Part five of my year-end musings on music. This chapter finds our plucky young hero scratching the surface of topics that no one cares about.
It has been said that Slint’s “Spiderland” album defined post-rock. Whether that is a bit of revisionist hyperbole or not is beyond my ken, but that album’s widespread and long-lasting influence cannot be denied. The phrase “sounds like Slint” was so common in discussions of indie rock music in the 90s that it became a joke. Through the rest of the decade, while bands across the country were aping Slint’s sudden dynamic shifts, mumbling prose vocals and general disregard for common song structures, bands in Louisville either built upon the musical foundation the band had laid or tried to put as much stylistic distance between themselves and Slint as possible. The result was a decade of prolific creativity that kept the city blinking on the next-big-thing radar.
While Louisville’s bands had been diverse and often difficult to label, there was always a certain quality to the music that made it distinctly of its geography. The distance between the city and other major cultural centers served to isolate it in the pre-internet days, and born of that isolation was an intangible but undeniable common quality to the music. At some point at the turn of the decade, tides started to shift. As access to the wider world of music grew with the advent of the internet and the increasing frequency of Louisville being a tour stop for bands traveling the nation, local bands increasingly looked for inspiration outside of the city’s borders. As a result, the uniquely Louisvillian aspects of the music were quickly diluted. Local artists continued to produce incredible music, to push boundaries and defy expectations, but something was lost along the way.
As much as I appreciate the importance of “Spiderland” in the evolution of independent rock music both in and outside of Louisville, I don’t particularly like the album or most of Slint’s material. It happens that with many pivotal bands in rock history I enjoy the music influenced by or created in response to those bands more than that of the originals. I’ll take Hendrix over B.B. King, for example, but I recognize that without King’s influence, there may not have been an Experience. Likewise, I’ve never cared much for the Jesus Lizard, Chicago’s noise rock kings whose pounding rhythm section and jagged guitar inspired a generation of punks to abandon 4/4 time. I’ve found far more to love in the music of those inspired by the Jesus Lizard than I ever have in that band’s own work.
Over the past few years in Louisville, there’s been a wave of music inspired, at least to some extent, by the noise rock sound of the 90s. Bands like Lee Van Cleef, Brain Banger, Trophy Wives, Prideswallower, and others have incorporated, to varying extents, aspects of the noise rock sound to good effect. None of them, however show their influence as readily as Young Widows has on their latest album, “Old Wounds,” (click to listen at Lala.com) a record seemingly made up of two parts Jesus Lizard and one part… I don’t know, weed? It’s dangerous to wear so much of one’s influences on one’s sleeve. A band that does risks being written off as derivative, as rip-offs who are either too lazy or lack the creativity to craft their own identity.
Recorded half live and half in the studio, “Old Wounds” manages the rare feat of overcoming being openly derivative by fulfilling the promise of noise rock and marrying it to just a hair of pop sensibility. The songs retain the sound of noise rock: the drums thunder, the bass drives, and the guitar stabs and roars. Singer/guitarist Evan Patterson’s vocals are often a little on the atonal side for my tastes, but I like them more than the typical noise rock gibbering Yow-imitating singer. All of the qualities of noise rock that I like are there, but what’s different is that these songs catch in the brain. I don’t think anyone would call this record poppy, but it has hooks, something most bands of the style are lacking. In place of the genre’s typical frenetic spasms are head-nodding rhythms. It’s not laid back, per se, but it doesn’t agitate the senses in the way I’ve come to expect, a departure even from Young Widows’ first album, which more closely fit the noise rock mold.
Anyone familiar with the Jesus Lizard or noise rock in general may be tempted to look past this album as more of the same, but if they stop to listen, they’ll be rewarded. “Old Wounds” is the quite possibly the best rock album released in Louisville since Erchint’s “Macho Cock Rock” tape. More importantly, it’s not just a good local record resting on its home court advantage. Instead, it makes its mark as one of the best American rock albums released in 2008 and the best indie rock album I’ve heard in years. Here’s hoping that the heat is here to stay.