Monday, August 09, 2010

New Release: Bottomless Pit

With each release of a new record, there was a bit of a running joke among the small but highly devoted following of Silkworm: "It's their best album since the last one." While fans certainly had their favorite releases from the band, it was their way of acknowledging that being Silkworm fan meant buying into them totally. The band was remarkably consistant (not the same as static or repetitive) and loving one of their records more or less meant you had to love them all, as the band's essential qualities were present in everything they released. To do otherwise meant you were either extremely nitpick-y or didn't really like them all that much in the first place.

Songwriters Tim Midgett (bass/vocals) and Andy Cohen (guitar/vocals) retired the Silkworm name following the tragic death of drummer Michael Dahlquist at the hands of a reckless motorist in 2005. They subsequently formed Bottomless Pit with the rhythm section of Chris Manfrin and Brian Orchard. Midgett switched over to guitar, a move that made sense as he was playing more and more guitar on Silkworm's later albums. Mournful and cathartic, the band's initial releases were quite good but seemed a bit tentative in some ways, as though Midgett and Cohen were unsure on how to continue without their longtime collaborator (or, perhaps, even if they should.) Replicating the chemistry of a 15 year musical partnership couldn't have been the most unchallenging of tasks.

Bottomless Pit's latest album, Blood Under the Bridge, comes out today on the Comedy Minus One label. It's the band's most assured release to date, a record that finds Midgett and Cohen equaling the glory of their former group with apparent ease.

I've written extensively on Silkworm before (click here, if you care to read) and there are a few key differences in Bottomless Pit's sound, mainly the duel guitars. And Orchard wisely doesn't try to replicate Midgett's signature fat bass. But mostly everything that made Silkworm is present here. Midgett and Cohen are both in fine form as songwriters, offering some of the best tunes of their career.

Alternating between stately elegance and hard crunch (and equally adept at both), their songs evoke a kind of serene melancholy. Lyrics like "There's no such thing as too much time" ("Rhineland"), "A slip of the knife and, oh, we're in love" ("Summerwind") and "So many fuckers in this world" ("Late") suggest that some sadness is inevitable in the human experience and making peace with that is difficult but necessary. Instead of sliding into despair, the music offers hard fought redemption.

The group meshes beautifully. Midgett and Cohen finally seem comfortable in their new roles. Midgett's guitar provides foundation and Cohen's adds color. Cohen is justifiably known for his lengthy solos, which often flirted with excess and indulgence but worked perfectly. Here, he's mostly kept himself in check though he does get to stretch out a bit in the jaunty "Late" and the stomping closer, "38 Souls."

It's tempting to say that Blood Under the Bridge is Midgett and Cohen's best record since whatever Silkworm album happens to be your favorite. If you don't know Silkworm, it's equally tempting to throw out the names of a few of their records as essential entry points. However, Blood Under the Bridge is so excellent a piece of work, it would be fallacious to deny it's as good an introduction to Midgett and Cohen's work as any. Though there's been a fair amount of 90s indie rock nostalgia around of late, this record is far more vital than say, the Pavement reunion. I recommend its inclusion in your household as soon as possible.

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