VARNALINE  “The Hammer Goes Down” b/w “Hear The Birds Cry”  (Zero Hour Records ZHS7-11 white-label promo, 1996)

The “Lo-Fi Explosion” that seemed to take over the U.S. after the first few Ween, Pavement and Guided By Voices records was short-lived.  Much to my dismay, actually.  I mean, for all that I may kvetch about the sound-quality of certain discs, or that some recordings leave me with “listener’s fatigue” (fancy studio-lingo for an earache), I found so many diamonds-in-the-rough during that period that I secretly wish it never ended.  Maybe it’s still going on somewhere, wherever there’s disenfranchised suburban kids with guitars and tape-recorders in their bedrooms.  But ultimately, home-studio equipment has become too advanced, and too ubiquitous.  Anyone can make an Aja-quality recording in his or her own kitchen these days with Pro-Tools and a decent computer.  But back in the ’90’s, that stuff wasn’t as readily available.  Talented songwriters like Varnaline’s Anders Parker had to use a 4-track and lots of elbow-grease to get their point across, and that gave the songs an extra power, an almost subterranean quality, that made them stand out from the pack.

I was completely blindsided by Varnaline’s Man Of Sin album in the winter of 1996.  Anders Parker, a New Yorker transplanted to Portland, OR, had been playing with the group Space Needle, and as a solo act, for quite some time at that point.  But his debut under the alter-ego moniker of Varnaline seemed to just appear suddenly out of nowhere, and the homemade, one-man-band quality of the recording gave it an eerie, transient feeling.  As if the music could vanish off the disc at any second, and disappear right out of your life, for good.  Well, needless to say I was hooked.  Anytime the Parker/Varnaline/Space Needle UFO landed in the NY-metro area, I was there.  Any bits of Anders ephemera, I collected.  A personal fave of mine is this (literally) transparent little single.

Housed in a plain recycled-brown-paper sleeve with a clear oval sticker, and pressed on ice-clear vinyl (see a too-large-to-post photo here), this little promo proved a very fetching way to draw attention to Man Of Sin, namely the catchy and powerful album-opener, “The Hammer Goes Down.”  The chugging, climbing, thickly distorted guitar progression, the bass line that lazily cascades in halfway through the 2nd verse, the whammy-bar-happy guitar solo, the cryptic, psycho-sex wordplay of lines like, “I could always eat you if you get hungry,” “…Hammer…” is pure ’90’s indie lo-fi at its finest.

Varnaline “The Hammer Goes Down”

The disc’s flipside, “Hear The Birds Cry,” is a straight-up, open-tuning neo-folk track in the Mark Eitzel or Mark Kozelek vein, the kind we hear more often today than we did in ’96.  Pretty gorgeous, actually.  The track was unreleased at the time this promo was issued, but Parker later used it to open up Varnaline’s 6-song A Shot And A Beer EP in ’97.  I’ll let you discover that one, as well as Varnaline’s later, more hi-fi output, on your own.

Anders Parker has released several albums as Varnaline, with Space Needle, and as just plain Anders Parker, over the past decade.  He continues to perform and record to this day.  More info can be found at and at the gorgeous Varnaline Digital site.

NEXT WEEK:  Four bands, four bucks.  OK, I lied.  Four bands, no bucks.  BYOB.