Essential New Music: Thinking Fellers Union Local 282’s “These Things Remain Unassigned”

Some albums are like photo portraits, artfully arranged to catch their good side from the right angle and retouched so the blemishes don’t show. They limit the information available to the audience in order to give the most favorable impression. During a recording career that lasted from 1988 through 2001, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 made a few records that fell into that category. While they never quite subdued the band’s oddness, they prioritized tunefulness, cohesion and a bit of the rocking energy that made TFUL282 so mighty in concert.

Other albums are more like homemade scrapbooks, with some pages left blank, others overloaded with ephemera and lots of blurry pictures arranged achronologically. These Things Remain Unassigned, a long-awaited compilation of Thinking Fellers singles and compilation tracks, is one of those records. Oh, it starts out accessibly. The guitars on “2X4s” toggle between buzzsaw lead and anthemic riffing while hazy singing and swooping trombone loop around them like barnstorming skywriters; if you ever air-guitared, this tune will activate your long-suppressed muscle memories. With its skittering slide guitar, bouncing violin beat and pro-caffeine chorus, “Every Days” is equally ingratiating. But before side one runs out, “Blank Eyed Devil” puts a stick in your easy-coasting spokes with its pixilated blues groove, masticated squeezebox and disruptive horn samples. A more complicated picture emerges.

You see, TFUL282 never saw a straight line that the band didn’t think it could improve with a wiggle or a smudge. No-fi rehearsal jams (“Electric Chair”) and murky tape collages (“Wally And The Ghost”) were as much a part of the group’s aesthetic as righteous Morricone jam “Selections From A Fistful Of Dollars” and the aforementioned hits. When called upon to contribute to a compilation, TFUL282 might turn in a churchy rearrangement of a Shaggs song (“Who Are Parents”), a dance track with cut-up samples of John Cage flexing his mycology knowledge or a fairly faithful cover of the Residents’ “The Electrocutioner.” These weren’t detours off the road; their presence gives a much more accurate accounting of what a wild ride the band could be.

Laid across four sides of vinyl, mastered to a much higher standard than TFUL282 could access back in the day and accompanied by booklet that explains the circumstances of each track, These Things Remain Unassigned is an honest portrait of the Fellers in all their messy glory. [Bulbous Monocle]

—Bill Meyer