Codeine – Frigid Stars LP

4 out of 5

Label: Sub Pop

Produced by: Mike McMackin

There are times when I swear off Codeine as being repetitive wank, and then there are times when I swear that various songs on Frigid Stars are the best songs ever written.  The former normally happens when I haven’t listened to the group in a while and I flick past the album on my Zune (yes, my Zune); the latter happens when I actually listen to the thing.

I’m not really sure how it happens.  I don’t have much patience for slowcore minimalists a la Low, and groups that are peripherally linked to Codeine (like Rex) fall into this bucket of bands I wish I like more than I do, so I think I end up mixing Codeine in there as well…  Or something.  To be fair, the album is repetitive: Frigid Stars has one main trick of a slow, cavernous beat before ripping distortion comes in and blows out your eardrums, and the its a trick that’s a main feature of many a’song.  But I take a note from the Allmusic review here in suggesting that the album be taken as a whole, as one swirling, slowly pulsing mass of Brokaw’s solid, patient drums, John Engle’s let-it-ring guitar strums, and Stephen Immerwahr’s plaintive vocals.  If you let the disc spin through, it’s almost impossible not to take it that way, as the steady momentum of the album – excepting the hard stop of Second Chance in the middle – casts a spell, and there are enough variations in pitch to prevent that one trick from actually feeling all that repetitive.  You welcome the blast, actually, expecting it, then letting the songs lull you back into their wonderfully somber minimalism before exploding again.  Immerwahr’s spoken, casual narratives encourage this spell (and the obviously the mood): the lyrics are weighted by constant references to ‘earthy’ or broken things, the metaphors and concepts breaking from lazy rhyming and avoiding straying too far into poetics, creating a very organic addition to the aural wash.

Frigid Stars is a unique definition of a minor masterpiece, making maximum impact but then content to slink back into the shadows.  It revels in its repetition instead of dressing things up with excess.  While the album could be tightened up even more by ditching a couple tracks that break its mesmeric flow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a disc that continues to surprise me with its quiet/loud – and yet subdued – dynamic in the way that tracks like D or Cave-In do.  So if you hear me saying meh-ish things about Frigid Stars, do me a favor and play the album for me, and watch me get caught up in its spell once more.