Idaho's Levitate Inhabits Slo-Core Territory
By Allison Quady, Arts Editor
Idaho arrives in town this Friday on their North American tour to perform in the Gamut Room for WRMC’s weekly concert series. Making their way through the Midwest, up to Montreal and down the Atlantic coast, Idaho is promoting their newest album, Levitate, and broadening their audience with their first appearence at Middlebury.
Idaho brings me close to Los Angeles, the amorphous soul-searching arena of life and longtime home to Jeff Martin’s melancholy slo-core band.
Spreading its tentacles up the valley, into the desert and down the coast, the placeless character of Los Angeles permeates Idaho’s seventh album, Levitate.
Since 1991, co-founder Jeff Martin has been all it is possible to be in Idaho, whose other members recede in and out with the years.
Levitate, the third and latest album produced on Idaho’s own label, Idaho Music, maintains the poignancy of the previously lauded by critics, Hearts of Palm album.
Levitate is filled with songs to listen to quietly and many say, sadly. The melancholy is a comfort, a shared understanding of solitary places.
Grouped with bands such as The Red House Painters and The American Music Club, Idaho is considered a founder of the slo-core revolution, whose meditative style both settles and stirs sentiment.
In its lonesome nature, slo-core is a probable genre for Idaho, or more correctly for Martin, whose latest album is a one man slo-core band.
Martin plays all instruments on all tracks of “Levitate” except for five drum tracks played by a lucky University of Southern California graduate who sent him a well-received demo tape according to Idaho publicist Big Hassle.
Trained in classical piano, Martin’s musicianship is the omnipresence in Idaho’s guitar, lyrics, piano and percussion.
At times, Idaho has included a greater variety of musical personalities including co-founder John Berry, guitarist Dan Seta and guests including Melissa Auf De Mar of Hole/Smashing Pumpkins and REM/ Beck drummer Joey Waronka.
Levitate’s opening song, “Wondering The Fields” begins with drums accompanied by piano, chased by Martin’s contemplative philosophy of wandering not wasting through life and leaving a place for the sake of searching elsewhere, “Just to get the rush of endless possibility.”
The youthful song is followed by “20 Years,” a second track persisting on the idea of coming into one’s own. Names of roads traveled in addition to the allusion of a key mentioned in the first song, resonate in Martin’s meditation on the geography of longing for movement.
On the third track a darker side of this yearning is exposed in the thoughts of a traveler.
The many hours it takes to get from place to place in the west, most specifically from Southern California to anywhere else along rambling 101 foregrounds the woes of the despondant driver who passes the eucalyptus trees, “taking everything for granted.”
The patterned two to four minute song is followed by the pleasant piano/drum combination of “On The Shore,” which echoes the rhythm of the coast in the quiet closed-eye listener.
The instrumentals accompany a prayer to someone or thing. The suppliant I envision as a man kneeling on the shore, thinking his meaningless human thoughts and pondering his reality in the face of the setting sun.
The piano solo, accompanied by hymn-like murmers, on the following track is reminicent of a sounds of nature album, until the solo transforms into a techno drum beat and then returns to the solitary piano.
Slowly, more sounds are added to the piano notes and Martin’s humming transforms into lyrics. The care prescribed to the intro in the transformations of instruments and rhythms instills an intimacy to the songwrite in the careful listener. The quiet uncertain passions of “Santa Claus Is Weird” hint of a tragic love story in a moment of disillusionment.
After an album replete with maturing sensitivity, wonderment and tragedy, the final tracks on “Levitate” resolve uncertainty with a yeilding acceptance to fate.
The sentiments of “Levitate” express those of Slo-Core contemporaries finding pleasure in the meticulous rendering of tragedy.
Idaho’s live Gamut Room performance this Friday will be a unique representative of the slo-core genre hailing from California.
this review is/was online at Middlebury Campus
and is available here for archival purposes only