Best New Reissue
Very few bands lasted as briefly but cast as large a shadow as Indian Summer. The Bay Area emo band was active for the span of a single year between 1993 and 1994, but in that short time they perfectly conveyed a complex mesh of longing, restlessness, and catharsis that encapsulated the turbulent spirit of emo's second wave. The group managed to record only ten songs during their fleeting existence, but their sense of dynamics and the thick, mysterious atmosphere surrounding the music made those ten songs some of the most immediate and intense of their kind. As a result, Indian Summer's discography was passed down in various forms for decades after the band was long dormant. Giving Birth to Thunder follows the incomplete CD-only collection Science 1994, offering a nicely polished presentation of the group's entire studio recordings.
The first sound on the record is a scratchy 78 of Bessie Smith's "See If I'll Care" playing in the distance. Just as quietly, tentative notes from a guitar and a muted voice hide in the shadows before the band explodes into a maelstrom of dissonant bass chords and syncopated choppy blasts. The structure calls to mind both Unwound's tense sense of melody and Fugazi's masterfully controlled chaos. Intense dynamic shifts were at the core of Indian Summer's best songs. "Woolworm" again begins with a floating excerpt from the same Bessie Smith song playing in the background as a searching guitar figure and spoken vocals flutter quietly. The entire band comes in at a remarkably low volume, escalating tension until they erupt into massively loud segments that let go of the pain, frustration, and confusion that builds in the quiet parts. This formula repeats in the somber "Orchard" and the explosive "I Think Your Train Is Leaving." Album centerpiece "Touch the Wing of an Angel… Doesn't Mean You Can Fly" is a more involved journey. Mumbled vocals grow to screams from several voices, the band going all out with stabbing dual guitar lines and locked-in drumming.
At the original time of release, none of Indian Summer's songs had titles, and their general aesthetic was minimal and sparse. The song titles used on Giving Birth to Thunder were approximated by fans over the years from what lyrics they could make out. This nebulous approach could have read as vague or pretentious on a lesser band, but Indian Summer's ethereal presentation makes more room for the raw passion of their songs to make an impression. Some songs suffer from shoddier production, but the inconsistencies in recording were very much a calling card of early-'90s emo bands on D.I.Y. budgets. Along with West Coast groups on the Gravity Records roster or more obscure Midwestern emo acts like Current and Constantine Sankathi, Indian Summer made up a small but powerful movement in the early '90s. The staying power of these songs is in how driven the band were in their moments of both intensity and restraint. ~ Fred Thomas