Once upon a time, 1991 to be specific, I read a review in Alternative Press for a virtually unknown export from San Diego dubbed Pitchfork. That write-up touted a Superchunk comparison, and given my impressionability during that time frame I was eager to obtain their album Eucalyptus without hearing one note beforehand. It would take a few years, but it’s a record I would become inseparable with by the time my college studies concluded in the late-90s. It turns out there was far more at play than simple Superchunk adulation on Eucalyptus (and the 1989 Saturn Outhouse ep that was appended to the tape/cd incarnation of the LP).
You see, Pitchfork were a prickly, esoteric beast, stringing together unwieldy harmonics, dexterous grooves, off-center melodies, and most significantly John Reis’ cutting edge guitar leads, chockablock with gnashing and half-muted slights of hand. Pitchfork wouldn’t be Pitchfork without another key facet, namely mouthpiece Rick Froberg (aka Rock Farr, Rick Fork at the time) whose timbre coincidentally approached that of Stephen Malkmus, had the Pavement frontman exercised his vocal chops while standing barefoot on a pile of smoldering coals. Eucalyptus had a scant thirty minute lifespan, but within that beguiling half-hour-of-power lay a Grand Canyon’s worth of sonic hooks and crannies – frayed, fleeting and perhaps unintentionally ambitious as they were. While their penchant did concede to the environs of Chapel Hill, equal weight was given to real-deal D.C. emo acts of yore, not to mention Louisville visionaries Squirrel Bait. Although it would be the band’s only full length, Eucalyptus ranks in my top-20 of all time, and I should only be so lucky to hear it through earbuds on my deathbed. I would be egregiously remiss if I didn’t mention that this quartet’s main claim to fame was spinning-off into a pair of considerably more pivotal San Diego bands, Rocket From the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu, the latter being the most telltale successor to Pitchfork.
Everybody has to start from somewhere, and likely to their embarrassment, Needle in a Haystack was Pitchfork’s first at bat. Only it wasn’t the Pitchfork I would come to know and revere. Rick had no involvement with this cassette, and if fact it was John Reis manning the mic throughout. Finagling with a modestly tuneful variation on high school hardcore punk, the band were merely a trio at this juncture. In addition to Reis, drummer Joey Piro would also carry over into the second incarnation of the Pitchfork. While the eleven songs here are largely indescribable from the work of so many other Southern Cali hopefuls of the era, you can (vaguely) discern the basis for John Reis’ emerging guitar technique on selections like “It’s a Nice Day” and “Caretaker,” not to mention the genuinely sweet tones infiltrating “Sucked in, Spit Out.” Lots of poppin’ bass here as well. That’s about as charitable as I can be in detailing Needle… which I’m offering here as more of a curiosity than anything else. Pitchfork’s Eucalyptus is still available, and if you want to sample it I would assume you could do so on Spotify.
01. Sucked In, Spit Out
04. Cut and Dry
06. Soak it In
08. Mind Over Matter
10. Blazing Saddles
11. It’s a Nice Day