We Never Lost A Single Game


Propeller Records, 2022


REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


Over the last several years there has been a deluge of hardcore history unearthed, reappraised, and reissued. The initial blast of American hardcore, in particular, say, from 1978-1984, continues to be fully documented with deluxe reissues, scene histories, lavish photobooks, podcasts, and even reunion tours. If you want to get a look at the current level of interest, just check eBay for current listings of original Misfits records or the earliest releases from Dischord, Touch and Go, and SST.

There has also been plenty of ink shed on the rise of alternative rock at the dawn of the 90s, culminating in what was arguably its high-water mark as far as mainstream popularity, Nirvana. So it’s interesting that the years from 1984-1990 seem to have somewhat fallen through the cracks. Sure, a handful of the heavy-hitters have been given attention, and the scenes of the East Bay, Washington DC, Chicago, and, of course, Seattle are now pretty well-documented, but the independent musical landscape of the time has escaped a comprehensive revisiting. This may be because of the sheer number of bands operating by that point, or perhaps the memories of the big fish still dominate what was then a small pond. But as the kids that were responsible for the explosion of hardcore grew into their twenties and got kicked around a little (more) by life, the underground was seemingly flooded with incredible music that was certainly somewhat slower, but also musically and lyrically adventurous, with plenty of attack retained, and now drawing on influences from all over the record store.  

There was also still enough isolation to create regional sounds and it seemed every college town in the country had greatness lurking somewhere within. Louisville had Squirrel Bait, Boston had Volcano Suns and the early Lemonheads, Columbus, Ohio, had Scrawl, Milwaukee had the post-hardcore phase of Die Kreuzen, San Francisco had Sister Double Happiness and Angst, and, overshadowed by the then-peaking Hüsker Dü and Replacements, my hometown of Minneapolis had the Baby Astronauts, Rifle Sport, and Dragnet, among many others. And on and on it went. Another band looking for a little oxygen beside the fire of much bigger names was Mercyland from Athens, Georgia.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Mercyland’s story was similar to countless bands in the mid-1980s underground. After honing their live work, they released a scrappy, soulful 7” on a tiny label in 1987, then played and toured incessantly and followed up with a fantastic full album, No Feet On The Cowling, released on the somewhat larger Tupelo Recording Company. Then came more shows, more touring, more recording, probable exhaustion, the demands of adulthood, final implosion, and an album in the can that was never released. Bob Mould liked them enough to invite singer and bassist David Barbe to join his new band Sugar in the early 90s. Barbe would then go on to operate Chase Park Transduction Studios and is now Director of the Music Business Program at the University of Georgia.

Which is all a (very) long way of saying Mercyland is more than worthy of having their second album remixed, remastered, re-sequenced, and issued as it would’ve been back then, which includes on vinyl. These songs did appear on the odds and sods Spillage CD collection, put out by Ryko in 1994 in what was perhaps an attempt to piggyback on Sugar’s popularity, but this is the way to hear them.

The nine tunes are scrappy and mostly high-velocity, with Barbe and guitarist Andrew Donaldson trading vocals. Drummer Joel Suttles is powerful and inventive, and he also sings a bit. The lyrics are smart, dark, and wary, like so many bands of the era, taking in everything from a looming life of underemployment and widening cultural decay to religious delusion and media hypocrisy. Indeed, Barbe’s lyrics in Sugar would turn even more gothic and violent, befitting Southern literary conventions.

Four of these tunes were first posthumously released on the Enter The Crafty Bear 7”, and a couple of these remain favorites, including the propulsive and creepy “John D. White” and the slowdown-for-a-love-song, “Freight Truck.” But “Waiting For The Garbage Can” is an excellent piece of late ’80s sweet/sour punk pop, and “Service Economy” is presumably aiming its melodic venom at entitled UGA undergrads. The production for this remix is sharp and punchy, hampered only on a few songs by an obtrusive snare that sounds like it had the chains turned off. Of course, the ’80s were also filled with unusual drum sounds.

While I don’t think We Never Lost A Single Game quite matches No Feet On The Cowling, it is still an excellent listen, and if you like some of the above-mentioned bands I’d highly suggest checking it out. Turning more toward melodicism and harmony, while still retaining plenty of volume, anger, and desperation, the underground of 1984-1990 refined its warning about the creeping rot at the core of modern American life, both implicitly and explicitly. Listening to Mercyland in 2023, it sure sounds like these bands got it right.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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