Codeine, Frigid Stars
The origins of slowcore in one tidy package
Codeine's epochal album Frigid Stars opens by issuing itself a glum grade ("D for effort / D for intent," in opening track "D") and then grows evermore glum with every crashing and crumbling chord. Such was the fashion for slowcore, which Codeine helped establish in the '90s as a sound given to patience and self-abnegation, and such is definitely the fashion for an album whose skewed idea of a love song opens "Last night I dreamt your face / the skin was falling off" (these lines from "Cave-In," which really does scan as a cryptic zombie love song). But all of that might make the devotions of Codeine sound darker and more belligerent than they really are. The reality is closer to the kind of haunted lilt favored by bands like Slint and Seam, in which every rock and post-rock gesture — each ring of spacious guitar, thrum of bass or splash of a drum cymbal — happens and then just hangs there, in the service of distended drama. Sometimes that drama can be pretty ("New Year's") or pent-up ("Cigarette Machine") or just plain mysterious ("Second Chance"). But it's always unwaveringly, unerringly dramatic — in a way that works as a sort of slow-motion inverse of the anguished theatrics at play in so much alt-rock of the early '90s.