Power pop revivalists and anachronistic grunge-era alternative rock band Material Issue certainly gets most of its recognition - when any comes at all - as a '90s band that exerted influence on that decade's rise of modern rock. However, the energetic Illinois trio (led by the lanky, infectiously heart-on-his-sleeve Jim Ellison) actually formed in 1985, cutting its teeth by touring the Midwest tirelessly during the late '80s. Governed by Ellison's pop songwriting precision and an embrace of the D.I.Y. indie aesthetic before indie rock even had a name, the group should have enjoyed an explosion of hits in the wake of Nirvana. Unfortunately, Ellison's earnest, exuberant approach wasn't quite mopey enough to win over the flannel shirt crowd. I should know; I was one of them, who (despite a healthy introduction to Material Issue through viewings of MTV's 120 Minutes while still living at my parents' house) failed to follow through on my early interest in the band.
Ellison's suicide in 1996 - occurring right in the middle of the band's potential peak years - makes the band's frustrating near-miss all the sadder. It was impossible for the band to continue without its engine, and so the music world was robbed not only of the music the group could have created but also of the deserved appreciation of its limited catalog that continues to draw far more reverence than steady listenership. "Sixteen Tambourines" was recorded during the late '80s even if it didn't appear on a Material Issue full-length LP until the 2011 reissue of 1991's International Pop Overthrow. This is a tremendously charming, noisy guitar romp that should have paved the way for greater mainstream success than would ever come for Material Issue. On the other hand, Ellison's emotional tenor contains such an unmitigated immediacy that cult status was probably inevitable. Either way, almost everyone needs to hear more of Material Issue's cruelly brief discography. Here's a solid '80s start.
- Sample or download "Sixteen Tambourines" here.
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Album Cover Image Courtesy of Hip-O Select/Mercury