Provincializm #14: Bottomless Pit
It's the man of this week's dour hour, Mr. William S. Bowers.
Silkworm, Spoon & Guided By Voices: Indie Rock High School Class Of '96
Provincializm #14: The Worm Turns
by William S. Bowers
Tim Midgett announced the release of the debut album by he and Andy Cohen’s new band Bottomless Pit via Silkworm’s website on October 10, 2007, five days before the trial began for the person who hit and killed Silkworm drummer Michael Dahlquist with her car over two years ago. (She was found guilty of three counts of reckless homicide with mental illness on October 26, and will wait a month to be sentenced.) Almost every aspect of this first post-Silkworm project seems to address Dahlquist’s death, from the matter-defying morbidity of the band name to the haunted architecture captured in the packaging. The title, Hammer Of The Gods, frames fate as percussive, and is of course also the name of the infamous book about Led Zeppelin, the most heralded band to break up because of the irreplaceability of their deceased drummer.
Seam’s Chris Manfrin and .22’s Brian Orchard join Midgett and Cohen in crafting a sound that approaches, well, Silkworm’s classic-rock-for-punk-fans-hungry-for- something-slower-than-trad-punk. Except: I don’t mean to be full of shit, but there’s this really fitting Joy Division/New Order stuff going on during at least half of the songs. Seriously. Guitar leads and bass lines that function like J.D. dark-pop accents and rush-inducing Peter Hook hooks. “Repossession” goes down as a very American rewrite of “Disorder” (which Silkworm chums and sometime bandmates Bedhead covered), complete with odd echo effects. Joy Division sez: “I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand…I’ve got the spirit, lose the feeling, take the shock away.” Bottomless Pit sez: “Well I feel like I’ve been waiting for a man to come to take me away…Devoid of passion and the usual stuff.” (The song will later worry Ian-ly about going insane and turbo-repeat the word “control.”)
Silkworm lyrics were always sort of not-veiled. Many of the best tracks were invectives, call-outs a la Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Idiot Wind” (which even contains a line that’s gruesomely applicable to details of Dahlquist’s tragic death: “Now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped.” And don’t even ask me to listen to Silkworm’s “I Hope You Don’t Survive,” from 2002, which begins an album by chronicling a crazy woman’s despair, to which the speaker responds, “Hope whatever got to her don’t crawl its way over to me.”) Silkworm was plenty snarky but they only half-bothered with fancy turns-of-phrase. Bottomless Pit opts for even less ornamental verbiage, as if no convenient rhetoric or articulate eulogy could accurately depict such loss and damage. Many lines are mumbled, some are intentionally inaudible due to lowered levels, and others are elided because either Midgett or Cohen move away from the mic in totally nontheatrical wincing agony. The humor present on Silkworm releases is understandably gone; surviving a scenario that renders Spinal Tap forever unfunny could be expected to yield artistic jokelessness.
So the songs fight through the Kubler-Ross bereavement stages. Samples: “The girls told me they miss you just like we all do.” “I lie in the street/ The cars run over me/ I wanted to die.” “Why did the weasel cross the road?” “The sudden impact of some painful fact/ I can’t believe my heart/ Some chick didn’t want you around.” “The road is long but it has an end.” “When you die, that’s it, you’re gone.” “I can only hope I can leave you now.” If that level of painful discourse doesn’t spook you , and you can handle song titles as mournfully specific as “Dogtag” and “Dead Man’s Blues,” then I highly recommend this darkly and dryly spectacular LP, which is much more than a placeholder between the recent Silkworm tribute double-disc and the forthcoming documentary Couldn’t You Wait? One chorus earnestly begs its audience to empathize with others and consider the consequences of our actions—keep in mind that the following reappropriation of one of Jesus’s last lines is from the band that once penned the sardonic “Xian Undertaker”: “People you gotta be careful/ You know not what you do.” And hang tight for the end of “Leave The Light On,” when the only instrument left is drums, doing a heartbeat, that goes rapid, and then fades.
Even the new band’s new label moniker hurts to think about too much. Comedy Minus One, aside from its obvious reference to subtracting a crucial unit, is named after an old Albert Brooks routine, during which he performs half of the schtick and leaves silences for his absent partner to fill in. I couldn’t help but think of the poem “Natural Causes” by Paul Allen, which lacks a traditional ending. When he reads it in public, he tells people to substitute the last bit of small-talk that they heard from an acquaintance or loved one in for a finale. So his faux-conclusion goes, after chronicling multiple suicides and senseless deaths:
Nothing to find later except the nothing they left and whatever they might have said. Why it was only last week they were saying…
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