A fresh blanket of pristine, deeply packed, indie-guitar rock that's deft and drifting windlessly. Turns out a near-decade isn't too long to wait for the gorgeous overlay that is Snow.
May 8, 2017 | by Jocelyn Hoppa
The New Year
Undertow Music, 2017
For the last nine years, I’ve been wondering what happened to the New Year. For a quiet decade, I kept revisiting 2004’s near-perfect The End Is Near, as well as the New Year’s eponymous 2008 release and wondering what happened to this subdued and bleak, yet strangely uplifting band. And I’ve pretty much never stopped listening to Matt and Bubba Kadane’s previous band, Bedhead, either, who can arguably stake claim on first matching a prototypical ‘90s indie guitar-rock sound with the mystique of self-chosen anonymity. Bedhead’s minimalist album art and fuzzy, static photos of instruments rather than band personnel meant fans had to fill in the gaps with their own fantasy identities for the beloved act’s members. If you’re a fan of one, you’re a fan of both. (It should probably be both, for your own good.)
The New Year’s music is unhurried bedroom pop, ruminating around depressive and introspective themes, while at the same time managing to sound totally triumphant and monumental, even heroic — think Low’s sedate explorations as much as Silkworm’s off-kilter post-punk. The intertwining guitar work, along with occasional smooth electric keys, drum splashes, and steady rhythms from Chris Brokaw, and basslines from Mike Donofrio, weave a tapestry where the accompany lyrics are often as warm as they are clever. Even if they’re singing about “searching the coffins for empty offers,” as they do on “Mayday,” the lead track on Snow, there’s a knowing humor to be found in it. “Mayday, mayday, we’ve left our heyday…” — and how.
So, what the hell was this band doing for the last nine years? Making this record for one. But the Kadanes also received the comprehensive box set treatment for the Bedhead discography. They played in the band Overseas with David Bazan of Pedro the Lion and Will Johnson of Centromatic, releasing a self-titled debut with them in 2013. They’ve also been regular dudes working “real jobs” according to a press release that declines to mention what they are (again, with the mystique). But all this time, they still existed, spending nearly a decade refining demos, reworking lyrics, and retooling tiny parts into fleshy songs — to get a new record exactly right. It’s no wonder they tracked at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio, the Echo Lab in Denton and various houses in Texas (their home state), New York, and California.
When your medium is slowcore, you know a thing or two about creating art at an undemanding pace. As a result, Snow is flawless: clean and full, without a sole overwrought moment despite slow-cooking for a decade. See the title track for how a small epic can captivate for six full minutes without resorting to showiness (though the lead-in keyboards are probably brighter than the band’s more versed fans would expect.)
Every Bedhead or the New Year record has one track that hooks the listener. “Felo de Se” from Bedhead’s second release, Beheaded, features a dueling guitar that rivals the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and The New Year’s 2004 The End Is Near wastes no time with its memorable first track “The End’s Not Near.” Matt sings, “The end’s not near, it’s here,” which unfortunately feels just as relevant today. On Snow, the song with the hook is less obvious, but “Myths” has emerged as a favorite. Inside 5:34 it’s over four minutes before any lyrics show up. Before they do, the song manages to swell in the heartstrings, leaving notes hanging on empty spaces to then crash through to some universal emotional center. It takes a bit, but when Matt’s vocals finally come in, his first words are a subdued anticlimax you can’t not love: “There’s no reason to celebrate.” How beautifully wrong he is.