Plow United’s Sleepwalk: A Retrospective is a gift. It combines the band’s three full-lengths with choice rarities and one unreleased song to form a flawless, 34-track compilation. For people just now learning about the seminal Delaware pop-punk group, it’s essential one-stop shopping.
Formed in 1992, Plow United was one of a slew of ’90s punk bands that meant a whole lot to a quite a few people despite a brief run. Their three albums--Plow United, Goodnight Sellout and Narcolepsy--dealt in stellar drumming, distorted guitars and enthusiastically snotty vox. But the band broke up in 1998 just a few years before the Internet made getting exposure for a DIY punk band a whole lot easier. Their releases became legends; per the liner notes for this deluxe re-release, “Now stop selling our records for $70 on eBay.” While they never quite carried the influence of, say, Discount or Avail, Plow United still meant something to a core faithful. With the release of Sleepwalk, it all becomes so obvious why.
There have been bands that I liked casually, that took me years to really dig into, that didn’t quite click for me until I hit a certain age. Then there have been bands that just caught me at the right moment, that made sense in the now, that made me question why I bothered listening to other acts at all. Plow United falls into the latter category. After witnessing the group’s Riot Fest East reunion set, I needed to consume as much recorded material as possible. The songs were that fun.
Of the 34 cuts collected on Sleepwalk, only three surpass the two-minute mark. Plow United did not fuck around when it came to songwriting. The trio of Brian McGee, Sean Rule and Joel Tannenbaum played as fast as they could. The vocals could get pitchy but they were always passionate and hooky regardless. Their output recalls Gilman St. pop-punk a la Mr. T Experience or early Green Day circa the ’90s, but faster and with better drumming. On a more contemporary level, Plow United isn’t quite as different from Iron Chic as one might think.
Track one, “Tour Guide at the Alamo,” is kind of a novelty song at 18 seconds in length, but track two, “Spindle,” is pretty much all you need to hear in order to understand and crave Plow United. Listeners get heartbreak, nasally vocals and propulsive drums condensed into 109 seconds. There are catchier songs for sure--“Reason” and “Dance” pack huge choruses--but “Spindle” is one of those “oh shit I get it now” songs. Yes, there have been tons of pop-punk bands over the years. But Plow United cuts to the essentials. The songs are fast ‘n’ fun. That they’re collected on one shiny compact disc is a nice bonus.