silkworm

Showing 18 posts tagged silkworm

Silkworm - Couldn’t You Wait (Acoustic)

I was introduced to Silkworm with the 1997 compilation What’s Up Matador, an ultra-budget tour of Matador Records’ stable of indie rock. My familiarity with Pavement and fondness for lots of music for very little money prompted the purchase of this ingenious loss leader. In addition to Silkworm, the compilation acquainted me with (deep breath): Yo La Tengo! Teenage Fanclub! Superchunk! Helium! Cat Power! Spoon! Liz Phair! Chavez! Guided by Voices! The Fall! Come! The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion! Fourteen more! The damage What’s Up Matador did to my minimum-wage paychecks was criminal.

The roll call of Matador Records’ 1997 class serves two purposes. First, the popularity and critical approval of many of those bands eclipses Silkworm’s status, both then and now. Second, the range of styles represented with those acts—the muffled classicism of Guided by Voices’ “Motor Away,” the buzzsaw pop-punk of Superchunk’s “For Tension,” the scuffed-up detachment of Helium’s “Pat’s Trick,” the staccato post-punk of The Fall’s “Hey Student”—mapped out this new indie-rock amusement park. In the middle of these big names and exciting new strains, there’s Silkworm, performing an acoustic version of a bitterly funny send-off. Great? Yes. Hip? Oh God no.

Yet “Couldn’t You Wait” stuck with me. Tim Midgett offers an unraveling string of wordplay smarting from personal experience, loaded with the genuine, uncovered emotion that Stephen Malkmus’s cool detachment steadfastly avoided. Its titular phrase was interjected as a dogged insistence, a pained inquiry, and a regretful sigh as Midgett rode breathlessly through the narrative. Its final stanza starts…

Do you still think you’re God?
Is your first day on the job even over yet?
Is the summertime in heaven grand?
Is it fifty-nine past the eleven hand?

…witty barbs in the heat of an argument, even if the flustered reality couldn’t have been so stinging.

Matador didn’t present Silkworm as the flavor of the month; it offered one of their best, catchiest doses of songwriting to date in a decidedly unfashionable manner. I’m repeating this soft sell, in part because it echoes my personal experience, in part because thinking of Silkworm as songwriters first is the mindset I’ll emphasize this week, in part because their earliest recordings are not great starting points, and in part because this recording represents a pivotal moment in the group’s history.

This version was recorded for a 1994 radio broadcast and pressed as the Marco Collins Sessions EP in 1995, their first big release for Matador Records. It’s their last record as a four-piece, since singer/guitarist Joel R. L. Phelps departed for a solo career, leaving the trio of guitarist/vocalist Andy Cohen, bassist/vocalist Tim Midgett, and drummer/occasional vocalist Michael Dahlquist to juggle songwriting duties.

You can move backward from this EP into the Joel years with L’ajre, In the West, and Libertine; move forward with their Matador LPs Firewater and Developer; or jump ahead to their lengthy tenure on Touch & Go, which added another four full-lengths to their discography. Thanks to iTunes, you can do any of these things with ease now, avoiding my two-year search for a copy of Libertine. But speaking from fifteen years of personal experience, I don’t recommend the scattershot approach to Silkworm. It’s what left me initially baffled over the spartan, solo-heavy classic rock of Firewater (an album I now cherish) and what led to me inexplicably skipping every other Touch & Go album upon its first release. It’s a cliché among Silkworm fans that any album could be your favorite at any given time, but understanding how they evolved as a group and as individual songwriters will help choose an optimal path through their catalog. That’s why I’ve chosen a chronological tour of exemplary songs from the major releases in their discography, elucidating the differences between Messrs Midgett, Cohen, Phelps, and Dahlquist.

