This is one of the lost diamonds of the 80s. If you run through my posts, you'll see that I avoid to use this term, but this time I have to. In a future 80s re-issue wave (like the 60s reissue storm we have a few years back), this album will be regarded as one of the most underrated of the era.
Released in 1987 by the very cult Insight Records of San Francisco (label of Eric Cope, founder of Glorious Din - see the posts in Fritz Die Spine and Phoenix Hairpins for their two LPs), Thickly Settled was the sole album of a Detroit, MI band (not to be confused with an industrial-electronic L.A. band of the 90s with the same name - a common misunderstanding - with which they had nothing to do).
About Spahn Ranch from their myspace site
Spahn Ranch was formed in August of 1986 in Detroit, MI. Although the name would suggest a connection with the Manson Murders, the band had no affiliation. In it's infancy, the band played in many local venues on the bill with various local bands. Quickly a strong following developed, which immediately precipitated a self titled cassette release of six tracks on the Ikthus Network label. After having missed their own billing at a show, the band was introduced to Eric Cope of Insight Records from San Francisco, CA. He offered them a contract with Insight after reviewing their cassette and video work. The band accepted and began recording their first LP, 'Thickly Settled' in California where they were welcomed by receptive audiences. 'Thickly Settled' was hailed as one of the best albums of the year by England's Underground Magazine, and also met favorable reception in the U.S. of A. None of the members of Spahn Ranch had any formal music training and had not played an instrument prior to forming the group. "The sound they create is tense and raw, not polished to distract from the music itself. Drummer Odell Nails lays down a thick, almost tribal drum beat, accompanied by Hobey Echlin's bass foundation for the music. Guitarist Brad Horowitz adds the energetic, consuming guitar melodies, changing the tunings for each song in order to make no two sets alike. Bob Sterner's vocals with a touch of folk influence, mesh with the instrumental sounds that give the finished product, intense music which envelopes and audience."
'Thickly Settled' is build on slow, steady rhythms, climbing step by step to high tension. Don't expect frantic playing or crazed solos or anything like that (except maybe "Each Time Centered", which reminds me of 'Man From Missouri'). On the contrary, listening to Spahn Ranch's music is like a dreamy flight straight in the eye of the storm: calm while there's doom all around. The songs have an uneasy feeling, the drums of Odell Nails and the layered guitars creates a tension, an uncertain threat that surrounds the clear vocals of Bob Sterner and the ringing lead guitar of Brad Horowitz. You'll hear the tribal rhythms mentioned above (particularly in 'Trial', 'Countdown', 'Thickly Settled' (a true masterpiece - it deserves a two-page review alone) and 'Lo & Behold'), but you'll find that there's a lot more than the usual 4AD/british influences: there are the vast distances of the american inland, the highways and the factories, in a time when Godspeed You Black Emperor were babies in their mothers arms. They don't have much in common with GYBE though: Spahn Ranch did it 20 years ago, not in 15-minutes-long-tracks with guitars and chamber orchestra, but in perfect 3-minute rock songs with verses and choruses, with guitar, drums and vocals. Yet they managed to create a film-like image, although a cloudy and in cases stormy one. The more I'm listening to "Thickly Settled" the more I think that it has the best things of the Independed Project -and related- groups (Fourwaycross, Drowning Pool, Shiva Bourlesque) along with a strong sense of melody and an amazingly self-confident playing.
Bob Sterner - Vocals
Brad Horowitz - Guitar
Odell Nails - Drums and Percussion
after the recording of the album Hobey Echlin joined on bass and Rob Rude also played bass at various sessions, shows and recordings.
(Odell Nails and Hobey Echlin played with Majesty Crush in the 90s, a much more british-pop oriented band, Odell still plays, most recently with Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, while Rob Rude is in HeavenHavnot. Brad Horowitz seems not very active musicaly, although he refers to Spahn Ranch in his page. Bob Sterner had a project with Hobey called Florida Room).
Among their influences -as they list them in myspace- Spahn Ranch include Savage Republic, Virgin Prunes, Southern Death Cult, Sonic Youth, Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV, Test Dept., Coil, Section 25, Dead Can Dance, Echo & The Bunnymen, Simon & Garfunkel, The Doors, Hardcore Jane, The Halfass, the 60's peace & love myth, and I think they're very accurate.
Many thanks to Robert, who ripped and send me this long lost album complete with covers. I hope it will find the wider audience it deserves and its place in the rock mythology, even today, 20 years after its release.