January 19, 2013
s/t (Kranky 1995)
In my addled and biased opinion, Bowery Electric’s self-titled debut might be one of my favorite rock albums of the 1990’s. It’s definitely the near zenith of the Kranky Records discography as it kind of conjures an alternate universe where Spacemen 3 stuck to smoking weed instead of the harder stuff and laid up at night listening to old Slowdive and selected platters of 4ad’s finest. Both bands share that innate ability to jam out a hypnotically monotonous guitar riff that overtakes the entire song and leaves you wishing you could edit out the vocals because it’s just that good and it really has no business ever stopping. The best parts of Bowery Electric’s debut is when the band channels the vibe of Spacemen 3’s “When Tomorrow Hits” and replaces its dark, nihilistic vibe with something more airy and eerie. That track kind of serves as spiritual forefather for what goes down on this album as guitarist Lawrence Chandler plays with the same slow-motion desolation as the original, yet there’s something going on that’s entirely his own. It’s kind of funny that dozens of bands have done a fair to middling job of sounding like Spacemen 3, but no band has ever copied or emulated what Bowery Electric were doing here since its release. Hell, Bowery Electric didn’t even come close to duplicating the vibe of this one as they quickly switched gear on its follow-up, Beat, and became something much less palatable.
This is an album that ebbs and flows kind of organically. It has a perfect balance of slowly throbbing guitar codas that gradually give way to more gentle numbers that let everything echo into a sea of reverb and the tension between the two give it an almost epic quality at times. Unsurprisingly, “Slow Thrills”, the best track on the album, somehow combines the two and the result is positively glorious. All three members get their time in the sunshine here as drummer Michael Johngren and bassist/vocalist Martha Schwendener lock into a stoner two-step that makes these ten minutes all too fleeting. She dourly intones into the micropohone and the whole band breaks a lengthy crescendo that gradually loses a battle to a soothing interlude designed to ease your mind before they club you over the head one more time until its close.
It’s actually kind of a grim and joyless album. However, it’s the perfect album for those moments when you just want to listen to a gloriously monotonous album and blithely nod along for forty minutes. Actually, that sounds like most of my music listening habits, so it’s no surprise that I reach for this album more than most.