The swagger of "Dead Air" continues to grab me. It's a perfect pop song, in this respect like Wire's "Outdoor Miner," although it rocks a lot harder than the Wire tune. Perfect for traveling.
Yet another best-of-2000. The first three tunes, "Contempt," "Slave Wages," and "Treat the New Guy Right" (this last with a harmony vocal by Heather Whinna) are perfect. Distancing yet inviting, sarcastic yet heartbreaking. The next three aren't quite up to the stellar heights of those first, but with "That's Entertainment," the disc comes back with a vengeance. From there on out, prepared to get laid out flat. Cohen's tunes are great, Midgett's are great, as well, and the Small Faces cover "Ooh La La" slows down the tune to give it the mournful reflection such a lyric deserves. Compared to this cover, the original is a good idea poorly fleshed out. The Silkworm version is a full-grown adult, ready to kick your ass if you don't get it. Midgett's rockin' "Raging Bull" and "Dead Air" are two tunes that should be on radios everywhere, particularly the latter. What a song! Euphoric, downtrodden, abusive, and rocking, it will do more to your head than a full night of drinking.
Silkworm: As much as I've been listening to the quartet-era stuff, this is the first I've actually heard the trio...and I'm impressed. Very tight, strong, and they took whacks at the 93-94 stuff--"Garden City Blues," "Bloody Eyes," and a few others. Tim Midgett's tenor/baritone guitar playing is a great way to flesh out the trio sound, and Michael Dahlquist--one of the best unknown drummers in rock right now--was in fine form as well. The new tunes are great, and the new CD, Lifestyle, is an instant classic. Fave tunes: the Godard/Bardot homage "Contempt," the 2K slice-of-life "Wage Slave," Andy Cohen's affecting duet with Heather Whinna on "Treat the New Guy Right," his bitter "That's Entertainment," Tim's dark "Around the Outline" (sung by Michael), and two astonishing Tim Midgett tunes, "Raging Bull" and "Dead Air." Both of these short tunes could be inescapable radio staples. There's a great cover of the Small Faces' "Ooh La La" and an acoustic "The Bones." Overall, the atmosphere is a bemusement at the nature of life, love, and death, and an affirmation of the power of maturity both to accept and to rail against it all. Very well done, guys. One mistake on my part: arriving two songs from the end of the Karl Hendricks Trio set. In the trio format, Karl's got enough room to shine. The band was tight and energetic, and his guitar playing is rich, moving, and strong. I really should have gotten there earlier... I think he's busy being a parent at the moment, so there may not be plans afoot for a new record. But keep checking Merge...
Silkworm's Libertine rounds out my Phelps-era Silkworm collection. Once again, I can't say the Cohen tunes are quite doing it for me, although "Warsaw" is a good lead-off track. Tim Midgett's tunes are really good on this one--fulfilling the promise of "Garden City Blues" and "Enough Is Enough" from In the West. His standouts here are "Couldn't You Wait," and "Bloody Eyes." The Phelps tunes are excruciatingly moving--the stories of weepers in the audience seem pretty credible. His string of three in a row move from remorse to sadness to a kind of existential rejection. Good stuff, and not nearly as hard to find as I keep hearing it is.
Silkworm, In the West For some reason, Silkworm never caught on for me, until I heard this one. Of course, this is from the Phelps era, and we already know I'm a Phelps fan. There's an intense, aggressive sadness about this music that's extremely attractive to me. The standouts are the Phelps tunes, although "Garden City Blues" is up there, and I like "Enough Is Enough." I occasionally have the Cohen songs in my head, but to be honest, they don't grab me the same way as the others. I'm a bitter guy, I guess, but I'm not that bitter.