Sprawl - America Is Dying of Wetnurse

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Why, oh why, didn't I know about Sprawl? Back in '93 and '94, when the bulk of this disc was recorded live, I was a teenager adrift in the populist crapulence of alternative radio, searching for identity and a sense of belonging. Despite its omnipresence and conviviality, even toward the under 18 set, Sprawl somehow eluded my burgeoning musical consciousness.

For most Houstonians, the release of Wetnurse must play like a trip down memory lane, vividly recalling the manic, sweat-drenched, inclusive spirit of the ska-funk-dub-gypsy-younameit group's live shows. For me, it's more like revisionist history, a glimpse of what could have been: one long party, fueled by horns and scratchy guitar. Listening to these raw and vibrant takes makes me yearn for a Houston I missed out on. For a next-best, this disc truly delivers.

The band is at its best when flashing through tight, manic ska ("Mold"), on the inspired spy-chic breaks in "Quest for Opium," and the funk-fusion tightness of "Shum" and "Wilma." Even when it descends into tedium, as on the over-extended freeform center of "Big Ass Jewel", Wetnurse perfectly mirrors the live experience, offering a chance to catch your dance-ragged breath. Throughout, the recording captures a palpable sense of excitement; the delightful claustrophobia of an overpacked club; the mass motion of hundreds of kids, arms akimbo. Taken one at a time, the tracks tend to dissolve into themselves, losing focus and continuity. Taken as a whole, the entire mess becomes something else entirely, like a protoplasmic organism, fluid and pulsating, with a natural ebb and flow. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Wetnurse is the perfect encapsulation of Sprawl.

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