The best band you never heard of

I have no experience as a music critic and in fact I’ve seldom seen anything written by professional music critics to make me believe it’s possible to convey, with words, anything substantive about musical performances. I’m going to press on, though, because there’s an unknown band out there that you absolutely must hear about. I know, everyone’s got their own favorite bands no one ever heard of, but this is my blog, so today we’ll be talking about Splashdown.

The bad news about Splashdown is that it existed for only a few years, producing only about thirty songs, and disbanded in 2001. The good news is that the songs are nearly all terrific. The better news is that each song is unique. And the best news is that the entire catalogue is available for free download (here, here, and elsewhere).

Like a lot of Splashdown fans, I was first turned onto them by the inclusion of “Karma Slave” in the Titan A.E. soundtrack. For a while it was the only Splashdown song I knew of, and until I found more songs and info about the band, I listened to my copy of Karma Slave obsessively. It showcases all the best aspects of the band: unusual harmonies with a Near Eastern influence; complex but driving rhythms; intelligent and evocative lyrics; richly layered guitar and synth instrumentation; and above all the strong, agile, and vaguely pissed-off sounding vocals of Melissa Kaplan.

I’m a slave of karma
Spin the wheel and I’m a king reborn
I’m a slave of karma, I’m coming back
Yeah, I’ll be coming back
But for the last time

The angry edge in Kaplan’s voice — often submerged, but never completely — is more pronounced in “A Charming Spell,” another of Splashdown’s best. Its lyrics paint a spooky, authentic picture of witchcraft.

Tie a knife with a ribbon
With a red, red ribbon
Raise a hand-held mirror
To the light of the moon
With a secret garden
And a heart unhardened
Strike a spectre’s bargain
With a ritual brew

Halfworld” is a song so melodically interesting that there is also an instrumental-only version that’s great for karaoke.

Is nightshade a food or a poison?
Do you follow my reason?
Is reason important?

As I wrote above, each song is unique in the sense that it is unlike anything I’ve heard from other bands, and also in the sense that it’s distinct from the other songs in Splashdown’s catalogue. The snarky fun of “Procreation Chick” (“Don’t you think you’re the shit?”) is the only one like that from Splashdown; then it’s on to a bittersweet childhood reminiscence in “Elvis Sunday” (“Guess I’m still kickin’ and cryin’ when it comes to goodbye”) — again the only one of its kind among Splashdown’s songs, which is good because it leaves room for the woman-scorned roar of “Ironspy” (“Someone stop my hands from shaking”) and the playful eroticism of “Waterbead” (“See her flowering / With seeds of possibility / Inside his imaginings”).

There are two instances of repetition in the Splashdown catalogue (plus a variety of remixes of a few songs): “The Archer” quotes their earlier song, “Pandora.”

I do, I do, I do, I do, I
I feel so elated
Would you, would you, would you, would you
Please bring me joy

And “Games You Play” is an expanded version of their earlier song, “Paradox.”

If your past approaches you preaching comfort
Don’t be fooled into a war you’ll lose

I could write a little something about every Splashdown song, but there’s little point in continuing when you can get them all, for free, right now, and convince yourself that Splashdown is the best band you never heard of — and then go find someone else to convince.

Of course it goes without saying that the best band you have heard of is They Might Be Giants.

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