As an influential indie-rock landmark, Slint’s second album, Spiderland, helped chart new directions for abstract guitar skronk. While the quartet’s tenure was short, Slint left its mark most palpably at ground zero: the exciting and close-knit Louisville underground scene.
Though it would be unfair to call Rodan — another short-lived enterprise, by guitarists Jason B. Noble and Jeffery Mueller, bassist Tara Jane O’Neil and drummer Kevin Coultas — Slint Jr., comparisons are inevitable. Both bands used haunting speak-sing vocals, relied on propulsive, start-stop/quiet-loud rhythm dynamics and created noisy, sweeping music. In many ways, Rusty sounds like what Slint might’ve evolved into. The record’s wiry energy might also fit the loosely defined “math rock” category, coined to describe bands that play complicated music more akin to theorems than just sound (kind of like Ozma-era Melvins married to a more atmospheric art-core interpretation of Big Black). Sometimes breathtaking, sometimes indulgent, Rusty‘s expansive songs include the mysterious, twelve-minute opus “The Everyday World of Bodies,” the ghostly “Bible Silver Corner,” the ferocious “Shiner” and the singular, ethereal “Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto.”
June of 44 melds former Rodan guitarist/vocalist Mueller with three East Coasters: guitarist/vocalist Sean Meadows, bassist/trumpeter Fred Erskine (ex-Hoover) and drummer Doug Scharin (ex-Codeine). An essay in angular rock dynamics, Engine Takes to the Water blends surrealistic lyrics with improvisatory skronk (“Pale Horse Sailor”), evokes a fragile, wandering edginess (“I Get My Kicks for You”), weaves unconventional melodies (“Mooch,” “Have a Safe Trip, Dear”) and forcefully tackles fluid, loping rhythmic structures (“Take It With a Grain of Salt”). With Mueller and Erskine’s vocals showing similarities to Slint’s Brian McMahan, June of 44 — a little more straight-ahead than Rodan — carries the torch well, making salient revisions as necessary. Tropics and Meridians expands on the first album’s notions: six lengthy tracks showcase the group’s navigational skill, cohesive organization and dramatic guitar designs.
Noble and Mueller subsequently reteamed in Shipping News.
Retsin is O’Neil’s post-Rodan band with Cynthia Nelson of New York’s Ruby Falls; both contribute vocals, guitar and bass to the cause. The group, which uses various drummers in the studio and a rhythm section onstage, came into being when the women met as actors in the film Half Cocked; their union resulted first in a song on the soundtrack and then Salt Lick. Treading a casual line between Southern rusticity and urban indie-pop that occasionally suggests a looser Spinanes, the eight-song record is angular and intriguing, with personal lyrics of unsettled emotions and experiences.
Moving up a notch to medium-fi, Egg Fusion adjusts the stylistic balance to strike a more abstractly countryfied tone, making good use of the singers’ wavery emotionalism and shuffling backporch rhythms. The lyrics are more confident and striking as well. The sing-songy unraveling of “Kangaroo” seethes with intimations of real life: “I love how you listen when I left you were glistening/Sorry but so full of peace/I like you better than those rock & roll pucker boys that you wrote me about/That I used to run with/That I used to write about.” Members of Antietam help out.
Sonora Pine folds some of Rodan’s branches back on itself: the band includes O’Neil (guitar/bass/organ/vocals), Coultas (drums/percussion/tapes) and Meadows (guitar/organ/vocals), plus violinist Samara Lubelski; Rachel Grimes of Rachel’s plays piano on “The Hook.” The Sonora Pine is a quizzical and disorienting blend of riveting sharp-edged guitar rock and elegant violin-shaped balladry, with minor bouts of dreamy found-sound ambience and antique organ drone. Inconsistently fine on a track-by-track basis (among the gentler songs, “The Gin Mills,” “Ooltewah” and the spare “One Ring Machine” flow the most alluringly), the album is too disjointed for its own good; not knowing the band’s purpose is too disquieting for this kind of music.