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You say you haven't heard of Gauge? You don't understand why they need a career retrospective? Don't worry. That's the point.

Obviously, most bands never accumulate quite enough fans to gain notoriety and justify extended, high-profile careers. Since a great many of those bands suck, that's a good thing -- but every now and then something special succumbs to indifference and slips through the cracks. In Tree Records' opinion, that's Gauge. The album's press materials make this point quite eloquently:

"You need not to have seen (Gauge) or to know of their current projects to enjoy these 23 songs. All that is required is the ability to remember that one band in your life that you thought were fantastic, and that everyone should hear, but for some reason no one did."

I is the first of two volumes chronicling Gauge's career (II will be available later this year). As you hear the band progress from early demos to more sophisticated studio recordings, you can follow the CD booklet's handy Gauge timeline, which provides facts and milestones from the first two years of the band's life. Though brief, the tour anecdotes leave you feeling like you know Gauge pretty well. You want them to play good shows, get to sleep in nice houses and sell lots of CDs. It's possible to remain optimistic; after all, the unhappy ending is reserved for II.

And Gauge's music? It's basically a well-formed predecessor of today's melodic Midwestern punk sound...you know, the genre that shares its name with a comedian from Downers Grove, IL -- coincidentally (or not) the town in which Gauge played their first show. The sonic building blocks are all in place. Big harmonic guitar riffs abound; they're grunge's largely unacknowledged legacy. Dual and multi-voiced choruses are in good supply, reminiscent of the punk anthems of the early eighties. And there's plenty of forceful drumming, courtesy of Ryan Rapsys, whose post-Gauge CV includes Euphone and Joan of Arc. Gauge's sound remains as raw and vibrant as it must have been in '91 -- listen to a fierce tune like "Attic Phase", with its shifty time signature, shouted vocals and sprawling riffs, and it's hard to believe that in the 2000, its descendants could seem hackneyed and overwrought.

If widespread internet access had existed in Gauge's day, they'd probably be "invoked" in much the same manner as Braid, with respect bordering upon awe. Perhaps they deserved to have such recognition...but it's almost better to know that they did what they did within a relative vacuum. Getting to know Gauge through I makes them more than another set of icons-turned-scene casualties, and identity is what makes Gauge worth knowing. It gives you a quiet sense of satisfaction...kind of like knowing that your great-great-grandfather invented the telephone back in the mid-1800s, years before it was "officially" invented, but abandoned it because he couldn't think of anyone worth calling.

-- George Zahora

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