Friday, August 5, 2011

Hetch Hetchy - Make Djibouti EP


Oh-OK is one of the great forgotten bands from the early days of the Athens, Georgia music explosion, the movement that brought the B-52s and R.E.M. onto the world stage. The band formed in the spring of 1981, and originally consisted of David Pierce on drums, Linda Hopper on vocals and Lynda Stipe on bass. If you're thinking "Stipe, Stipe - now WHERE have I heard that name?" - the answer is "yes"; Lynda was/is Michael Stipe's younger sister.

Oh-OK's star rose and fell very quickly. Within two years of forming, the group had toured with Pylon, released an EP and full album, added (and lost) new members (including a pre-solo Matthew Sweet) and broke up by the end of 1983. At that point, the band members scattered. I got into Oh-OK long after their breakup, when I lived in Athens during during the late 1980s. They, like Pylon, were (and still are) revered in that town, sort of as the pioneers who fell off the trail. I was interested enough to track down bits and pieces of their music while I was there, and the little I heard was enough to make me a fan.

But unlike Pylon, who remained in Athens after their heyday and were still somewhat semi-visible, a lot of ex-Oh-OK members disappeared for a time - except for Matthew Sweet, of course. Linda Hopper quickly moved on to Holiday, which released an obscure EP in 1987, then formed the more successful Magnapop, which is still performing and putting out records (the latest being 2005's Mouthfeel). Lynda Stipe fell off the musical radar for a couple of years. But she resurfaced in the late 1980s fronting a new band, Hetch Hetchy, and sporting a new name, Lynda K. Limner. The band's first release was the Make Djibouti EP, produced by Lynda's brother (hmm - I guess there ARE benefits to having a sibling in R.E.M.) and put out by Texas Hotel Records in 1988.

I honestly don't know what to make of this disc. I purchased it because of the fond memories I had of Oh-OK, and seeing Michael's name in the credits didn't hurt either. But its sound is far different from the simple, almost-childlike melodies of Lynda's previous band (or anything related to R.E.M., for that matter). The six songs on this EP are heavy - and I mean HEAVY; even what could be considered to be the lighter, poppier attempts on this disc (such as "Present" and "Hard On Lynda") just feel wrong, dragged down by the weight of too much instrumentation. And the slower ones (like "Retarded Camel" and "Sad Song") are even more leaden, with plodding rhythms supported by a thudding bass drum. in addition, it sounds as though Hetch Hetchy hired the old keyboard player from Berlin to sit in on this session - every song seems to contain some version of that weird "doo-doo wah-wah" synthesizer riff from "The Metro" - which is NOT a good thing, especially in 1988.

All in all, the Make Djibouti EP was not a promising start for Hetch Hetchy. As for who to blame for the weakness of their debut, well . . . far be it from me to point fingers, especially more than twenty years down the road. I'll hold my peace. But I
will note that prior to recording their first full album, 1990's Swollen, Lynda got rid of most of the original band, and instead of using her brother again, enlisted the production services of former Hugo Largo bassist Tim Sommer. The resulting album was a lot better than the EP, but that didn't save the band - Hetch Hetchy broke up in 1991. Since then, Lynda has been part of a few obscure bands, like Flash To Bang Time, and is still involved in the Athens arts scene.

I guess in hindsight, I should be writing about and posting Hetch Hetchy's more superior Swollen, rather than gassing about this thing. Screw it - I'm almost done writing this, and don't feel like starting over. So what the hell. Maybe I'll post the other album sometime later. Until then, have a listen to the EP, and as always, let me know what you think.

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3 comments:

  1. Texas Hotel was a really cool label and I had this record when it came out. Not sure where it is now, but appreciate the opportunity to listen to again. Thanks! - Al Green

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  2. Thank you very much :), this EP and their next album, Swollen, are fantastic!

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