"Throw the money out the window/It doesn't matter anymore/It won't get me what I'm after/It got me running for the door" -- the melancholy manifesto that opens "Stars Grow Colder" -- kicks off the latest highlight in a career that could've been. Dumptruck's Lemmings Travel to the Sea begins by spewing this weirdly unconventional wisdom, a direct challenge to the '90s' greedy, stock-option, portfolio-building treachery that permeates our culture. But Dumptruck (which at this point is songwriter-guitarist Seth Tiven) has never leaned on conventions. A late-'80s moment in the sun quickly became dark for the band in the wake of a legal bout with its floundering record label. After a trio of dazzling '80s releases, Dumptruck teetered around "next big thing" status and then disappeared altogether into litigation hell. When the dust cleared 10 years ago, Tiven found himself with a record in the can, a messy legal history, and a changing musical landscape that left him and his band as a sort of alternative rock pariah.
By 1995, Tiven took Dumptruck's fate into his own hands and started moving forward via independent channels. Lemmings Travel to the Sea is the third release in the wake of this turmoil, and it's the third generous helping of a great big "fuck you" to anyone who'd written Dumptruck off. Once again, Tiven approaches a batch of bleak (at their surface) songs with compelling and relatively upbeat conviction. His flowing guitar work moves restlessly throughout the disc; the stylistic challenges Dumptruck has always made instinctive continue to gain breadth here. Make no bones about it though: This is charged rock and roll -- only shot through a skewed prism that blurs any lines between rock, punk, post-punk, alternative, and country. (A second "bonus" disc comes with the record and has a generous helping of well-recorded live Dumptruck from CBGB's in '86 and '88, on which the band covers Dylan, Neil Young, and the Embarrassment.) Tiven, at some point or another, seems to find ways to muscle all of these vagaries into Lemmings, and the results are stunning, filling the vast distance between menacing and somber as only a guy who once sang "drifting on an ocean . . . till you die" could.