I know, I know. What right do I have to declare this album a “classic”, when chances are you haven’t ever heard of Visqueen? Well, I’ll admit that even I had no recollection of them until a few months ago when I stumbled upon this band that apparently was a beloved local Seattle act for most of the ’00s, but somehow managed to completely pass me by. Thankfully, I spend a lot of time listening to another dependable Seattle institution, indie radio station KEXP, and apparently they still play enough Visqueen that I was able to hear one of their songs over the airwaves and be compelled to ask, “What is this? It’s awesome.” This ultimately led to me down a rabbit hole of seeking out all three of Visqueen’s albums, which weirdly are a lot easier to find in real life than on the internet, or at least if you have easy access to a Seattle record store’s used CD section. Yet even despite Visqueen’s local favoritism, in it’s heyday the band never quite managed to latch on to the early ’00s indie-pop boom that birthed a lot of successful Northwest bands, and thus has kept them pretty obscure in the wake of their 2011 break-up. But maybe that was all for the best, since it gives every album in Visqueen’s impeccably solid discography the amiable sound of an underdog that you just can’t keep down.
The underdog at the heart of this sound would be Rachel Flotard, a Seattle transplant by way of New Jersey, and by all accounts the kind of badass rock chick that I will always have an easy time getting behind. Yet despite Flotard’s ability to strap on a guitar and play this really loud version of power pop that Visqueen embodied, she seems to be deep down a romantic trying to make sense of whatever irrational thing is going on in her heart. On Sunset On Dateland (the band’s second release), there are traces of Flotard’s lovelorn-ness on tracks like the wonderfully yearning “Blue”, or the friend-zone anthem before friend-zoning was even a thing “Friends In Love”. But Sunset also feels like a classic sophomore album in that a couple of the songs (“Buttercup”, “Houston”) seem to be about being on the road, while overall there’s a fuller and more world-weary sound than the band’s punkier debut, even despite the fact that it was only released a year earlier.
Honestly, I don’t even know if this is the definitive Visqueen album by any means, it’s just that I wanted some reason to write about this band that I’ve had a mild obsession with over the past few months. But it probably stands as my favorite since it hits a nice middle ground between their rawer debut, and their more “mature” swan song, 2009’s Message To Garcia. Which weirdly gives Visqueen a kind of clear-cut three-act structure that you’d think more bands would abide by — put out an unbridled ball of energy in the form of your debut, then the slightly more developed second album, and then bring it all full circle with a final album that sees you finding peace of mind with a good dose of horns and strings thrown in, and then get the hell out of there.
Anyways, back to the whole “why wasn’t this band bigger?” question. I think it all just comes back to a theory that I remember expressing in a C.A.T. way back in 2011 for The dB’s debut, where I hinted that most power pop is inherently misunderstood. I’m not entirely sure why this is, since you’d think most people would be naturally drawn to catchy guitar-driven music that owes a lot to the melodicism of The Beatles. But it seems that basically every great power pop-esque band who wasn’t Cheap Trick or Weezer has met the same fate of underappreciated glory as power pop’s patron saints, Big Star. Still, as an intermediate-level power pop fan, I can’t entirely say that this a bad thing, since it’s what makes underdog bands like Visqueen such a joy to discover.
Favorite Tracks: “Blue”, “Manhattan”, “Crush On Radio”