Music

Notes, Hoaxes, and Jokes: Silkworm's 'Lifestyle' - "Yr Web"

Photo courtesy of Jim Newberry.

Lifestyle's sixth track sends glad tidings to an old flame while drummer Michael Dahlquist brings the thunder.


Silkworm

Lifestyle

Label: Touch and Go
US Release Date: 2000-08-08
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This week's entry marks the halfway point in our series. "Yr Web" is track six on Lifestyle and for those lucky enough to be listening to a vinyl copy of Silkworm's classic seventh album it is the closing track of side A. While the previous song, the wistful, acoustic, Andy Cohen penned "Roots" eased the album to its quietest point so far, marking a moment of stillness and poignancy, Tim Midyett's "Yr Web" bounces into our midst like a Labrador pepped up on sherbet and double-glazed doughnuts, ending Lifestyle's opening chapter with a brilliant life-affirming ebullience.

We suggested in previous entries that Lifestyle's fourth, fifth, and sixth tracks — "Plain", "Roots", and "Yr Web" — form a kind of mini-trilogy centring on themes of nostalgia with all three songs looking backwards in one sense or another. "Roots" takes its place in the triptych with lyrics which send glad tidings to an old flame. Although it expresses feelings of regret, the song is not an apology. And it is certainly not any kind of come-on. Rather it's an open-hearted acknowledgment of past love, the good and the bad, a magnanimous tip of the hat from one human being to another. In other words, it's very Silkworm.

If a video were to be made to accompany "Yr Web" to capture the spirit of the music, it would feature footage of slam dunks, home runs, acrobats landing impossible somersaults, cliff-divers, fireworks, and so on, and so on. From the beginning the track has a feeling of giddy positivity. Chiming riffs from Tim (bass) and Andy (guitar) immediately and — for a song called "Yr Web" — appropriately begin to encircle the listener. As the song progresses these will form a raucous vortex  at the centre of which will sit Tim's vocals. The track really begins though about 18 seconds in when Michael Dahlquist's drums enter the mix.

There are often typical ways in which we consider the role of drums in rock music. Perhaps they 'anchor' the track and keep things steady while the guitarist goes to town and expresses his free-jazz tendencies. Perhaps the reverse, in that by managing the tempo of the track they add drama and urge the rest of the band onwards. When Michael's drums come in on "Yr Web" something much more remarkable happens. The whole track lifts and doesn't stop rising for its full three minute twenty odd duration. We have mentioned the power of Michael's drumming numerous times in the series so far, and we'll do so again here. It sounds like a giant is on-stage using two baseball bats as sticks. It is an enormous, exciting sound. Maybe it is the physical aspect of great rock drumming, but there is something thrilling about it which brings a smile to the face possibly even more so than a great guitar solo.

While the thunder Michael could bring was otherworldly, it would be entirely wrong to think of him as just a 'basher'. He was also a musician with technique, which jumped notches with each Silkworm album. Listen from the early L'ajre tracks successively through to the final Chokes! EP and hear a drummer getting better and better as the years went on. Indeed if you want to hear what is possibly the Michael Dahlquist drum track par excellence, check out "Bar Ice", the opening song on Chokes!. It actually seems irresponsible to recommend it so blithely. Before dropping the needle on that one, perhaps put on a fireproof suit, a crash helmet, or hide behind a steel-lined wall because the sound is as big and explosive as rock drumming gets. Caveat auditor. However, as well being four minutes of rock ecstasy, "Bar Ice" is a demonstration of Michael's impeccable instincts, something which we've also already discussed in this series. Whether it's way he drives the band into the chorus of "Slave Wages", rapidly filling and hitting hard on the first line, or the way he controls the revs on "Treat the New Guy Right", grabbing the song by its collar and pulling it back at the end of each line in the chorus — does he or does he not linger over these fills for the perfect amount of time? — before once again accelerating forward. Michael knew exactly what was needed to best serve Andy and Tim's songs.

