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Dig (self-titled debut 1993)

Los Angeles band Dig was the brainchild of guitarist/singer/songwriter Scott Hackwith, who had also worked as a producer for the Ramones. The songs on this CD received moderate exposure on MTV and alternative radio of the early 90s. The band is usually described as a product of the grunge-rock movement. Although they do utilize the crunchy guitar and snarling vocals of Nirvana on many songs on this CD, Dig also makes use of echoey multi-layered guitars which are more reminiscent of the British shoegaze scene than Seattle-based rock bands. Hackwith chose to pass over the Steve Albini band-in-a-shoebox sound in favor of massive amounts of reverb, and my ears couldn't be happier. (In my world, you almost can't have too much reverb.)

The first thing one notices about this album is the excellent production and the skillful layering of guitar tracks to create an impressive wall of sound. The opening chords of the first song, "Let Me Know," hit the listener like a tidal wave which continues throughout the CD. Another thing that stands out is Hackwith's aptitude for interesting chord changes, melody, and arranging. The songs will stay in your head for weeks and months after being heard, or in my case, for years. "Anymore," is a good example of the aforementioned British influence, and probably my favorite song on the album, in which spacey guitars conspire with wistful vocals to create a swirling landscape of gloom. But I find it to be a comforting, hopeful gloom, as opposed to an all-is-for-naught gloom.

The hopefulness manifests itself in the form of anger, the mood that seems to underlie all the songs on this CD. The psychological centerpiece, "Conversation," is a half-funny/half-scary venting of intense anti-social feelings. This song actually strikes so close to home it's hard for me to listen to it. In the verses Hackwith portrays the inanity of conversation at a too-hip social gathering: "I like your stupid clothes... I like your new car..." while the ghostly guitar evokes the feeling of being lost in a crowd. In the chorus the music turns abrasive and the singer howls the song title like a mental patient, followed with the line, "We like to talk a lot," spoken over and over again in an apathetic monotone voice.

Later on the CD, Hackwith seeks refuge in "Green Room," where he sings in a near-whisper, "All I really want to do is get high." (In case you're wondering, I don't condone the drug references. I did my time on the substance-go-round way back when, but now, to quote Queen Latifah, "I don't like to get high, like to stay down low.") The softly strummed guitar of the verse is interrupted by another angry sonic assault. The vocals sneer, "I should be so rich that I survive my last wish," and the loud guitars fade into a child's maniacal-sounding laughter. The effect is like a miniature emotional rollercoaster. "Believe," probably the most well known song on the album, seems to touch on the subject of religious hypocrisy, the words of the chorus asking, "Why don't you believe, believe in your own God?"

The exact meaning of song lyrics, of course, can be different to every listener, but for me the central theme of this CD is about sacrificing social acceptance in favor of individuality. For some of us, being alone in the world is not so bad compared to a life of conformity and having to constantly reshape yourself according to the whims of a peer group. Be yourself, live your life the way you want, and after all your fake friends go away, then, you'll find out who your real friends are.

I had put most of these songs on mixed tapes back around 2000 and practically wore them out, so I was pleased to learn -- just today, actually -- that Dig made a second album that I was unaware of called Defenders of the Universe. It is currently on route to my mailbox from that storehouse of forgotten CDs known as eBay.

Reviewed by Aaron Shore 11/1/10

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