Discount – “Crash Diagnostic”

This is sort of Part II of my trip into Alison Mosshart’s past with the Florida band Discount.  The other day I wrote about their 1997 album Half Fiction, and today I’m listening to their follow up (and final) album, 1999’s Crash Diagnostic.

I mentioned in the previous post about how much Half Fiction surprised me – the Mosshart on that punk-pop album didn’t sound anything at all like the singer I know from The Kills and Dead Weather.  So I figured Crash Diagnostic would be in the same vein as Half Fiction.  And once again I was wrong.

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That’s not to say that Crash Diagnostic is some kind of massive departure – it’s not like Discount all of sudden put out a hip hop album or something.  But whereas Half Fiction had a clean, structured, and frankly a bit formulaic pop-punk sound, their next effort shows the band breaking loose of the structure they’d built for themselves.  Yes, the songs are still punk rock short – almost half the album’s 15 tracks are less than two minutes long, and Discount never cracks the four minute mark.  Yes, Mosshart’s singing voice sounds much more like the Mosshart of Half Fiction than the woman I first encountered with The Kills.  But there is a lot more variety here.  I don’t feel like I’ve got a whole bunch of songs all at the same speed and pace except for a few obligatory slower numbers; musically they broke out of their shell, varying speeds within songs and coming across like a more mature band.  Seeing this significant evolution from Half Fiction to Crash Diagnostic makes me wish Discount had had one more album in them so we could see where this progression would have taken them.

The opening track “Broken To Blue” is somewhat similar to Discount’s earlier work, but with the second song “Age Of Spitting” the band takes a 90 degree turn and never looks back.  Here is where we see Mosshart sounding more like her later self, but the band too is off into some different territory with breaks and shifts in the sound that didn’t exist on Half Fiction.  It’s a jarring change of pace and one of the best songs on the album.  “Harder To Tell,” with its subtle harmonizing, sounds so indie radio friendly it seems like it should have been a major college radio hit.  There are even two short instrumentals, both named after the length of the tracks – “(:38)” and “(1:04).”

Crash Diagnostic is a cool album.  It’s a bit more work than Half Fiction – if you like any of the songs on that album, you’ll probably enjoy the whole thing all the way through, while your feelings for the songs on Crash Diagnostic will probably vary widely.  But that’s a good thing, because there’s something here for almost everyone.

Discount – “Half Fiction”

I played Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards the other day.  I’m not sure why I picked that particular album that morning.  I’ve had it for a few years and probably only listened to it two or three times, but for some reason I felt like it would be good to revisit.  And it only took a couple of minutes for me to be reminded of something.

Alison Mosshart is amazing.

So much so that as soon as Sea of Cowards was done I switched immediately over to The Kills so I could hear more of her voice in all of it’s raspy, pissed off, angst-ridden punk rock glory.  The thing that gets me the most about Mosshart is while she’s a great rock singer with the perfect voice for the type of music she performs with The Kills and Dead Weather, she also has a beautiful voice – if you don’t believe me, go listen to “The Last Goodbye” on Blood Pressures.  I’m pretty sure she’d be a successful vocalist in almost any genre.

So with me in the throes of having a musical crush on Alison Mosshart I got online to see if I could find any of her earlier stuff with the Florida punk band Discount.  Their material was original put out on vinyl and cassette, and the records have been recently re-released, but I opted to go the cheaper route and picked up used CDs of Half Fiction (1997) and Crash Diagnostic (2000) online from Zia Records (neither is available on iTunes).  And thanks to the magic of the internet I had them less than a week later.

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I didn’t get what I expected from Half Fiction.  I thought I was going to get some raw, gritty punk, but what I got was more pop-punk.  And don’t think that’s an insult, because it’s not – there’s some solid pop-punk out there, and Half Fiction is a perfect example.  The songs are tight and fast, all coming in at under three minutes with a handful at less than two.  And Mosshart… her voice… not at all what I’ve been used to hearing from her.  She still has that sort of half talking/half singing quality, but her singing follows the cadence of the songs throughout the album, which to me came a a surprise since I’m used to her sounding like she’s actually fighting to break out from the music with The Kills.  This is a “cleaner” sounding Mosshart, more in the standard singer role.

Because the songs are so tight it can be a little harder for individual tracks to stand out.  Musically the pace remains brisk throughout and Mosshart generally sticks with the sort of hi-lo-hi-lo enunciation/cadence, and this can make some of the songs sort of blend together.  The first two tracks, “Half Fiction” and “Clap and Cough,” are the best representations of the general sound of Half Fiction, though I think “Keith” does the best job in breaking the mold with a bit of a guitar solo and Mosshart breaking free from her vocal rhythm, even adding in some of her own backing vocals.  “Toxic Home” is also solid, one of the few (maybe only, really) slower tracks, almost sounding like an acoustic number and giving Mosshart more of a chance to showcase her voice.

Half Fiction is pretty damn good, so if you’re a fan of bands like Green Day and Blink 182 I think you’ll like this a lot.  Even if you’re more just a straight forward pop fan I think it’s worth a listen if you can find a copy.