Tag Archives: Slowcore

Kranky Celebrates 25 Years of Independence—and Patient Listening

Kranky

What does it take for an independent record label to survive for a quarter-century? Joel Leoschke, the co-founder of independent stalwart Kranky, has the answer. “Well, a lot of work, of course,” he observes, “but also stubbornness, and a refusal to be sidelined or distracted from the core job of disseminating and promoting sounds we feel deserve wider attention.”

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Album of the Day: The New Year, “Snow”

On the New Year’s first record in nine years, songwriter/guitarists Matt and Bubba Kadane coax out a series of low-key indie rock songs that tend toward the contemplative. That’s not necessarily out of the ordinary: The brothers exhibited similarly pensive tendencies in the slowcore roars of their beloved ’90s band Bedhead, and the New Year’s 2008 self-titled effort was full of dusky elegies. But Snow is particularly bereft, as it features subtle and rewarding sonic progressions with bittersweet undertones.

“Mayday” sighs with resignation, courtesy of majestic electric guitars that grow more agitated as the song unfolds—the sound matches the discord hinted at in the lyrics: “Searching the coffers/For empty offers/I don’t know why/You trust the sky/You must like your lies from blue eyes.” The louder, insistent “The Party’s Over” incorporates anxious doubled guitars and crisp rhythmic slaps, while the languid “Homebody” sticks to the kind of foggy textures and melodies favored by Pavement, Silver Jews, and ’90s-era Built to Spill.

Yet Snow is remarkable not because of its inspirations, but because of its execution. The record boasts elaborate arrangements that make songs feel deliberately and methodically sculpted into shape. The largely instrumental “Myths” swells with dense, interwoven elements—acoustic guitar, salt-shaker percussion, pointed electric melodies and moments of stark sparseness—until the vocals emerge near the end.

“The Beast,” meanwhile, starts off as an ears-ringing, droning electric number (think: a hazier Dinosaur Jr.), but suddenly morphs into an immersive song where choppy waves of guitar become subservient to lullaby-like keyboards. The title track and “The Last Fall” are also both softened by solemn electric piano—the latter, with its tangled heap of Chris Brokaw drums and lively melody, is almost jazz-like in its execution.

These complexities often amplify Snow’s emotional dismay, especially because Matt Kadane’s vocals are a seamless part of this sonic fabric. On some songs, his voice is submerged in the mix, creating wrenching ambiguity. On “Homebody,” moments of clarity (“No one can see me, I left my body at home/He likes to stay there alone”) alternate with lyrics where the last word drops out (“I can’t get home tonight, I can’t stand on my own two…”), obscuring the line’s meaning.

Instead of being frustrating, however, this only adds to the record’s aura of mystery and austerity. In the end, Snow conjures the kind of grim meditations that arise in the dead of night, when the insomniac combination of restless fatigue and anxiety sweeps through and magnify the mind’s most desolate corners.

Annie Zaleski

Slowcore: A Brief Timeline

Low

Low, photo by Lego.

You could easily argue against the idea of “slowcore” as a genre. Unlike its late-’80s/early-’90s contemporaries in shoegaze and grunge, there was never a geographic focus or self-celebrating scene. Its key bands formed all across the country, rarely toured together, and never seemed to swap notes or compare guitar pedals. There were no formative moments, no Sex Pistols at Manchester in ’76. Nothing close to an ethos.

But, crucially, there is a sound—or, rather, a continuity of sound—a commitment to allowing songs the room to breathe, to stripping things down to their essence before something bigger can be built back up around them. Even when the songs are fast or loud or busy, they never lose that essential clarity, that push toward beauty as its own end. Continue reading