Spider Bags: Frozen Letter

With Frozen Letter, the North Carolina trio dives headfirst into the psychedelic end of the garage rock pool.

Spider Bags

Frozen Letter

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2014-08-05
UK Release Date: 2014-08-18
Label Website
Artist Website

While previous Spider Bags releases spread their sound far and wide, the band's fourth full-length album draws on a more singular inspiration. With Frozen Letter, the North Carolina trio dives headfirst into the psychedelic end of the garage rock pool. The result is their most cohesive set of songs to date, with a tighter and more refined lyrical focus. This is a summer bummer party record, filled with anger and sorrow and sing-along derision.

Spider Bags aren't afraid to lead with their best stuff, and the one/two punch of "Back With You Again in the World", and "Japanese Vacation" is a combo that's hard to beat. "Back With You Again in the World" is the opening track, all manic jangle and warm fuzz; there's a familiarity to its short two and a half minutes. Bandleader Dan McGee espouses his honesty through the side of his mouth, the lie in his tone if not in his words. If there is an archetypal Spider Bag song, this might just be it. Sloppily tight and comfortable yet seemingly incomplete, it wraps up more than it concludes. 

"Japanese Vacation" takes the jangle up a notch and pairs it with vivid little descriptive images that are both evocative and concrete: "Spider crawl across the wall / Doesn't mean a thing at all"; "And in my living room / A lonely silver spoon/doesn't move me." The lyrics capture not ennui but, through McGee's delivery, a more general disgust at it all. Two songs in and the tone and themes are set. Frozen Letter isn't going to be a happy-go-lucky romp, no matter how upbeat the music.

Though the first third of the album may fly by in a heady rush, there is more to it than bad vibe garage rock stompers. There's bad vibe slow numbers, too, like the reverb-drenched "Coffin Car", where the prettiness of the chord progression can't mask that same tortured morbidity that hangs like a bad acid trip over the whole affair. "I think I'm coming down," McGee repeats, though whether a statement of fact or a vain hope is unclear. "Tired over your love, baby / Again, again, Yeah! YEAH! YEAH!" Even as you sing along, you realize he isn't fooling anyone, or convincing himself despite his vehemence. Once again, McGee, bassist Steve Oliva and drummer Rock Forbes shamble and seduce as they fall apart.

And fall they do, again and again. Yet it's in these most human of moments that Spider Bags reach their greatest heights. As this short album winds down, they reach their pinnacle on the transcendently chooglin' "We Got Problems". A hitherto unimagined blend of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Meat Puppets, the track is so familiar as to seem familial. "We Got Problems" shuffles along in a groove that feels like the band found it already playing, hitched a ride for five and a half minutes and slid out before letting it roll ever on. With label-owner Mac McCaughan of Superchunk laying down some of his best lead work in ages, and McGee at his disaffected, shrug-worthy peak -- "I fear it's true, we got problems / And there ain't too much we can do to stop them" -- Spider Bags reach a new, even more forlorn, peak.

The question now is can Spider Bags continue to improve with release after release. Frozen Letter cements their prior strengths while pointing toward new and potentially more impressive sounds. It's been a steady climb, and McGee and company could easily rest after such a feat. Let's hope whatever rest is short and, for inspirational purposes, bittersweet. Another two years would be two years too long for more songs from their distinctively caustic and jangly mire.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.