OCTOBER 16, 1993
YEAR AFTER YEAR (Quigley)
“YEAR After Year” is one of 1993’s most maudlin and enervating releases.
Idaho have been together in LA for around seven years. It wasn’t until spring of this year, though, that they actually released anything, a now impossible to-find seven-inch. They followed this up with the recent “Palms” EP and their first-ever live dates supporting, suitably enough, Red House Painters on a mini-tour of America.
The group, or rather duo (John Berry-guitars/drums and Jeff Martin - bass/vox] are most easily compared in sound to Codeine, and in sentiment to Cowboy Junkies. The songs, as we say, are immensely, though never excruciatingly, sad. That’s to say Idaho don’t deal in the piffling, sniffling pseudo-angst that Morrissey flogs or the hysteria of Throwing Muses or Babes In Toyland -the sound of people maybe losing but at least fighting back. Idaho sound like they’ve given up fighting, given up the ghost, traded it in for a sense of enormous but blissful resignation. There is nothing anxious or overwrought about them.
Each of the 12 songs here are breathtakingly simple. As with Cowboy Junkies, there is nothing superfluous. Like some magnificent modernist mausoleum, detail is what sets Idaho apart-the faintest chime of a piano (“The Only Road”), feedback etched delicately over intricate guitars (“God’s Green Earth”), Jeff Martin’s funereal basslines, recalling at once Peter Hook and the Sisters, even his voice is susceptible to only the most minute of inflections. In fact, so rarely does he raise his voice that, when he does, as with “Here To Go”, you’re forced to wonder what soul-stirring catastrophes could have shaken him from his melancholy contemplation.
Often, detail is all you get. Some songs, and elements of all the songs, are simply a miasma of half-heard, half-imagined noises.
But Idaho are at their very best when they float back down to Earth (though, thank God, they never really get there). “Gone”, the centrepiece of the “Palms” EP is one of the heaviest tracks you’ll hear this or any other year. Its climax, where huge, massively distorted chords crash over a wash of acoustic guitars and Martin’s vocals are at their most deftly understated, sounds like Leonard Cohen singing for Cranes. (Taxi! – Ed)
If all this has you thinking that “Year After Year” is the kind of album you’re glad people are making but would rather not have in the house, think again. You don’t need a beret, a pack of Gitanes and a flat on the Left Bank of the Seine to appreciate it. Idaho are not gloomy, grim or depressing, like Cohen at his best, their torpor is exhilarating.
Unlike Cohen, though, who arrived at this benign resignation in his mid-thirties, Idaho are both in their mid-twenties. Which is kind of scary.
THE STUD BROTHERS