If there’s one thing that’s immediately obvious about Bottomless Pit, it’s that these dudes have impeccable musical chemistry. After all, they’ve been making music together for a long time, as guitarists Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett honed their chops in 90s alt-math collective Silkworm. But when drummer Michael Dahlquist suddenly died in 2005, so did that band. Soon after, Bottomless Pit emerged. In a strict sense, then, the group was forged out of sorrow. Listening to Blood Under the Bridge— the band’s new album and a fine, obstinately inspiring piece of work — you certainly wouldn’t know it.
Bottomless Pit — Cohen and Midgett, along with former Seam drummer Chris Manfrin and .22 bassist Brian Orchard — boasts an unfussy sort of multilateralism that’s increasingly rare in an age of ballooning musical megalomania. Throughout Blood Under the Bridge, guitars weave back and forth in the spaces between Cohen’s careening melodies, drums bang, and cymbals crash in precisely the right spots. No band member overtakes another for any distracting length of time. When someone does take center stage — Midgett’s plaintive vocal on the hushed “Rhinelander,” Cohen’s atonal guitar snarl on the ringing “Is it a Ditch” — it’s only because it seems absolutely necessary. The rest of the band always seems to understand, holding back like so many great jazz session players.
But although its members know their instruments, Bottomless Pit is a rock and roll band. There is a familiarity to the group’s soft/loud post-punk dynamism, even as its poised enormity offers listeners a glance at something unique. Blood Under the Bridge is heavy, but it’s not dumbly huge. One of the band’s chief strengths is the way it juxtaposes intricate lyricism and minimalist instrumentation. “Summerwind,” a standout track, finds Cohen recalling an old flame to crushing emotional effect. “It’s not nothing I would do again,” he intones vigorously over a single dense guitar. “You were along at first for the ride/ But I burned you out like a suicide.” Conversely, the Shellac-y, two-minute “Dixon” is a rush of booming, angular guitars and beatdown drum fills; it’s also sans vocals. It’s pleasantly frenetic, but it feels out of place amidst the rest of the album’s studious attention to texture.
It’s tempting to read the band’s past experience with tragedy into the lines between Blood’s lyrics. “When I wake up they’ll be gone/ I have to let them get away,” goes the unapologetically anthemic chorus to “38 Souls,” the album’s blockbuster closer. But what could be read as a dejected meditation on grief instead seems a more universalized reflection on acceptance. Unlike the hyper-specific storytelling of some of Bottomless Pit’s indie rock peers, the band unravels general truths slowly, through cloudy, opaque narratives of love and loss, of time and fear and happiness. And they do it so fluidly as to appeal to even the most discerning music fan (or critic). Rarely does something so interesting appear so effortless.