Backtrack: Halo Benders God Don’t Make No Junk
Having spare time is important. That goes without saying. But considering none of us have it ever, maybe it’s worth saying again. Listening to the Halo Benders’ 1994 album God Don’t Make No Junk, the first album from the low-key side project of Built To Spill’s Doug Martsch and Beat Happening/K Record sounder Calvin Johnson, it feels like it could only be the product of spare time.
It’s tempting to call Halo Benders a supergroup. Both of these guys would go on to influence entire regions and scenes with their music, but there’s an intense weight that comes with that term that doesn’t really fit the loose vibe Halo Benders. On God Don’t Make No Junk, Martsch and Johnson trade off songs, or they sing together, with Johnson’s baritone anchoring Martsch’s spaced-out missives, which often shoot upward in excitement, even as they sound much angrier than he ever would on later Built To Spill albums or on his lone solo record.
God Don’t Make No Junk sounds very much like a tossed-off record. Not in a bad way, but like one day in a haze of Northwest boredom, Martsch and Johnson realized their voices would sound awesome together because they are basically the exact opposite. It would be easy for all the songs on here to come off as inconsequential, but sometimes when you stay this loose, the opposite happens. God Don’t Make No Junk is honest above all else, though sometimes that’s more obvious than others. Like when, on “Scarin,” Johnson trails off with “…you’re scaring me again…” and the song just ends, it’s potent with a sort of laconic, newly discovered dread.
There’s a lot of moments like that on the second half of God Don’t Make No Junk. The first half feels mostly fun, like the pair are needling us or just fooling around, finding their sound even as they’re recording. But then there’s the tense, brief “Sit On It,” with Martsch’s voice — almost gravelly and not yet imbued with the weight of life — cutting angry slashes across a sloppy dub backbeat that stumbles through multiple tempos. Martsch’s first words are “I don’t fit,” and his last are “…and the world doesn’t care. Why should it? Why don’t it sit down.” The last part isn’t meant to be a question so much as an order.
There’s a surprising bitterness there, but there’s joy in it too. Or at least joy in noticing the existence of bitterness. Like Martsch and Johnson found friendship amid the wreckage of destroyed relationships.
This doesn’t exactly feel as strange as it might sound. When two people find common ground in betrayal, it’s not too hard to bond. We’ve all had that experience: reeling from a breakup or an ill-fated life decision or some perceived slight in our lives, we gravitate toward anyone that might understand, usually because they’ve been through the same thing. It’s a dicey move, and it can often result in a toxic friendship built on constant complaining and spiteful commiseration, but sometimes we manage to walk the very thin line successfully, and the result is a relationship built on honesty and truth. Meeting people that know who we really are instead of what we portray ourselves as is an important part of growing up.
On “Canned Oxygen,” my favorite track here, Martsch sings “I feel like talking, but don’t preach, I’m all right, God don’t make no junk, so see, I’m all right, there’s nothing wrong with me.” It’s like he’s reassuring himself because there’s no one else there to reassure him, but then Johnson’s voice comes in, a kindred spirit.
I’d like to think that God Don’t Make No Junk is an early, half-bitter document of getting older and not liking the way things are going. A project that began as a distraction, but mutated into a full-blown, multiple-album band. The relationship evolved, Halo Benders kept going.