Sebastian Stirling

Track

Scruffy Tumor

Artist

Silkworm

Album

…His Absence Is a Blessing

Silkworm - Scruffy Tumor

Silkworm’s earliest days are fuzzy. Starting in 1987 in Missoula, Montana, after the demise of the post-punk group Ein Heit, the band didn’t gain any momentum until Joel Phelps, Tim Midgett, and Andy Cohen moved to Seattle in 1990, leaving behind routine shows at the Moose Lodge basement, original drummer Ben Koostra, and the drum machine that replaced Koostra. Upon arriving in Seattle, they recruited drummer Michael Dahlquist and self-released their debut LP L’ajre in 1992. On those early days in Seattle, Midgett candidly recalls:

We ate copious amounts of shit. I mean, really, we were excited to be here, so we didn’t mind at the time, but it took us four years to find a label willing to release our records! We played every dump in town. It was insane. I can’t imagine how we did it. We would play in Bellingham every goddamn month, Seattle a couple times a month, practice three or four times a week. We cut our teeth very thoroughly those first few years. 

Apologies to early adopters, but I count L’ajre as part of that learning curve. At its best (Phelps’s “Little Sister” and Midgett’s “Scruffy”), the songwriting is present but the editing isn’t, with each song stretching past six minutes. At its worst, kitchen-sink production values, ugly metalli-grunge guitar tones, and sloppy structures underscore the “more is less” dilemma. Instead of emerging with a fully formed aesthetic and/or coining their own micro-genre like many of today’s new bands, Silkworm worked out their identity on record. (For other examples of this phenomenon, track down Hum’s Fillet Show or Girls Against Boys’ Tropic of Scorpio. Apologies in advance for the former.) Long out-of-print, L’ajre was included on Even a Blind Chicken Finds a Kernel of Corn Now and Then. Fortunately, this 1998 compilation of Silkworm’s material from ’90 to ’94 offers more flattering entry points to the era.

Andy Cohen’s “Scruffy Tumor” is the first stand-out Silkworm song. Appearing on the 1993 …His Absence Is a Blessing EP, their first recording session with fellow Missoula native Steve Albini, “Scruffy Tumor” clocks in at a tidy 3:57 and dials down L’ajre’s grunge bluster. More importantly, it establishes two of Cohen’s songwriting characteristics: a nasty, domineering streak that stems from lingering failure and a dark sense of humor, which provides a spit-take laugh at the end of this excerpt:

I wish I could take this moment and freeze it
Cause it’s the time when it’s going my way
And my way’s the only way to preserve our bliss
A beating heart, a pumping fist
I can taste your lips

And you know that sometimes I feel like taking my time
And you know if you don’t like you can suck me
I’m in my prime

Cohen’s more apt to explicitly role-play than Midgett or Phelps, embodying historical and cinematic figures in future compositions, but there’s often a sense of exaggeration in his songs. Violent fantasies, domestic disputes, misanthropic personalities—Cohen uses these tropes as foundations for character studies. A full album of sarcasm and savagery would be tiresome, but Midgett’s generally likeable narrators provide welcome balance.

Sebastian Stirling

Track

Garden City Blues

Artist

Silkworm

Album

In the West

Silkworm - Garden City Blues

Hard place to describe in a nutshell: full of truck drivers, waitresses, acid casualties, disaffected youth, ex-hippies turned entrepreneurs, all kept there by aggressive inertia and the fact that it is an easy place to get by. If you saw ‘Blue Velvet’, Lumberton has a lot in common with Missoula.

— Tim Midgett (via Amplitude Equals One Over Frequency Squared)

Today is January 3rd. There’s a decent likelihood that you went home for the holidays, hitting up old haunts to see high-school friends between familial obligations. It’s astonishing how quickly dormant behaviors return. That initial rush of comforting nostalgia may have prompted the thought, “I should stick around for another week,” but at some point, the hard-learned truths of your hometown, most pertinently why you left it, resurface and encourage a speedy exit.

My hometown—the aptly titled Pleasant Valley, New York—isn’t as interesting as Tim Midgett’s point of origin, but his ode to Missoula echoes my own sentiments with eerie accuracy.

