“I fear it’s true / we got problems / And there ain’t too much we can do to stop them.”
Rock and roll plays best as controlled chaos. Mick and Keith perfected it in 1972 with Exile on Main Street, and each generation produces a disciple of drunken rhythm and blues, from The Black Crowes to the Replacements to Ty Segall to a million spots between.
Spider Bags have (literally) been bouncing around the Chapel Hill area for a decade or so, dropping killer albums like 2012’s Shake My Head on labels that couldn’t do them justice. For their fourth official LP, they’ve jumped to the much more visible and capable Merge Records, and the opportunity has apparently not been lost on them.
Frozen Letter is the best thing I’ve heard them do, a 30-minute headspin of garage band clichés, fuzzy guitar riffs and wind tunnel vocal reverb that somehow works as a psyche manifesto?! The group’s casual approach absolutely seals the deal.
Lead singer Dan McGee’s Southern drawl and the group’s messy, drifting shag taps directly into the heart of complacent Americans everywhere. Yes, we want to rock, but we don’t necessarily want to always have to think about it so much. Just do it to us.
Spider Bags don’t require much in the way of literal interpretation. Horns cut loose out of nowhere just because they can on the twin-lead-like-Thin-Lizzy opener “Back With You Again in the World” before shifting straight into head-bobbing jangle-wave (“Japanese Vacation”) and slop-rock sleaze punk (“Chem Trails”). This is all in the first eight minutes! McGee lays a bit lower for “Coffin Car,” yet, even that song’s melancholic bent can’t wipe the grin out of his voice.
This stuff is too much fun to take seriously, even when you’re supposed to. Merge main man/Superchunk guitarist Mac McCaughan provides lead guitar for the record’s highpoint, the epic “We Got Problems,” a track that features swirling blasts of electric sound pushing you further and further into your La-Z-Boy, into yourself, into the depths of your own expanding subconscious, into real space, until it suddenly stops, and you return to Earth. It’s sort of trippy.
The message here seems to be, we’re all fucked anyway, we may as well have some fun while we’re here. Plug it in, turn it up really loud and be happy. — Andrew Watson