The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Acetone
1992-2001 Neil Kulkarni , September 20th, 2017 09:15

A long-overdue compilation from Acetone. Electrifying, says Hope Sandoval. Soul music, says Jason Pierce. They will become part of your armoury against the universe, says Neil Kulkarni.

Acetone were an LA band, functioning in the years indicated by this compilation's title, and their music is some of the most special, yet spectrally lost music of the 90s. Guitarist Mark Lightcap, bassist Richie Lee and drummer Steve Hadley played together in Acetone (and the band Acetone emerged from, the scuzz-rock Spinout) for a total of 15 years, disbanding in July 2001 when Lee committed suicide in the garage next to the house where the trio practised. Their ending created few waves, neither did their music in any typical sense of 'success' - with typically reverse-Midas skills I gave 'Come On' single of the week in Melody Maker but didn't read much else about them anywhere. For those lucky enough to have heard anything by them, they remain something utterly unique, with an atmosphere and feeling entirely their own. If you've never run into them, this long-overdue compilation leaves you with no excuse.

What's special about Acetone becomes apparent as soon as you drop the needle on 'Shaker'. There's a warm, glowing, tremolo radiance about Acetone's music that gets in your cells, massages your shoulders with sunshine. There's also slowness throughout Acetone's music, a desire to confront emotions at the pace those emotions demand, a pace that made the lazy put Acetone in the slow-core bracket but this isn't as cold as Codeine, or as obviously strung-out, angry or horrified as Slint or Rodan. It's impulse never seems to be to shut the world out, or to be vainglorious about emotion - if there's horror in Acetone's music it's accepted not resisted, it's simply part of the dappled grain of the voice and the spirit within the songs. Rather than being a kind of hermetic confection, stumbled across as an escape, Acetone's music lets the world in a little, and posits the hope that the fragile broken individuals involved in Acetone might just find a way to make the world their home. Their 15 years together are audible always: this feels like family, like people finding a power together they would never have in isolation. This music feels natural, like an emanation from three people mutually struggling towards a purity of expression. And you never get a trace of self-pity or self-regard; there's a hard-boiled yet still-hopeful sense to their music, an almost Bacharach-like feeling in which although they know dreams turn into dust and blow away they can still pack their Acetone car and drive, get together and be something more than themselves.

If there are sonic contemporaries to Acetone it's perhaps Mazzy Star, Spain, Galaxie 500 or Low at their most minimal, but even these names feel wrong because Richie Lee wrote songs like none of them and the band played with a clarity, airiness and weight that actually recalls Al Green's sparsest moments of joy, or the suggestive openness of an early Crazy Horse, a Kingsbury Manx or Idaho's oft-forgot Year After Year. 'All The Time' shows Acetone's unproblematic, focussed relationship with technology - phase and wah were as much a part of their palette as unadorned guitar, bass and drums, but Acetone never stacked up sonics for the sake of it. They'd create little pocket universes in which their Cali-roots, Pacific-longing, urban dissolution and pioneer dreams could be reflected without distraction or dilution but with plenty of dazzling diffraction, like pop seen through a hand X-rayed blood-red by sunrays. Jason Pierce (who paid heartfelt tribute to Lee with 'The Ballad Of Richie Lee' on Spiritualized's 2003 album Amazing Grace) said, "Their music reflects who they are, and that’s so rare in music today. It’s a soul music thing.” He's dead right. Acetone music is soul music. Balm for the downtimes. Addictive as any drug.

Soul music from So-Cal. So plenty of country in there too ('How Sweet I Roamed'), a touch of surf here and there ('Shore Power'), sometimes minimalist psych ('Return From The Ice'). Never quite those things though, and never quite just a mix of those things, always Acetone music with its own meld of documentary distance and expressive intimacy. Between 1993 and 2001 the band released 4 LPs, were selected as support by fans including Oasis, Mazzy Star, The Verve and Spiritualized, stubbornly refused to break through, stubbornly refused to compromise their vision. In a world of grunge overload and lo-fi grumpiness, Acetone tapped or stumbled into something timeless. But don't let anyone tell you they were 'proper music' - the craft of their songwriting was too wonky, too singular for that. Songs frequently find a hook but frequently don't return to that hook in anything like a normal structural sense - those hooks get opened up to microscopic relief ('Always Late'), fixated on with only silence as punctuation ('Too Much Time'), hovered around and suggested but not actually played ('Shore Power'). Acetone's verses make you levitate, like you're coming at someone across a vast landscape from an aerial height, like the great plains rolling underneath you before the city's tendrils start showing, but the hooks make you feel like you're travelling into someone's soul at a similar speed, down the alleys and streets of that human refuge and in the back doors, into their heads and hearts.

I reiterate - you may be familiar with some of the sounds Acetone make. You may not be that familiar with how they make you feel. The sign of a great band, like the sign of a good writer, director, artist, painter, poet - is that you can SPOT it's them a line in, a brushstroke in, a reel in. It's imprinted with what makes them unique, aka their style. Acetone had their own style wrapped up in the sweetest bundle and always let you in for a squeeze whenever you tapped on their door. Once you've heard Acetone's songs you will be able to spot them in an instant, and they will become part of your armoury against the universe. The remastering job here is superb and the nine previously unheard tracks are an joy to discover - 1992-2001 is nigh-on perfect as an introduction to one of pop's best ever kept secrets. Unlock it and wander all year long, then seek out what full-lengths you can find. In Acetone, you've got yourself a lifelong companion.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.