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Friday Musical Interlude: “Dust” by Screaming Trees

It’s a summer Friday, which probably means you’re already headed out of the office, and mentally you’ve already checked out long ago. And we’re about to enter the hockey doldrums, just as soon as Kruger’s contract is signed basically. But we really all could use a break, so before we break for the weekend let’s have a little fun, shall we?

It’s still kind of staggering how many historic bands came out of Seattle in such a short span of time. If it were a sport, you’d kind of look at it as a famous draft class, the way people look at the 2005 baseball draft or others in the NFL. Once “Smells Like Teen Spirit” basically told Brett Michaels and Lita Ford to go suck it, it was a feeding frenzy.

But it’s always felt like there was one band that they missed, or that fell behind. What makes that even stranger is that they released arguably the best album to come out of that city in the 90’s. At least it’s my favorite.

Screaming Trees’s “Dust” is easily the equal of “Badmotorfinger”, “Ten”, “Nevermind” (although I always feel like I have to whisper this, but “In Utero” is actually a superior album) or whichever Alice in Chains album is your favorite. However, it didn’t cause a musical revolution like Nirvana or launch a big-time career like the other albums did for those bands. Such a shame.

Sometimes, I think McClure, my old roommate in L.A. (a Boston boy who hasn’t spoken to me since the Final. Hmmmm…..), and myself are the only people on Earth who own this album. Considering it’s a major label release, that can’t be, but it feels like it at times. And yet it’s more expansive than most releases from Seattle bands, who usually did one or two things really well.

Like any classic album, you need a memorable Track 1 (Side 1 Track 1 for those that still cling to your vinyl), and “Dust” has it. That doesn’t mean the first song should be the best song, just a clear introduction to what’s ahead. “Halo of Ashes” is that melodically haunting yet loud track that Mark Lanegan has always kind of made his specialty, with some pretty intricate work from the Conner brothers on guitar and bass.

However, where the album really pops for me is the ballad “Look At You.” Because it’s a ballad beyond any other Seattle band’s capabilities. It’s the kind of song that if you hear at the end of a particularly good party (right about 3am), on just the right combination of alcohol and/or booze, it’ll drive you into either a cathartic cry or into making out with someone (or if you like me, both, but I always tend to cry while making out. Ask Pointmesouth for confirmation). It’s beautiful and yet forceful, while not making it seem like it’s trying all that hard to be either. No other Seattle band could have written it, and certainly no other voice than Lanegan’s I’ve-been-up-for-three-days-and-Camel-Lights-are-the-only-thing-keeping-me-going voice could nail it so well.

It doesn’t stop after track 3 though. “Dying Days” is raucous, “Make My Mind” is the kind of song you sing to yourself all day long without realizing it or getting annoyed by it, “Traveler” is the soft interlude to bring you down before “Dime Western” buries you for good. Quite simply, there isn’t a miss on this one anywhere.

I got this album after my freshman year of high school in ’96, and to this day it still feels as fresh as it did then when I literally had to stop everything I was doing while listening to it the first time. I think I went back through it twice immediately to make sure I was hearing correctly, because no way could an album this could not have any hype around it. While Screaming Trees weren’t exactly “underground,” I still feel like they were kind of Seattle’s secret. Maybe in some ways it’s better that not too many people know about this record. I do, and it’s been a go-to for 17 years now.

And if I was actually ever going to have a wedding, “Look At You” would have to be the first dance. Good thing that’ll never come up.

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