Monday, July 7, 2014

How to Keep from Falling off a Mountain

How to Keep from Falling Off a Mountain
(Blue Aurora)

Last summer I read a glowing review of For Those Who Wish to See the Glass Half Full – the debut album from San Francisco band Slowness in the venerable Big Takeover magazine.  As I do while perusing each massive issue, I wrote the name down on a list and checked out their music online and then excitedly sought out the vinyl only release (sorry digital as well, but that is never my first option) at all the record stores I ventured into.  Unfortunately, time slipped by and I still had not tracked down a copy of the album.  Not until recently when the band announced the release of a new (vinyl) release when I knew I had better get my act together and order the new LP, as well as download their previous work. 

There’s something mysterious and lovely about Slowness.  Their name evokes ideas of the so-dubbed slo-core “scene” of the early to mid 90s, and though they share some of the transcendent qualities of some of those artists, they are really something completely different.  In fact their two earlier releases (including the 2013 LP and the 2011 EP Hopeless but Otherwise) are really straight forward affairs.  Musically, the band weaves a very attractive intricate guitar work to create pretty damn catchy songs.  I’ve heard them lumped in with the other modern ‘shoegaze’ bands, which is fitting, but their free flowing sound also reminds me of the dreamy post punk who favored chiming guitars and nice vocal harmonies.

On the latest LP, How to Keep from Falling off a Mountain, Slowness (Julie Lynn and Geoffrey Scott and guests) has decided to stretch their sound.  They have not lost their classy touch with creating enticing repetitive foundations for their songs, but here their power of drawing the listener into a wholly immersive near trance is astounding.  Almost every song on the album is the same steady tempo and the constant driving and drifting atmosphere is both soothing and intriguing.

“Mountains” begins the album as a perfect bridge from their earlier work to where they’re heading.  The soft vocals and glittering guitars sound like they could be taken from the first Stone Roses album and yet as the song continues, the edges sharpen, the keyboards begin to take on an increasingly menacing tone and by the end the coldness of Closer – era Joy Division begins to take hold of the song (check out that scratchy guitar).  “Division” rumbles in next and reminds of early Saturnine or (whatever happened to) UK’s Engineers from a few years back.  The near seven minute “Illuminate” closes out side one and is truly the most repetitive of all of these songs.  The Velvets-like buzz and relentless unchanging beat is both a little jolting and comforting. 

The second side of the LP is named “Anon, A Requiem in Four Parts,” and is the highlight of the album.  These four distinct, yet perfectly matched songs (fantastic production, by the way) flow so seamlessly that it’s almost hard to believe that 18 minutes have passed when the needle lifts away from the record.  The second part (“Anon, part II”) has the most wonderful side-winding bass-line and an oddly danceable groove, which is reprised in “Anon, Part IV,” but instead in a much darker and heavier light.  But it’s the entire voyage that makes this album so special.  It reveals new insights with each listen and transports the listener to another world.

This is a band that has quietly and quickly amassed a pretty special selection of music, which is deserving of a lot more attention.  Don’t be like me last summer.  Contact the band and buy the vinyl (it comes with a free download) before it’s gone. 

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