Some events simply defy the laws of probability – and that Longstocking never got a fraction of the attention the band deserved is definitely one of them. Seriously – how did the band get overlooked as much as it did? They were in the right place (in Los Angeles) at the right time (from 1995 to 1997 – Once Upon A Time Called Now was released in 1997, just as Sleater-Kinney was beginning to break through with Dig Me Out, Liz Phair had broken through with her first two albums, Ani DiFranco was rewriting indie rock orthodoxy with her own label and was already seven albums deep into her catalogue), but fame (or at least fame on a scale the band deserved) evaded them. It was heartbreaking then (conspicuously, Once Upon A Time Called Now was released on September 30, 1997 – and the band broke up before January 1, 1998) and remains confounding now – but, happily, there’s finally a chance that Longstocking will get the notice they deserve as Jealous Butcher Records embarks on an excellent reissue campaign.
As soon as “Teenage Angst at 27” opens the A-side of Once Upon A Time Called Now, listeners will find diving headlong into the sound that Longstocking concocts the height of simplicity. Here, the sound is simply superb and timeless; singer/guitarist Tamala Poljak’s doubled vocal gives listeners the impression that there are actually two women singing as the parts closely mirror and harmonize with each other, while David Gomez’ bass brilliantly offers low end support to both the vocals and the guitar work provided by Poljak and co-guitarist Woody Stevenson. The results are simple and accessible with just enough of a clip to make listeners’ eyes narrow but not actually inspire a sneer; it straddles the line between a tease and a come-on (check out lines like, “I prayed for love/ I prayed to sadness/I prayed for you/ And then I got your madness instead”), and then resolves with genuine frustration (see “But that’s okay with me/ What you don’t know won’t hurt you ’til you figure it out/ Choking on the price you paid/ Seems you never see it coming”). It doesn’t take long for listeners to get hooked by what Longstocking are laying out here, and those who weren’t familiar with the band’s music will be locked on board early with those who are just beaming at the beautiful presentation this LP offers.
Once Once Upon A Time Called Now quickly shifts gears with the much punkier but no less melodic “Jehu on a Roller Coaster.” There, listeners will be absolutely floored as Poljak and Stevenson tighten their shoelaces and hit a genuine sprint – but do not allow anything about the song to get blurry. Here, the spark in the guitar performance is phenomenal and Poljak’s vocal performance intertwines with that tone in a way which really needs to be heard to be believed; when they hum (as they do right at the end of the song), the interplay is an infectious chime that is absolutely hypnotic.
After “Jehu…,” Longstocking remains on the punk tip through “Passing The Crown” and the slightly more angular “Autobarb” before nailing something close to the melody and structure that Liz Phair won audiences with through her first two albums on “Goddess (Part Four),” which closes the album’s A-side. The performance and song selection is absolutely a perfect way to close, in this context; while the guitar part in the song is unrepentently repetitive, the angry and ceaseless vocal hooks listeners with its sort of rant-y delivery and pulls them along for both minutes of the song’s length.o simply say that it’s effective is an undeniable understatement; when “Goddess (Part Four)” ends and the needle lifts from the record, many listeners will be right there at the ready to flip the record, reset the needle and attempt to make sure the space between sides is the smallest possible.
The B-side of Once Upon A Time Called Now manages to exceed expectations from the start as “Radio Agony” finds a flawless state of underground finery with the guitars in the song mimic some of the greatest riffs and hooks in radio history, but still manages to sound as though it’s blazing straight out of the underground too. Through “Radio Agony”’s four-minute running, Longstocking gets listeners primed and waiting expectantly to be wowed – and the band does not disappoint.
“Not A Jerk” and “Equator” follow the opening made by “Radio Agony” and keep to the form set years prior by Nirvana as it seeks to be just a hair more caustic and aggressive than the song which preceded it but not shake listeners off completely (exactly the same as Nirvana did “Lounge Act” and “Stay Away” in contrast to “Teen Spirit”and “Lithium”) before excitedly enjoying a vapid spectacle in “Oscar Nite” (check out lines like, “If you wanna rock, let’s go see the movie stars,” and the obvious ambitions which come with them) and finally closing the side out with the perfectly measured AND poppy push of “Bus.” While echoes of the inspiration which powers “Bus” did manifest elsewhere on Once Upon A Time Called Now, it is with “Bus” that Longstocking prove their place in a timeline which includes acts like Sleater-Kinney as great cultural pillars in indie rock.
And then the damned thing ends! No matter how often one listens to this vinyl reissue of Once Upon A Time Called Now, listeners will find themselves dismayed when the needle lifts from the album after “Bus” – it always feels like there should be more, in spite of the fact that the LP (not the original pressing, and certainly not this reissue either) does not skimp or shortchange listeners on anything. It gets even worse too because, outside of a set which compiles singles and rarities (Singles & Demoes 1994 – 1998 – which has also been reissued as part of this campaign), Longstocking would not release anymore new music. Like so many other one-album greats, Longstocking would break up within months of Once Upon A Time Called Now‘s release on September 30, 1997; they’d be all done before New Year’s Eve of the same year. After that, the band got sort of swallowed up by the music industry machine – until now. That’s one of the reasons why this reissue is such an important one: it genuinely deserved greater attention, and the hope is that now is the time. [Bill Adams]
The vinyl reissue of Longstocking’s Once Upon A Time Called Now is out now on Jealous Butcher Records. Buy it here, directly from Jealous Butcher Records.