Review Summary: Consistently, gorgeously understated.
Formed out of the ashes of 90s indie staple Bedhead, The New Year has seen former members Bubba and Matt Kadane carry the same brand of light, jazzy slowcore into the new millennium with admirable results. They’ve never had to match the cult-classic status of WhatFunLifeWas
, essentially pacing their way through the 2000s with only four albums in seventeen years, each one good enough in its own right to hold us over until the next highly anticipated release. Snow
is the latest record in that revered collection, and it comes nine years apart from the group’s eponymous predecessor. The New Year imagined, worked, and recorded this piece off and on for that entire duration, stealing a few hours during travel, organizing their schedules between jobs, and gradually piecing together what can finally be called an album. As a result, we have an offering that sounds every bit the part of its conception: spaced out, deliberately patient indie-rock that, while firmly rooted in the band’s past, still occasionally forays into the unknown.
is akin to its grayscale album art. The New Year isn’t here to offer you hooks, or even particularly engaging song structures for that matter. It’s more of an open book, this meandering stream of consciousness that drifts wherever the current takes it. The resultant aura is expectantly peaceful, weaving in and out of delicate but elaborate acoustic progressions, swaying to Kadane’s aching voice, and drifting into this quiet, remote state of mind. Snow
is surprisingly cohesive given the timespan over which it was piecemealed, with every track emanating from a similarly melancholic yet hope-tinged core. Where it goes from that shared foundation, however, is what makes the record interesting.
A large portion of Snow
glides within a mist of lightly strummed electric guitars, minimal feedback, and deliberate rhythmic progression; but that’s hardly the album’s endgame. The title track “Snow”, for example, heavily features keyboards and chimes, building towards a distorted saxophone solo that feels totally organic in its context. Lighter, shimmering keyboard and piano notes are actually strewn across the whole of Snow
, like a reflective surface designed to contrast with Kadane’s unhurried and often downtrodden measures. Other worthwhile departures include the pristine acoustics of “Homebody”, how ‘Recent History’ channels an almost Nada Surf-meets-Pixies medium, and the rise-and-fall post-rock hat tip that is “Myths.” No one will look at this album as a melting pot of influence, but it’s clearly not without its moments of variation.
Another thing listeners will enjoy is the unusually astute lyrics. Perhaps it is the span of time over which Snow
was recorded, but Matt Kadane sounds as wise as ever while offering unprecedented clarity and perspective. On “Recent History” for example, he discerningly utters that “there’s nothing wrong with the 21st century, that wasn’t wrong with the 20th, too” – a rather divergent opinion when placed alongside the world’s collectively bleak state of affairs, but all too true. Most of his musings are introspective, however, like the hummed passage that commences “Homebody” (“No one can see me, I left my body at home / he likes to stay there alone / and it’s about time we were torn in two”) or the closer “Dead and Alive” (“And I’m all alone tonight / drinking for three”). The gem-like verses are anything but sparse, and for as static as the band remains in the ears of many beholders, their lyrical prowess continues to expand and develop with each release.
is yet another entry into The New Year’s canon that lives up to the lofty reputation originally spawned during Matt and Bubba Kadane’s Bedhead days. While it doesn’t break the mold followed by Newness Ends
(2001), The End Is Near
(2004), or The New Year
(2008), it upholds the quality standards one would expect to hear when listing to a record by these guys. It’s a consistently, gorgeously understated record. The fact that they still sound so sincere while playing their hearts out, and that the music can sound this fresh and vital after decades of writing, is a testament to their vision and skill set as artists. With Snow
, we get another rock solid offering from one of indie music’s most consistent acts – one that we hope we don’t have to wait another nine years to hear from.