Perhaps one can trace the proliferation of what’s been dubbed sadcore to the imminence of the millennium, the bleak consensus that the twentysomething generation is destined to be worse off than its predecessors or the technology-accelerated breakdown in interpersonal communication. More likely, this oh-so-Caucasian progeny of the blues has found its niche because the only thing that feels better than complaining about your lot in life is hearing someone else grieve about the things that make his or her existence even worse than that.
The unmitigated gloom that permeates the worldview of Idaho leader Jeff Martin is considerably more existential than that of the bulk of his peers. Yes, the Los Angeles band’s dirge-like tempi clock in right between kindred spirits like Low and Red House Painters on rock’s radar gun, but Martin doesn’t offer the pastoral interludes that alleviate the darkness of those bands’ work. On Year After Year, one of the more morose compendiums in recent memory, Martin and partner John Berry (son of sitcom perennial Ken Berry) fluctuate between whisper-soft meditations and shattering primal screams. Despite some dangerously goth-like undertones, the latter satisfy more fully, particularly the feedback-punctuated “Gone” and “Here to Go,” which plumbs the lowest depths of Martin’s gravely baritone. Released as a preamble to the album, The Palms contains “Gone,” adding two non-LP variations on the basic Idaho theme and “Creep,” an ill-advised fling at rocking out.
Martin and Berry parted ways before the recording of This Way Out, an entirely solo set that, when it breaks open, emits the unmistakable air of a hermetically sealed room. Accompanying himself on four-string guitar (his usual instrument of choice), Martin sounds a bit less like a man whose idea of a party game is bobbing for barbiturates: Admittedly, songs like “Crawling Out,” “Still” and “Glow” won’t be filling dancefloors any time soon, but the album does offer a bit of release to go with its tension.
For The Bayonet EP, Martin reinvented Idaho as a full-fledged band, even going so far as to allow for some collaborative songwriting on two of its four tracks. One of those group efforts (“The Worm”) is a startlingly visceral shard of Joy Division-styled gloom-metal driven by Terrence Borden’s pulsing bass. Three Sheets to the Wind retains the same four-piece lineup, allowing for a mingling of voices quite unlike any of Idaho’s previous releases: Mark Lewis’ brushed drumming gives “If You Dare” a nearly jazzy feel, while “Catapult” ventures onto classic rock-turf, with Martin’s baritone sacrificing some of its monochromatic intensity in favor of a gritty virility. A stimulating turn of events.