Review Revue: The Donner Party – The Donner Party

When last I was immersed in the KEXP stacks, poring through the record collection for record covers filled with the wit and wisdom of my KCMU forebears, I had the great pleasure of running into the lovely lady known on the air as Quilty 3000 (I could tell you her real name, but then I’d have to kill you, which is really hard to do over the Internet). She’s been at KEXP since 1993, and has been working in radio since 10 years before that, so she definitely knows her 80s college rock. She went over and pulled out this record by The Donner Party and said I should feature it on Review Revue, so I said “OK,” and here we are.

The Donner Party is, as far as I can tell, the first band formed by one Mr. Sam Coomes, whose name you might recognize from his work with a little band known as Quasi. (He also played with this Elliott Smith guy you might have heard of, and has an incredible, yet lesser-known, psychedelic freakout band called Pink Mountain.) I’m listening to the Donner Party’s Complete Recordings right now, and maybe it’s me, but it definitely feels of a piece with some of the other stuff we’ve talked about here lately: that twangy, driving mix of rock and slightly folkish tendencies that also fueled Guadalcanal Diary and early REM. Who knows if they would have gone on to the international renown of REM or the relative obscurity of Guadalcanal Diary if they hadn’t broken up in 1989, but Sam Coomes has certainly become a musical force to be reckoned with.

“Rockish with a social conscious! Well well I don’t mind at all. Try ‘Boxful of Bones’ + think, maybe!”

“In case you didn’t know… the real Donner Party were a group of pioneers who made an extraordinary journey across a snowy pass near Lake Tahoe. They ended up eating their dead relatives for sustenance, but they made it. (Now the pass is a ski resort.)”

“Just don’t try driving Hwy 50 (Donner Pass) on a 3-day weekend.”

“Same female vocalist here as in The Catheads. Similar stuff & quite nice at that. Kinda folk, country, post-punk rock-ish. Heavy duty pop overtones, too, a la camper van. A good candidate for M. Watch out for the silly lyrics… Black-clad, gloomy youth — stay away!!!!”

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