The Germans have always had some kind of influence on American pop-culture. We have seen the musical influences of Krautrock flourish outside of its native country, as well as its weight on industrial and metal to name a few genres. What we tend to forget, however, is what the musicians from this country are still doing for music, even if those artists have packed up and moved on.
Back in 1995, Mark Kowarsch and Christopher Uhe formed a band that was supposed to be just a 4-track recording project among friends. Sharon Stoned was created as a way to explore the independent music scene of the era as grunge was at its height, if not winding down. Kowarsch and Uhe got together with friends and fellow Germans, The Notwist, and included some Americans as well. Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, as well as Hip Young Things, were chosen to collaborate on the first record that would appropriately be titled License to Confuse and would go on to gain the newly formed group a good amount of recognition at the time, far more than was originally thought to come. The community of musicians to be a part of Sharon Stoned stretched much further as the years went on and follow-up records were made in the same 4-track process, but it was that first record that would set the bar high and inspire a new generation of musicians.
Opening with Superkind, the early pace is set as the voices drone on tracks that can be described as slacker grunge with slightly more creativity, but it’s still a solid example of the times musically. This theme follows through the first part of the record as it shows a side of grunge that is often ignored, and yet, is what makes grunge worth listening to. It is about five tracks in with My Style when the tone shifts gears and introduces an experimental folk element that has found itself to be ever prevalent in indie music today but at the time had not been fully exposed. I just dont care about the things you do is sung, reiterating the lyrical theme of the record as being blunt and angry with a bit of melancholy. Special Plan takes this style of lyrical writing to the edge of its comfort zone as words pick up humor in their blatant openness with a little help from Dando musically. To A Friend takes this ethic one step further by ending off with a build up of brass and woodwind instruments for an experimental jazz finish.
The music by this point has fully moved on from where they were for the first few tracks, and it finds itself heavy in meaningful songwriting with noisy guitars used as a background for the acoustics that carry the song. Most notably, One Dark Love Poem is one of two tracks on this album that are both nostalgic while still being ahead of their time. The track settles down the lyrics making it more poetic as pre-recorded string interludes are used to break up the verses. This marks the next stage in the evolution of the project as we begin to see Sonic Youth inspired balladry. Dress Up and Falling & Laughing add a pop element to the end of the record making these songs catchy indie tunes that by todays standards should have been more widely respected.
Just when you have gotten comfortable Kowarsch and Uhe take a complete left turn with the German electronica inspired Shrug. The name is appropriate, as it seems that the duo and their friends shrugged off everything they had recorded to this point. What the song does is give you a taste of things to come in terms if the individual projects that would later follow. It also reiterates that what we hear in independent electronic music today, such as Holy Fuck and Does It Offend You, Yeah, all had to start somewhere, and this song helped reset the standard over ten years ago. The record ends with a fifteen-minute track split into both a live recording, Johanna, and a secret take on Special Plan that could arguably be better than the official cut. Before that, however, we are left off with the previous of the two that comes across as a recorded session amongst friends. The singing is just as sloppy as the playing with feedback-laden electrics letting a soft acoustic guitar take the lead. The end product is a fusion between early punk and new folk, Iggy singing with Wilco if you will.
This album would be the first of only two, as Your Very Own EP would mark the end of this recording collective in 1997. Over their short stint, Sharon Stoned would go onto gain rave reviews in Europe playing some of their biggest festivals. With each recording came a new cast of collaborative characters. This revolving door sentiment would carry on to their live performances with the two founding members as the only staple holding it down. The height of their career with this project mostly remained in Germany and Europe, but their influences have spread far across the Atlantic in many projects that we hear today. So turn the lights down, dust off the flannel, and enjoy.
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