Shuffle: The advantages of taking it slowly

Whilst walking one morning this week ‘Pea’ by Codeine came on and it got me thinking about the whole slowcore movement and set me on a task to rediscover any examples in Americana. Outside of Americana, there are plenty of examples: aside from Codeine there was Seam, we can include Low, Bedhead and my particular favourite, Bitch Magnet (who were so loud when I saw them live that I sustained permanent damage to my hearing). For a while, it was a burgeoning genre but then things move on.

The most immediate Americana example was Steve Westfield with his playful strange records (I’m happy to see that these are all available on Bandcamp. These were sprawling rambling messes (in the best sense of the word): there were horns, there was humour, and Murph and Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr made the odd appearance. Most of all there was a swampy sludgy mire, from which Westfield projected his seeming self-loathing,. Take ‘Reject Me… First’ – the title is a definite give away – it starts with some pedal steel as ‘Fade Away’ comes into view; his voice is cracked and the opening words are ‘I know, you know, it’s hopeless, you know, I know, that love fades away’. That is a kick in the emotional cods. There is a resigned weariness and profound melancholia; it is music to wallow in. Two-thirds of the way through dirty horns burble like suppressed farts and the pedal steel sings prettily.

 

Can you guess what ‘Disappointed’ covers? Maybe, but you would not expect the fiddle: ‘It’s all senseless, I mean everything, I’m so disappointed’. Then we get the brass sounding like the Gaviscon worked (a bit) having a slow dance with the fiddle. It is music that articulates existential dread, the burning in your stomach, if you can’t get out of bed this will envelop you in a cocoon of beautiful ennui. The three records with the Slow Band are all worth checking out – ‘Stuporstar‘ maintains the slow trot of despair albeit with some glimpses of optimism. ‘Hopeless but Hopeful‘ shuffles around the dancefloor for twelve minutes and ‘The Optimist‘ hangs around for half that time, a slow-motion acid trip. Westfield’s self-awareness is best illustrated by ‘Bent and Melted Next to Paul Westerberg‘ where in a post-apocalyptic scenario he imagines his records and Westerberg’s with ‘all the stuff you’ve never heard‘ spending eternity together.

Fellow passengers on the slowest coach out of Dodge are Two Dollar Guitar, led by Tom Foljahn and aided by Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth. There are two records worth hunting down: ‘Burned and Buried‘ and ‘Let Me Bring You Down‘. Both weave dark grim vignettes where the pace never reaches beyond a slow trot. There are moments of real beauty – ‘Song for a Dead Friend‘ for instance. Yes it is languorous even lugubrious, but there is real emotional heft. ‘Let’s Play Ghost‘ sound like a Sparklehorse song played at the wrong speed and yet it still manages to engage.

Other Americana slowcoaches are Radar Bros, who move at a similarly slow pace but with a little bit more levity; their self-titled album contains some excellent examples of the sub-genre. ‘We’re Over Here‘ and ‘Take Stuff‘ and ‘Supermarket Pharmacy‘ all strum and jangle with arthritic abandon, managing to slowly detonate woolly bombs of melody.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Spain (the band) – their records have always been about taking things slowly, leaving space between the notes. The vocals also are laconic, nothing is ever rushed, songs last as long as they need to, there’s a pleasure in taking your time, there’s no need to reveal everything at once. I’m also going to include the beautiful sounds of Ida in the round-up; they released eight albums between 1994 and 2008, full of sweet melodies and three-part harmonies all done with sparse instrumentation and at a sedate pace (they deserve a whole article devoted to them – so here I’ll recommend all of their albums).

Hayden’s ‘Everything I Long For’ is unspooled slowly like life in montage slowed to show the excruciating details of the pain; perhaps that’s what happens in Hell, all of the moments that you regret are played back frame by frame. The songs of course would make the whole experience bearable – try ‘Bad as They Seam’ or ‘My Parent’s House’. The more I think about this the more examples I can find (or shoehorn in) I’m going to include Burd Early who put out a series of albums in the early 2000s – the best of which is ‘Magnet Mountain‘.

When I’m in the right mood there is nothing better than these types of records – everything slows down like when you are doing corpse pose in yoga, everything in your day seems to be less hectic, it prepares me for anything. However, if I’m in the wrong mood, if I want something to kick me up the arse to get moving then it’s best not to wallow in this type of exquisite melancholia.

About David Cowling 129 Articles
Punk rock, Go-Betweens, REM, Replacments, Husker Du, Minutemen, Will Oldham, Smog, Whiskeytown, Ass Ponys but probably most of all Howe Gelb, led me on this journey.

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