Michael James Hall
, November 6th, 2013 07:13
Bottomless Pit formed in Chicago in 2005 following a sad ending to key players' Tim Midyett and Andy Cohen's former lives as Silkworm alongside much-missed drummer Michael Dahlquist. Recruiting ex-Seam man Chris Manfrin and bassist Brian Orchard they released two albums and one EP of subtle, minimalist yet epic black t-shirt rock which, despite their unforced excellence has seen them remain even further off the radar than their unfairly overlooked previous incarnation.
Their appearance at Shellac's ATP Weekender last December finally gave a small but curious group of UK fans a chance to witness them live (a far more insistent, thundering experience than on record) and we now have their third album proper Shade Perennial which, sticking to their pattern of straightforwardness and economy, runs to a sparse eight tracks over thirty two minutes.
The music contained within those brief moments is the best, most intricate work of their career and consistently leaves the listener not only moved, occasionally enraptured but often more cerebrally impressed with their ability to twist the classic rock jams of the likes of Crazy Horse around a taut, sharp, Shellac-shaped nail and have these hybrid songs deliver both melodically and in terms of emotional impact.
The key to the album is the duality of Midyett and Cohen – the former's baritone guitar tuned low in contrast to the latter's high-strung, distorted lead; Midyett's unusual, subtle vocal melodies set alongside (never against) Cohen's direct, often anthemic refrains.
Take opener 'Fleece' where Midyett's scraping, powerful crawl of downcast guitar releases Cohen's stumbling, glorious waterfall of lead. Midyett allows his voice to drown in the mix, the words "water" and "dry" occasionally punching out among the cavalcade of intertwining sound, the push and pull of non-identical twin guitar, the ebb and flow of control and submission: "I can bleed you dry" he sings "And if you wanted to have some rules I guess I could give 'em to you", a theme of entrapment and domination that's explored further on Cohen's mirror song 'Horse Trading';
It's a Sebadoh-like hymn to abandonment – "I trained you to behave, never to understand / You did things your own way, did what pleased you to the end" contradicts Cohen before enquiring "Where can I trade this horse?" It'd be funny were it not so brutal, so sad. The song is, surprisingly, an instant and addictive chugger that sensibly calls time on itself before the three minute mark – as soon, in fact, as it's made its point.
Cohen's equally brief 'Sacred Trench' is home to a skipping-stone scuttle rhythm provided by Chris Manfrin, a drummer who only ever plays to serve the song, never to gild the lily, providing the backdrop to what, in the heady days of the 90s could have been a sneaky hit single for an 'alt-rock' band like this. It's "They were just shadows" refrain plays downbeat payoff to a building verse punctured by spikes of distortion. It's almost comically tuneful and the closest the band have come to mainstream accessibility since 'Leave A Light On' from Blood Under The Bridge.
It's probably their control of dynamics that allows them to concentrate on depth rather than length – the rhythm section never seem to play by rote, intuitively leaving room for the snaking guitars. This kind of leanness is maybe most prominent on 'Bare Feet', set on "one of those perfect cloudless days" where a Codeine-like opening (they recall Chris Brokaw's band regularly during their quietest moments) erupts into a jerking, high reaching racer. "The joy in your heart / The joy in your heart" repeats Midyett giddily. Strangely here as elsewhere the most crowded, raucous moments feel the most delicate and personal.
Where the band do finally allow themselves a little time to indulge their freewheeling, soloing side is on closer 'Felt a Little Left' which finds Midyett belting out "I guess it's better than nothing" before a Dinosaur Jr avalanche of overpowering, supercharged sludge overwhelms him. Vaguely reminiscent of their debut album opener 'Winterwind', it alters the parameters a little, allowing more space and time for the band to really run with it, maybe even peacock a tiny bit. But only a tiny bit.
An approach to double guitar led rock that does not involve huge self-regard, self-indulgence and achingly dull stretches of masturbatory repetition is rare, commendable and above all, enjoyable. A take on stonefaced, blues-serious black t-shirt rock that has a lightness of touch and sense of humour is equally a gift. Both assets are on show for the duration of Shade Perennial. It's a great, strange rock album that will probably not get them any closer to accepted notions of success but puts them right at the heart of real triumph – the joy it's possible to take from creating something genuinely good.