First We Waited Then It Started
he idea behind slowcore is funny, if not entirely ironic. Usually you see ___core utilized when the musicians want to educe a specific emotional range that would otherwise be diluted, pulling it to the center so that it’s rendered more permanent. Coincidentally the sub-genres to have done so have a marked brutality—Hardcore, grindcore, emocore (ok, most of them)—but slowcore differs by reveling in its awkward embrace of distended sentiment and sound. Any emotional range undertaken—no matter how acute—usually never overpowers the sonic plateau on which it stands. The sub-genre is funny because it comes perilously close to the active embrace of sonic homogeneity and, really, when’s the last time you were happy about anything moving at a glacial speed?
But the reason slowcore sometimes works lies in the way the band utilizes the open space it has. Filled with bullshit like 3 MPH reverb-laden guitar twee and you’ll find that the music is nothing but a Phish tribute album, bereft of direction and built on the same billows of weed smoke. At worst the music can be unbearable, even torturous, since each song is built on a rudimentary melody and dynamic and if both of those are disagreeable then most of the composition is laid to waste. The inherent problem with building music so slowly is that if the design is wrong, its decomposition passes with a slow violence.
When done right—as on the majority of Summer Lawns’ debut album—the music is memorable and fluid and the sub-genre under which it is made turns out to be a point of sufficiency, not necessity. When it’s done right the music is comparable to a slow blossom where each petal reveals a new color or shape until the conclusion, when the full weight of the image is conveyed in its splendor and complexity. “Piano Song” takes this route, each verse adding either a new instrument or offering a permutation of one already used, until the album’s midpoint where the piece doesn’t just continue to spiral upwards into obliviousness but instead fractures and reforms. For a short while the guitars and drums become more voluminous before breaking to allow the keyboard that began the piece to end it.
Laurel Birkey’s addition benefits the group immensely, her performance on the cello filling many of the moribund gaps on the album with a density that would have been lost among the electric feedback. Her playing almost solely animates “Twin Peaks,” whose sparseness would have been otherwise pointless, and “How to Furnish Life in The Desert.” Of course she alone doesn’t merit the album’s overall success. Lead vocalist and guitarist Jeremy Linzee has an octave range similar that of Thom Yorke or Starsailor’s James Walsh, except Linzee keeps his falsetto far more terrestrial than Yorke and isn’t as exaggerated as Walsh. This helps him maintain equanimity when Andrew Landry and Laurel Birkey sing (“Choke,” “Concrete and Wood”), diffusing the expectation of his vocals to hover above the music.
First We Waited… still wanes in parts most likely because of the group’s fealty to the musical type, sometimes throwing the songs perilously off orbit. These would have been minor setbacks were it not for “This Little Light of Mine” and “Transmission.” The former is indeed their rendition of one of the most unforgettable gospel songs, and their spacey reconfiguration only leaves it hollowed. Though praise should be offered for trying to evoke a different theme than the original, the 5-minute running time ends up only being a reaching disservice. Their cover of Joy Division’s “Transmission” also falls flat, Linzee’s reticent performance proving fragile against Ian Curtis’s robustness. The inherent weakness of the genre is exposed through these two songs since they were failed projects from their inception.
Summer Lawns have put forth a competent debut album with many brilliant flashes and while it needs to be burnished, their style is keen and fundamentally good. As a barometer First We Waited… offers a successful future should they abandon temporary slippage into typical (read: repetitive) slowcore. If they manage to do so then perhaps they’ll elevate such a clumsy, uninteresting genre name to something, well, kinetic.
Reviewed by: Ayo Jegede
Reviewed on: 2005-09-12