This is the place that I miss the most but
This town is full of ghosts and I
Always feel like I am inside the throat of the devil here
And I can’t I can’t hide
It’s the press of unseen stress and
Days that drift and days that stretch and
For no reason I can catch I’m in danger honey now

“Garden City Blues” is tentative and nervous, creaking with potential energy. The enjambed lines and the stutter in “I can’t I can’t hide” provide glimpses of a wandering mind, taking in its surroundings and performing a threat assessment.

As the opening track on Silkworm’s sophomore album, In the West (issued by Seattle’s C/Z Records in 1994), it signals the group’s new command of space. Starting off with one muted guitar and Dahlquist’s restrained shuffle, it takes a full verse before introducing the second guitar and Midgett’s bassline. Those guitars gradually increase in volume, twitching with electric sparks. Midgett moves through town, reconciling past with present:

Closed doors
Boarded-up houses
Half racks by the railroad track and
Those days are over now
You can never turn back
By the time I surround this place I’m
All out of malice
I’m falling into a state of grace
That I can’t get out of

By the song’s final verse, Cohen and Phelps are riled up, trading barbed chords, and Dahlquist’s brute force lumbers into full view. Spurred on by his compatriots, Midgett throws caution to the wind and becomes intoxicated by the beautiful details of Missoula:

As the snow starts falling down down down
Little bells ring
Machine sparks sing
I’m going nowhere in December
See if I can fly
Fly it all night
All night all night long
I’m picking up I’m going strong

Was it inevitable that Midgett would be swayed by Missoula’s “aggressive inertia”? He’ll eventually sober up and remember why he left for Seattle, but for at least one night, look out, Missoula.

Sebastian Stirling

Track

There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight

Artist

Silkworm

Album

Libertine

Silkworm - There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight

Silkworm released two full-lengths in 1994, with C/Z issuing In the West (recorded in March of ’93) on January 25th and El Recordo delivering Libertine (recorded in May of ’94) on August 26th. Drummer Michael Dahlquist addresses the effects of market saturation on the band’s website:

Was it foolish to put out two records in one year? I don’t know, but at any rate, [Libertine] went down like a lead zeppelin. Now some people seem to think it’s the best thing Silkworm ever did. Go figure.

I’ll agree with those people to a point; Libertine is the best product of the four-member Silkworm, with catchier songs from Tim Midgett (the previously discussed “Couldn’t You Wait,” “Cotton Girl,” and rollicking jam “Wild in My Day”) and a trio of phenomenal Joel Phelps tracks in a row. Andy Cohen only contributes two of the eleven songs, but they get prime real estate at the start of the record and make quite an impression. 

Libertine’s opening track, “There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight,” is one of Cohen’s history songs, following the General Pershing–citing “Dust My Broom” from In the West, but it goes much, much further than even the wartime rape-and-plunder of its predecessor. Told from Adolf Hitler’s perspective (!) on the dawn of World War II, Cohen sets the scene with his usual black humor:

On the way to [my old] country fair
All our leagues and the breeding stock is there
They like brains
But we like blonds
I’m no fool I’m gonna slave all the people to me

It’s a ballsy beginning for Libertine, taking Cohen’s role-playing to an uneasy extreme. I’ve always wondered if “There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight” prompted outcry over out-of-context lyrical citations or the in-context shock of Cohen puppeting Hitler, but without access to the Library of Congress’s 1994 Zine Archive, I’ll have to assume that Libertine’s soft landing muted any reactionary uproar. 

The other possibility is that listeners recognized how Cohen deftly balances glib egotism (“Roll over the French / In time for lunch”), the presence of the victims (“Yeah that whiny little voice is hurt in a crash now”), and downright chilling images of the Holocaust (“There will be peace / On mounds of teeth”). That last couplet is the likely sticking point of “Party in Warsaw”; is its specific horror too audacious for its darkly humorous surroundings? Or is such discomfort necessary for the subject matter? 

