Quieting Syrup – Songs About a Sick Boy

January 01, 1970





First, a quick word about band names. Has the well just run
dry on interesting things to call your band? The debut from Denali, Ambulette
and Pinebender member Stephen Howard is a harrowing journey through
illnesses, surgeries, and, inevitably, addiction — but the solo project is
afflicted with a moniker that, though an accurate reflection of the subject
matter, virtually says “Stop: Go Back. Nothing to Hear Here.”


But there is. Beginning with the opening processional,
“Passwords to a Fort
Full of Pills,” Howard
chronicles in a dozen songs – usually at a narcotic-friendly pace – the cycle
of injury/recovery/addiction that characterized his last dozen years (Howard
says he wrote one song per year). On the aptly titled “Winter of Our
Discontent,” whose ringing guitars and rolling percussion sounds like a blend
of East River Pipe and Pedro the Lion, Howard sings what must’ve amounted to a
mission statement for much this era: “Drove my car right into the lake/to show
that there are faster ways/to sink to the bottom/but I’d rather take my time.”
His hospital visits are evocatively adapted in tracks like “Night Nurse Calls”
and “So This Is Dying,” and elsewhere we hear Howard negotiating with his
habits, as on “Goin’ for the Gold” when he sings “Not giving in, just getting
high, that’s the way some of us get by.” But that song is emblematic of the
self-indulgence that anchors any addict’s behavior, as its eventual crescendo
doesn’t quite merit the nearly nine minutes it takes to get there.


And with a limited sonic palette – guitar, bass and drums
are only occasionally augmented by keys, Wurlitzer or lap steel – and little
variance in the tempos, the songs, though individually strong, tend to haze
together as the record plays out. But ultimately the real issue is that over
the course of a dozen odes to the fucked-up life, and the loneliness and
depression at its core, sympathy for Howard’s legitimate plight is tempered by
a general fatigue at what is, in the end, one of the oldest stories ever told.


“Stars Will Save Me” “Dec. 7th, 2003″ JOHN



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