Sharps & Flats

Bedhead sing their swan song through Macha, the only indie-rock band forgiven for smelling like patchouli.

Published May 17, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Hailing from Athens, Ga., and driving a van full of strange instruments picked up in the Far East, Macha are the only band in indie rock whose members are allowed to wear patchouli. Self-consciously arty, musically meandering and in love with the crazy sound of the kitchen sink, the three players have distinguished themselves from other post-rock groups by applying old-fashioned melodies to two albums of snaking jams.

The Dallas quintet Bedhead avoided exotic instruments like Macha's beloved nipplegong for throughout their career. In the mid-'90s, the group gave face to the Trance Syndicate label. They released three minimal, organic and, at times, moving LPs (along with a string of EPs), all of which owed bands like Joy Division, Galaxie 500 and Pavement big time. When Trance folded last year, so too, ostensibly, did Bedhead.

Turns out that Macha and Bedhead have more in common than an audience of young men who can wear corduroy well into the summer, yet can't survive five hours without an asthma inhaler: Back in high school, in Wichita Falls, Texas, Bedhead's Bubba and Matt Kadane and Macha's Joshua and Mischo McKay were all in a band together. In fact, it was their first, and although none of their recordings has been released, a little bit of rock math (Macha dudes + Bedhead guys - 10 years of musical know-how + the reigning indie ethos of the time) suggests that they probably sounded like, oh, I dunno, the Meat Puppets. In high school.

Since then -- and this is rare for guys who shared first bands -- both Macha and Bedhead had admired each other's work, so much so that when Bedhead's label called it quits, the Kadanes sent their old buddies a master tape of songs they had in the works. Macha listened to the unfinished drum, guitar and vocal tracks and filled in the white spaces. The result is "Bedhead Loved Macha" -- a record that's less a proper album than it is a think-piece, a demarcation of the territory where seemingly disparate sensibilities shake hands at a high school reunion and proceed to hang out until dawn.

That said, "BLM" isn't nearly as dicey as that kind of encounter might suggest. For every move made by Bedhead -- usually rooted in singer-songwriter confessionals -- Macha lovingly counter with a kind of orchestration that, had Bedhead proceeded down their deliberate but no-less-intuitive course, would have been inevitable.

Yet both bands are clearly audible. There's the humongous cinematic sweep of "Hey Goodbye," a track that delivers the promise Matt Kadane's been making of his talents for as long as Bedhead have been making -- or rather, were making -- records: an utterly indelible bass guitar riff, a whispered vocal and more forlorn longing than you could shake an Alain de Botton book at. And then there are Macha-heavy tracks 5 through 85, gathered as "How Are Your Windows?" -- a collection of ambient "sound effects" (I might hear children playing, you might hear crickets laughing) that may just explain why Bedhead never spent too much time in the studio: They didn't trust themselves alone with all that equipment.

And caught somewhere between the both of these sensibilities is the record's closer, a cover of Cher's "Believe" that is far more tender than I think it means to be, even with the aid of a touch-tone phone in place of a guitar solo. Either way, for anyone keeping score, "Bedhead Loved Macha" is a Bedhead record. Because as wonderful as Macha's embellishments are -- and even as unthinkable as they would have been to Bedhead themselves -- it's Bedhead that, for the moment, steals the show, if only because this record is such a dramatic wave goodbye.

By Joey Sweeney

Joey Sweeney is a contributing editor at Philadelphia Weekly.

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