With a bare minimum of moralizing (“Come out of the womb / Only for trouble / The endless rationale / End up in a lust for blood”) to ground it, “There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight” requires both the blunt evocations of Hitler’s inhumanity and the ego-deflating doses of black humor to make its point. The refrain of “I’m no fool I’m gonna slave all the people to me” exaggerates reality the same way “Scruffy Tumor” did, albeit on a much larger scale. It’s a ridiculous, almost comical line to imagine anyone actually saying, let alone Adolf Hitler, but as Cohen exposes again and again, some people are ridiculous, cruel, and even inhuman, and Hitler is the ultimate example. 

“There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight” is both the culmination of Cohen’s brutally violent role-playing and a turning point for his songwriting. Relying less on shock value, he emphasizes the wounded humanity in often misanthropic narrators in his later songs. You can only dwell so long in dark obsessions before you need to find the light.

Sebastian Stirling

Silkworm - Raised by Tigers

There’s a particular sect of Silkworm fanatics which views Joel R. L. Phelps’s departure from the group following Libertine as a line in the sand. I understand their cause, even if I don’t agree with it. Silkworm with Phelps is a decidedly different band than Silkworm without Phelps. Part of the difference is the change in sound: L’ajre, In the West, and Libertine are noisy indie rock records, with two guitarists battling for real estate, ceding territory, and dropping out for dramatic dynamic shifts. In contrast, the first three-piece Silkworm affair, Firewater, imbibes heavy classic rock signifiers, like longer and more prominent solos from Andy Cohen, Rolling Stones citations (“The Lure of Beauty”), and double-album sprawl. It’s not a complete departure from Libertine, but it’s a branch in the group’s evolutionary path. 

The far bigger issue for these separatists is the loss of Phelps’s songwriting. Midgett and Cohen possess distinct songwriting voices, but each displays a sense of humor in his lyrics, with the former’s agreeable lightness offsetting the latter’s unsettling black humor. There is no humor, light or dark, easing Phelps’s harrowing songs. Between his impassioned howls and use of meditative repetition, songs like “Raised by Tigers” (from In the West) encroach on early ’90s emo-core’s turf, like a more ragged counterpart to fellow Washingtonians Sunny Day Real Estate. Phelps delivers his personal narratives with an unblinking intensity:

I’m waiting
She’s waiting
Waiting for the war to be over
I call you tonight
Say a prayer for your brother
Now I feel that I will
Wait until the war is over

Where’s that angel gone?

Where’s that angel gone?
I wish that I wasn’t so young

Many of Phelps’s songs dwell on these subjects: unfulfilled urges, unrequited love, familial respect, loss of innocence, life during wartime. It’s all serious stuff, treated like a coming-of-age novel. The highlight of “Raised by Tigers” comes when the exposed nerve finally twitches, with Phelps completing “I wish that I could have gone” with a feral roar. 

There is one bit of “Raised by Tigers” that brings a smile. At 4:30, a familiar noodle appears in the left channel: the solo from Pavement’s “In the Mouth a Desert.” It lasts fifteen seconds before Silkworm launches headfirst back into the full-bellied riff for the song’s finale. It’s a strangely contemporary reference at an unexpected time—let me again stress how intense “Raised by Tigers” is—which could easily be misconstrued as Silkworm “ripping off” Pavement, rather than a nod of respect/fondness. After all, the groups later toured together, shared the Matador Records roster, and teamed up (Malkmus, Cohen, Midgett, and Dahlquist) as The Crust Brothers for a few shows from ’97 to ’00 and the accompanying live recording Marquee Mark. Silkworm even made it official with a cover of “And Then,” which appeared on their own 2003 EP You Are Dignified and the 2003 compilation Everything Is Ending Here: A Tribute to Pavement

The comparison to Pavement puts Silkworm’s original songwriting triumvirate in perspective. Most Pavement LPs are dominated by Stephen Malkmus, with one or two Spiral Stairs songs popping up. There’s no question who’s the lead songwriter and who’s the second fiddle. On the early Silkworm records, there’s a rough balance between Phelps, Cohen, and Midgett. There’s no de facto lead vocalist. Their compositions bleed into each other sonically, but when two Cohen-sung tracks are sequenced consecutively, it’s surprising. These records foster an expectation of parity. 

