Music

The Slow Signal Fade: Steady

The Slow Signal Fade taps Steve Albini for an all-or-nothing stab at the coveted next level.


The Slow Signal Fade

Steady

Label: In Music We Trust
US Release Date: 2006-06-13
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Before this year, Los Angeles' The Slow Signal Fade had released two rather solid EPs, Kindling and Through the Opaque Air. Having paid their dues through a hectic touring schedule and having received a measure of critical acclaim for those two releases, it seems that the band decided that it was time to break out. No longer would they be a local Los Angeles treasure, but they would be a nationally recognized force; rather than being measured against other bands, it would be they that other bands were measured against. And so they sold off just about everything they owned, played a pile of shows, and saved up just enough money for a one-week studio stint with a producer that they adored and revered, one Steve Albini. You may have heard of him.

The result of that week is Steady, and Albini can indeed be clearly heard in the result. Last we heard The Slow Signal Fade on Through the Opaque Air, they were a solid band with a lovely vocalist, one Marguerite Olivelle, whose music generally built into a single, driving force soaked in so much reverb as to be the aural equivalent of fog, difficult to see through but appealingly spooky. Albini has lifted that fog, allowing each instrument its own space to exist, making room for distortion but laying off the echo. The result is an album that very likely gives its listeners the best approximation to date of just how the members of The Slow Signal Fade hear their band in their heads, when they imagine what they sound like -- the mix is perfect, really, allowing all the instruments their own, distinctive personalities, but still keeping the sort of balance that reeks of complete instrumental synchronicity.

This mix does wonders in terms of allowing the individual songs' personalities to reveal themselves as well. It's possible that a song like "Counterpunch", all occasional piano strikes and arpeggiated chords with no drums to speak of, might have sounded as good with a different producer at the helm, but not likely. Fragility is the order of the day here, and there's a dry sound here that allows for Olivelle's vocals to sound as if they're being sung in the same room as the listener, rather than from a distant ampitheatre. "TBA" is the hardest, most rocking thing the band's done to date, and it's a good candidate for lead single (further evidenced by its top-tier placement on the band's MySpace page). The drums of Aaron Vishria pound and propel, enhanced by the near-trademarked Albini snare thump (see: Nirvana, "Scentless Apprentice"), and Olivelle goes from her usual vibratoless singing to a near evil-Dolores O'Riordan howl on the tremendous, soaring chorus. It's easy to see a crowded club shouting along as she sings "One more to the rescue" in that lovely-yet-anthemic way.

The problem here, I think, is that the band has officially put all its eggs in one Steady basket, but the return on this investment is not terribly likely to translate into big sales. Sure, Albini's production work has gone on to produce a few big hits saleswise, but almost all of those albums were released after the bands had gained a pretty sizable following already, their appeal lying in the fact that Albini found the raw vision of these bands and allowed that vision to express itself, rather than slathering it in studio gloss. By releasing their debut full-length under Albini, The Slow Signal Fade may be doing themselves a favor artistically, but they're shooting themselves in the foot on a commercial level, as the album is bound to appeal primarily to those that have heard the band before. There aren't a lot of people who are going to be wowed by the lack of guitar chords and the slow, plodding pace of songs like "At Least We're Dancing" or "The Same Song", both of which employ the sort of faux My Bloody Valentine-style ambience that can inspire boredom at least as readily as interest.

Still, everything I've seen of this little-band-that-could says that they're in it for the right reasons, that they simply wanted their sound to be as humongous and awesome as it could possibly be, and that Albini was the man to give them that sound. That's great, and they do fine with what Albini gives them. Still, despite the all-star presence, the band doesn't sound better, really, they just sound, well, cleaner. Cleaner isn't quite enough to push Steady past the rest of the indie crowd.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

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

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

rating-image