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Hatchie - Keepsake Music Album Reviews

Hatchie's platonic ideal of dream pop goes down a bit too easy, like another rewatch of a John Hughes film.
Shoegaze offers the perfect place to bury bad feelings; there is a storied legacy of groups like Slowdive and Mazzy Star sinking Tory conservatism and post-breakup remorse into hazy swirls of distortion. Harriette Pilbeam uses Hatchie as an outlet for more quotidian concerns — friendships, romances, nostalgia. On her EP Sugar & Spice, Pilbeam offered glassy guitars, long sighs, and some bright choruses, but there was nothing darker beneath the surface to reward your close, ongoing attention. She promised a broader palette for her debut, but Keepsake feels hemmed in by the same lack of depth. Pillbeam's platonic ideal of dream pop goes down a bit too easy, like another rewatch of a John Hughes film.





Silkworm - In the West Music Album Reviews

Though the Seattle band would produce more focused efforts, In the West is a fascinating document of nascent indie rock that sounds revelatory 25 years later.

The same year that the Missoula-born, Seattle-based band Silkworm released their In the West, Kurt Cobain killed himself, ending an entire phase of rock music as we understood it. 1994 was an inflection point for alternative rock: Soundgarden released Superunknown. Weezer released The Blue Album. Hole’s Live Through This came out, as did Green Day’s Dookie and Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Silkworm’s album, despite being produced by Steve Albini, who finished In Utero for Nirvana the previous year, was lost in the shuffle. Much of that has to do with Silkworm’s sound, which gestured at popular rock music of the time, but used the form to create weird songs that sounded like they were scrawled on a napkin just before last call in a dive bar. Frontman Joel Phelps would soon leave the band, but In the West provided a blueprint for Silkworm’s entire catalog: discursive songs that devolved into twirls of feedback, mantra-like lyrics about escaping life, drinking, lost love, and feeling uncomfortable in your skin.

Though Silkworm would later produce more focused efforts—1996’s Firewater chief among them—In the West is a fascinating document of nascent indie rock that sounds revelatory 25 years later. In Phelps’ world, loneliness is inevitable, happiness deserves suspicion, and nostalgia is extremely dangerous. “This is the place that I miss the most, but this town is full of ghosts and I always feel like I am inside the throat of the devil here,” Phelps sings on “Garden City Blues,” the first words on the first song.

One of Silkworm’s great tricks was that they managed to make overwhelming depression sound nimble. In the West is a heavy listen, but there is a deadpan quality to some of Phelps’ starkest declarations. His smirk is nearly audible in lyrics like “Go into the woods and live with the bears, that way you can kill someone and nobody cares, and when we’ve had enough then it’s time to ascend to heaven.” There is no place for delusion in Silkworm’s world of hard-won epiphanies, and wherever there is clarity, there can be humor.

The band keeps the emotions as messy around the edges as the arrangements. The volatility kept them unpredictable, which means that when Phelps erupts into a brief gut-wrenching scream midway through album centerpiece “Raised By Tigers,” it is so genuinely startling that it sounds improvised, a moment of catharsis that disappears as soon as it surfaces.

In the West is a brief snapshot of a fascinating band hitting on a sound at exactly the wrong time. It was too heavy to slot next to other indie rock of the time, not heavy or self-serious enough to hang with the post-Nirvana grunge set. A lot of ‘90s rock music wallowed in misery, and Silkworm was certainly miserable. But they lived inside that pain with wry good humor and sang (and screamed) about it with a light touch. They didn’t point to a way through suffering, but they showed how to bear up under it with grace.

This reissue somehow manages to offer too much bonus material without much new context. They seem to include every possible version and iteration of songs recorded circa In the West, and while it’s mildly interesting to listen to alternate takes, live versions and an entire concert from 1993, none of the material feels essential to anyone but devoted fans. Even for us, this stuff is a curio at best.

Still, it’s worth calling out Albini’s rework of his own production here. The original’s density was occasionally frustrating: Phelps’ lyrics were sometimes lost in the mix, the bass overtook everything to the point that some of the more interesting guitar moments were muddled, and many tracks sounded like first takes cut right to tape. The reissue does a lot to clear that up, or at least more properly define what is supposed to be heard when. The bass is still very high in the mix—you can never not hear it, but thanks to Albini’s work on this reissue, you get a real sense that these songs were recorded in an actual room. The songs still resemble first takes, but they’re supposed to sound that way. Twenty five years later, it’s clear that In the West was the vital sound of a band of outsiders trying not to implode, and then realizing that sometimes imploding is part of human nature. In other words, it’s the sound of messy acceptance.

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