Slow Children – cottoncloud9 | 2016 – 3.5
(…continued from last post)
Against all odds, the 21st century managed to cough up something positive along with the unceasing flow of calamity getting on my nerves. The third Slow Children album was released into the world in 2016; 34 years following their last one, and against all odds, the same winning team was present all these years later. The album was produced by Jules Shear, who sang BVs, but left all guitar duties to Andrew Chinich this time. Stephen Hague was not co-producing this one, but he was once again playing the rest of the band with bass, synth, and now percussion duties added to the roster. No actual drums this time, but Kit Watson was on programming and virtual instruments to add anything else needed. The album’s white on white cover featured the now grey haired Chinich and the blonde Shazar looking diametrically opposed to the look on their US debut album.
From the very start, it was apparent that things were going to be a little different. As “Where The Buffalo” began with a pumping piano rhythm and sampled cellos filling the song’s intro, the vibe here was a slow, spacious, loping groove so laid back that one might think it was a completely different band. When Pal Shazar opened her mouth to finally sing, it was astonishing. Her the topline melody was seriously quoting Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” and hearing her sing the first lyric of “well you can borrow my caaa-aaaar” dared me to not think of that little ditty immediately. And I failed that test.
The luxuriating groove here, even after quoting Springsteen, gave the song a vibe that could cruise for miles and miles. The tense young woman who had populated the first two Slow Children albums had certainly gone through some serious changes over the years. The subtle guitar twang coupled with the cello rhythm could have lasted forever, and showed that Mr. Chinich had more to offer the world than jittery New Wave [though we love that…]. This was not your father’s Slow Children.
As if to reassure us that this was still, indeed “Slow Children, next came a song that while featuring acoustic instrumentation, showed that Pal Shazar had not yet thrown out the Slow Children playbook where she strongly favored non-legato phrasing in her singing. This brought a touch of the familiar to what was, on the face of it, a folk song. “Coulda Been Someone” was a delicate pop song delivered in the established vocal style of the first two albums while being further afield musically.
The outlier of “Suspense” on album number two obviously went place in the ensuing decades. “What You Gonna Do About It” was another bluesy track with acoustic instrumentation that simmered for its first two minutes while Ms. Shazar parlayed her storyline via traditional verse/chorus structure until the band perked up to add drums and electric guitar as she settled into a repetitive groove vocally in the song’s middle eight. With triplet lines ending with the word “me” and the next triplet all rhyming A/A/A. When she dropped the F-bomb in the last line before resuming verse/chorus structure, she was obviously no longer the distraught young woman of the first two records. This was a woman having her say no matter what anyone thought of it and no one’s victim.
Fingersnaps and a touch of psychedelic dub on the intro to “Sweet Sue Lyon” let us know that the band were still into Nabokov [their name was from the text of “Lolita” and their early single “Spring In Fialta” was inspired by a Nabokov short story]. But certainly not in an obvious way. This song was a character study musing on the later life of the actress who starred in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film of the “unfilmable book.” Here she was imagined as a waitress in a diner after fleeing her brief Hollywood stardom and circumstances parallel to that of the book character for something more banal [yet safe]. The swinging, complex melody here was the furthest thing from banal.
It should be considered something of a breakthrough to have the almost passive voice of the first two albums assert itself as in the song “Something Bad.” The twangy, loping pop song had more piano rhythm in it, as did the opener and the net effects is of the band producing a cheekily ironic country music song of their own stripe.
Next: …Being Bored