Sunday, December 3, 2023

Codeine's lost album "Dessau" & West Coast Tour: Dec 4 - Dec 9

From the early to mid-1990s a distinct subset of bands formed a continuance of related sounds which were branded as slowcore by the independent music press. Where their approach and instrumentation differed in some cases, their unifying qualities all shared a focus on a minimalist compositional density, hushed vocals, and an anticlimactic progression of build and release through an attuned attention to dynamics. This music of subtraction that would define the genre could be most clearly identified in the earliest releases by Low, Bedhead, Codeine, Idaho, and the highest profile of these outfits, the Mark Kozelek-led band from Atlanta Georgia, Red House Painters. The latter would be signed to Ivo Watts-Russell's highly influential underground label, 4AD, and release four singularly spare albums spanning 1992 to 1995. It was these albums, alongside the eminence of Low and their signing to Chicago's then tastemaking label Kranky, which brought the sound of slowcore to a growing audience within the wildly expansive flurry of mid-1990s independent rock. The sound of this cloistered subgenre did not originate from a void, the groundwork of their inspiration can be undeniably traced back to the decade before, with stylistic threads clearly connecting to American Music Club, Galaxie 500, and Opal's follow-up band, Mazzy Star. While the genre subset itself remained a narrow set of bands, their influence could be heard in other independent and post-rock contemporaries of the 1990s which ranged as widely as Slint, Tortoise, Duster, Spain, Sofa, Arab Strap, Rex, Windsor for the Derby, Bowery Electric, Labradford, Ida, Jason Molina's Songs:Ohia, and Acetone.

Of the central body of artists that comprised the slowcore sound, there was probably no band that did so as comprehensively and precisely, as singer and bassist Stephen Immerwahr, percussionist Chris Brokaw, and guitarist John Engle. Codeine's original tone, characterized by an extreme asceticism, which would often erupt into post-rock percussion passages or ascendant noise eruptions that often were truncated, or unpredictably cut short by dynamic breakdowns was singular within the subgenre, and marked them as more experimental than their contemporaries. Immerwahr's subdued and introverted vocals, the traversing of expanses ranging from absolute silence to explosive impacts by Brokaw, and Engle's ringing Telecaster, a sound characterized by The Quietus as, "Codeine: A New Kind of Stillness", remained solidly consistent during their career. Codeine seemingly arrived fully-formed and cemented on their 1990 release, "Frigid Stars", nominally fine-tuned through 1992's "Barely Real" EP, and further refined on the culminative 1994 album, "The White Birch". This five year trajectory would describe the totality of the band's initial incarnation, with Codeine only reforming as recently as 2012 at the request of British post-rock band Mogwai, through curating that year's edition of All Tomorrow's Parties. A domestic tour followed the UK festival date of what the New York Times called, "Grunge’s Estranged, Desolate Cousins". Now a decade later, they embark on a second US tour with a night at Seattle's Barboza, in support of the comprehensive discography reissue series and box set "When I See the Sun", from Numero Group. This series of releases is most notable for its further inclusion of "Dessau", an eight song mini-LP originally recorded in 1992, which was intended to become their second album, and withheld at the time due to conflicts over its production. As NPR suggests, hearing this album now decades after the era of its intended release, "Codeine's Lost Album 'Dessau' Feels Like a Ghost".