Certain Songs #1149: The Miss Alans – “Dying Solace”

Cassette: Bus
Year: 1987

And of course, in the mid-1980s, American indie rock exploded, riding an underground rocketship fueled by college radio, fanzines, people with spare couches, and club owners willing to take risks. And, of course, in the mid-1980s thousands of kids all over the country joined bands, figuring that if R.E.M. or The Replacements or X or whomever could do it, so then could they.

And of course, around these bands, music scenes sprung to life all over the country. Some of which got national attention — Minneapolis, Athens & Seattle, come on down! — but most of which operated in their own regional bubble, where maybe one or two bands might maybe get some kind of national attention, but the vast majority remained obscure, not matter how great they were.

So if you were part of a scene that wasn’t Minneapolis or Athens or Seattle — or maybe even if you were — you had at least one band that you think should have been legendary everywhere. A band that was made of your friends, sure, so maybe you weren’t as objective as you’d like to be, but that love ended up being validated by people outside of your social circle — people who ran record labels even! — so that band released a couple of records, maybe ended up on a major, but never quite got the break that pushed them into being a nationwide household name, at least in the pagan homes where someone like you would be welcomed.

For you maybe that band was the Moving Targets or Turning Curious or The Connells or any one of a zillion other worthwhile artists, but for me that band was Fresno, California’s own The Miss Alans.

Because all four Miss Alans had been playing on the burgeoning Fresno scene for a couple of years, they were an instantly popular live act, mixing their early originals — derived from The Smiths, R.E.M. & U2 — with well-chosen covers of contemporary songs from other college radio faves like XTC and James.

That said, I don’t think that anybody was prepared for Bus, the 7-song cassette EP they dropped in Spring of 1987. Suddenly giving permanent shape and form to a group of songs that otherwise only existed during the few minutes we danced to them at the Oly or The Blue, Bus instantly became part of the soundtrack for pretty much everything that happened for the rest of what turned out to be a year when a lot of crazy shit happened.

In any event, even if you’d hadn’t heard The Miss Alans, “Dying Solace” is the perfect intro for what they were up to in their early days: opening with the jangle of Scott Oliver’s deeply-echoed acoustic guitar, joined by the instantly locked-in groove of bassist Jay Fung and drummer Ron Woods, with Manny Diez’s guitar spinning webs around the rest of the band.

And while they weren’t exactly hiding their influences, the overall effect is a band that was working on blending those influences into something new under the sun: jangly, dancey and dynamic as all hell. Just listen to how Jay alternated leaving gigantic spaces between each bass note with massively busy hook-filled runs. Or how Ron supported the breakdown on his hi-hat and kicked every chorus into action with short sharp rolls. Or Manny’s leads flittering like butterflies on the chorus.

Every time you thought you got a handle on “Dying Solace” it took its basic elements and reassembled them slightly differently — a breakdown here, a stop-time there — knowing that it would always be anchored by its chorus:

And what ya gonna do-oooo?
Are you gonna bleed and leave bloodstains in my eyes?
Don’t ya think I knowwwwwwwww?
I only cared about this broken frame of your dying soul

As sung by Scott at the top of his register — voice seemingly breaking apart at every single word — “Dying Solace” is an unsparing look at behavior that wasn’t quite out of control, but was worrying him enough that he was singing about himself in the second person.

That wasn’t necessarily evident to me at the time: what I loved was the sound of Scott’s vocals floating over the top of what his band what his band was doing — the little hiccups and near-yodels that decorated his phrasing — kinda what Lloyd Cole did early, but amped up to the nth degree. And like Tom Petty’s vocal tics, something that I loved to imitate when I was singing these songs in my car or at home or while they were playing them at the Blue.

Sings: “I made a ooooh-stake!”

And at the end of the last chorus, he spins out a long “broooo-kennnnn fraaaaaaaaaaaaa-hayyyy-hay-hay-hayaaammmmmme,” perfectly in control of every single crack in his voice, following it up with a near-joyous “oooh-hooo-hoo-hoooooooooooooo-hooo” which signals his band that it’s time to let him end the song on his acoustic guitar.

Equal parts energetic and sophisticated, “Dying Solace” is the first indication that The Miss Alans were more than just a fun band to go out and dance to, but they could do great work in the studio, as well.

“Dying Solace”

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