November 28, 2017 Dillon Fence – Rosemary Turns 25
When the focus of a discussion is early-’90s Alternative Rock – the genre that dominated the mainstream Rock scene in that decade – names that easily pop up are the likes of Nirvana (“Smells like Teen Spirit”), Pearl Jam (“Jeremy”), Radiohead (“Creep”), and The Smashing Pumpkins (“Disarm”). That is understandable. After all, those were some of the genre’s heavyweights during that era.
However, any dedicated Alternative Rock connoisseur will not forget that there were also a great number of lesser-known groups that, despite their failure to climb the peak of the commercial mountain, had in fairness produced equally (if not more) compelling albums. One of these was Dillon Fence, which belonged to the roster of cult favorites from the stable of Mammoth Records, alongside Vanilla Trainwreck (“Waint”), Chainsaw Kittens (“Shannon’s Fellini Movie”), and The Juliana Hatfield Three (“Spin the Bottle”).
Formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States, Dillon Fence consisted of Greg Humphreys (vocals, guitar), Kent Alpin (guitar, vocals), Chris Goode (bass, vocals), and Scott Carle (drums). The quartet got to release three proper studio albums—1992’s Rosemary, 1993’s Outside In, and 1994’s Living Room Scene, among which the debut remains to be a holy grail among fans of ’90s Alternative Rock. Released on February 11, 1992, Dillon Fence’s debut album, Rosemary, has reached this year its twenty-fifth anniversary, making it a cause for celebrating again the songs that comprised it.
Rosemary opened with the refreshingly upbeat and slightly fuzzy, early-morning serenity of “Daylight,” which gave the band’s champions the beloved chorus “Nothing lasts / You gave up much too fast / When you’re moping, groping at your past / Raise your glass / And cry until you’re done….” This was followed by the playful and tuneful, The Byrds-sounding, jangly Guitar Pop song “Hey Mockingbird.” A similar easygoing vibe flowed into the ensuing bright “Summer,” exuding a faint classic Rock-n-Roll sensibility and which may remind the initiated of Weezer’s “Buddy Holly.”
At first hearing, the angular-rhythmed “Sad Inheritance” most likely passed as a feel-good song; but upon lyrical inspection, the listener would have eventually felt the sadness and darkness of its morbid sentiments about someone who died. “Danger!” then built on the choppiness and catchiness of the preceding track, but was still pensive and melodic.
“I’ll Wait” was a marked change of style, employing a jazzy guitar playing and syncopated rhythmic structure, yet still maintaining the album’s overall angularity. Dillon Fence’s almost Twee-like tendencies, owing to Humphreys’s silky voice, was then taken aside to give way to the punchy, rocking track “Playful.” Then Rock became Funk as “Something for You” entered confidently with its ubiquitous ’70s Disco Rock–inspired guitar grooves. “Guilty” then returned the listener to the New Wave/Indie Pop aspect of the album.
The second-to-the-last track, “How Did You Get So High?” had that sense of urgency, as exhibited by the aggressiveness of the rhythm section of the guitar-bass-drum combo, complemented by Humphreys’s raspy register and frenetic delivery. Finally, Rosemary ended aptly with “I Will Break,” a midtempo Power Pop/Rock ballad whose manner of expression perfectly justified the song’s lyrical content and in which Humphreys’s voice eventually cracked and broke into the end, sympathizing with the poignant words of the song and completing the album’s juxtaposition of playfulness and seriocity.
Alternative Rock music in the 1990s may have been dominated by the usual heavyweights of ‘teen spirits’, ‘Jeremys’, ‘honeyed Pablos’, and ‘Siamese dreamers’, but one should not forget the decade’s cutting-edge baskers who, by seeming default, contented themselves in the sidelight and fringes of international Pop/Rock stardom. Dillon Fence was one of them.
But hey, it is not yet late to celebrate what you might have missed. There is still hope in such half-forgotten gems of the past. Now is the time! It is time to play Rosemary, after which you can now raise your glass without showing any sign of guilt.