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At the Mall Remixes

Baron Zen

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Album Review

Recorded by college friends between 1988 and 1992, Baron Zen's At the Mall sounds, well, a lot like something some music-loving kids would record between 1988 and 1992. The Joy Division, Black Flag, and Dead Milkmen influences are all there, as are the early hip-hop, pop, and even disco ones. It's clearly music made by people who liked a lot of different styles (one of Baron Zen's members, Chris Manak, aka DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, though he doesn't show up on every song on the album — only Sweet Steve, the band's songwriter and main performer, has that honor — went on to form the Stones Throw record label), and who have some fun toys (a four-track and drum machine, as well as a keyboard and some guitars) and a lot of free time. The covers of Joy Division's "Walked in Line" and Debbie Deb's "When I Hear Music" (which takes an almost industrial spin, and is actually pretty cool) are unpretentious and catchy, and the original pieces, albeit a little purposeless and messy, are guiltily enjoyable. Which means that although At the Mall isn't a great record, it's still a fun record; it's about having a good time, not taking yourself seriously, hanging out with friends, and simple, fuzzy guitar riffs. No, the musicianship is not mind-blowing, the lyrics are not particularly inventive (an exception being "Shoes," which has Sweet Steve rapping about how he loves the accessory "more than the behind of a female"), and the raw attitude and anger that often define the work of young male artists and make it exciting even when it's lacking in other areas is instead replaced by a more suburban apathetic — or at least bored — view of the world, but somehow this renders it all the more charming. It's a glimpse into the life of some college students having fun and making a little fun of themselves and things around them in the process, and it's worth checking out. [Stones Throw issued a version of the album in 2007 that contained an extra disc of remixes.]

Biography

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s

Sweet Steve, the man behind Baron Zen, was just another college kid at San Jose State University with a band in the late '80s. Though Baron Zen officially included Craig Appleby on keys and drum programming, and occasionally John Caampued on guitars and longtime friend Chris Manak (aka Peanut Butter Wolf) on drum programming, most of the group's recordings featured only Steve, who played all the aforementioned instruments. Baron Zen did not perform shows, release records, or have much publicity to...
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