CD Review: THE SLIP | ANGELS COME ON TIME
Saying that music appreciation is subjective seems a little redundant to me because I believe there is only subjectivity in this world insomuch as there can be no satisfactory objective proof of any proposition. The closest thing to objectivity we have in my view is just the alignment of similar subjectivities; subjectivities aligned closely enough that minute differences (perhaps incorrectly, but this ain't the place) become irrelevant.
My point is, it should go without saying that the following is my opinion and interpretation of the new CD by The Slip. I don't claim to know "what the band are trying to say," I only claim to know what I hear. Nor am I claiming that my interpretation is true to anyone but myself. So with that in mind, dear reader, please grant me a little interpretive license if for no other reason than its fun.
To me, Angels Come on Time is about a lot of things. Memory, vision, injustice, alienation, the road, community, playfulness, humor, and of course, love. Because the album is so musically and stylistically diverse, it might not be considered narratively coherent. However, I'm on my eight or ninth listen and I'm beginning to believe that there is a narrative coherence. Its just not obvious, like Rift for example. The story this album tells is implied and hinted at.
From a narrative point of view, "Sometimes True to Nothing" seems to open the proceedings. To me this song is about alienation from the world, family, friends that we all experience from time to time, especially in this crazy modern world. Something about this song says, "slow down, take a deep breath, and be present with the world. Experience/love life/love." Sometimes it seems like we're out of rhythm with ourselves, just off the beat as it were. This song seems to suggest how we might get back on track. STTN is a masterpiece in my view. From a production point of view it sounds great and it¹s a wonderful tune to serve as the first vocal number.
"Sorry" is just hysterical. The song exudes a carefree quality and just kind of bounces along, and if you've got any beef, well . . . oh you know. What a genius response to critics. How many bands, especially successful ones, would in response to criticism just shrug and say, sorry? Most musicians I know are pretty sensitive and narcissistic and would rather dispute or at least address criticism rather than just acknowledge it and absorb it. Most don't have the calm acceptance that these boys have. Sure, the guys aren't Buddha-like yet, but they are getting there. The ending is just a riot.
Pretty audacious on their first quasi-major release to have track four, a money slot, deconstruct into arrhythmic "stream of consciousness" sound. Again, you no like? Well . . .you get it.
"Tinderbox" is in my view the Cadillac of this album. Expansive, with a nod to Steve Reich, this is one of the two picaresque songs on the album, the other being Beetle. Both songs are essentially travel documents, with geographical references and allusions to life on the road. To me, "Tinderbox" is about the insanity of modern society, e.g. Babylon.
"In trusting the impersonal much sacredness is lost/Most enlist and thus have missed/ the
kiss extracted from the dust." I find it interesting how the lyrics have been moved around and reorganized. In fact the lyrics on the album don't even match up with the lyrics in the album jacket! The "prison yards/Sioux Falls" verse is no less than a scathing indictment of what capitalist excess has done to humanity, as if we need any reminder. How prescient, given the various towers of Babylon, e.g. Enron, WorldCom, Andersen, Global Crossing, crumbling
all around us.
"The corporate mind is pointing towards/the capitalizing off ignorance, indifference/exploiting our inheritance." Meanwhile, the watchman in South Dakota is checking his fuse after lightning, "more energy than we know how to use" strikes nearby. Hear we are in an energy crisis, while a thousand times a day, mother nature sends more electricity than we
know how to use cascading around us. The song ends on a note of hope:
"Wider than a river and deeper still/the wounds of cruelty/will heal themselves, I know they will. Slow changes and gather ourselves." Again, great production values, great vision and great execution. Wonderful bright acoustic guitar tone on the choruses too. Watch out for those cybernetic
When my roommate first heard "Love and Tears," he thought it was lame. He likes it even less now. He's a purist. ; ) I on the other hand was immediately smitten. Sure the intro sounds like a Dave Matthews tune and its an obvious single, but so much the better. I want to hear this one on Casey Casem, y'all. I just know this one's gonna be a crowd favorite. For all of its lighthearted, rootsy bounce, the subject matter of the song seems to me to be actually quite serious. Fact is, we've literally built highways and a hell of a lot else on the blood of another nation, many nations in
fact, the original inhabitants of North America. This tune is like a
reggae/folk hybrid kind of reminiscent of Toots and the Maytals a little bit. Little doubt what the "tower that can only fall" refers to. The business about the wicked man being grandpa seems to suggest the ancestral culpability that many of us have in the eradication (or genocide, depending who you talk to) of the Native Americans and their culture. Nice appeal for reason, as well as a nod to Lennon for not "forgetting."
"Nashua Rose" is a very mystical song to me. I'm pretty sure the Nashua River is in Massachusetts, although someone there has to know for sure. I found this quote from the Nashua River Watershed site pretty cool.:
The Nashua River's name comes from the Native American word Nash-a-way, meaning "River with the Pebbled Bottom." For hundreds of years, the Nashaway tribe inhabited the Nashua valley. Many years after the arrival of the Pilgrims, the river was a barrier to westward civilization as native inhabitants fought to retain their way of life along the river."
