splendid > reviews > 1/22/2003
Fueled By Ramen

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Fallen On the World"

Buy me now
It's a little surprising to discover how visual Slowreader's debut is, given that it's an aural document. Not that there isn't a tradition of music conjuring up mental images; many classical composers, for example, were excellent at using their works to create pictures (think of Vivaldi's Four Seasons or Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker), while, since the advent of MTV, it's hard to hear a lot of songs without their accompanying video-visuals springing to mind. So there really isn't anything new about Slowreader. It's just that, at a time when so many non-electronica artists seem to forget about the visual aspects of their work, the band stands out as a bit of an anomaly.

So what images come to mind when listening to their debut? Quite simply, winter. Everything about this album is perfect for the current season; it is both cold and foreboding, and intensely intimate -- kind of like walking through a snowy, barren landscape, then settling down in front of the fire to warm up.

The tone is set early on. Right away, in fact, with "Politics, Music and Drugs", whose first line ("Curious of many things but too lazy to move") encapsulates the lethargy that comes with below-freezing temperatures and too much snow. The song drifts along over a slow drumbeat as if it was made to soundtrack a movie -- specifically, the part where the main character screws things up with the love interest and spends an entire season moping around over it. It's really horribly depressing when you think about it, but at the same time there's something indescribably beautiful about the way the snow gently falls all around.

Of course, any other song on the album could serve a similar purpose. They don't sound alike -- not more than any other artist's work, anyway, but they're full of the same feeling. "On That Day", for example, is almost chilling in the way Gabe Hascall's voice ethereally floats along over a tinkly piano line, seeming to hover over the song without ever really being a part of it. This is carried over onto the next song, "Cold, Cold Death", which sounds much like its title implies. The lyrics are extremely dark ("Made friends with last night and incompleteness / Book ends and frostbite is salivating / When I go they won't know") and Hascall sings it all with a quiet desperation not often heard from anyone other than Thom Yorke, but the music, and its sentiments, are so compelling that it's impossible not to be drawn into the song. Most chilling of all is "Anasthetic For The Amputee". It all sounds happy enough -- indeed, by Slowreader's standards it's almost bouncy -- but it's a song about suicide; the subject matter is revealed by the closing lines "Lord I know you're looking down, give me the strength / To pull that trigger, put that bullet through my brain".

There are two reasons the disc isn't depressing as hell. First, the quiet acoustic accompaniment throughout the album is just enough -- never so sparse as to make the words the entire reason for the album's existence, but also never approaching the sort of emotional wankery that underlies so much emo (not that Slowreader do anything even remotely approximating that much-maligned genre). Second, Hascall's voice is perfect for the music. His soft tenor recalls Nick Drake, as if he had somehow found a way to distill the essence of "Pink Moon" over the course of an entire album.

There's little chance you'll ever turn on the TV and see a Slowreader video, so the odds of developing "pre-determined" visuals to accompany their music are pretty slim. This, happily, doesn't matter; in the tradition of the very best artists, the band has come up with a debut that floats into your subconscious and creates its visuals on its own.



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