The Upshot: A reminder that art serves an entirely different function—and has a more personal raison d’être—than popular music.
BY JOHN SCHACHT
It’s been nine years between LPs for The New Year, which in today’s high-velocity music-verse feels more like a century than a decade. But for Snow, the Kadane brothers’ fourth full-length in this incarnation, the long wait suits a type of music that preternaturally rewards patience. (Matt and Bubba Kadane were also the driving creative force in slowcore heroes Bedhead, recently feted here for their excellent Numero Uno box set).
The band’s modus operandi—leisurely tempos braided with twin guitar lines, various subtle keyboard accents and slow-burn crescendos—works brilliantly as an antidote to the ADD electro-pop hustle of today’s quick-turnover music scene. Yes, the music world The New Year left is 2008 is significantly different than the one they’ve re-emerged into, but they’ve remained true—which is a big part of the draw here.
That’s because no amount of digitization can remove the bugs from human nature. That’s one of the central conceits of Snow and the LP’s catchy centerpiece, “Recent History” (the closest thing you’ll find to a single here). “There’s nothing wrong with the 21st century, that wasn’t wrong with the 20th, too, we’re as at a loss for what to do,” Bubba sings in his speak/sing delivery as the song’s tension builds, “There’s nothing in our recent history that’s new in me and you/so why are we surprised?”
Like many other tracks on Snow, “Recent History” generates considerable heat by its conclusion, a New Year trick that belies the relaxed tempos and the slacker-friendly vocals. Instead of dramatic tempo shifts or sing-along choruses, the songs rely on subtle texture and tempo changes that, in context, wind up carrying far more weight than they would in another setting. The 6-minute title track ratchets up the tension with a simple cymbal ride and increasingly concentrated keyboard fills; the circular guitar riff on “Homebody” tightens almost imperceptibly with each turn.
Much of Snow is about memory—how it distorts as much as it vanishes —and thus song titles like “Amnesia” or “Myths.” The latter addresses even the band’s recent past in the most New Year way possible. Over a strummed acoustic and slow-build tempo that’s peppered only with keyboards for most of its five-and-a-half-minute run, Bubba acknowledges that the “The best things we’ve done won’t live on/When what we were is gone”—that is, unless “myths are made/As the memories fade/And we loom large in their imagination.”
You could see such sentiments as nihilistic, but I prefer to see them as a call to arms—an un-jaundiced view of human nature refreshes in its own way. Is there a viable market in 2017 for what the New Year’s peddling? No, but then there never has been. (This is what gives the LP’s opening line on “Mayday”—”Mayday, mayday, we’ve left our heyday/searching the coffers for empty offers”—its wonderful ironic bite.) Like the rest of Snow, it’s a reminder that art serves an entirely different function—and has a more personal raison d’être—than popular music.
So if this review is part of the myth-making—happy to be of service.
DOWNLOAD: “Recent History,” “Snow,” “Myths” and “The Beast”