Friday, May 17, 2013
Numero Group recently announced that they were to be reissuing (kind of: the Sub Pop versions are, so far as I know, still in print on CD) the three records by New York's Codeine, I just about spat my lunch all over my computer (not really). It seemed like a mighty odd choice for a quality label which had released a ton of ace regional soul/funk comps and other curios, but hadn't really delved into the quagmire of "indie rock" reissues. But I'm glad they have, because Codeine's debut, Frigid Stars LP, originally issued by Germany's Glitterhouse label (there's a blast from the past) in 1990 and subsequently domestically reissued by Sub Pop in '91, is a real gem from the dawn of the '90s. Prior to my purchase of NG's deluxe 2LP edition this week, I hadn't played Frigid Stars LP for a long time, probably since Clinton was in power, and call me a hopelessly nostalgic old fuck if you please (you should), but it's a trip to the past well worth revisiting. I never owned it back in the day; the household copy back was owned by my brother, though I was prone to borrowing it for days on end to spin its wares on repeat. Alongside the noisier shit I was listening to back at the time (in '91 it was a lot of Die Kreuzen/Chrome/Swans), Codeine washed over me like, well, codeine. Many hold them responsible for developing the "slowcore" scene back in the day, and whilst that's interesting in some small way, I'd personally be more interested in who the fuck coined the term "slowcore" so I could wring their neck. Anyway! At this point in time, "slowcore" didn't really exist, and I suppose that if I was to define such a term, if I really, really had to, it'd be post-punk rock music of a slow, textured variety. Not quite shoegaze, and not quite doom, it is what it is and that's the end of the matter. Fact is, nobody cared less about it or its existence back in 1991: there was simply Codeine's debut to contend with.
The band had only existed for a year when Frigid Stars LP was recorded. Drummer Chris Brokaw was also playing in Come at the time (one day I will actually listen to Eleven: Eleven) and left the band to pursue Come fulltime (fnar fnar); other members would go onto play w/ the likes of June of 44 and Rex. Got it? Frigid Stars LP is made up of 10 songs, and there's not one I skip (caveat: the Glitterhouse version only had 8 songs; Sub Pop tacked on two extra for their edition). There is an awesome sense of melncholy throughout, though it never gets mawkish or hamfisted. The instrumentation keeps everything in check; washes of guitar noise mixed w/ subtlety and intricacy. What Codeine achieved in 1990 would subsequently be run into the ground throughout that decade, as every post-HC nudnik w/ a college degreee decided to 'slow it down' for whatever effect. Some good things were achieved, and some best left forgotten. Listening to Frigid Stars takes me back to being a confused, nervous and slightly stupid 19 year-old: the sadness of the opener, "D"; the heady guitar churn of "Pickup Song" (a track which sounds like it could've been lifted from the Grifters' debut, So Happy Together, from '92, or vice-versa); the anthemic "Cave-In"... I must've listened to this a lot back in the day, coz little of has been a surprise to me during my 2013 revisit, except for perhaps how good this still sounds. And let me say this, before you accuse me of being hopelessly nostalgic (you already have): listening to Frigid Stars LP doesn't get me wistful for the past. If anything, spinning it in the year 2013 only makes me thankful that it's not 1991 anymore and I made it through to approaching middle age w/ everything, most importantly my sanity, intact. Things are better now, in many regards.
Codeine were a band of their time and place: parts of their ouvre (and membership, in some instances) overlap w/ the likes of Slint, Bitch Magnet, Galaxie 500, Grifters, Supreme Dicks et al, but their worthiness makes them more than just an artifact of their era. Frigid Stars is a very fine recording of it or any era. Numero Group's edition, as w/ most things they do, is ridiculously deluxe: a heavy-duty gatefold sleeve w/ a bonus LP of demo recordings and very early tracks from the late '80s ("Skeletons" being the most atypical: an uptempo number which borders on hardcore) and a CD of everything therein (which I still can't manage to exit from its packaging w/out fearing that I'll tear the LP sleeve apart: how the fugg are you supposed to remove this thing?), as well as a large and detailed booklet detailing the history of the band w/ many previously unpublished photos. Interesting stuff - the roots of the group go all the way back to an early '80s HC unit, Pay The Man - but you're best reading it firsthand, not here. NG has also released similar editions of the band's Barely Real and The White Birch, and I might very well need 'em all.