Anyway, I like this tune a lot. It has a cool sort of magical realism to it. The story of the sailor who is nominated to go interact with the "unknown", the ineffable divine whatever. Sort of makes me think of the Bermuda triangle or something. "Little boat, if I climb into you will you stay afloat" really motors. The form is cool, although that I think that the transition when Brad ratchets the melody of the verse up an octave is a little tenuous. In truth I think they could have nailed it better. Other than that, I think that this tune is an admirable attempt to write an ambitious original progressive rock tune.
"(Take A) Beetle to the Badlands" is a pretty fun happy go lucky road song, replete with car horns. Its a rockin' dance tune. The so-called "NSYNC moment" when that vocoder is applied to Brad's voice a la Cher or something is definitely bizarre. I like it for that reason, but I suspect that the reason its there is too cover up an absolutely egregious flaw in Brad's vocal track, something that he just couldn't nail or whatever. Indeed there are a couple of times on the album where the vocal is blown. For the most part its right there and one can only speculate how liberal they were in the
studio with nudges, etc. But there are a few times like "take a Harley to charley" when it sounds like Brad's got to Haque a loogy when I wondered why, for an album that took so long to come out, they didn't just hunker down and nail the vocals.
Whoever said that "Jumby" was a treat was severely understating the situation. Now its like Christmas everyday of the year. Just pop in ol' number 10. And another thing, this tune is a masterpiece, a total triumph, possible the coolest most interesting song on the album. The only problem with it is that its about ten minutes too short. So what if Marc right while screwing around with the boomerang or some such device? His bass line/head/cosmic melody part shalle go downe in ye historee manuscripts as ye bombe. The steel drums are incredible. The breakdown is just stoopid and silly. Brad
busting out on the banjo and Andrew with his cuica rasping out those sounds that sound deceptively like a dj scratching. Brad busting into a trademark scat accompanied solo, Andrew breezing in for a masterful steel drum solo, and the sort of circus humor that pervades this song make it one for the ages. I remember when they played this tune in the middle of Munf last Berkfest, but according to Marc, they haven't figured out an arrangement at the moment. BAM if you're
listening boys, MAKE BERKFEST THIS YEAR THE BIG NASTY JUMBY DEBUT. Course, with my luck, they'll play it next week, and I'll miss it and they won't play at Berkfest. But whatev. Just incredible.
"Six-sided" is a pleasure. Pure money Slip lullaby. Who's sunny? Vocals are great throughout (the dex in dexter is off pitch, but whatev), really nice harmonies. Gorgeous understated jazz changes. In a sense, this song brings the album full circle: from the pained alienation of "Sometimes True to Nothing" to the comfort we can find alone, in a safe place, your little hollow, whiling the hours away with your favorite discs, or maybe a trumpet from Harlem or a guitar from Manny's and a nice view of a tree-lined street. Again, time slows down. We are asked to be present with ourselves and our
world. Take a deep breath and let the obvious roll away. Oh how I wish we did more of this type of thing. Like in STTN the imagery of orphans is used, perhaps to suggest that in a way, we are all orphans who go through feelings of isolation, doubt and fear, but also the satisfaction of simply being in the world. We realize that for all of the isolation and grief we feel, we are inextricably linked to the world around us, not in a manic way, although we often choose that for ourselves, but in a relaxed way, a real way that doesn't need to be forced, just felt.
"Nellie Jean" is wonderful of course, perhaps one of Brad¹s greatest
compositions. Nice to hear it played acoustic with gorgeous rhythmic
accompaniment by Andy on some sort of drum. Incidentally, Andrew is just majestic throughout the entire disc. As usual, his playing is spectacularly awe-inspiring, but its his mature, and groundbreaking diversity of tones that truly pushes his contribution over the top. I mean his arsenal is so huge and well developed that he can create just about any rhythmic ambience that he chooses. Nellie is a totally appropriate way to end the album.
Whew! Thanks for sticking with me. Obviously I have fairly strong feelings about this band. But I do my best to look at them with a critical eye, and while I find this disc superb it does have its flaws, especially in some of the vocal production. But in general I think it is a really special album, much deeper and more sophisticated than Does, and possessing a similar timeless quality to Gecko. Clearly the boys are trying to make their music more accessible to people, and I for one wholly support that effort. I feel that the message of The Slip is so powerful and important that the more people get exposed and inspired, the better. This is not just another jamband, folks. As many of us have realized, bam is actually a fairly special group of people trying to do something fairly serious in the world. Of course we have a blast at Slip shows, but we must be cognizant of the depth of 'the wounds of cruelty' that BAM seeks to address and our relationship to those
wounds. Because they live in all of us, whether we know it or not.
Feel free to circulate this review. See you at Berkfest.