Further didn’t get enough respect in its day. Indie rock in the ‘90s was hung up on authenticity and credibility, and Further was largely treated like it had neither. They weren’t on a “cool” label (although Creation did license their debut for the UK) and the key members, Brent and Darren Rademaker, had been in a band called Shadowland that was signed to Geffen. Back then it was one thing to get big in the indies and then sign to a major as Sonic Youth and Husker Du had done; bombing on a major with some REM-style college rock and then reformulating as indie rockers made you look like trendhoppers, at least to early ‘90s teens who cared way too much about this shit. There’s a reason teens don’t run the world. Teens are dumb.
The new compilation Where Were You Then highlights 13 Further songs, and the title could be seen as either a play on nostalgia or a pointed challenge to the indie rock fans who didn’t fully support the band 20 years ago. It’s a fine overview of a solid career of noisy, ramshackle pop-rock jive, and probably enough Further for any interested party. Listening in retrospect, it might make you wonder why they weren’t bigger, but you’re probably not going to think the lack of minor league success for this particular material was any kind of grave injustice.
I liked Further at the time. They weren’t one of my absolute favorite bands, but I had a couple of their early albums in high school. I couldn’t get most of my friends on board, though. It was easy to write early Further off as a blatant Dinosaur Jr clone, with noise-saturated, solo-filled rock and vocals that sounded almost exactly like J. Mascis. If you slipped Where Were You Then’s second song, “Over & Out,” on Bug and played it for somebody who’d never listened to Dinosaur before, they probably couldn’t even tell a difference.
Further wasn’t about breaking ground or innovating new sounds. They were about playing the (unpopular, but “cool”) music of the day as well as they could, filling in indie rock’s second line with solidly crafted CDs you could pop into the player or dub onto a mix tape between the Pavements and Sebadohs and Archers of Loafs of the world. Occasionally they wrote a stone-cold classic, like “California Bummer,” the lead track off 1995’s Grimes Golden, which was written off by some as ersatz Pavement but is the one Further record you probably need to own. There are Pavement similarities on “Bummer,” with the distortion from Malkmus and Kannberg’s early singles, and the sweet melodies and California motif of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. But you can’t discount such a catchy, beautiful pop song, even if it makes you think of a more popular band. Also the drumming is heavier and more propulsive than anything Pavement ever did, making you wonder how powerful Pavement could have been if they ever had a real drummer.
Half of Grimes Golden could’ve fit on here, but the only other track we get is “Quiet Riot Grrrl.” There weren’t a lot of indie rock ballads back then (at least outside of Lou Barlow’s catalog), but this song is one of the absolute best. It makes you think these guys were capable of more than they usually gave us with Further, using the aesthetics of lo-fi indie rock for a powerful break-up song with a huge, sweeping chorus worthy of any arena. This and “Bummer” are the songs to keep if you absolutely can’t have more than two on your phone or iPod or whatever.
The rest of Where Were You Then is smartly picked, providing a quick, chronological look at the band’s trajectory while focusing on their catchiest material. Opener “Filling Station” would fit perfectly on a No Age record. The last two songs, the Creedence-esque “Be That As It May” and the ‘60s-inspired, lightly psychedelic closer “Grandview Skyline”, sound like an entirely different band. At the end Further and the Rademakers had gone full circle, ditching the grime by the mid-’90s and returning to the Paisley Underground vibe of Shadowland. They’d continue in that direction into the late ‘90s and beyond with the Beachwood Sparks and the Tyde, both of which are better remembered than Further.
Although Further clearly peaked with Grimes Golden, they had enough great songs on other records to warrant a collection like this. They weren’t a band ahead of their time at all—they were as thoroughly of their time as any band could ever be—but if they released these exact same songs for the first time in 2007 or 2008, they probably would’ve gotten a fair share of the rock critic love showered upon lesser lights like Wavves. As it is, Where Were You Then is a fine fit for anybody who digs this kind of noise or wants to round out their early ‘90s indie rock library.