The Rheostatics were darlings on CBC Radio's late-night programs throughout the late '80s and '90s. The Etobicoke art-rockers peddled a dorky style of Canadiana that made them a natural fit for the national broadcaster, but their wackier impulses defied easy categorization or commercial considerations.
The latter tendency aligned them firmly with Brave New Waves in the Brent Bambury years, and nearly three decades after inaugurating the show's session recordings, Toronto-based reissues label Artoffact has submitted the performance to the Peel treatment. Yet the release carries an ambiguous appeal. Is the Brave New Waves Session an attempt to shine a fresh light on the band and the show, or does it merely trade on the lingering goodwill for both?
For the most part, the session stands on its own merits, serving as a bridge between the band's earliest songs and those that would later see formal release. Obscure tracks like "The Uptake" and "Crystal Soup" replace material from their debut, Greatest Hits. Some feel like failed experiments (see: the boisterous pseudo-rap on "Four Upright Walls"), but they fit in with the group's novel approach.
Early incarnations of the band's best-known songs balance out these missteps. "King of the Past" and "Dopefiends and Boozehounds" feature remarkably fleshed-out arrangements despite their unfinished status. While these versions suffer compared to their definitive versions, they still work as both live tracks and time capsules of the group.
It's futile to call the Brave New Waves Session essential listening, but it captures a vital performance that justifies more than mere academic interest. Rheostatics fans should find plenty to like about it. (ArtofFact)