Garden Variety - Knocking the Skill Level (Cover Artwork)

Garden Variety

Knocking the Skill Level (1995)

headhunter records

This is a hard review to write because this is technically a Post-Hardcore/Emo band from the 90’s and I’ve all but spent pretty much everything I can say about the genre that makes sense on a surface level without getting to some emotional well that ends up being embarrassing to read in hindsight…

The reality of this is simple. Garden Variety were an amazing band that was short lived and released a small handful of music, toured, did one music video, and then broke up. That is it. Where I have to do work is in explaining why you should listen to this one particular band and with that, I’m exhausted because it’s really simple to go down the same routes of information like, “This band had that Midwest sound”, or “They remind me of Cap’n Jazz/Braid/Texas is the Reason etc…” and also, “They paved the way for future acts to follow with honest, emotional lyrics that weren’t afraid to be heart-on-sleeve”. Ugh, gross.

Here’s what I can say. I discovered this band through a massive Mediafire link titled “Emo is Dead” that was floating around on some music forums back in probably 2007-2008. Maybe it was this large post on the Bridge-9 boards that had emo as a topic, which amazingly, wasn’t taken down for a long period of time. Many obscure bands being mentioned and extremely awesome links to download these out of print forgotten treasures, that one forum topic was a revelation. At least from what I can remember.

Snuggled in that huge collection was Garden Variety and one album called Knocking the Skill Level. I gave it a listen and just like when I first heard to the band Chocolate Kiss (check that band out seriously!) I was immediately struck with awe. This band sounded different from the rest. They do not sound like all the other bands that often come up, no; these people were on the opposite edge it seemed. Not to say that they were experimental and weird. Nope, not at all. In fact, they seemed a bit more subdued, but with actual melody!

This is where to define the band in reference to sound becomes hard, but try this: Think the riffage of Superchunk with the epic buildups of Sonic Youth. Throw in angst and no so great, but adequate singing and you sort of have a picture of Garden Variety for better or worse. Now those are just simple elements that come to mind, but you can also hear other acts like Native Nod, Shiner, and the 1.6 Band. See now I am referencing other artists and I did not want to do that…

I feel that this band deserves attention and I was thinking while reviewing this again, many years later after first listen, that it would be great if they came out now and totally blew away all the muck related to the associated genres. I stopped thinking that though after pondering on the merits of the so called scene fans who live this stuff. Would they even care about Garden Variety? Sadly, I rather doubt it and that is a shame because this needs to be heard.

I leave this review wanting to mention only one song from the album. Track 7, “Room 183”. This is the standout song. It is the longest and the one with the greatest amount of work from the band. The singing is on point and the lyrics hit hard and are relatable. The buildup of instrumentals is exquisite and it’s a heavy dose of what makes Emo music matter in so many ways. It feels like this hidden room or maybe a secret waiting to be said. The honesty is felt and the struggle seems real. What is it about this music that taps into some middle class livelihood of latchkey kids feeling blue on a weekday? It’s almost like standing in the street looking down the block and wondering what’s wrong with me, what is going on in my life?

Music can only do so much. Once the song is over you can hit repeat and play it again, but you will get the same song. In this case, that is a good thing.

Dig it…