PHOTO: PATRICK JEWETT
“They’re really good… considering how young they are.”
That’s shit, isn’t it? Either they’re good or they’re not. When the next National record comes out, no one’s going to say, “wow that’s great, considering how old they are.” And that would actually be more appropriate for the industry, considering how youth-dependent it is and how dismissive it is of musicians daring to comprehend an existence past 30. But if you’re young, it seems that your job is still to consume music, not release it. Unless you’re willing to tolerate the above caveat, that is. It’s bollocks, basically.
Slow Hollows are young. Like under-20-young. Let’s get that out the way and forget it immediately, for they deserve better. They recently released their second record, Atelophobia, which is a marvellous name for an album. It’s full of fits, fire, craft and joy. It lurches around touchstones from Arcade Fire, US post-punk and Sonic Youth to Bright Eyes and sad-face-era Ryan Adams, and it does it all with the overall sense that it’s actually really good to be in a band. The word I’m looking for here is refreshing.
That word continues to surface across Atelophobia’s duration, along with an appreciative smile. It goes by quickly in a relentless burst of colour, attempting to drown sadness in its wake. But there’s a lot of sadness here. The title track is under two minutes long and ends the LP in an utterly defeated manner, with the only words Austin Feinstein able to draw being “No, I’m not okay.” You know the end of Requiem for a Dream, when everything reaches its absolute nadir, then the credits roll? That’s how I feel about the end of this record. Fucking flattened.
In my own trademark renegade style, I’ve started at the end.
Slow Hollows are from LA and put out records on Danger Collective, which I believe they also help run. Their first (mini-)album, I’m Just as Bad as You Are, came out last year under the name Hollows. It was constantly enjoyable, but never exceptional. I always try to avoid using the word promising, but I guess it’s pretty apt in this instance. The title track and 'The Pool’ hinted at the talent the band possessed, but they were content to drift a little elsewhere, leaving good ideas half-formed on songs like ‘All Your Friends’ and ‘Windmark.’ That’s fine though, obviously, and is really an aesthetic in itself, so whatever. It just didn’t mesh so well with the more developed aspects of that album.
Let’s continue along this linear path and return to album two.
That made no sense, I know.
It’s not rushed and it’s not necessarily methodical, but Atelophobia moves with purpose across its half-hour run time. Take the switch-up coda on ‘Thrills’ for instance – there’s about three different endings there, and it initially seems a little indecisive / indulgent to tack them all together. After a few listens, though, they begin to intertwine and I find myself looking forward to their appearance before the song has even begun. It’s like when The Stone Roses change gears without warning across their debut. There’s that smile again as you snap back to attention. It’s not an isolated incident, either. ‘The Art School Kids’ runs headlong into ‘The Political Kids,’ but not before a solo from a totally different subgenre of guitar music has had its say. Kurt Cobain once described his music as purposefully naïve and that’s true of Slow Hollows, too (not that they sound anything alike). They’re prepared to meld frantic, lo-fi rhythms with a heavily treated guitar break like they don’t know any better, but it’s a calculated juxtaposition that works in service to the whole, not in spite of it.
“I felt bad / now I wish you were dead… there, I said it / Anger’s just a phase / and victim is a game they play.”
Now there’s a fantastically contradictory couple of lines. The music in ‘All the Time’ rises to match it, trading staccato verses for a positively anthemic chorus that fights a resolutely downbeat vocal for dominance. Expertly judged, it aptly demonstrates the progression of Slow Hollows from album one to two. Where they once possessed a carefree, slightly lackadaisical approach to songwriting, they now sit in absolute command of the structure and significance of their compositions. That’s not a common trait.
But it’ll be ‘Atelophobia’ that sticks with you, and it’s got everything to do with the track which precedes it. ‘Okay’ is a quiet burst of comfort and reassurance: “take your time / you know you’ll be okay.” The arpeggios are bright over the top, and when the song fully ignites into brittle distortion you feel genuine catharsis. This finally fades into a gentle, solitary guitar and the LP feels like it’s reaching a natural Hollywood end, defiant yet oddly content. Then you look down and realise that this is actually the next track and that closing line hits you over and over. Fucking flattened.