With a brief and elegant run of notes, bassist Tim Midyett gently announces the opening of “Contempt”, the first track on Silkworm’s Lifestyle, the album which is the subject of this 12-week, one track a week, Between the Grooves series. It’s so slight that a listener still settling down after dropping the needle might miss it. And then suddenly, all at once, the rest of the band including Andy Cohen, the singer on “Contempt”, join in. However, the vibe here is unusual. If Silkworm have a reputation (and that is meant in the most speculative sense of the conditional, i.e., “Does Silkworm’s music have a general reputation?”), then perhaps it is as a dude’s band, a point noted by fan Dan Mohr in Seth Pomeroy’s 2013 Silkworm documentary Couldn’t You Wait?, a treasure of a film and a source we’ll turn to more than once in the coming weeks. Silkworm: Three dudes who make dude music. Big guitars. Big drums. Songs about World War II. Songs about life on the road. Songs about Julius Caesar. Music to go with steaks and beer. For goodness sake, Tim Midyett is even the inventor of a delicious, world class meat rub. Dudes!
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Great seventh albums are a rare phenomenon. For a band even to stay together the length of time it takes to create a discography seven LPs deep would seem to run contrary to the fast-burn Dionysian spirit of rock and roll and fly in the face of the plainly difficult dynamics of human relationships. For example, the Stooges in their original incarnation, spavined by chemicals and behaviour that Rasputin might have considered “erratic”, were never likely to remain intact long enough in mind and body to reach the exotic sphere of a septenary release. And Simon and Garfunkel only got as far as their fifth album before realising they couldn’t stand each other.
These adversities, inherent to the life of a rock band, make the mere existence of Lifestyle by Silkworm remarkable, and the achievements therein nothing short of astonishing. Therefore it is a privilege to say that this glorious seventh album by the Chicago trio of Andy Cohen (guitar), Michael Dahlquist (drums), and Tim Midyett (bass)—Chicago by way of Seattle, by way of their native Missoula—will be the subject of this Between the Grooves series. Each week, for the next 12 weeks, we will examine a track from the album, picking things apart, reveling in Lifestyle‘s joyful weltgeist, bunching our fists, shouting its choruses, nodding our heads, pondering its endless idiosyncrasies, and grinning in full thrall of its giddy intelligence.
“I mean, Kill the Lights, it’s pretty depressing sometimes, I think.”
—Brian Girgus, Skyscraper, Summer 1999
”Girl you’re a king”
After six unsparing tracks, Kill the Lights theoretically could have ended in any number of ways: perhaps with a short ending piece to ease the listener back into a more emotionally stable place, or even something with a bit of uplift to offer a sliver of hope at the close of such a draining song cycle. What lowercase went with, of course, was an exorcism even longer and more violent than the one that came just before it (“Rare Anger”); one so idiosyncratic and genuinely messed up that it can even be a little bit frightening.
“You stand atop the spires / To see your vigil fires/Burn so far away / On a saffron mezzanine”
Skyscraper: …is it mainly a personal thing—for you to write songs as a personal experience?
Brian Girgus: Yeah, it’s weird, see sometimes I wonder if a lot of the things Imaad is singing about, he’ll say things in a song and I’m just like ‘’oh that’s weird, I know exactly what incident he is talking about right now”, and then other times he will just kind of paint these pictures of things that are potentials in his head or things that could happen or things that he had some dream about or something. What was the exact thing you asked me again?
—Skyscraper, Summer 1999
“You were a statue liar / Your schisms did conspire / The crumbled stones remain / Covered with bloody stains”
The back half of Kill the Lights is one of the more visceral album sides in any genre. Admittedly, “visceral” is one of those adjectives that get brought out a little too often in attempts to describe passionate records. For clarity’s sake, let’s double check Merriam-Webster’s definition: “coming from strong emotions and not from logic or reason”. When people writing about music use the word “visceral”, they are, more often than not, probably thinking of the first half of its definition, and not intending to demean the artist by suggesting they were neglecting logic and/or reason.
“When someone comes up and goes, ‘oh man, that was fucking great, you guys rocked’, you are just like, ‘oh, thanks a lot, that is really nice.’ But then this friend of mine… in San Francisco, I remember a couple years ago—this is totally one of the nicest compliments that anyone has ever said – he was like, ‘oh my god, you guys were playing and it was so confusing, I felt like I was walking around in circles smoking cigarettes the whole time.’
—Brian Girgus, Skyscraper, Summer 1999
The chances that Girgus’ friend was specifically talking about “Stairways”, the short instrumental track on Kill the Lights, are admittedly slim, but all the same, that is as apt a way as any to describe the mood of the song. It is also probably not a bad way to explain how a lot of lowercase’s music makes you feel.