Finger were a little known early nineties band out of Raleigh, NC. It is fitting that their first single was also one of Merge Records’ first releases, as they both were spawned from this lively scene. As it happened, the record label managed to break out of the “indie ghetto” in a pretty big way later on, while Finger’s great music was left behind. I think the title of their just-released compilation Still In Boxes is perfect, because many of those great tunes they performed probably remain sealed in unopened LP and CD cartons.
Still In Boxes collects 18 tunes recorded between the years 1990 and 1994. The songs are presented chronologically, which is a tremendous service to someone like myself who is just now being introduced to the group. The early material owes a huge debt to two of the finest bands of the eighties: Hüsker Dü and The Replacements.
“One Light Shinin” is the first track, and it has the polish of something from the last great Dü album, Candy Apple Grey. “Another State” is the best song The Replacements never recorded. I wish I had heard this back in the day, because even 20 years later, it is still a killer track.
The next development in Finger’s music was an embrace of tighter song structures, such as “Vessel.” Like late period ‘Mats, or contemporaries such as Nirvana and Teenage Fanclub, the group sharpened their hooks a bit, while retaining a punky edge. “Still In Boxes” is the first real departure for them, a lament that nodded in the direction of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo.
The Merge single “Everywhere” is a bid for airplay with jangly REM-inspired guitars all over the place. It’s a great song, another one of those gems that just slipped through the cracks. I actually like the B-side “The Awful Truth” even better. The guitars still dominate, but the pace is slowed down a bit, which works well in this context.
Having opened for bands such as Dinosaur Jr., and My Bloody Valentine, not to mention being avowed Neil Young fans, it is no surprise that the feedback gets cranked up at some point. “Queen Of The Blues” is the first, and best example of Finger cranking everything up to 11.
The latter part of the set goes even further in homage to Neil. While Finger‘s “Drive By” has nothing at all to do with Young’s, it does channel some of the crazed pyrotechnics of obscure guitar romps like “T-Bone.” Even more explicit is “The Horse.” I swear this is the long lost brother of “Cowgirl In The Sand.” Of the many highlights on Still In Boxes, this seven-minute extravaganza is the most compelling.
Finally we come to “No Solution,” which explicitly points the band in a country direction. In fact, guitarist Brad Rice would eventually go country all the way, as he is currently the guitar player in Keith Urban’s band.
Well, that’s all folks…but wait. The CD has not ended yet, there is a hidden track on here. It turns out to be a cover of The Knack’s “Good Girls Don’t.” It’s done with appropriately punk irreverence, and just makes me all the sadder I missed this band the first time around.