Lucky Dumpling was the one and only major label effort by California band Moonpools & Caterpillars, bookended by a couple of self-released albums. The Fillipino-American band, led by singer Kimmi Ward Encarnacion and guitarist Jay Jay Encarnacion, was supposedly signed to their Elektra Records contract when a label rep saw them opening for a different act that he’d actually shown up to scout. They had some modest success on the college charts, primarily with the single “Hear,” though it wasn’t enough to satisfy their new corporate bosses. Given a taste of the big time (and with bank accounts hopefully boosted by selling their music to soundtracks and commercials), the band didn’t last too much longer. There was evidently enough of a slow burn fan following to merit the occasional reunion gig.
61. Ben Harper, Fight for Your Mind
Ben Harper is one of those artists who probably deserved better than he got. Admittedly, that assessment may overly diminish his significant professional accomplishments: a long healthy recording career, lucrative worldwide tours, and a trio of Grammy Awards. Yet, for all his success, he’s long seemed like someone who couldn’t quite hit the target for significant commercial success in the United States. Sure, he had four straight number one albums in Italy, but not a single one of his records built up the domestic sales necessary to be certified gold. Indeed, his discography is a listing of European adoration and American disregard. Harper himself offered an explanation to Billboard when he was still touring to support his sophomore release, Fight for Your Mind, noting, “In Europe, people are less concerned with musical genres and will accept the music before the marketing technique.”
Fight for Your Mind offers ample evidence as to how clearly Harper kept himself clear of easy categorization. The albums shifts and slides all over the place, noodling around with material that’s recognizably informed most by aching folk and classic soul but zips all over the globe to add different dashes of sonic seasoning. The liner notes explicitly spell out the broader influences, tagging each song with a symbol that represents a different African nation, from Angola to Uganda. The one song that ventures away from the world’s second-largest continent settles in Jamaica. Naturally, that’s the easygoing paean to marijuana “Burn One Down” (“Let us burn one/ From end to end/ And pass it over/ To me my friend”), a track that perhaps offers key background insight on the drowsy quality across the rest of the album.
“Oppression,” the opening track, has pointed lyrics (“Oppression/ You seek population control/ Oppression/ To divide and to conquer is your goal”), but drifts by with the urgency of a island lullaby delivered from a hammock. Even when Harper expands a song to near-epic length, on the nearly-twelve-minute “God Fearing Man,” the obvious and impressive ambition of the track is undercut by a level of overly pronounced gentleness. It’s as if Harper wants to challenge the listeners without rousing them. That was a flawed strategy in the echoing din of the waning grunge era. A lack of commercial cunning is hardly the most damning quality for a record to have, but when Fight for Your Mind lapses into somnambulant musical meandering, it becomes difficult to champion its restraint.
The creative outlet of Cleveland native Richard Patrick, Filter clanged the bell on top of the carnival’s strength tester with their very first swing of the mallet. “Hey Man Nice Shot,” the lead single from the band’s debut album, Short Bus, became a significant hit on alternative rock radio. In turn, that helped Short Bus to move over a million copies. That wasn’t the end of their success (they notched another platinum record with their sophomore release, Title of Record), but there’s something about that first blast of earned attention that feels very particular to the era, when there was enough primed excitement over any music that had a little plodding aggression to it that a band that was plainly an industrial act — albeit a little less brutal that many of their peers in that genre — could briefly capture wider attention. I might place Filter squarely in the mid-nineties, but they’ve continued cranking out music with only the slightest of breaks, including the release of new albums, one as recently as 2013.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon