Codeine
The White Birch


4.0
excellent

Review

by c0ffee USER (7 Reviews)
November 3rd, 2020 | 21 replies


Release Date: 1994 | Tracklist

Review Summary: seasonal depression: the album

It’s turning winter in my part of the world. We’re in the middle of a slow slide into chilly weather as the sun falls closer and closer to setting when the workday ends. Codeine’s second and final album, The White Birch, feels at home in the cold. It comes on like hypothermia, more like a numbness than a warmth, lulling you off to thought and sleep.

In the mid-90s, the three-part band helped bring identity to the “slowcore” genre, alongside peers like Low, Red House Painters, and Slint. Codeine sounded familiar, but they also sounded like something that was new, a foreign accent to the indie-rock language--bleak, contemplative, stripped down, intentional. The White Birch trudges along. Everything is slow, like walking through deep snow. You’ll find yourself consciously taking a breath, almost waiting around for the next words or notes. The music is plodding and obsessive, like the feeling of a panic attack coming on. Similar to Slint’s Spiderland, the writing here isn’t uninspired or lazy, but personal and human-scale. Codeine isn’t trying to craft sprawling, singalong, rock ballads, but the opposite. Like the lonely white birch on the cover, the album represents isolation. The art doesn’t capture a full-panorama, snowy landscape, but instead a focused frame…a gaze at the details.

The White Birch is a colorless album, filled with narratives of black and white, greys, and silvers. The opening line, “a white ship sails on a black sea,” flows like an ink painting of a depressed mind being swallowed up by the ocean while captive to its currents. This idea of black and white and contrasts seeps into the music production. Though the tempo is sedate, the instrumentation is energized and weighty. The percussion has substance and intent behind every hit. Little full-band flourishes billow up out of nowhere and die down just as discreetly. It’s an album about emphases, where everything washes over like a monotone daydream until certain moments dissolve into focus and stick to your subconscious. Like the musical structure, the lyrics throughout are bleak but carefully chosen, poetic and shorthand, not ever saying more than what needs to be said. They’re a few escaped thoughts instead of a conversation. At the end of “Sea,” vocalist Stephen Immerwahr draws out the phonetics of the word “understand” for 23 seconds, emphasizing the prolonged feeling of giving up/in to depressive thoughts. This narrative of self-surrender is strung throughout The White Birch and highlighted in Vacancy: “What does the word vacancy mean, when you don’t expect anything.”

The White Birch is a relentless rumination. Like depression, it reflects boredom and complacency, but it also shines light on the shared human nature of it all. With the last few words of the closing track, Codeine finally send the tiniest signal of change and hopefulness:

Spent afternoons
In the smoking room

The things that I said then
Still make me burn with shame

The world is frozen now
It glitters, sparkles, and shines




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user ratings (257)
4
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
c0ffee
November 3rd 2020


313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

not sure how this hasn't been reviewed yet

normaloctagon
November 3rd 2020


5860 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

wow didn't know this hadn't been reviewed either. way to fix that error c0ffee. my favorite of theirs. first!



edit: also just finished reading, loved the review. pos'd

Digging: MF DOOM - Special Herbs 7,8

c0ffee
November 3rd 2020


313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

thanks. i do think this album is a classic in its own right, and for the influence on the genre.

rabidfish
November 3rd 2020


6569 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

cool, nice review, g.



this is def their best, i really like this album.

Digging: Dean Blunt - Black Metal 2

theBoneyKing
November 3rd 2020


20555 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

what's uppppppp slowcore squad

NeroCorleone
November 3rd 2020


258 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

slow that core down

Digging: SpaceGhostPurrp - IntoXXXicated

normaloctagon
November 3rd 2020


5860 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

molasses intensifies

ShadowRemains
November 3rd 2020


26396 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this and i could live in hope are fantastic

Supercoolguy64
November 3rd 2020


10579 Comments


More like the white bitch leol

Digging: Janitor Joe - Big Metal Birds

Pheromone
Contributing Reviewer
November 4th 2020


14782 Comments


love codeine at this time of the year

Digging: Springbok Nude Girls - Afterlifesatisfaction

normaloctagon
December 8th 2020


5860 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i went to school to learn



but it didn't work


Ryus
December 8th 2020


23777 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

its codeine season

normaloctagon
December 8th 2020


5860 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yes

rabidfish
December 9th 2020


6569 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

it's codeine year

Snake.
January 2nd 2021


23019 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

every year from now on gonna be codeine year ]:

budgie
January 2nd 2021


26004 Comments


u should see a doctor

Snake.
January 2nd 2021


23019 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

bro i live in america i can't

Ryus
April 10th 2021


23777 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

one page cmon guys

theBoneyKing
April 10th 2021


20555 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Come through slowcore gang

GhandhiLion
April 10th 2021


12556 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

bump radiohead

Digging: William Parker - Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World (Volumes 1?10)



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