Solar Sister"

(Geffen, 1993)

I’m not sure why I didn’t give The Posies more of a chance back in the early 1990s – Frosting on the Beater came out at the height of the grunge movement, so they had the guitar/drums/bass rock quartet thing going for them. “Dream All Day” was an awesome single that got played quite a bit on Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were pretty cool, with their long hair. I was always an Auer guy though, if I had to choose. He looked cooler (dreamy!) and had the deeper voice, and of course “Dream All Day” was his, so he was my entry point for the band. Ken Stringfellow was goofy looking and had pink hair that he obviously couldn’t grow quite as long or as full as Auer. Who did he think he was, Wayne Coyne?

See what I was doing, though? I wasn’t thinking critically, an activity that I’m much more inclined to participate in now that I’m no longer in high school. (Although, shouldn’t I have been thinking critically in high school? Screw it, I got good grades.) I recently dove back in to Frosting on the Beater, and I’m really glad I did – it’s solid, front to back. Auer and Stringfellow, who trade off lead singing and songwriting credits from track to track (much like Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug), have a deep catalog and long collaborative history that clearly has borne significant fruit, even prior to this album. But Frosting remains the crown jewel in their biography, one that is still being written today. (The Posies remain an active band.)

And much like the realization I came to about The Beatles – I’m a Paul man, for certain (I was firmly in the John camp until I realized he was too much of a blazing hippie for me to give a serious shit about anymore) – I’m pretty much tipping the balance from Jon to Ken with The Posies, although it’s a lot closer than the Lennon/McCartney divide. What did it? “Solar Sister,” that’s what.

I wasn’t aware that harmonies like that could exist, or could be used in such intriguing ways. Throughout the verses, Stringfellow and Auer dance around their registers, the latter perfectly complimenting the former and launching the tune to heights unforeseen. I think what gets me the most is that the melody, bear with me, sounds more like the third line of a verse rather than the first, and is then carried throughout the verse until it drops down a couple notes before carrying into the chorus. It’s an unorthodox approach, but it works better than I ever would have expected.

The use of dynamics here, perhaps more so than in any other song on the album, are unconventional and unique as well in that the verses tend to lose energy as they progress (not a bad “losing energy”), giving the impression that volume is affected as well. This is in contrast to what you may expect, a buildup of energy to burst into a chorus. And while the choruses are indeed output at a higher level, it’s those sneaky verses that are the distinct highlight, and are only made more distinct by their proximity to the rather traditional rock choruses. (Those vocal hooks are still there, though – I don’t think you’ll find a Posies song without them.)

I’m a born-again Posies fan, baptized in the frosting and blessed by the archangels Auer and Stringfellow. And while their career has been steady (not a lot of ups and downs) and they’re still around in some capacity, it’s Frosting on the Beater that will always stand out to me as their defining moment. Filled with great songs, some cream nevertheless rises to the top, and “Solar Sister” is my hymn to immortal harmony. If I’ve persuaded even a single person to join this cult, I will have succeeded in my life’s work. Well, at least my work from the past half hour.


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