If there is one thing which separates great rock drummers from the rest though, it is personality. It is obvious, but it is something which is not often made explicit. It is a quality we certainly prize in other musicians, namely that their playing somehow contains a sense of their character, that they put something uniquely individual to themselves into their music. It is something we particularly look for in singers. For example, Mariah Carey may hit more notes than Lou Reed, but Lou Reed will always be a better singer than Mariah. His voice conveys identity and attitude. Encoded in it are very specific ideas of who he was, or a version of who he was, whereas Mariah, for all her impressive sonic acrobatics, will always remain opaque. It is the same with drummers. Think of some of the very best rock drummers, John Bonham, Todd Trainer, or Janet Weiss, for example. In all cases, as well as technique and ferocious power, the common quality is that when they play, there is a sense of who they are in that playing. As noted, it may be a version of themselves or a persona they put on when they sit at their kit, or neither even, but for the listener it doesn't particularly matter. We piece together the ticks and tropes of their playing and identify a human being in the midst of the music.

The feeling that you are connecting with others is one of the greatest things about listening to music, and the best musicians are those that enable this through the singularity of their playing. It is this quality which elevates Michael into elite company, the realm occupied by those named above. Every strike he makes on every song on every Silkworm record explodes with enthusiasm. Every moment is filled with the maximal concentration of energy. This is not related to power. Even Michael's quieter moments teem with dizzy jouissance. There is a sense that here is someone who at that exact moment would rather be nowhere else in the world than playing this music. Live footage tends to support this. It shows someone sweaty, shirtless, gloved, leaning into his kit with arms arcing up above his head. For any music lover it is a wonderful sight. However, putting the visual aside, it is all there on record, this wholeheartedness, this zeal, this vivacity. It is what makes him one of rock's greatest drummers.

"Yr Web" is an example of this verve. As said above, Michael enters the song big, and when he gets to the chorus, it is like oxygen being blown into a fire. The whole track expands and there is an explosion of hi-hat. As central as Michael is to what makes "Yr Web" so brilliant, it is however not a one-man show, for he is more than ably supported by Andy and Tim who almost seem to swap roles, Andy's guitar providing a bed while Tim's bass careens upwards and away before circling back down again, the two combining to create a weird, beautiful, whooping maelstrom of sound. Finally, the exuberance of the music is matched by the elegant delight of Tim's words, for "Yr Web" contains possibly one of his sweetest lines. 

The opening verse and chorus run into one another without break. The final two lines of the verse and that magnificent chorus: "I loved you then and now I / Still send my love to you I was / Happy to be wrapped up / Pleased beyond dreams to be / Tangled in your web". The sentiment is heartwarming, but it is that penultimate line which grabs the ear. It is so perfect that it's difficult to believe that it's an original, that it hasn't existed forever. What makes it so satisfying? Is it the assonance of "pleased", "beeyond", and "dreams"? Is it just the tenderness of the affection it somehow carries? The line manages to combine the fluidity we saw in Tim's lyrics to "Slave Wages" and the simple lucidity he created in "Plain".

The central image of the chorus may be of webs, but there is no sense of threat or danger, or of hunter and prey. On the contrary, as the narrator says, he is very happy to have lost himself in his ex-partner's love. The last lines of the final verse reaffirm this warmth, but also speak to something very typically Silkworm. The lines are a repetition and modification on the first verse: "I loved you then and now I / Still send my love to you / Well why not". The "Well why not" is not a shrug of indifference. It is more a case of "Well why shouldn't I?" There is a 'Hail fellow well met!' outlook running through all of Silkworm's work, a spirit of openness and congeniality, a notion of turning to greet the world instead of turning away. Even the more darkly themed songs betray a passion for experience and a desire for what life will bring. This is what we get in these final lines. We might see a message of love to an old flame and the putting aside of bygones ("Well why not?") as not just a specific and magnanimous gesture, but as excellent instruction on the most productive way to approach everything and everyone. In this, "Yr Web" speaks to the same emotional intelligence as "Plain", which is adult, realistic, and compassionate.

Tim's final line is a repeat of the chorus, "I was happy to be wrapped up / Pleased beyond dreams…" and the song ends on a long instrumental passage, floating away on a thunderous pillow of noise. It is an appropriate finale to the first half of an album so shot-through with sunlight and dappled with love and joy.

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