Commonplace during my four-year run of high school adolescence were CD trades after classes in the former student smoking section, by then merely a hang out for those without distinctive cliques. A motley crew of sorts, we ranged from pop radio fanatics to classic rock D&D players to nu-metal fiends falling from the grunge wagon to stoners with a fixation on Tool or Slightly Stoopid (maybe even remnants of the swing revival movement?). On occasion, my art teacher would offer to let us bring CDs into class for our listening pleasure during projects; one of these instances included a disc by then-disbanded Californian trio Sublime titled 40 oz. To Freedom.
Reggae, dub, ska, all of it, these were new concepts to me, the kid who ultimately decided for all of two seconds that Limp Bizkit was the best thing ever (yeah, we were all kids once). Sublime, as trendy as it might be now to call one’s self a fan, introduced me to a breed of music I was encapsulated by; with that came the exploration of another more rock-oriented act in their vein who was still relatively fresh: Pepper. Call me mainstream for digging the obvious choices, but mainstream is not synonymous with terrible music — that would be terrible musicians and artists.
Every single album in Pepper’s repertoire (personal favorite being No Shame) is respectable at least; while I like to call them the Hawaiian Sublime in jest or am fully aware that Pepper’s genre of choice is not as prevalent as it used to be, they never disappoint. During 311’s Unity Tour, Pepper tacked on a new song in the set titled “Wake Up”, which unlike The Offspring’s “New Song”, held the crowd’s sway from note one. This track would later find itself landing on the then-upcoming EP, Stitches.
“Wake Up” debuted live to extreme fanfare, and all of this was deserved, but now that said memory is permanently planted to Stitches in studio form, our standouts land on closing tracks “Lonely” and “Mirror [Acoustic]”. Where “Drunk Girl” plays the role of strictly party song, “Lonely” becomes what would be Pepper’s sole softer side here if not for “Mirror”; the sound is purely liquefying, a beach tune that puts me in Beach Boys mindset — and I have never surfed a day in my life. On the flip side, “Mirror” has two versions present on Stitches, but the one that really glues to you would be our acoustic closer; what the original does in scathing retort to vanity, the gentler take resembles something akin to strumming on a sand-bound campfire prior to the douche-riddled hands of college frats everywhere.
Stitches is the best sampler one could ask for from a band like Pepper — it covers every side of the act, from the original and gentle acoustic versions of “Mirror”, the stellar reggae rock sing-along “Wake Up”, to the party track “Drunk Girl” and the sway of “Lonely”. In five songs, Pepper can define itself perfectly without resorting to some elaborate back-story or overproduced single. Stitches represents both positive and negative emotions with a generally optimistic bent; it is an inspirational token that reminds me of Unity Tour in a nutshell, a snapshot of an act that has sailed from the millennium’s horizon and shown no signs of slowing down.
As an East coast resident, I cannot yet fully encompass myself with the sheer pleasure of cruising Venice Beach or scuba diving in the islands, but my philosophy about reggae rock has always been thus: if listening to your album makes me feel that sensation as closely as possible, can push me into jonesing for a beer and a California red eye, can really feel enlightening, then the album succeeds. Pepper, like Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, even a few select tracks from the Clueless soundtrack, never fails in this premise, and therefore cannot be faulted.