Ween's The Pod turns twenty years old today
Twenty years after its release, it's no wonder that many still consider The Pod to be Ween's most challenging album. Released on September 20, 1991, less than two years after the band's freshman release, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, the 23-track EP took the group's flair for surreal sounds and heady humor to an even more outlandish level. Recorded by Gene and Dean Ween over a span of ten months in their apartment in Solebury Township, Pennsylvania, The Pod still plays like an experiment in free association and improvisational abandon.
From the punk-inspired guitar riffs of "Sketches of Winkle" to the free-lyric association of "The Stallion (Pts. 1 and 2)," the songs offers minimalistic production values and unpolished contours. Dean Ween orders a taco dinner from himself on "Pollo Asado"; he delivers sympathy in the form of barely discernible lyrics on "Sorry Charlie"; and he sings of his love for pork rolls, eggs and cheese on the penultimate track. Basic drumbeats from a drum machine abound, and Dean Ween's guitar style is still in its most primal and sludgy phase.
On songs like "Awesome Sound," the vocalist breaks into uncontrollable laughter -- the entire record has the feel of an all-night drug bender. It makes for a heady, disorienting effect, a dynamic that would never fully be recaptured in the subsequent releases from the Ween brothers, aka Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo.
While 1992's Pure Guava hinted at the conceptual experimentation and sonic abandon present on every track on The Pod, it also offered a push toward polish and a fuller band, hints of evolution that would fully flower on 1994's Chocolate and Cheese.
Now twenty years later, the release remains a relic of the duo at its most raw and minimal. As Dean Ween told us in a 2010 interview, the record stands as the result of a songwriting process that would persist over the decades. "Every record is the same, to be honest with you," he said. "[We] rent a house, move our equipment in there, and we'll work on the record until it's done."
While the pair would supplement this process with better equipment and a fuller ensemble in later years, the songs are at their most stripped down on The Pod. The band would later say the claim was part of a joke, but the liner notes proudly boast that the record was completed under the influence of five cans of Scotchguard.
The cover is a simple alteration of the Best of Leonard Cohen compilation. The head of the pair's friend and part-time bass player/vocalist Chris Williams (aka Mean Ween), sporting a "nitrous oxide-powered bong," has been pasted over Cohen's.
Initially captured on a Tascam four-track cassette recorder, the album retains a muddy sound, despite its later remastering by Elektra Records. Tunes like "Doctor Rock" and "Captain Fantasy," which the band would eventually refine in its live shows, are still in their germinal form, with minimal effects and instrumentation.
At its core, however, the record offers moments of maturity, glints of the skill that would mark the band's coming output. Even in its minimalistic form, for example, "Don't Sweat It" offers the ultimate passive-aggressive rejoinder to a former lover in its titular chorus. The theme would evolve fully in "Baby Bitch," on Chocolate and Cheese.
The bare production values and bizarre lyrics stand out even more in a contemporary scene marked by studio polish and AutoTuned vocals. Indeed, the in-jokes and musical acid tests from two aspiring musicians from New Hope, Pennsylvania, seem more brash in a music landscape that's more formalized and predictable.
Here's "Sketches of Winkle," performed in 2000 during an in-store appearance at Benway Records in Venice, California:
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.