Before there was Uncle Tupelo, Silver Jews, Lambchop, My Morning Jacket or any Will Oldham moniker, there was Souled American. The Chicago-based alternative-country pioneers sparked the spread of Midwestern indie rock bands determined to embrace their non-urban roots. Regardless of this stature though, there was always something slightly off with Souled American that separated themselves from the No Depression scene. Their deep country sound was rarely comfortable within the style’s confines and continuously explored dub, psych, and even a little R&B influence. As the years rolled on – and with each consecutive release slipping into deeper and deeper introspection and experimentation – they became outsiders in the scene they inspired. When their label-base Rough Trade shut its doors due to bankruptcy in 1991 (it re-opened in 2000), Souled American became one of the many casualties to unintentionally follow the ship down into the murky depths of forgotten indie rock.
Aesthetically, Good Stuff House is the ghost of Souled American. Eerie echoes of Alt. Country’s twang reverberate off Endless Bummer‘s cavernous walls. Unintelligible voices shuffle from corner to corner, while the incessant plodding of a distant tribal drum keeps the mood on edge. It doesn’t sound as much a band as it does the spirits of music past fighting off the netherworld. Featuring guitarist Scott Tuma – a founder and long-time member of Souled American – collaborating with Matt Christensen and Mike Weis of the Chicago-based psych-folk outfit Zelienople, Good Stuff House is the music of No Depression’s catacombs.
Endless Bummer has much more in common with musicians like Tim Hecker or Christian Fennesz than it does Jeff Tweedy. Pieced together from tapes of past live performances and home studio improvisation, it fits nicely with Root Strata’s avant-garde ambient aesthetic. Tuma – whose more recent solo releases are also in this vein – concentrates on the by-product of his guitar nocturnes. The feedback, echo, reverb and other weird sounds conjured from his eerie axe is as, if not more, important than the original pluck of each nylon string. And the Zelienople boys accentuate these melodic ghosts with skillful patience, developing the mood rather than creating a narrative. The album never forces anything; it creates more of a somber atmosphere than any sort of definable structure. It’s the final stage of Souled American’s devolution. Only the decomposed remnants of anything country still remain.
Even still, the echo of Americana is inescapable in Tuma’s music. Maybe the clarity has just been wilted away by coming of age (both as a person and a musician). Whether you’re developing as a person or a musician, the fact remains: the more you know, the more you experience and the more you aspire to achieve, the more complex and turbid it all becomes. And if we take a hint from the album’s title, maybe the road for the Souled American guitarist hasn’t been so well lit. But those roots are still audible no matter how buried in reverb they may be. It just leaves one question: Does that make Good Stuff House post-Americana or the inspired beginnings of something else? The ghost of Americana or simply the pallbearer?