I understand the line in the sand between the Joel era and the three-piece Silkworm material to follow. If you’re partial to Phelps’s nerve-racking emotions and raw vocals or prefer having three distinct songwriters in the mix, the change can be tough to swallow. But the benefit of the split is two-fold: Cohen and Midgett evolve quickly as songwriters with their increased workload on Firewater and Phelps finds therapeutic intimacy in his solo work. There’s no reason not to enjoy both. 

“Raised by Tigers” is the only Joel R. L. Phelps–penned Silkworm song I’ll spotlight this week (Boo! Hiss!), but I’ll touch on Phelps’s solo career on Friday.

— Sebastian Stirling

Silkworm - Drunk

Always start your day with a shirtless Michael Dahlquist drum break.

With those words of wisdom out of the way, I’ll reiterate a point I made in my opening post: it took years for Firewater to fully click for me. Years! I still picked up every other Silkworm release I could get my hands on, but the quick processing time for its predecessor Libertine and follow-up Developer only baffled me further. People insisted that the double-album Firewater was the group’s finest hour. Why did it take me so long to agree with them? 

The barriers I had to cross are ultimately Firewater’s strengths: a shift to classic rock–informed songwriting; the thematic binds of alcohol and alienation; the double-album sprawl; the frequency of lengthy guitar solos; even Hiroshi Kimura’s twisted artwork. I can’t think of another album that transitioned so completely from misunderstood to all-time favorite like Firewater did. 

Silkworm’s classic rock lineage lurked in the background during the Joel Phelps era, typically in Tim Midgett’s songs, but with Phelps’s departure opening up space in the mix, the group’s fondness for the Rolling Stones, The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan, and countless other ’60s and ’70s reference points came to the surface. They weren’t the only group mining ring-worn vinyl for inspiration—Guided by Voices crammed Bob Pollard’s memories of ’70s arena rock into four-track recorders, the Grifters distorted the Stones’ swagger, Pavement reached for the era’s golden guitar tones—but thanks to Steve Albini’s clearly defined mix, Firewater actually sounds like a classic rock album. Strangely, that sells it short. Nowadays I’m just as likely to hear the Minutemen as The Band. Still classic, but their definition of classic. 

Firewater’s titular theme brought a steady stream of drunks, small-town lowlifes, disappointed friends, and battered runaways to my stereo. Having spent, to my knowledge, no time in seedy dive bars by the time I picked up Firewater at the age of seventeen (thanks a lot, mom and dad), I was blissfully unfamiliar with these characters, let alone able to recognize how accurately Midgett and Cohen portrayed their struggles. (Somehow I was fully onboard for the decidedly adult psychodrama of the Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen by this time.) Now Midgett’s wearied line of rhetorical questions in “Drunk” echoes the slurred speech of strangers and friends alike: 

What kind of drunk with any self-respect at all
Would give up on his friends that way
Would give in to the pressure’s sway
I never asked you to swim
In that soup bowl of contempt
So full of wine and bar mop slop
Spilling on the girls
Like a bull in a china shop

I picture Silkworm’s newly trimmed line-up manning the barely elevated corner stage of a shithole small-town bar, riding the measured swing of Michael Dahlquist’s beat as an inebriated regular sloshes his way toward the stage. Maybe the drum break in the middle of the song occurs because Midgett and Cohen caught glimpse of a fight brewing and let their attention slip. Midgett’s voice never rises to rage, but his calm refrain of “You drink and drink / You never got a reason but you put it on my tab” underscores the exhausted familiarity of the scene. Whereas Joel Phelps was worn down by the touring lifestyle, Silkworm’s remaining songwriters mined these trials for inspiration. 

