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The Haul: Silkworm's Lifestyle and Windy & Carl's Depths

I hadn’t planned on doing any record shopping during a one-day trip to Manhattan, but when the free Polvo/Obits show at the Seaport was moved over to the Brooklyn Bowl, I found myself strolling through Williamsburg with time to kill. I briefly visited Academy Records’ Manhattan location last fall during a similar day trip to NYC, but I don’t remember that location being anywhere near as stocked as this one. (If memory serves, I only purchased a copy of Faith No More’s The Real Thing for $5 on LP.) Perhaps bolstered by hipsters selling their LP collections for a given night’s PBR intake, Academy in Williamsburg had a solid array of vinyl, especially in the just-in bin. Pricing was mixed; bigger names like the Smiths, the Clash, and Joy Division tended to be overpriced, less iconic artists like those I purchased were reasonable, and lower profile records were downright cheap. I anticipate being down in the city (growing up a few hours north of NYC means that “the city” will always apply to New York, even though I’ve spent considerably more time in Chicago and currently live near Boston) a few times over the fall, so I’ll be sure to spend more time combing through their used bins for Adlai Stevenson speech compilation LPs.

I’d passed on a copy of Depths at In Your Ear in Harvard Square for $20 a few weeks back, so being able to get both of these LPs for that price seemed like a logical compromise. I put aside Squirrel Bait, Caesura, and Sonora Pine LPs, so if you’re looking for a copy of Sonora Pine II on vinyl, they should still have two.

108. Silkworm - Lifestyle LP - Touch and Go, 2000 - $8

Silkworm's Lifestyle

Although I’ve made no secret of my affinity for Silkworm (or Midgett and Cohen’s current outfit, the similarly excellent Bottomless Pit), I suspect that I might have given Lifestyle the short shrift on this website. Placing 2004’s It’ll Be Cool in the upper reaches of my top 40 of 2000 through 2004 wasn’t a regrettable decision on its own regard, since that album certainly holds up and contains some of their finest songs (“Don’t Look Back,” “Xian Undertaker,” “Shitty Little Yacht”), but Lifestyle deserves similar consideration, if not a higher overall placement. (Especially since Do Make Say Think got three albums in the top fifteen.) I’ll contend that all of the post-Phelps Silkworm albums are a touch unassuming, since their style of power trio, classic-rock-informed indie rock preceded more hip applications of that era. Lacking the retro orientation and NYC swagger of the Strokes and the boozy Replacements homage of every Hold Steady song, the musical and lyrical sincerity of Lifestyle will never be mistaken for sexy, but classic? I’ll vouch for that.

Lifestyle is the most explicit classic rock album in Silkworm’s discography and not just because of the cover of the Faces’ “Ooh La La” that appears on its back-end. These twelve songs are instantly digestible and permanently resonant for a number of reasons—short running times, yearning melodies, Tim Midgett’s small town, blue collar lyrics—but foremost is the comparatively muted musical palette. It sounds like it could have come out in 1970. Lifestyle doesn’t feature any of Firewater’s dramatic guitar solos, doesn’t creep into the spacious confines of Developer’s quieter moments, doesn’t venture into It’ll Be Cool’s instrumental variety. (I won’t bother to compare it to the grunge-era bluster of the Phelps albums.) The album title is particularly a propos, since these songs feel so comfortable in their skin. Between Andy Cohen’s evocation of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt and Tim Midgett’s strangely romantic acoustic ode “Bones” (“We’re all gonna live a long time before we go”), Lifestyle touches upon the past without being limited to it. Side A outshines side B by a touch, since it features Cohen’s humorously touching “When you run into the night / Ain’t you ever been alone in your life? / Motorhead is coming for you / You gotta treat the new guy right” chorus in “Treat the New Guy Right” and Midgett’s affecting “Time’s passed / I’m becoming a man” realization in his Missoula memoir “Plain,” but listening to the album again dispels my notion that it suffers from a Developer-styled frontloading. All of these songs are above average and most are downright great. Its musical restraint is perhaps antithetical to the indulgences typical to 1970s classic rock, but Lifestyle simply feels classic in a way that few contemporary albums do. I can’t see it becoming dated in ten, twenty, or thirty years. I can only see it getting better and better.

109. Windy & Carl - Depths 2LP – Kranky, 1998 - $12

Windy & Carl's Depths

I enjoy Windy & Carl, but my existing stock of 1997’s Antarctica EP (their contribution to Darla’s Bliss Out Series) and 2001’s clearer Consciousness seemed sufficient for the last eight years. The epic title track of Antarctica garnered 90% of my listens, so why mess with a good thing? Yet given my increasing appreciation for ambient releases from Brian Eno, Last Days, and Kranky standbys like Stars of the Lid, Labradford, and the Dead Texan, I figured it was time to revisit W&C’s guitar-based drones, especially the heralded Depths.

I certainly got my money’s worth with Depths, with three songs stretching past thirteen minutes and all seven lasting for almost seventy. Two of the shorter songs, “Set Adrift” and “The Silent Ocean,” stand out, with the former’s guitar tones achieving supreme bliss and the latter’s submerged vocal melodies calling for excavation. I could do without all fifteen minutes of “Aquatica,” since it lacks textures interesting enough to merit its runtime, but the other six tracks certainly accomplish their intended aim of thoroughly zoning me out. I prefer the wavering, gauzy sonics found here over the occasionally crystal clear separation of Consciousness; while it’s nice to know what Windy and/or Carl is doing in a given song, I’d prefer not to be confronted with the specifics.