The Drop Nineteens were formed in Boston in 1991 by a group of students at Boston University. Thanks in no small degree to their British influences they received more attention in the UK than they did in America. Their first official album, Delaware, was originally released by Caroline Records (and their UK wing Hut) in 1992. It was re-issued by Cherry Red Records in 2009.
Before recording Delaware the band recorded a collection of 8-track demos called Mayfield. These widely bootlegged early recordings reveal a band deeply enthralled with the British shoegaze scene of the early 90’s. Through the thick washes of distorted guitar and hazy melodies, it is not hard to hear the influence of bands like Chapterhouse, Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. These demos got them supporting dates with Chapterhouse and even a ‘single of the week’ in Melody Maker. However, according to bass player Steve Zimmerman in the liner notes to the 2009 re-issue, it was decided by the band to not release anything from the demo for their first album proper, in order to develop and showcase their own sound.
The result is an album which pares down the guitar fuzz and offers a more idiosyncratic approach to songwriting. Having said that, ‘Delaware’s’ two most shoegaze-sounding songs happen to be its best: ‘Winona’ is a glorious rush of distorted guitars and Greg Ackell’s half-buried vocals, while the almost 9-minute long ‘Kick the Tragedy’ rides on beautiful wave of noise before guitarist/singer Paula Kelly delivers a monologue from the point of view of a confused and unhappy young girl. There are no great revelations or dramatic situations in the lyrics, but rather a genuinely credible glimpse into the life of someone unsure of how to make their way in the world. The narrator even plays down her own problems (“I’m 19, how serious can it really be anyway? Not very”) before the swell of guitars burst back into the mix. It’s the album’s most moving moment by some distance.
Elsewhere, the title track is a powerful opener with an impressive slow building intro, the acoustic ‘Baby Wonder’s Gone’ is slight but sweet and ‘Reberrymemberer’ displays a Pixies influence in both its squealing guitars and screaming vocals (the album was recorded in the same studio as Doolittle).
The album only really stumbles on the gimmicky ‘Ease It Halen’ – where all the lyrics are titles of Van Halen songs – and a guitar heavy cover of Madonna’s ‘Angel’ which is only partially a success. The 2009 re-issue adds 4 songs from the Your Aquarium EP, including ‘My Aquarium (Second Time Around)’, which is a heavier version of Delaware’s sweet acoustic duet between Ackell and Kelly, as well as the Delaware-worthy ‘Nausea’ and a pointless version of Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’.
After Delaware, the band again tried to forge a new direction, shedding Paula Kelly, guitarist Motohiro Yasue and drummer Chris Roof. The result was 1995’s National Coma, which features a more straight ahead indie-rock sound and is not as interesting as a result. However, Delaware’s strongest moments still make it a highly worthwhile album from a young band determined to turn their influences into worthwhile sound of their own. Overall, they succeeded.