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“DD Review: Spiral Stairs – Doris and the Daggers.”

Score: 8.5/10

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An album by a member of Pavement influenced primarily by as well as his own former band David Bowie, Spoon and Imagine Dragons certainly seems on paper like an exercise in perils. But then, with how music is these days, this stuff is probably still considered “weird” by a lot of people because it wasn’t like created by a bona fide sy borg or something. And indeed, the first song is called “Dance” (part of the Bowie tactic there) and lyrically commands the listener to “dance” “around noon / When the demons come out”. It’s never been done before, but there’s no better time to start than now. “Dundee Man” carries an operatic, gorgeous guitar sound (yes this is in no way noise rock we’re handling here) and the chord progression is heartbreakingly simple, somewhat like The Dirty Nil’s masterful classic single from this year “Hate is a Stone” (or they should release it as a single, if they haven’t already). The chorus of “Dundee Man” builds things even more, wading into surf rock territory as far as the effects go, and grafting out an ebullient modification on the former chord progression. Lyrically, this song handles more or less the idea of the Northwesterner wanting to move “south down the coast,” as Counting Crows put it just in different words, but Spiral Stairs’ declamation comes off as refreshing for (a.) its purity and (b.) its lack of political aspects. It’s so pure, it’s almost as pure as Bernie Sanders. They should get in like a purity contest with themselves or something. At some point, as a Pavement fan, I find it necessary to compare this stuff to the old material he wrote with the band, which as we know includes the essentially unlistenable “Two States,” the hilariously dark “Hit the Plane down,” the increasingly smiling “Kennel District” and the fine rockers “Date with IKEA” and “Passat Dream.” But the whole thing is a little mind-boggling, when you get into why a person this apparently good-looking and full of personality would be so distraught — so prone to the ironic dry corporate humor of the latter two tracks I just mentioned and inclined to put that wasteoid little raccoon on that one cover, or whatever. Well, there’s a lot going on in the world TODAY. And folks, Spiral Stairs doesn’t mention ANY of it. It’s almost like his blessing from over the years is that something is inexplicably bothering him, or at other times, something INEXPLICABLE is bothering him, but the chances of any true fan of alternative rock not being charmed by this album’s dint of being eternally grounded in the art form’s yore and conventions while still sounding so natural and off-the-cuff, is highly unlikely. Unfortunately, the project loses a little bit of luster even before you get to side b: “No Comparison” just sounds forced and bizarre and the saxaphone leading in “The Unconditional” seems culturally misaligned. But the “Lemme tell you a story” lyrical introduction gets us squared away again with the dark, neverending saga of Spiral Stairs’ life, and the drummer provides some great post-punk perkiness under ripe production. But then, that annoying sax comes back in, and if anything is reiterated by the brief synth lines in the song’s latter half it’s that the stair master is at his best when he sticks to good ol’ garage rock, something he probably does better than he realizes, considering the general critical absorption of this album.

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