Posted Jun 14th, 2010 (8:28 pm) by John-Ross Boyce

In the early 2000's, Gabe Hascall and Rory Phillips of the Ska band The Impossibles, broke up with their band for the second time, moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Austin together, and began writing acoustic material as far removed from their Ska pedigree as Pluto is from the Earth. They recorded one 11-track album as Slowreader, toured briefly, and were never heard from again, at least in that incarnation.

Acoustic musicians and their quiet, literary ballads about awkward romance are a dime a dozen. I saw a vending machine at the Kroger's Grocery that offered slouchy, bearded balladeers for one quarter. They come in those little bubble domes. I opted to waste twenty-five cents on one of those little “Homies” figurines instead, because I already own For Emma, Forever Ago, Our Endless Numbered Days, and Figure Eight.

Yet, despite initial misgivings at the notion of yet another sensitive acoustic act, playing another ethereal ditty with more intentionally turgid imagery, Slowreader set themselves apart from other acts of their ilk, probably because of the fact that they aren't coming from a folk-friendly background. Having spent the majority of their previous career playing Ska/Punk music might have actually been beneficial for Hascall and Phillips, if only for their comparative lack of familiarity with this new genre. Music only becomes boring when a composer feels as though there is nothing new to be done within his idiom. For Slowreader, the absolute disparity between the conventions of Ska and the conventions of Indie acoustic whatchamacallit would allow a greater freedom to experiment. No one would necessarily accuse Slowreader of doing anything so very experimental and groundbreaking on this record. However, the fact that acoustic music is exciting new territory to them is clear on each track, creating a sense of wonder which permeates the entire album. In an age that defines music criticism as “blank-meets-blank-with-a-touch-of-blank,” that sense of novelty can really make an album stand out.

“Politics, Music, and Drugs” belongs in the Track One slot, precisely because it displays Slowreader's ability to take an old formula and make it seem new. Beginning with a weird vocal warm-up, followed by a languidly strummed acoustic guitar, “Politics, Music, and Drugs” starts off conventional, although very pretty. Then at the second verse, a sea change occurs, when a sampled stomp/clap beat begins rumbling beneath the guitar and vocal work, lending vastness to a track, which at first seemed completely contained. Vocal layering allows Hascall and Phillips' subdued tenors to glide around each other effervescently like the overlapping loop-de-loops of cherubs in flight. Ultimately, the song combines a feeling of familiarity with the pleasant surprise of a new discovery. And then somewhere in that emotional cocktail is a fleeting feeling of sadness. Hearing the song “Politics, Music, and Drugs,” feels a lot like kissing the person of your dreams, all the while aware that he or she will most likely crush you.

Sadly, Slowreader is now defunct. There have been no new albums, no new songs. The duo has each moved on to separate projects, none of them as good as this one. A good band that puts out one good album and then disappears is in some ways tragic and in some ways something very special. On the other hand, there will be no new material as far as anyone can see. There will be nothing recorded and distributed, which could be so bad as to retroactively spoil their debut release. Nevertheless, you want everyone to know how great that band is. But on the other, you get to be the one to inform them – and being the person who turns someone onto a great song, a great record, or a great band is a pleasure which never ever gets old.

The official Slowreader website has been taken over by Korean domain vendors, which I will liken unto the untimely death of a rare and beautiful unicorn whose corpse is systematically dismembered and sold as aphrodisiacs to gullible back woods sex fiends. This seems the most appropriate metaphor, since the odds are high that the now up-for-grabs domain will most likely contain some kind of porn in the future. I don't know what kind of porn will come from a website like slowreader.net, but I have faith that it will be as off-putting and nasty as Slowreader was surprising and beautiful.

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