These slowcore progenitors were just about the first band to risk terminal transmission damage by operating in perpetual low gear, dragging their chassis through all manner of psychosexual detritus in the process. Codeine’s glacial pace — languid enough to fit a beer run between the notes of some songs — allows you the chance to connect the music’s dots for yourself, no doubt sketching some provocatively sinister images along the way.
Frigid Stars is a draggy, druggy and somewhat placid (in relation to the trio’s often apocalyptically loud live shows) crawl through a world where the clocks always read 4:00 A.M. Codeine’s sheer cranial woolliness is amazingly refreshing when viewed in the gleam of the chrome’n’crystal polish slathered over so many of its peers’ releases. The fact that “beat” is an all but meaningless concept to rigidly disciplined drummer Chris Brokaw (who concurrently served as guitarist in Come, the band to which he eventually defected) is just the first chapter in Codeine’s story: bassist Stephen Immerwahr’s clenched-jaw delivery of defeatist anti-anthems like “Pickup Song” may make Frigid Stars seem like an all-or-nothing proposition. But when John Engle’s sustained guitar waves break just so — as on “New Year’s” and “D” — Codeine dispenses the most succubus-like music you’ll have the pleasure of losing your soul to.
The trio steps into the first notes of Barely Real without so much as (no pun intended) missing a beat: the gossamer-thin wave of feedback that Engle stretches through “Realize” provides just enough equilibrium to keep Immerwahr’s fragile vocal line from crumbling entirely. They do tinker with the formula a bit — “JR” features a noise-guitar cameo from Bitch Magnet’s Jon Fine, while Bastro’s David Grubbs provides a sumptuous piano interlude on “W.” — but Codeine isn’t about to start obeying rock’s speed edicts. Brokaw left before the release of The White Birch, but his replacement, Douglas Scharin, plays with similar rigor, punctuating the sepulchral “Sea” with military-funeral snare snaps and maintaining an ascetic stillness during hushed pieces like “Loss Leader.” Immerwahr’s intensifying reticence allows more space for the band’s slowly unfolding improvisations to bloom.
Scharin also serves as foundation-builder for Rex, a Brooklyn-based foursome that’s as terse as — but somewhat more scholarly than — Codeine. That schooling is evident in both the band’s eloquent use of strings and the careful chamber-styled arrangements of songs like “A Good Time to Die.” As Him, he also released 1996’s Egg, seven slices of dub instrumental work.