"Protest A Dark Anniversary" by Masters of the Hemisphere is one of the best records, of the tens of thousands of records that I own. It is a superb work that was made by a group of men who called Athens, Georgia home. It was and still is a strange place, but what was happening there in the early 2000s was revolutionary for me. It was when the Elephant 6 Collective was cooking up new groups of weird hippies, freeloaders and slackers who were absolutely smitten with Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, psychedelia and the Zombies and they were attempting to reconfigure and channel it all back out in different ways on broke ass budgets. What came from those records, which were largely group efforts, with people, instruments and practice/recording spaces being borrowed constantly, was a fertile and exhilarating scene that hasn't be duplicated or even approached in its quality of output since.
Masters of the Hemisphere were then, one of the auxiliary pillars of the community, struggling like everyone else to get by. The group, led by songwriters and co-lead vocalists Bren Mead and Sean Rawls, had written a strange album entitled "I Am Not Freemdoom," prior to "Protest A Dark Anniversary," that created an alternate world, with strange animal-alien creatures. While a bit goofy in concept, the songs and the structure were there, but nothing could have hinted at the follow-up's genius. It's an album that finally nailed exactly how they wanted to be - with a collection of songs that were poignant, poetic, thoughtful and full of melodies that they must have had badgering and badgering until they finally were granted a song to call their own.
The songs, while incredibly catchy pop numbers, were complex and seemed to have a lot to say. Still, just as much today as then, they are mysterious narratives that give you all sorts of jumping off points, but choose to meander in blissful absurdities. It's a dream world that holds with it enough semblance of the real world that the songs are that much more powerful. Reunited last year, for the first time since the band broke up following the release of "Protest A Dark Anniversary," Masters of the Hemisphere recorded a new record - "Maybe These Are The Breaks" - toured sporadically and released their discography in a cassette tape-only boxed set and I still think of them fondly as the sly and grinning mumblers who made one of the best records I've ever heard and then disappeared for almost 10 years. I might never be able to forgive them for that.