It’s impossible to avoid thinking of the so-called early 90s “alt-rock” scene and the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney—all of which owe their existence to Husker Du. Yet the material also conjures the more aptly named “college rock” underground of the 1980s—music that flourished independent of major-label interests and media-approved tags.
Spin these LPs when you need a spike of adrenaline, long to release pent-up emotions, or simply when you want to hear a band that remains inimitable in its sound more than three decades on.
Husker Du was nothing if not down-to-earth. But above all, the trio epitomizes Midwestern simplicity and work ethic. The group’s direct descendants got their due in Cameron Crowe’s Singles. It’s time a similar film focused on relationships of young urban dwellers living in the shadow of Reagan Era politics in the early 1980s.
No artist bridged the worlds of aggressive rock, American punk, hook-ridden pop, and shag-carpeted psychedelia more definitively and decisively than Husker Du. Separating itself from equally loud and noisy contemporaries, the Minnesota-based trio held its hardcore ferocity, without-abandon fury, and land-speed-record tempos together with a tautness and virtuosity that improved as time went on. Savage Young Du traces this evolution, underlines the brilliance of Bob Mould and Grant Hart’s songwriting, and, for the first time, presents the band’s formative works on an archival set many fans thought would never happen.
Beginning with the group’s first-known recordings in May 1979 and continuing through late 1982, the 69-track collection functions as a curated look inside the private vaults of the fans and producers that helped document what became the permanent foundations of a shape-shifting movement. As a whole, the songs come fast and hard, owing to the members gulping down doses of trucker speed and competitively attempting to obliterate anything that dare stand in their way. Husker Du would famously emphasize melody later. Yet the seeds are here. Comprised of singles, demos, live cuts, and rehearsals, the material varies in sonic quality. But the reissue specialists at Chicago-based Numero Group took pains to remaster every note from the original analog tapes and deserve commendation for elevating the fidelity to an unexpectedly sharp level.
Hearing early renditions of influential songs (“Data Control,” “Everything Falls Apart”), concentrated stabs at artier fare (“Statues”), and witty goofs (“Insects Rule the World,” “Uncle Ron”) coexist alongside still-visionary topical works (“Diane,” “In a Free Land,” “Real World”) moves the needle on the timeline thought to be Husker Du’s peak period up by at least a year, if not two. Savage Young Du convincingly argues the band’s underground reign began by the beginning of 1983 and rather than commencing with the release of 1984’s groundbreaking Zen Arcade. Throughout, Mould’s intense guitar starts heading in the same all-encompassing directions John Coltrane took his saxophone. Hart and bassist Greg Norton’s rhythm section manages to swing as much as it cudgels.
In addition to 47 previously unreleased tracks, the box set features exemplary packaging anchored by a 108-page hardbound book loaded with an informative 12,000-word essay, tour history, sessionography, flyerography, and stunningly reproduced photographs. The black-and-white images are further distinguished by a silver metallic finish that appears to make Mould and company physically stir on the page. Husker Du deserves nothing less.
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