With sixteen songs, I’d need the whole week to spotlight all of Firewater’s highlights, which means that the self-effacing tour diary “Miracle Mile,” the blisteringly intense “Drag the River,” the riotous “Killing My Ass,” and the compact and bruising single “Wet Firecracker” (with its no-budget music video recalling Midgett, Cohen, and Dahlquist’s prior experience as cabbies) get short shrift. Depending on the number of hours you’ve logged ringing up deep cuts from Exile on Main St. at your local watering hole, Firewater may hit you immediately or require some patience, but either way, it’s well worth the effort. 

Track

Don't Make Plans This Friday

Artist

Silkworm

Album

Firewater

Silkworm - Don’t Make Plans This Friday

The guitar solo is a dangerous weapon. With the wrong mindset, it’s a meaningless fireworks show of technical virtuosity. With the wrong hands, it’s a facile replication of the song’s vocal melody. In the wrong song, it’s an interminable break from the real action. Even with the right codpiece, it can be an ego-fluffing showcase. 

’90s indie rock groups largely avoided solos, with a few scattered guitar heroes like J. Mascis, Stephen Malkmus, and Doug Martsch maintaining the tradition when the occasion called. There are plenty of reasons for the change: DIY enthusiasm preempting instrumental prowess; guitarists opting to incorporate their inventive playing elsewhere within a song; a greater reliance on full-band bridge workouts; democratically minded bands boycotting such ego-driven displays. Stunning solos weren’t entirely absent from ’90s indie rock, but it was always surprising to find them. 

I’ll help your search: Silkworm’s Andy Cohen essayed many of the best solos from the era. On Firewater alone, “Slow Hands,” “Tarnished Angel,” “Drag the River,” “Killing My Ass,” and “Don’t Make Plans This Friday” make his highlight reel. Cohen paints with both broad strokes and fine detail, utilizing woozily bent notes, the occasional slashed chord, and nimble note progressions. Tiny imperfections—a twinge of feedback here, a hurried note there—feed into the raw energy. Tom Verlaine and Neil Young are reference points, but Cohen’s not derivative of either guitarist.

Cohen hinted at this ability on In the West and Libertine, but the dueling guitar battles with Joel Phelps took precedence over lengthy solos. Once Phelps departed, Cohen took a greater share of the songwriting, brandishing guitar solos with frightening artistry. 

“Don’t Make Plans This Friday,” the closing track on Firewater, features my favorite of Cohen’s guitar solos. Like all of his solos, it’s not grafted into the song as an afterthought; it’s an essential part of the narrative. The song features another of Cohen’s typically flawed raconteurs: 

Friday talked to the wife on the phone
Said I’m not allowed near the home
If I climb the fence like last time she’ll call the dame law

Unlike the over-the-top villains Cohen has previously inhabited, the narrator of “Don’t Make Plans” deserves a respite, as the song’s plaintive refrain insists: 

But Friday night is sacred
It’s not time to be wasted
They’ve got doom on call you know
Friday they can’t use it

Cohen’s guitar solo provides such sacred relief, transporting its narrator away from the stress of restraining orders, smug lawyers, and recidivist wives. Rather than wax poetic on the emotional effects of this solo, I’ll let one of Michael Dahlquist’s tour diary entries do the heavy lifting:

Towards the end of the night in Boston, we played “Don’t Make Plans,” which has a long, screeching guitar solo in the middle of it. This part generally starts sort of quiet-ish and gets much louder towards the end. In Boston, for some reason, I was spending much of my time playing with my eyes fully closed. Maybe the sound was good? I’m not sure, but I kept my eyes closed for much of the night. Usually if I do this I’m always hitting the sides of things with my sticks and can’t hold on to anything, but that night it seemed to work out okay. So we’re playing “Don’t Make Plans,” Andy started the lengthy guitar solo… and maybe this is totally inappropriate to say, but it sounded so gorgeous that I closed my eyes, tried to ignore everything I was doing, and just enjoyed the sounds I was hearing. I tried to stay as much out of the way as I could, just play what sounded right in the midst of all that I was hearing. Something about the sound struck me, and … and I got lost in the music. It was something else, the solo lasted maybe a minute or two and I was, honestly, in a state of bliss the entire time.

