Review: Indian Summer, ‘Giving Birth to Thunder’

What can I say about Indian Summer?  


They were a mid-’90s emo band from Oakland, Cal., that recorded only a scarce amount of material—all of which is compiled into this collection from reissue experts the Numero Group released on Sept. 13, 2019. Depending on your musical background, I might have already lost you.  

The term “emo” today means so many things to so many people. (You can read all about it on Wikipedia.)  I’m not concerned with re-stating the history of the genre known as emo. Instead, let’s focus on why Indian Summer is important. 

Musically, they sound like Slint combined with Fugazi, but held together with duct tape. This is the sound of a sweaty basement filled with youths adorned with threadbare thrift store t-shirts, high water Levi’s action slacks, and clunky Doc Martens. Spock haircuts bobbing to start-stop-loud-quiet transitions, chests clutched as a guitarist falls to the floor. Instruments barely in-tune knocking against the folding table covered in DIY merch, zines, and pamphlets. They were angry and scarcely able to hold it together.

The music is urgent lo-fi bursts of energy, both beautiful and ugly. Like many of their contemporaries, they were less concerned with a glossy production, and more with  bottling rage in their recordings. One thing that is forgotten about the late ‘80s/early ‘90s emo is the genre’s resourceful DIY nature. 

Everything was fair game when it came to packaging and recording. CD-Rs (burned on a younger sibling’s bedroom desktop), tapes, and 7-inches came stuffed in manila envelopes with woodcut or hand-screened artwork. A pile of promotional AOL software compact discs (used to lure the elderly to the internet) could be discarded and repurposed with spray paint to house a CD-R containing songs recorded from a handheld tape recorder. 

The influence of Beat Happening is lost on most reviewers when it comes to Indian Summer, but clearly both the name of the band and the DIY “anything goes” spirit harken back to the Olympia three-piece. Sadly, emo would either go pop or get bogged down in the influence of math rock. Urgency gave way to either cash flow or technicality, both sadly obliterating talent and creativity. 

Thankfully, we have this time capsule to revisit a time from a basement somewhere in the Midwest, when a couple of kids were just happy to thrash around and maybe make 20 bucks to put in the van.

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