NEW MUSIC EXPRESS
OCTOBER 9, 1993
Year After Year
IT’S BEEN a good year for Californian bad vibes. American Music Club, Mazzy Star and especially the Red House Painters have crafted albums of beautiful slow-motion sadness, easily dismissed as depressive wallowing, but more rightfully celebrated as peerless studies of emotional extremes.
To this list we can now add Idaho, a Los Angeles duo with all the requisite torment in their past: singer Jeff Martin, a quintessential gifted outsider and classical pianist; and guitarist John Berry, hard kid, jailbird and ex-junky. Huge, crashing swathes of their accumulated grief pervade this record, as they mercilessly grind and groan out those neuroses, impervious to accessibility, self-parody, to anything else. Needless to say, ‘Year After Year’ is a long, lonely walk away from easy listening.
It is, though, an ultimately rewarding, if harrowing, experience. Idaho are heavier than their counterparts; a more stunned, stupefied mutation of rock than the strung-out folk of Red House Painters. The closest reference point, in fact, is to The Toiling Midgets’ ‘Son’ album of last year, where San Francisco’s former hardcore obscurists slowed down and wheeled in Mark Eitzel to work out a few more of his anxieties over the top.
At times, on the likes of ‘Gone’ and ‘The Only Road’, Idaho could be a metal band having taken an incalculably huge dose of tranquillisers, or maybe the early Swans stumbling across a tune and, more importantly, a heart.
With perseverance, there’s an awesome, magnetic quality to much of ‘Year After Year’, to songs like ‘Skyscrape’ and the title track, a sense that something sensitive and gorgeous has been created out of tortuous adversity, like a delicate and detailed still life carved out of ten tons of concrete. For 45 minutes, sod the niceties of pop music and revel in someone else’s problems. (7)