Touch And Go
By: Eric Greenwood
Who'd have believed that Silkworm would outlast practically every single one if its peers from the DIY explosion of the early 1990's? Silkworm – the perpetual underdog and label castaway – has always produced solid records for the uppity indie rock echelon that demands a bit of brains in its rock, but that faction has never been big enough to lace the band's pocket with cash. The fact that Touch And Go still wants to release Silkworm records is a testament to the group's consistency (and a surprise to the band itself), even if it's never quite reached the level of critical acclaim or public fervor that, say, Pavement did. Of course, longevity does not automatically dictate that a band be on an upward trajectory, but with Italian Platinum, Silkworm proves it's still got the touch.
Italian Platinum is Silkworm's eighth album in twelve years. Not much has changed since the band's last offering, 2000's Lifestyle, except to say that Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett just keep improving as songwriters. And fearlessly so. Silkworm is the opposite of schtick acts like Trans Am and The Faint with lyrics from the gut and music to kick you there. Silkworm has always balanced a crunchy rock backbone with a metal-edged aggressiveness, but no matter how shrill or chaotic its sound has been over the years there were always good songs underneath. And Italian Platinum is nothing if a celebration of the band's growth as songwriters.
Lucky for Silkworm, you're never supposed to judge a book by its cover- or in this case a record. If you were to ignore that clichéd aphorism for a moment and judge this album by its cover art, you'd throw it in the trash without hesitation. The "artwork" is beyond lame. Neither lyrics nor pictures are featured in the white tri-fold- just the band's name in pink and the album title in purple with baby blue asterisks above and below them. It's truly hideous and surely the result of a lost bet or a dare. Fortunately, the music makes up for the questionable artistry. "(I Hope U) Don't Survive" trudges along like an old AOR classic, complete with a beefy, sing-along chorus. Bloodshot solo artist Kelly Hogan becomes a temporary member of Silkworm on this record, adding lively backing vocals to Cohen's monotone delivery.
Bassist Tim Midgett's songs typically serve as the perfect foils to Cohen's deadpan dirges. Being the more optimistic of the two, Midgett tends to be more upbeat in his resignation. His voice is a bit more animated, if somewhat harder to control. "The Third" is a genius two minutes of propulsive rock and off-key singing. Midgett's passion and energy are contagious: "Bleed me white/weekend ride of a weekend rider/neon lights/seem so bright when I’m this much higher/come on kind of close to me now." His delivery is jubilant despite the autumnal tone of his lyrics. On the surface Cohen may be more of a downer to listen to, but he almost always packs his songs with sucker punch choruses, and "The Old You" is no exception. The twangy build-up loosens up into a 1970's-era guitar crunch. Silkworm as classic rock? Yep, and it's damn good, too.
Silkworm's tales of hapless drunkenness and longing are not obvious. To the casual listener, the Silkworm of today might sound mediocre with its restrained, stripped down sound, but these songs are dense and emotional. And I'm not talking about the kind of coy emotional vomit found in most modern rock that begs for the attention of teenage girls. This is far subtler. The more you listen to these songs the closer you get to each one. They're like old friends that will still talk to even when you've embarrassed yourself beyond repair. Midgett's "Is She A Sign" has that sense of closeness and timelessness that most songwriters are resigned to mimic for the length of their dead-end coffee house careers.
Just when you think you've got Italian Platinum all figured out the new wave repetition of "The Brain" chimes in and knocks you on your ass. Another surprise is the feisty ballad "Young", featuring Kelly Hogan on lead vocals. You'd never even know it was Silkworm backing her up. Cohen rounds out the album with two dark rockers, "The Ram" and "A Cockfight Of Feelings", respectively. The latter of which reveals a spark of hopefulness in Cohen's worldview: "Tobacco’s a help because it clears the mind/but like all your friends it is vilified/they always say, the right amount’s fine/even lazy people know the rules…softly now, softly now, try and you won't die." Cohen strains to belt out the chorus, but he sounds like he means it. And that speaks to the whole of this album. No frills rock music. What more could you want?