Tim Rayne reviews the latest from Saint John’s Tooth & the Fang.
In the early 90s, during the popularity of grunge music, the term alternative applied to any guitar band who wasn’t labelled top 40. The extensive usage of word alternative to describe a band resulted in multitude of new subgenres in the late 90s. One could argue that in the age of media saturation, subgenres have become a useful tool when describing a band’s overall sound. Subgenres provide a reference point for those looking to discover new music.
One of the subgenres that came out in the late 90s and early 2000s is (was) known as slowcore and/or sadcore. As opposed to hardcore, slowcore could be defined as minimalist, usually guitar based music that is played slow with songs that can run over ten minutes long filled with droning guitar tones and instrumental passages. The term slowcore never really stuck and many of the bands that were once associated with it have gone on to disassociated themselves from the subgenre in fear of being pigeon-holed. Much of the music is melancholy in tone and mood. Low, Codeine, and Red House Painters are considered pioneers of the subgenre. Although most of the bands associated with slowcore are no longer playing together, their influence can be heard on music today. Saint John’s Tooth & the Fang bring back fond slowcore memories on their recently released album, Void, moving without having moved.
There are some familiar names in Tooth & the Fang’s musical make up. Two of the band members also play in Little You, Little Me. If you don’t know LYLM and you dig great musicianship and punky riffs with a garage band sound, then I recommend you take them for a spin. Tooth & the Fang could not be further from LYLM. The economic structure, off time, musical precision heard on LYLM songs is replaced with emotionally driven, unstructured and loose instrumentation. Both bands are loud and emotive, but the punk is replaced with soul. Geoff Smith is the principle singer songwriting for Tooth & the Fang, but the sum is made up of many contributing artists who elevate the songs by contributing layered swells and epic crescendos. At the same time, Void, moving without having moved, captures Smith in a very intimate and uninhibited place that lends to the music’s authenticity.
The albums opening track, I Didn’t Know Who You Were, starts off with a mildly raspy, bitter sweet tale on love lost. Half way into the song, it falls into late period Red House Painters territory with a melancholic guitar drone that loops into a hypnotic three-minute solo that would make Mark Kozelek proud – or really pissed depending on the day. The next track, I’m Gonna Leave You, has some really good harmonies during the song’s chorus before becoming a psychedelic experience, interlaced with soaring guitars and plenty of reverb before coming full circle. Leave a Light On has an optimistic and hopeful tone that is reflected in the catchy chorus that would fit nicely amongst a mid-career Winter Sleep album. Bones is a twelve-minute epic track that begins with a Swan’s inspired introduction that transitions into a slowburning, melodic number that becomes a psychedelic dreamscape of layered guitars before heading towards a beautiful post-rock finale. The Matt May’s channeled I Can’t See Your Face maybe my least favorite track because it feels out of place in its rock centric arrangement. Not a bad song, but it does break the reflective mood generated from the previous tracks and the ones that follow. However, the album quickly rebounds with Take It with You where Geoff pays homage both lyrically and musically to classic bands Velvet Underground to Led Zeppelin. The second half of the album continues the rock vibe but somehow it works. The second epic track on the album is over eleven-minutes. On Our Way sounds similar to later Sub Pop Low before leading into a War On Drugs jam. The album ends on a high note with Too Tired, a sweet memorable guitar driven folk tale that brings closure to a very impressive debut.
Tooth & the Fang’s Void, moving without having moved is truly wonderful collection of songs. Geoff Smith’s songwriting would be enjoyable if it were just him and just an acoustic guitar; however, it is his generosity and warmth as an artist, allowing those around him to soar by creating soundcapes and textures that truly enhance the work. The songs benefit from the collective’s arrangements. This may have started as a solo project in vision but it’s a shared experience; producing a stream of consciousness vibe that is less improve, but rather, more meditative and reflective. These are the records that I love to visit. They are timeless manifestations of a certain time and place. Void, moving without having moved is a wonderful edition to the impressive body of work currently being produced by local artists in New Brunswick.