Slow-core pioneers IDAHO
by Karan Mahajan
Let me just start by saying this: They don’t pay us at Intermission. We, the enslaved geniuses, lend our shaking wrists to the annals of rock history for a few fucking obscure CDs.
And then bands like Idaho happen. And we have to keep writing. Bands as great as the indie-outfit Idaho make you believers, because for an instant — one tiny instant after the CD has finished playing — you feel that your mission in life is that band.
The cheekily titled “We Were Young and Needed the Money,” could well be a disclaimer for some discarded juvenila. Instead, this collection of rarities and B-sides from Idaho’s ten year career is a matchbox of fire-starters with enough dazzling dazedness to impress even fans of Pavement or Radiohead. The sound is mid-90’s alternative “slow-core” — the coleslaw that made our mashed-potatoes Nirvana-education whole — and what a sound it is!
That Idaho actually pioneered the slow-core movement along with bands such as Pavement is relatively unknown; meanwhile, the chunky, weepy guitar and the unexpected twists in the verse-chorus formula would put the desperate happiness of The Strokes and The White Stripes to shame. In fact, if the current resurgence caused by those bands is something to go by, then we might soon associate Idaho with more than a Midwestern state.
The album kicks of with the sleepy yodel of lead singer Jeff Martin and an unsettling start-stop guitar a la REM’s “Drive.” And then you’re asking yourself why Pavement’s “Wowee Zone” suddenly got better and the 2.25 is up. You ache with out-of-tune guitar blast of “Teeth Marks” (“baby, I was right / to go with my gut feelings”) and sway to the detached aura of Martin’s voice.
Everything is insouciant and irrelevant. There are no obvious statements made, and Martin’s “Four stringed instrument with odd tuning” sounds vaguely drunk. With “Come Over,” you see Idaho, the self-destructive, supercilious artist: the hazy, sonic sound makes a Weezer-worthy hook sound bad-tempered.
With “Shoulder Back,” Idaho looks over to a dewy British sound with a powerful spontaneity and unselfconsciousness. It’s only when one gets to the 10th track of this 17-track collection that things begin to get a bit boring — Idaho clearly has too many good tracks left-over from various albums to stuff onto a single collection. The pace is remarkably consistent, which depending on your mood, could be a good or bad thing. But, considering this is a collection of “rarities, outtakes and studio songs,” this is hardly a flaw. With most other artists, such collections are often supposed to suck, so that the staid hits that you already own seem even more luminous than they actually are.
Furthermore, this album, except for that sag in the middle, is a great evolutionary chart for Idaho, going from “mournful, tentative” to the more experimental, tangy sounds of “Spiral” — a weird semi-colon of a song that transforms into a mystical conch-blowing (no its not that weird). What is a tad baffling is the quirky “Stayin’ Out in Front”: It begins with a loud, overdubbed pre-coggish “pa pa pa,” not to mention bongos and tin-cans plying in the background. Then, the drumming gives way to a wonderful acoustic strum and hinges delicately on the line “watch the movie backwards.” All in all, awesome.
The final song (“Drown”), though, is rather predictable in its post modern “mess” ending (though Martin’s voice is now a terrifying, deep baritone), and “Traces” seems like a Nirvana song still wet on canvas.
All in all, Idaho is melancholic slow-core band with every right to be melancholic. Not as cool as Pavement and not as uptight as Radiohead, it has every right to be successful. Sometimes you wish that instead of simply needing the money, the band had actually WANTED it and had, by the mercy of Rolling Stone, made it. At least that way you’d know they exist. Sadly, for every Beatles that makes it big, there are ten that are crushed like . . er . . beetles.
this review is/was available online at The Stanford Daily
and is available here for archival purposes