CLASSIC REVIEW: CALEB FRAID- The Old Rugged Me
BEST TRACKS: 50/50, Anxious to Live, Vertical Blind
Fine, fine, this isn’t what would regularly be denoted as a “classic”. But there’s something in this album which I haven’t found within really anything else. It isn’t clear whether this is a result of a personal absence of knowledge surrounding this genre or simply that I have stumbled upon a long forgotten masterpiece (there’s a good chance it’s the former), but The Old Rugged me contains such a distilled spirit of creativity and self reliance that it manages to make me feel wholly lacking in every creative endeavor I’ve ever attempted. While Caleb Fraid’s 8-track gem has been, to the extent of my knowledge, widely ignored, I would argue the (in)famous Velvet Underground quote is equally applicable to this album. Every person who listens to The Old Rugged Me is guaranteed to start a band.
Picture this, it’s the mid 90s, cassettes still reign supreme simply in their pragmatism. Wow, what a time! Of course, I won’t try and make the classic “I was born in the wrong generation :,(“ argument, but the music environment facilitated by mid-90s technology is still really fucking cool. Though the advent of the internet has virtually eliminated 90% of distribution costs, making everything DIY an actual possibility, the inherent magnitude of the World Wide Web makes this distribution infinitely more diffuse. With cassette tapes, the distribution wasn’t presupposed. As such, not only was the content itself DIY, but so were the means by which it was sold, advertised, and shipped. So what does all of this actually mean you ask? Super localized tape scenes where labels often simply consisted of a handful of bands recording songs on a boombox and then having their stuff advertised in a mailer and shipped out from some dude’s house. Labels like Shrimper, Amateur Anarchy, and Asswipe all existed as “companies” which refreshingly removed barriers between artists and consumers, and built an underground (hell yeah) music scene which attracted musicians whose creativity could be fostered on something as simple as something like an 8-track. And that’s where Caleb Fraid, a Houston native, comes in. While perusing BandCamp like a certified cool man, I came across FraidAid: a decent collection of lo-fi songs. Admittedly, I wasn’t blown away. But then I looked at what else Fraid had released and, to my surprise, found over 100 tapes recorded between the mid 80s and early 2000s. Most of the covers were plastered with doodles Fraid appeared to have drawn on napkins. And so I finally came upon The Old Rugged Me, a collection of tracks whose minimal production quality initially mask the startlingly good songwriting beneath it. But don’t be fooled, this album is genius.
The funniest part about The Old Rugged Me is that it doesn’t really sound that far off from the Beatles’ White Album. No, no, I’m serious. Fraid obviously isn’t concerned with clever recording techniques; rather, he spends two to three minutes using his limited resources to display his phenomenal songwriting. And it is phenomenal. 50/50 offers us a horribly thin guitar line coupled with Fraid’s double tracked vocals that occasionally diverge to weave in and out of harmony before returning to the binary drone by the chorus. I swear to God, it sounds just like the Velvet Underground. And the production here actual begins to work to Fraid’s advantage, turning a pretty standard sounding blues-rock track into a playful build which can only be described as a guy playing singing and playing guitar at himself. Similarly, “Anxious to Live” and “Vertical Blind” find their tenderness significantly boosted by its rawness. Whatever may exist within Fraid’s mind for these songs is probably impossible to decipher, but there is no mistake that it’s genuine. Honestly, it’s difficult to choose a handful of songs to highlight on this thing; every song is a rotation of impulse which sees Fraid’s sparse, yet intricate songwriting ultimately speak for itself.
This album is the pinnacle of everything classified as DIY. Devoid of pretension, The Old Rugged me exists as an entirely pure expression of an artist who is clearly fully invested in what he makes.
– Cliff Jenkins