Latest from Silkworm is good times for all involved

By Pete Beatty

For some reason, Silkworm got tagged as the next Pavement about five years ago. It’s hard to explain exactly why. Both have eight letter names and hail from the west coast, and I guess they’re both indie rock bands, and Stephen Malkmus did play a few shows with the gents from Silkworm as “The Crust Brothers” back in the early late ’90s. But other than that the two bands don’t really have very much in common, other than a shared affinity for the collected work of Creedence Clearwater Revival. And beer. And I guess both bands are technically from out-of-the-way places, like California or Montana. There was really only one problem: Silkworm doesn’t really sound all that much like Pavement.

The thing with Pavement is that deep down, you know they’re just grad students, affected-lisping into a mic, singing about Australia and Tokay High School, not that good at playing their instruments, or at least pretending to be not that good at playing their instruments. But if Messrs. Malkmus, Kannberg, West, Ibold and Nastanovich weren’t in Pavement, what would they do with themselves? Malkmus is sticking to indie rock. Spiral Stairs, he’s in another band. I guess Bob Nastanovitch might make money off his horses. But other than that? The American workforce is not ready for the members of Pavement. The American workforce may never be ready for the members of Pavement.

On the other side of the indie rock tracks, Silkworm is, literally, a working band. Lead singer Andy Cohen went on a short hiatus and relocated to Chicago to become a lawyer in 2000. The rest of the band similarly pulled a Boeing a year later, and have, to a man, secured gainful employment in the Chicagoland area. Good for them, I say. The move to Chicago probably made working with longtime engineer/fellow Treasure Stater Steve Albini easier. The phone bills are probably less. And if they all wanted to go get coffee and talk about music, now they can just meet someplace in Chicago, instead of getting on a airplane and flying all the way here and then back to Seattle. That must be nice for them.

At any rate, it sounds like the boys in Silkworm cotton quite nicely to the Chicago scene, as their latest release, Italian Platinum, is a worthwhile listen, through and through. Nothing too exciting, mind you. Just a nice, personable 40 minutes of music, with little surprises and disappointments. No big surprises, like a $100 bill in the tray, and no big disappointments, like the CD being glued shut as a practical joke. Just rambling, shambling, classic-y rock for the most part.

Opener “(I Hope U) Don’t Survive” hints at what most of the album sounds like, without giving away the whole show—besides having a funny song name, the track features muscular but clean guitars, a catchy (but not that catchy) chorus, and stop-start drumming. Following the mildly auspicious starter is “The Third,” which is about as indie as Silkworm gets on this record—speedy guitars piggyback on spastic drumming, yelling, and an oops-why-is-my-guitar-making-these-noises solo. It’s pretty good.

Lady singer with pretty voice Kelly Hogan absolutely bulldozes “Young”—I was not expecting powerhouse country vocals with my Silkworm today—as well as turning up on “(I Hope U) Don’t Survive” and “The Brain.” The Chicago-based “chanteuse” (I did not want to use that word) tears it up here. I don’t know if I could take an entire album of her voice, but it’s hard to argue with in this context. Hogan’s contribution to “The Brain” consists mostly of a gibberish two syllables repeated through out the song, but it help makes the song the fullest-sounding on Italian Platinum. A neat synth bit, expressive guitar, and Hogan making goofy sounds work together nicely. Album closer “A Cockfight of Feelings” reiterates most of the album’s high points—a careening, classic rock guitar sound, goofy post-punk hiccupping, and a guy singing about the worst job on earth being working on a turkey farm.

The rest of the album sort of defies being described in a fashion that might make it sound interesting, so I’m not going to bother with the track-by-track overview. Italian Platinum might not make a lot of year-end best of lists, and it’s not about someone’s marriage falling apart, and the guys from Silkworm didn’t balloon over 300 pounds while writing it, or destroy the master tapes in a hissy fit. Touch and Go records was not nearly bankrupted by the recording of this record, nor did anyone in the band fall off a roof and have to spend six months in a wheelchair during the recording. But that’s OK. Silkworm is making the world safe for blue collar indie rock—no longer will hipsters be hostage to the musical stylings of anthro grad students and out-of-work golf course designers—call it a revolution if you must. Italian Platinum is good, clean, and fun, except for the crappy parts, of which there are only a few, and they are quite short. But don’t think about the crappy parts. Think of the good parts. Positive association.