Sweet mother of looping guitar effects! The Slip’s new full-length, Eisenhower, brings interesting, spacey, math rock to somewhat obvious pop songs. The opening track on the eleven-song full-length, “Children of December,” is a nod to all those born around the holidays and the melancholy taste that is left in one’s mouth when they’ve experienced a life of having to share their birthday with Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Personally, as a guy born in May, my tiny violin sings for thee. But the careful attention to the tone of the guitars, the extra round low end and soft symbols make it easy to let the entire album fall into place. That combined with a vocal melody that was appealing enough to make me just a bit empathetic for you Capricorns of the world.
The Slip have been together for about ten years now. Brothers Andrew and Brad Barr and their childhood friend Marc Friedman make up the trio of Berklee drop outs. This is the band’s first album on new label Bar None and the difference between Eisenhower and earlier releases Aliveacoustic and Aliveelectric, is one that I think a lot of hardcore fans might feel. It’s a little less organic than their previous work; It doesn’t carry the same DIY integrity and it’s really heavily produced.
At times these guys show the musical intelligence to merit comparisons to influential bands like Sonic Youth and Talking Heads. But they don’t carry the tune consistently. At other times, their catchy hooks outweigh the beautiful intricacy of the songs. As I listened to Eisenhower from beginning to end, I kept going back and forth between incredible rock band stretching the limits of their genre, and dime-a-dozen indie-pop album that will be soon piling up and speckling the shelves of Amoeba Music’s discount bin.
I know it seems harsh, but it should be. If you’re going to even hold them against their own ability, you expect a lot from The Slip. These three deserve the praise they get for their tireless touring, energetic live performances and unparalleled musicianship. They’re generally known for being nice guys among other indie bands as well. But the album isn’t a good show. They’re capable of much more and we can only hope it will come soon. I want it stripped down. I want to hear an album covered in well-engineered noise and expressive sound, something that innovates and changes the landscape of modern rock. Yeah, they’re that good!
Need evidence? Check out the first single, “Even Rats,” which music lovers around the world had a chance not only to hear, but to play over a year ago on the video game, Guitar Hero. “Even Rats” is one of those songs that transcends its own genre. Although, I’m sure they’re sick to death of it by now, everything about the song, every tempo change and every delay effect is filled with subtle, smart dynamics and careful timing. The Slip are capable of doing great things, but unfortunately “Even Rats” is one of the few here.
I have two other problems with the album. For one, the first five tracks are each over five minutes long. And I wouldn’t mention it as a downside if these were the innovative, mind-blowing songs I mentioned them being capable of. But they aren’t. They’re pretty good pop songs that are too long. And I would argue that these songs could at least make a dent in the mainstream radio if they’d been cut down to three, or three and a half minute range. But hey, if they don’t care, I guess we shouldn’t either, right? Well I think they do care. They must. When you put your songs on video games, it’s fair to say you’re trying to get mainstream attention. So why not make these songs radio-friendly and cut them down a minute? You don’t need to repeat every other chorus six times.
The second problem I have is one that I have with a lot of bands these days. Can this album stand the test of time? How about ten years form now? How about three? It’s rare these days to find a young band writing songs that have the potential to be good enough to get me imagining them still putting out relative music in five years.
I guess what I’m saying is, there are several scales to measure an album by. On the indie band scale, this album should be getting some talk. It’s as good as any of its peers and better than some, as evidence to the current tour with small market, big name, My Morning Jacket and Montreal sweethearts, The Lovely Feathers. But on the scale that you measure the greats on, the one you put Sonic Youth or Talking Heads on, most of these bands don’t register. And The Slip’s latest effort isn’t any different. Eisenhower is a full spectrum sonic journey from the first self-pitying pop song to the last. And how only three guys can make so many sounds at once, only Rush knows for sure. It only falls short if you expect greatness, which I think we should.
I mean it when I say that these guys are writing quality pop-rock songs. But that’s what they are—good pop-rock. At times they border on interesting orchestration, but they never commit. So if you like a little bubblegum in your math rock soup, pick up Eisenhower, on Bar None Records.
– Kennith Ball