Past Perfect: Spain

Even for the most diligent music fan, bands can slip through the cracks. Even with the threadbare path of nostalgia that the ’90s has become, there are still groups who still haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve. Spain is one of those bands. The band was lead by bassist Josh Haden, a member of the absurdly talented Haden family. His father, Charlie, was a well known jazz bassist and his sisters have all been in bands, Petra in That Dog, Rachel in That Dog and The Rentals, and Tanya in Silversun Pickups. With that pedigree, it makes sense that he would join the family business. As Petra and Rachel were beginning to make noise with That Dog, he joined the fray on the opposite end of the spectrum. Spain released three albums between 1995 and 2001 before going into dry dock. Now, on the occasion of those three records getting their first release on vinyl, it’s time to take a look back at the under-appreciated Spain.

In some ways, the quiet resurrection of Spain is a sign that, yes, every band that bothered to even breath on tape in the ’90s is destined to return. Haden already revived the band in 2008 to do a tour playing its best known album, The Blue Moods of Spain, in its entirety. He’s also released an album of all new material. Yet much like Spain’s initial outing, there still hasn’t been much attention paid. Part of the problem might be that now, as it was then, Spain is slightly out of step. Even as weird and wooly as the ’90s actually were, Spain stuck out.

Released in 1995, The Blue Moods of Spain was about as far away from the grunge that dominated alternative rock as could be. While his compatriots were loud and frantic, Haden was measured and unhurried. The one song that perfectly sums of Spain at that time would be the single and biggest hit off the record, “Dreaming of Love.” While so much of the music at the time was built on a quiet-loud-quiet dynamic, the song is a steady burn. It’s not a slow building tension that’s dying to explode, but nor is it a lethargic stroll around the park. The best comparison would be Mazzy Star, and in fact, Spain also shares some of that band’s country accents. Reviews of the record tended to highlight the jazz influences, but it not as pronounced as one would expect. The band gets the most mileage simply by adding a density of instruments, as on “World of Blue,” which features Petra and Rachel. While it never gets loud, it definitely gets heavy.

The follow-up was 1999’s She Haunts My Dreams. The break between records was enough that Spain almost became a different band. So while the basic feeling and approach is still intact, the album favors an alt-country sound with jazz overtones over the moody minimalism of Blue Moods. It seems like the next logical step, and the album’s mournful songs about love gone wrong are more direct. The tempos still couldn’t make an ice cube sweat, but Haden seems more determined to get right to the point. If Blue Moods was a twilight record, She Haunts My Dreams is a record for the dawning of the day.

The end of the unofficial trilogy comes with 2001’s I Believe. This one lives in the brightness of the afternoon. Perhaps due to a shorter break between records, I Believe isn’t as much of a stylistic shift as from the first to the second. But Haden still manages to push the edges of his range. There are hints of crooner R&B that creep into songs like “Mary” and “Make Your Body Move.” It’s not that far removed from the Afghan Whigs approach to slow jams. Again, it seems like the logical progression. What’s most baffling in looking at these three records as a whole and then placing then in their respective time periods, is that they didn’t breakthrough. While they had spiritual and sonic compatriots at every turn, Spain never found its niche. Hopefully, though, Spain will someday gets its turn in the sun.

Dorian S. Ham