Other Cohen solos serve different purposes in their respective songs, but the solo of “Don’t Make Plans This Friday” books a one-night stay in Dahlquist’s state of bliss. It shows even stridently anti-solo lobbyists just how cathartic a guitar solo can be when performed with the right mindset, the right hands, in the right song. 

Sebastian Stirling

Silkworm - Give Me Some Skin

Developer was the first Silkworm album I purchased on vinyl, and not to get too preachy about the format or sentimental about its emotional attachment, but I’ll say it was the right call. The album art, a night-time photograph of the moon hanging over Montana’s Bridger Mountains, looks fantastic writ large, its negative occupying the back cover of the gatefold sleeve. This image sets the stage for some pensive, nocturnal songwriting. 

Developer’s lead track, “Give Me Some Skin,” benefits from two aspects of vinyl playback. First, your couch is the optimal listening environment for the song’s slow-core pace. Second, you’ll hopefully hear it on actual speakers, preferably some mammoth ’70s loudspeakers, which will fill your abode with the cavernous thump of Michael Dahlquist’s bass drum. 

In a letter to the Chicago Reader following Dahlquist’s passing, Developer engineer Steve Albini describes his friend’s kit: 

[His] drums were huge. His special drum kit was a giant Slingerland from the swing era with the bass drum the size of a wagon wheel. He kept it in a pristine state of dilapidation, just as he found it, and this was his genius. His drums often resided at the studio where I work, and countless other drummers, intrigued by their immensity, would sit behind them and try to play them. Some famous, some greatly skilled, some merely curious, these pretenders all fell short. Like a demanding lover, this Stonehenge of drums would not yield to just anyone, but required the experience of her true made to respond with affection. These drums sounded like shit when played by anyone other than Michael. 

But Michael was an artist on them. He belonged to these drums the same way they belonged to him.  Michael made half a dozen of Silkworm’s albums on them, and he sounded like thunder. 

I presume that Developer marks the first appearance of this mythical kit, since the bass drum sound of “Give Me Some Skin” is unlike anything that preceded it. Dahlquist’s performance on the song isn’t flashy, but each hit, each fill possesses stoic resonance. It’s the lead instrument in the song, with Tim Midgett’s bass lurking deep beneath it and Andy Cohen’s guitar making a delayed entrance. 

Midgett’s unusually timid vocals complement Dahlquist’s gravitational force, embarking on an introspective sojourn: 

I remember when I took a walk
To any place – didn’t care what time it was
Tripped through lost cities and
The blueprint for what I saw
Was in my head
Here in my head,
I hear a stroke

The next couplet provides a vague sense of what Midgett is trying to escape from: “Tried to reach you every hour / I was strangling on my guts to let you know.” Lonely desperation emerges in his voice with this regretful admission: 

You never saw what I’d become, an idiot
To not appreciate your time
To not appreciate your time, spend some on me

Few songwriters can make neediness endearing, but as Midgett repeats “me,” elongating the syllable and toeing into a higher register, it’s impossible not to sympathize. He’s paralyzed in penance, hearing his heart beat with each wallop of Dahlquist’s bass drum, longing for human contact. How can you not feel for the man?

As Cohen’s energetic “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” quickly proves, Developer isn’t all Codeine tempos and fragile psyches. But the custom of starting every spin with side A, track one allows “Give Me Some Skin” to set the mood, a task it never fails to accomplish. 

Sebastian Stirling