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It’s best to absorb Lungfish’s recorded output as a cloud, with no pretense of an alpha or omega point. In that sense, the Baltimore punk band has been a significant beneficiary of the Internet age, no matter how accidental the relationship might be. Anybody could be forgiven for not buying every Lungfish album as they were released, but now there’s no excuse for ignoring what went unheard—not when Dischord makes everything available pretty much everywhere.
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Because, really, Lungfish is a “start anywhere” band. If you ignore the obvious harDCore tilt of the earlier albums, the band’s M.O. doesn’t change from 1990 until its nebulous hiatus in 2006: Guitarist Asa Osborne mindfully repeats riffs and phrases; vocalist Daniel Higgs sings as if he’s processing a powerful bolt of inspiration or examining some unnameable unpleasantness; and drummer Mitchell Feldstein boxes it all up with power and touch. And all the mystique and groove is there on A.C.R. 1999, a 10-song collection of recordings that the band made, shelved, and recently rediscovered while combing its archives. This is music that came back around because that’s how the universe works.
And it’s a fresh experience, even though six of the songs were recorded again for 2000’s Necrophones, one of the band’s more deliberately polished works. Lungfish was undeniably sharp during these long-lost 1999 sessions at A.C.R. Studios in Baltimore, and the mastering job by T.J. Lipple—one of Dischord’s current go-to guys—is exquisite. This might be the closest thing to what the band sounded like onstage, and the music pops no matter what device it’s played on. Only last year’s remastered version of 1999’s The Unanimous Hour has an equivalent amount of Lungfish oomph for the digital era. (The bassist here is Nathan Bell, who also played on Necrophones and is one of three men who held the job over Lungfish’s run.)
For the heads, of obvious interest is “Sex War,” which was a throbbing, slightly trippy acoustic number on Necrophones but is downright metallic here—you can almost imagine where some hand claps or cowbell might go. Higgs’ lyrics are substantially different, too: The song is about a minute longer, and it contains visions of the number seven (“Seven heads on seven necks/Seven faces on each head”) that don’t surface in the Necrophones version. His singing, meanwhile, is more of a howl than an incantation. Also substantially different is “Eternal Nightfall,” an instrumental that was mellow on Necrophones but serves as a processional of sorts here, with cinematic, big-chord majesty.
The previously unreleased songs, meanwhile, are perfect entry points to all things Lungfish: “Symbiosis” and “I Will Walk Between You” are loud but rapturous examples of the band’s embrace of repetition; the hushed “Aesop” is the kind of abstract sound collage that Osborne explores in his side project, Zomes; and “Screams Of Joy” turns Higgs’ vocal into a three-part round, playing up his inclination to explore the relationship of noise, experience, and performance. Three Daniel Higgs, each singing the same thing as the other Daniel Higgs, but in a slightly different way. Left, right, and center: “Screams of joy/Screams of joy/Screams of joy.” A hint of harmony. And so it is, was, and ever shall be. The only question: Where does the listener go next?