In realizing that The Slip is a band that has been playing together for what amounts to a lifetime it seems only natural that they are in a state of constant change. Much like the human experience, The Slip is ever evolving. If you consider the transformation of any given music junkie's tastes in relation to their junk, then you can start to figure out how this trio has produced six albums and performed countless shows with vastly different results. Looking from instrumentals such as "The Earth Will Dissever And Consume You After These Messages" and "Song" off their latest release Alivelectric to timeless vocal songs such as "Alsoa" and "Honey Melon" off their 1997 debut From the Gecko we see a band that is able to maintain a shred of consistency and a world of variety. What you loved when you were a senior in high school is very possibly not what you crave today, and again, we find a band that has changed, and continues to change dramatically, since their inception back in the early 90s.
With the announcement of their own record label, two.one.six records, The Slip released two separate live albums, one electric and one acoustic, that are meant to be consumed together. Dressed in a tastefully artistic CD design, the idea is to show the breadth of sound that is The Slip and just how much has changed in the past few years.
Recorded live during a lightning storm on May 11, 2003 at the intimate Club Helsinki in the mountains of Massachusetts, Aliveacoustic is unlike any Slip I have ever been familiar with. Beginning with the up-beat blues and swamp stompin' beat of "Poor Boy" we find a jovial Brad Barr (guitar/vocals) leading brother Andrew Barr (drums) and childhood friend Marc Friedman (bass) through a rollicking eye opener.
While "Poor Boy" is a fun way to start it's the next two tracks, "Seventy-Four" and "Before You Were Born" that evoke the emotional and Americana side of The Slip. Heartstrings are plucked like the banjo found on "Seventy-Four," and "Before You Were Born" is simply a marvelous song. From the beautiful guitar line and bass backing to the brilliantly simply lyrics, "Before You Were Born" quickly jumps out as a song that is almost universal in its appeal.
Featuring deft string work (by both Brad Barr and Friedman), a lighthearted feel, and a kazoo solo, the two and half minute "Hunny" is more similar to "Poor Boy" than what comes before and after. With track five, "Torque," we find another sound emerging... one that is familiar to those who are well schooled in The Slip, but considerably different than anything that appears on either of these two releases. With Andrew utilizing steel drums, "Torque" easily carries an island vibe into the next track which places us firmly in the heartland of America, "Let The Morning In."
"Let The Morning In" is reminiscent of "Beetle To The Badlands" off Angels Come On Time. Both form images of a winding road in the depths of America. Trees, blue skies, and rolling hills: this is the Americana Slip once again. Shifting from continent to continent and never staying long the next offering is simply given the delineation "Song." "Song" is far longer than any other track on the CD and is without question the most impressive musical accomplishment. The nylon strings, rhythmic shakers and distinctly Moroccan feel give "Song" an ancient, warm, and impressive sound.
The final two songs off Aliveacoustic bring back the emotion, and force a bit of self-reflection. "Through The Iron Gate" has long been a hidden gem, and one that moves me on a deeply personal level. "Lion On A Rock" is a magnificent play on words and again forces deeper thinking through song... Amen.
In contrast to Aliveacoustic, which contains almost all (eight out of nine) vocal tracks, Alivelectric is all instrumental minus one song ("If One Of Us Should Fall"). While I truly enjoy both of these offerings, Alivelectric strikes me as perhaps the most impressive and ambitious Slip to date. They are clearly paying close attention to the burgeoning indie rock scene and appear capable of incorporating elements of this movement while still delving deep into difficult and complex musical waters. This is very deliberate improvised music, which may be deemed "intelligent" and extremely proficient, and shows The Slip covering vast ground in their development.
"The Earth Will Dissever And Consume You After These Messages" is seven minutes of sonic bliss. Each member shines and then some, grabbing the listener from the very start. "Headshot" gives us Marc Friedman on buzzed-out breakthrough bass, as an intricate combination of sounds--both familiar and not--seem to mesh into one collective cloud of music. Especially when listening with headphones, the depth of this song, and this album in general, is somewhat overwhelming, and an experience that is highly recommended.
"Headshot" seamlessly bleeds into "Mr. Meowskers," and if you were not paying attention to the track listing you would naturally be inclined to believe that it is just the back end of "Headshot." Following the vibe of "Headshot," "Mr. Meowskers" slowly changes shape and grows into something reminiscent of a melodic Steve Kimock progression.
"Happy Snails" brings a change in tone and intention as we find Andrew Barr on homemade PVC pipes for percussion and Ruskin Vaughn on shekere. The song moves languidly along with subtle and beautiful guitar accompaniment. Next we find "Song." This is the only tune that appears on both CDs. At first look one could be confused as to whether or not "Song" is the same on both albums, but rest assured, they are. Rumor has it that the composition was originally called "Song of Mysterious Origin" which fits the bill well. As in the version of "Song" off Aliveacoustic, it features incredible guitar work by Brad Barr as the unit carries the listener back in time to a Bedouin oasis. In the end, "Song" proves to be a standout in both the acoustic and the electric settings.
The "Interlude" that follows allows Friedman to stretch out with a rich tone that seems to spill over the always-impressive drum work of Andrew. The band builds a sonic melee that again erases lines of who is doing what, what is looped, and what is strictly nasty musicianship. Coming out from under a high-pitched buzzing bass effect, Brad Barr's guitar signals the rise of the sun after a never-ending night. "If One Of Us Should Fall" proves again that Brad Barr is one of the true poets of our generation and that there are few troubadours of this talent who are still writing. The song was built from a reading of Brad's future many years ago... and like he sings, "I will always carry the words of your prediction with me. Even though they harbor some grave obscurity, they haunt me like some willows do." "If One Of Us Should Fall" is in the world of emotional Slip classics like "Alsoa" and "The Weight of Solomon," while the track that follows, "Built For Zeal," touches on the jazz roots and telepathic communication of Slip legend with a heavy dose of sonic syrup on top ala "New Slip."
"Driving Backwards With You" is another song that should appeal to all walks of life regardless of age, musical inclination, or geographic location. Perhaps the only group of people who may not relate are the angry adolescents that are pissed at everyone, but even they may find light in this inspirational composition. It's a gorgeous song that lifts the spirits and begs for a smile as warmth runs over the mind and body. Again we find each band member proving to be at the top of his field while working to create something entirely unique.
The horn-ingrained "Ashland" washes away any of the distortion that may be lingering from this sometimes heavy album and leaves the listener at peace with the music, The Slip, and the world.
These CDs are clearly must-haves for any fan of The Slip, and come with overwhelming support for anyone who is starting to learn of this magnificent band. The Slip is perhaps the most talented band you can see for less than ten bucks, and if there is justice in the music world (which is highly unlikely), they will be selling out theaters across the country in the years to come. These albums capture a band that is just now, after almost a decade together, starting to find their place and beginning to realize their own capabilities.
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