Savath and Savalas

Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey (Hefty 2000)

I wonder what history will decide when people reappraise the years when the inane terms, post-rock and electronica, were deemed to be relevant. Now, I am no saint since I used these regretful words in my own freelance career, but years have passed and this time seems like a big, fucking blank with few winners. I guess I still listen to Tortoise’s Millions Now Living and the Pan American album along with the Labradords, Prams among others, but neither term says much to me now I’ve heard most sections of the time line that preceded the late 90s.

There was a lot of lumpy prog, flaccid beats and ambient incontinence among the lesser lights. However, there is one album that has sparked a pang of regret about my hardened and revised opinion. Savath and Savalas debut, Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey borrowed and mortgaged the house against these sad sack claims and the end result is something that I can still wholeheartedly endorse today.

The main character behind Savath and Savalas is Scott Herren, who later recorded as Prefuse 73 for the Warp label. He was a bit of a musical sponge and it ill-served him later in his career as he careened between hip-hop, tropicalia, dub, folk and electronic music like a pinball and the results never quite matched the inspiration that was obvious in each attempt.

Folk Songs is different to me because it is remains minimal and only attempts to evoke the slightly funk, sort of ambient and kind of adventurous vibe prevalent during this time. However, there is no “kinda” about it because it is kind of an effortlessly cool album that fits whatever mood matches yours. It is sensual, lazy, funky, psychedelic and intricate and serves as the Rorshach test to your current state of mind. Nothing jumps out and nothing needs to do so. It somehow shifts to meet what I am feeling at the moment and I always liked that about Folk Songs. Sometimes, you need a utilitarian album that never disappoints and this remains firmly rooted in my nightime pile.

Knife in the Water

Red River (Overcoat 2000)

Named after a Roman Polanski film, Knife in the Water are an Austin band whose music owes much to country and western, indie-pop and moodier moments of Ennio Morricone. Actually Knife’s Aaron Blount and Laura Krause’s mournful harmonizing reminds me of Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parkers frigid, unemotional approach to singing. Both bands also share a love of slow, lonesome tunes, but Knife in the Water lean more towards dramatic alt-country balladry.

There is little optimism in Red River’s ten tracks. Songs are populated by depressed souls who seek redemption in their next score, fearful lovers paranoid about imminent betrayals and scorned women ready to murder their deceitful partner. Red River is a bummer to be sure, but its narcotic country tunes are more about detachment and apathy instead of wallowing in misery.

“Party for the People of the Open Wound” sums up Knife in the Water’s lyrical point of view: “Well we went to a party on Friday night at a house on the east side of I-35
We were dizzy from the pills that the Kennedy gave
Oh but the speed wasn’t fast enough to wash the blues away

We used to love ourselves what happened to us?
Now we walk like victims of mutual disgust
Here at the party for the people of the open wound if we don’t look like them right now
You know we will real soon

This bitter air of regret and longing for innocence permeates each track. Well, not each track as there is a boring cover of Lee Hazlewood’s “Sundown, Sundown” that sucks the life out of the original. However, the other nine tracks gently nudge you further and further down in the dumps.