The Unheard Music:
In Praise of Scarce

The tale of Scarce is one of an amazing, against-the-odds comeback that ultimately fell short. Their lone LP, Deadsexy, is a criminally ignored chunk of rock music. Chick Graning was Scarce’s frontman, providing guitars, vox, and songwriting. He previously led a band called Anastasia Screamed. You may have heard his playing on a song on Juliana Hatfield’s Hey Babe or a few songs on Star, the debut album by Belly (a band led by his then-fiancee, Tanya Donelly). Joyce Raskin, a painter, writer of children’s books, and DC punker joined him on bass, vox, and songwriting. The original drummer, Jud Ehrbar left the band to concentrate on such projects as Space Needle, Reservoir, and Varnaline. By the creation of Deadsexy, Joseph Propatier, their fourth drummer, was manning the traps. Scarce was a standout on the Providence-Boston music scene, and signed to A&M Records after a self-released EP and a gaggle of indie singles. Deadsexy was more or less ready for release by mid-1995.

Then came Fate’s twist: in June of that year, Chick was struck by a brain hemorrhage and went into a coma. The fact that he survived after emergency brain surgery was a story in itself; the survival rate for his condition and the procedure to fix it is around 10%. The man came back changed, having to relearn all the songs he had written. The band changed the album in ways that reflected its changed state following that tragedy.

In late July 1996, a year after the European release of the original version of the LP, Deadsexy was released stateside. Unfortunately, by fall 1996 and in the midst of a promotional push by their label, internal tensions broke the band up. Graning is now working on an acoustic solo career. Raskin has worked on a variety of projects, including a new band called White. Deadsexy is the greatest testament to the power of Scarce, but is most easily found in promo and cut-out bins today.

So, what of Deadsexy? Well, from the feedback fade-in of the opener “Honeysimple,” the album grabs the listener’s attention with a unique but familiar combination of post-punk and pop. Strains of ‘80’s forerunners like the Pixies (jagged rhythms, stop-start dynamics, and proto-grunge guitar screech), Hüsker Dü (the melody and the fury), and the Replacements (first-rate songsmithery with a rough-hewn, desperate spirit)—as well as more classic influences like the Beatles, Neil Young, and David Bowie—run through the music, providing the sound with a pedigree while pulling up well short of being slavishly derivative. Graning’s voice is gravely and raw but melodic, emotive without lapsing into put-on angst yowling. Raskin’s vox, which twine with Graning’s in an X-like clash/harmony are sometimes icy, always spot-on. Lyrics are imagistic and oblique in parts, straightforward in a clever and evocative way in others. Consistent songwriting and a variety of sonics, tempo, production, and form make Deadsexy an album that rewards repeated listens instead of grating monotonously on the listener’s ears. The band is equally adept with jangle, grunge, and acoustic stylings, sometimes alternating within songs. The performances are great—the band has a compelling, confident interplay that makes the songs come together as more than the sum of their git-bass-drum parts. “Crimea River”’s lyrics turn on a pun which does not lessen the emotional impact of their indictment of a melodramatic lover by a disenchanted speaker. “Days Like This” bounces along in the Northeast post-indie rock style (reminiscent of uptempo material by peak Buffalo Tom or Belly) while revisiting similar emotional and thematic territory to the Replacements’ “Answering Machine,” the loneliness of a lover whose only connection to his beloved is the flawed, distant medium of telephone. “Obviously Midnight,” the haunting album closer, is a three-chord masterpiece of dread, resignation, and redemption; an acoustic verse and chorus give way to a rocking full-band passage while the mood of loss and desperation is kicked up a notch. Deadsexy will reward any listener interested in great rock music, that which can move you to dance or move you emotionally without insulting your intelligence.