Spiral Stairs The Real Feel Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

It can sometimes feel oppressive, such is the depth of emotion.

Everett True 2009

The dude’s got a solid beating country rock heart.

Want parallels? Look no further than the series of Townes Van Zandt albums his record label is currently reissuing from the 70s: sensitive, pedal steel and whiskey-tinged, a little bit of Crazy Horse here, a whole bunch of Big Star there. We’re talking adults with broken hearts and broken marriages behind them, the call of the unknown in front of them, driven to introspection and late night poetry. We’re talking former heartland slackers who find solace in the music of Nashville and Melbourne, in brooding rock.

This should come as no surprise to those who know their US indie rock. Alongside Steve Malkmus, Spiral Stairs aka Scott Kannberg was a founder of Pavement, the band that made it OK for a generation to act bored on stage. And Pavement always did mix in rock traditionalism with Mark E. Smith-influenced mischief (hear the mighty Range Life from 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain). When they split at the end of the 90s – to cries of indignation so great that they’re reforming next year – Malkmus formed The Jicks to indulge his art-rock and jazz tendencies. Stairs, meanwhile, moved in the opposite direction with Preston School of Industry – going for the country rock jugular, similar to Pavement sister band Silver Jews.

This, his first solo album – “Everybody knows me as Spiral, it’s weird when someone calls me ‘Scott’” – is more of the same. There’s no messing around here, no room for the latent trickery of Pavement, not when there’s loneliness to be documented, not when the dude is feeling so vulnerable. Sometimes it can feel oppressive, such is the depth of emotion. You start yearning for a few Malkmus smart-ass asides (something that never happened in Preston School, who were much lighter-hearted).

The Real Feel was recorded in Seattle and Australia, with the help of Jon Auer (Posies, Big Star) among others – and it sounds like it, as anyone familiar with the bluesy storytelling of The Triffids, Screaming Trees or Weddings, Parties, Anything could tell you. This is assuredly adult rock. Wharf-Hand Blues is a sprawling beast of a song, while Maltese T stomps and howls like a good ‘un. The epic Blood Money, meanwhile, finds itself in Cortez the Killer territory.

It’s fine, but is it as good as the old Pavement albums? Or the early Preston School albums, even? Ah, now you’re asking…

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