WONDERMINTS - Wondermints (Japanese)

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OMG, did Not Lame sell tons of this Japanese only import in the late 90s. Rightfully so, it's a classic, a 5-star achievement. It's getting quite rare now because there has been no reissue in this over 18 years. Going for $40 or so.

"Throughout the early '90s, the Wondermints recorded a bevy of exceptional homemade demos and small indie singles primarily in co-founder Darian Sahanaja's bedroom studio. Slowly but surely that music circulated through the Los Angeles underground music scene on a series of semi-legendary tapes identified solely by their colors. The band's music, however, still flew under the radar of the music business until the Japanese label Toy's Factory picked up the slack, releasing an eponymous debut in 1995 that cherry-picked the very best songs from those original tapes. It is hard to imagine a more auspicious and stunning debut of pop/rock accomplishment than Wondermints (which was picked up for domestic release by Big Deal a year later). Some critics even ranked the album alongside such landmarks as Pet Sounds and Rubber Soul, and while that may be stretching it just the slightest bit, it is certainly not much of an exaggeration. It is, in fact, one of the finest rock albums to see release in the entire decade, yet for some reason it didn't make the band a household name, at least inside American borders and outside insular pop circles.

The album is primarily the baby ofSahanaja and co-founder Nick Walusko, who wrote all the songs between them, and it proved that their talent arrived fully formed, although the band does betray its roots more so than it would on future recordings, especially through the album's first half. They owe a huge debt to Brian Wilson, both in song construction and melodies as well as in the production on the bulk of the songs. It is difficult to imagine anything more majestically baroque or ethereally beautiful than "Tracy Hide," for instance, unless it is "God Only Knows." It's no wonder that Wilson, upon hearing the album, ecstatically claimed that he would have taken Smile on the road had the Wondermints been around in 1967. They owe nearly as much to the ragged soulfulness of Brother Records-era Beach Boys, not to mention minor nods to perennials such as the Left Banke and Phil Spector. The sunfried ambience of '70s power pop and classic FM rock -- Cheap Trick, the Raspberries (Eric Carmen was another early fan and backer), Todd Rundgren, et al. -- holds an equally powerful sway over their sound. The playing is effortlessly laid-back and breezy without losing its tight focus or crunch. On "Shine," they try on the Middle Eastern rhythms and the type of mystical melody that would resurface on Bali a couple years later, tying it off with a hook that equals the Beatles' finest B-side, "Rain." What the album comes down to, however, is not the references from which it was constructed, but rather how amazingly fresh and dynamic it manages to sound even while sonically name-checking those artists. It is state-of-the-art '90s pop/rock, at once reverential and ambitious. And it only grows more inventive as it goes, hitting its most original (not to mention psychedelic and spacy) peak during the second half of the album on remarkable songs like "Global Village Idiot" and "Playtex Aviary." It is a rare first attempt on which the band's reach and grasp are virtually identical." - AMG