by Greg Baise
Any emo band worth its crocodile tears (the better to get your money, sucker) has picked up on the quiet-vs.-blare tension that was Slint’s stock in trade. But since the demise of Slint way back in the early ’90s, Brian McMahan, the main mind behind Slint, has retreated into a realm more introspective and distanced from rock cliché.
Far from the poses of the pretenders to Slint’s legacy stands the real deal — a whispering vocalist with a poetic sense that transcends pretension, orchestrating the sounds of crumbling relationships, minimalist melodramas that could never be shouted.
The For Carnation delineates communications in which the “you” that McMahan addresses is never “you,” the listener. Like any good uninvited listener, you’re eavesdropping. Even the singular instrumental on this disc makes you feel a bit uncomfortable for hanging around: It’s all railroad crossing-signal clang, dial-tone alerts and Bonham beats (courtesy of a cameo from ex-Slint drummer Britt Walford).
Still, you’ll want to stay. The six long songs on this record come off at times as being something akin to a young Leonard Cohen fronting a dream-shadow apparition of Can. At other points, they slide into elongated, morose art-pop tunes, say, like 10cc or the Korgis or Split Enz during a very, very downer day.
The songs are further tweaked into post-rockiness by the masterful mixes of Tortoise’s John McEntire, who tastefully incorporates space and dub effects. Other cameos from Kim Deal and Christian Frederickson of the Rachels (who helps with some string arrangements) further accentuate this remarkable recording.
As far as the band itself is concerned, McMahan has conducted a complete overhaul since The For Carnation’s inception four-plus years ago. Now, McMahan is accompanied by an able crew of Louisville and LA pals, who skillfully traverse the spaces he sets up in his skeletal song frameworks, and certainly do their predecessors from the Thrill Jockey camp proud.
In all, The For Carnation says more with a lot less than Godspeed You Black Emperor!, while simultaneously out-lowing Low. There’s nothing indie-cloy here — the press sheet even uses the word “mature,” and being on the cusp of maturity myself, I can’t deny that it is.
Greg Baise writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.