Box of Bongwater

ShimmyDisc/Knitting Factory

Bongwater was the soundtrack for a certain time in my life. I don’t want to imply that I was really really into Bongwater (I only merited one “really”), but that hearing it brings back weird memories from that era more than any other music I was listening to at the time. Not all of the memories are pleasant, but I admit that my enjoyment of Bongwater transcends whatever negative nostalgia it generates.

Playing Bongwater to someone who hasn’t heard it before always brought on a strong reaction. The duo of sometimes-actress Ann Magnuson and producer icon Kramer created a weird collage of psychedelia, folk, riff rock, and recorded conversations and dream journal recitations — in other words, acid rock kicked up several notches. Nothing quite sounded like Bongwater, because nobody else could work that off-the-cuff freakout in a way that didn’t seem contrived.

Sadly, the Box of Bongwater is a half-hearted attempt at capitalizing on the majesty of the band and their folk-psychedelic-metal sound. It’s nice that this music is once more available, as all Bongwater releases came out on ShimmyDisc’s first incarnation, and are probably difficult to find now. The Box takes Bongwater’s entire CD output (five albums, one of them a double) and reshuffles it among four long CDs. The packaging shows the covers (not all, obviously), but the artwork is at best rudimentary — it’s a single panel, the reverse being merely a listing of songs and credits. A booklet enclosed with the box set contains a couple of interesting essays and a fable from Kramer himself, possibly referring to the band’s quick and dirty death, or perhaps other things.

It’s a bit much to expect a Bongwater Box Set to be a lavish affair. Bongwater never enjoyed the audience they deserved when they were around, and I doubt things are much better now. Still, this has the feel of something halfway done, a quick way to make the back-catalog available again and somewhat attractive for someone suffering a craving for the past. The music deserves better, but at least we can be grateful we can find it. Knitting Factory Works, 74 Leonard St., New York, NY 10013

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