Song 211: The Promise Ring, “Happy Hour” (1999)


In 2000 sometime, my friend Mark passed me a copy of Very Emergency, the third album by The Promise Ring. “You might like this,” he said.

I was intimidated by indie rock for a long time before I heard it, thinking it was the bastion of people much cooler than me. To an extent, this is (and was) true. But for all its rampant hipsterism, it’s also a music for outcasts and vagabonds, for people who aren’t sure what they like, but they like how guitars sound when they don’t sound quite right. When there’s just enough distortion to sound mysterious but not obscure a song’s central idea (even when that central idea is chaos).

When I first heard Very Emergency, I thought, “This? This is what I’ve been scared of?” It sounded like Weezer, or Harvey Danger, or Fountains of Wayne, or, for chrissakes, Foo Fighters, or a handful of other “mainstream” bands I’d been listening to since high school. Granted, the power-pop clap-alongs of Very Emergency are pretty clean for indie rock (and, it turns out, for The Promise Ring), but I didn’t know that yet. I also didn’t know that it would be the gateway drug for other addictions, like Pavement, Modest Mouse, Superchunk, and Built to Spill.

Very Emergency was my midterm-studying soundtrack for sophomore year of college, which seems like an odd choice, given its insistence on getting your attention. But it’s also a record with a unified sound, an organized fuzziness that blends into the background if you want it to. “Happy Hour” is the record’s catchiest track, and I love it because it has one of those moments when it all stands still to let you hear the gears at work. It’s around 2:25 in the video below, when, just for one chorus, the guitars and drums play alone while Davy von Bohlen’s distinctive voice does what it does.

It’s when it all clicked for me, once and for all.


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